National Geographic : 1948 Jan
Carib Cruises the West Indies I know of no other place in the world having a closer connection with the vanished age of sail. Here are the old careening capstans, the sail lofts, the small-boat landings, the warping rings-nearly everything required to maintain a frigate far from home. It is worth a pil grimage by any lover of the sea and ships. On our way around to St. John's, the prin cipal port, we found ourselves skirting out lying reefs for the first time on the passage. The harbor itself is large but shallow. There are fertile plains covered with sugar cane, and many magnificent swimming beaches. During the winter months the climate is nearly ideal. Nevis-Birthplace of Alexander Hamilton From Antigua, Nevis-and "the course, west!" Although less than a fifth of our distance lay behind we had the feeling, as we rounded the bend, of being on the home ward leg (chart, page 7). Due to a late start it was dark before we arrived off Charlestown, to creep close to a dim red light on the jetty. We anchored in the center of a fleet which turned out to be sailing barges used for ferrying sugar cane to St. Kitts. Although much cane is grown locally, there is no sugar mill. Nevis consists of a single volcanic cone thrusting out of the sea, its gradual slopes patterned by fields, its peak nearly always lost in the cloud cover that inspired Columbus to name the island for snow. First settled by English colonists in 1628, it was ravaged re peatedly by the Spaniards and French. Here Alexander Hamilton was born, Cap tain Nelson of His Majesty's Ship Boreas married the widow Nisbet, and the wealth and fashion of the West Indies met at the old Bath House Hotel to "take the waters." Travelers were writing of the curative value of these thermal springs as early as 1625, and we were able to give them a try, although they are not now open to the public. St. Kitts is so close to Nevis as to seem part of it, but actually the two are divided by a turbulent gap called the Narrows, which native craft are unable to cross in heavy blows (Plate XXII). We found the harbor at Basseterre so rough that we moved ashore to Shorty's Hotel, one of the pleasant spots of the Caribbean. Here Laura, the parrot who hates men, rebuffed my every advance but finally consented to pose for a picture (Plate IV). Practically the entire effort of the com munity is geared to sugar. There is a huge factory, and every available foot of ground is under cultivation (Plate XVI). Crowning a steep mass of rock is the for tress of Brimstone Hill, designed to be Brit ain's impregnable "Gibraltar of the West Indies." Guns were placed atop this lime stone height as early as 1690; its last garri son was not withdrawn until the Crimean War. During its long service it was besieged and captured only once: by the Marquis de Bouille in 1782, who so admired the bravery of the defense that he returned the rival commanders to the British! Afterwards it was more heavily fortified but was never attacked. From its battlements there is a magnificent view (Plate XXIII). Next we came to St. Eustatius, or Statia, our first Netherlands West Indies colony. "What is that yellow flag?" asked the police man in the stern of the rowboat alongside as our anchor splashed down. "That flag?" I repeated in surprise. "That's the Quarantine flag-it means that we are coming from a foreign country and want to enter." "Oh!" he said, swinging aboard. "You don't need anything like that. You're wel come here." Later Ernest Voges, the governor, elab orated: "We're too small for red tape and all that nonsense." First Salute to U. S. Flag Brings Calamity to St. Eustatius At the top of the hill overlooking the road stead harbor stands Fort Orange, whose can non first formally acknowledged the sover eignty of the United States (Plate XXVII). At that time Statia was called "The Golden Rock." As it was a Free Port, nearly all trade between Europe and the Americas funneled through the warehouses which lined its beaches. As many as 700 ships sometimes lay at anchor. Into Statia on November 16, 1776, sailed the U. S. Brig-of-War Andrew Doria, flying the flag of the new Republic. Its guns roared out the national salute. There was a long pause. Bluff old Johannes de Graaff, the governor, had a difficult decision to make, as Holland was at that time neutral. Then came the reply-the first salute to a flag of the United States.* While this honor encouraged the embattled American * The flag saluted was the Great Union Flag raised on January 1, 1776, at Somerville, Massachusetts, in honor of the birth of the new Army. This early symbol of unity had 13 red and white stripes, but the Union Flag of Great Britain was in the canton in place of the stars. The first salute to the Stars and Stripes s adopted June 14, 1777) was fired by the French in Quiberon Bay on February 14, 1778 (see "Our Flag Number," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, October, 1917).