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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Golden Rock



One of the things we love about cruising is the chance to view history up close and personal. In the Caribbean, history is literally right there in front of you, where it blends into daily life through the many homes and buildings that are centuries old. Some are beautifully kept up, some are in various states of disrepair, but all are still in use and a part of every community. Living history, truly.

We arrived in Statia to find the weather worsening, and unfortunately, Oranje Baai is a rolly anchorage even in the best of weather. We hooked in the stern anchor to keep us facing into the swells, and dampen our sashaying about, but it still was rather uncomfortable. We couldn’t even get out to dive, as torrential rains and resulting runoff muddied visibility.
Rain rain go away!
We adjusted our game plan to land-based activities, instead. It was nice to get off the rolly boat and simply enjoy being on-island. Ally had been to Statia years ago while on a Broadreach diving trip, so we were revisiting old haunts. From the Lower Town area on the water we walked up the steep cobblestone path up to Upper Town of Oranjested. Oranjested is an excellent example of an old-world, colonial Caribbean settlement, as its architecture is predominantly traditional West Indian/Dutch-influenced gingerbread-style houses and buildings. The well-built cobblestone streets and tidy homes still in use today reflect its wealthy history, when Oranjested was the trading capital of the West Indies, bustling with merchants from Spain, England, France, Holland and other parts of Europe.
Typical Upper Town Oranjested architecture
Cobblestone streets from the 1700x
We made our way over to the nearly 370-year-old Fort Oranje where we scrambled about, enjoying the views from the hilltop fort. Dating from 1636, the fort was the site of the first foreign recognition of the fledgling United States in 1776, when the then governor gave an 11-gun salute to the Andrew Doria, a US Naval ship. In fact, despite the stated neutrality of the Netherlands, St. Eustatius was a vital supply center  for the  upstart Americans. Many of its merchants, having excellent contacts in the colonial cities of Newport, Charleston and New York, as well as France and Netherlands on the other side of Atlantic, were perfectly situated to provide the American rebels with shipments of arms and military supplies prior to the American declaration of independence.
Cannons overlooking Oranje Baai
Following a  meandering path from the fort, we came across the restored ruins of the old Dutch Reformed Church, where its lovely stone arches face the sea, and a quiet sense of history fills the churchyard cemetery. Several ornate grave markers and family plots dating from the early 1700s can be found under the large mango trees outside the stone church walls. Just down the road, there is a partially restored synagogue in Oranjested too, Honen Dalim, which dates from 1738, making it one of the oldest in the Caribbean. There was a large Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish population on the island at that time, merchants and their families who came from Curacao and Amsterdam during the first quarter of the 18th century because of the lucrative trade on the island. I love the sense of strolling through history here!
Detail from the gravestone of Governor Jan De Windt, who died in
1775. Jewish merchants donated the marble gravestone as a tribute
to the governor, whom they held in high esteem.

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