Orient Bay: The Port
by Andrew MacDonald
The History of Orient Bay is as fascinating as its future
The Saline Company of Orleans.
"Not the Sardine Company" insists Pierre Beauperthuy, the fifth generation of the Beauperthuy family to live on the Spring Estate. That's the house on the right, just before you turn right coming from Quartier d'Orleans (French Quarter) to Orient Beach. Some time after a Napoleonic era skirmish was fought and lost by the French against the Dutch on the shores of Orient Salt Pond, Pierre Auguste Beauperthuy, on the same spot, established what would become the known as the Saline Company.
Today the site of the skirmish and the enterprise is the Bayside Stables. Pierre Auguste, an engineer, was sent by the French Government to construct salt ponds. He was as interested in controlling them as he was in constructing them. This was to lead to protracted legal battles with the French authorities, that would haunt him to his death. He's said to have participated in engineering of the Great Salt Pond (Philipsburg). and Grand Case Salt Pond. It should be noted that the van Romondt family also had interests in all three salt ponds.
The rugged nature of St.Martin always encouraged the use of ships for bulk cargoes. It wasn't until the introduction of automobiles, that the network of roads was to replace the foot-paths that criss-crossed the island. Having a relatively deep entrance of fifty feet, and a protected anchorage easily reached by a sailing ship in the prevailing trade wind, Orient Bay was a natural to become a port, when salt production at Orient Salt Pond commenced last century.
The history of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is dotted with many commodities, but it was salt that dominated from the beginning till the end of the colonial era. It's not surprising that shipping in Orient Bay was predominantly salt. The major destinations for these cargoes were Guadaloupe and Martinique. Also being exported were live animals for the markets on these islands; cattle, she .
sheep, pigs and goats. Cotton in bales was loaded for ginning in Anguilla, and from there consignment to Britain. Coming ashore was codfish (saltfish), flour, rum by the barrel, wine and champagne by the case.
Pierre can remember the pyramids of salt along the shore of Orient Salt Pond, as a boy in the fifties. The salt was loaded into sacks and then taken to the beach. It was driven by truck (before trucks, bull carts were used), along what is now the dirt road to Club Orient. At the beach these sacks containing about 50 pounds of salt were loaded into flat bottomed dinghies and rowed to sloops and two and three masted schooners at anchor in the protected lee of Green Key. The sacks would be passed by hand to the crew.
In the beginning the salt was loaded into barrels, which were manhandled up the steps of the ships, remembering that they were sailing ships with many hands. As Pierre explained, originally the ships had their timbers pegged together with wooden dowels the salt could be bulk loaded (tipped) into the holds. The later use of iron fastenings necessitated the use of sacks made from "Ausnerburg" as the raw salt greatly accelerated rusting. However the term ~=" remained as a measure of salt. One barrel equalled 90 kilograms of salt.
Live animals were rowed to the ships in the dinghies, conditions permitting cattle would be swum out. Smaller animals would be hoisted on board with the feet tied. The larger beasts would be lifted with the aid of a block and tackle and a sling.
Sloops and schooners with names like "Diamond Ruby", "Luisa B .... .. Inez No. V and "Inez No.T', often owned in St.Barts, were frequent callers. "Javeline", a two masted schooner owned by L.C.Fleming and built in Northern France was another regular. Many were built on Anguilla, with no lumber sources of its own, St Martin's neighbour was renowned for building ships and had factories manufacturing the essentials to maintain them afloat. (Ironically, today St.Martin has a rapidly developing marine service industry as well as being a major air transport hub and cruise ship port-of-call.)
Pierre's father Louis Emile Beauperthuy 87, (known as "Lil' Dan" as his father, Daniel was "Mr.Dan") was a foreman working with a gang loading the ships. His most vivid recollection was of the "Luisa B.", whose captain Augustine Magras was attending to paperwork in Marigot when the First Mate decided to weigh anchor in adverse conditions. She was driven up the beach stem first, about where "Pedro's" is today. Try as they might they could not refloat her, so her cargo of 325 barrels of salt and other goods for St.Barts were salvaged. Lil' Dan stored the perishable cargo in warehouses he owned in French Quarter. The year was around 1954 and in the forty years since, the ship rotted away completely.
A similar fate awaited a whale that marooned itself on the windward shore Green Key, around 1932. It had been harpooned, and was probably distressed and disorientated and beached itself. Many sharks were attracted into the bay by the prospect of whalemeat. The locals turned it into a shark shoot, with boats dating everywhere, containing eager shooters whose previous targets had been birds and the odd rodent. As Lil' Dan relates, he took the luckless L.C. Fleming to hospital, after he mixed up the calibre of his ammunition and a shell exploded in his face.
A Couple of Pig Tales
In the thirties, a lone pig was transported in the company of some sheep and goats to Flat Island (Tintamarre) from Cut de Sac, at the northern end of Orient Bay. The poor porker was so disgruntled with it's new surroundings that it swum back to Grand Caye Beach, between Eastern Point and Cut de Sac. Living by itself in the small island's scrub made it deserate, luckily it would have been swimming with the current. [A slow raceboat is referred to as a "pig", surely such a display of bovine bravado could be described as a racy passage.]
Later a schooner would founder near Flat Island and its cargo of pigs swum ashore. They also lived in the scrub and supplemented their meagre diet with nocturnal raids on the Amell's vegetable plots, (they worked for L.C.Fleming). You guessed it, a pig shoot followed.
A Big Lobster
Frederick V1aun. of Cut de Sac tells a tale of a big one that didn't get away. While snaring lobster at Green Key, a buddy in the water asked Frederick to fashion a bigger lasso, on the end of a stick. "No, a bigger lasso," was the repeated instruction. Frederick, in the boat wondered what was going on down there. Up came a 25 pound lobster, with legs as long as Frederick's arms. Too big for eating, it was taken over to Mullet Bay for preserving.
Mr, Carter Ray had the shipping rights for cotton from Anguillato England. Raw cotton had it's seeds removed in Anguilla at a cotton gin. The hills that form a backdrop to Orient Bay were once cultivated in sea island cotton. The odd plant still grows there today, it's natural to these islands. The original cultivation on this island, was of sugarcane, however soil erosion on the steeper slopes limited it to the flats, by the middle of last century. The cotton from Orleans was easier shipped through Orient Bay. By the time Orient Bay was flourishing as a port there was little sugar cane grown in t e Orleans Valley.
Grand Case: The Port
Carter Ray owned the Hope Estate, and his house was called "Mont Vernon", near the Cut de Sactum-off. Cotton from his estate and others closer to Grand Case were shipped to Anguilla from there. Grand Case was a small general port. It had at least two sloops and a schooner, some of which Ray had interests in. With names like "Surprise" and "Good Hope" there can be little doubt about that.
Grand Case handled exports of salt from it's salt ponds, as well as imports of lumber and other building supplies. Later was a wharf was constructed, and thus by-passed the double handling of goods. Grand Case, like Marigot was a port of entry, whereas Orient Bay was not.
A Family Affair
Meanwhile back at Orient Bay the Beauperthuys and their relations filled many of the key posts in the Saline Company. Also on the job were Pierre's uncles, Victor Gumbs would check the salt barrels as they left the shore and John Gumbs would count them into the ship. Some years ago Lil' Dan transferred his ninety year lease for Orient Salt Pond to his sister Madame Fleming (who is also the owner of Tintamarre and the widow of the late L.C.Fleming.)
When a ship arrived in Orient Bay a blast on it's horn was a signal to French Quarter that workers were required for loading. Scores would walk to the salt pond looking for two or three days work. If two ships were in, then the loading together with the salt harvesting operations would require up to 200 workers. Many were children who preferred loading salt to attending school.
The Two Houses Chamba (Shambar) Hill
The closest thing the Saline Company had to a registered office or headquarters as such, was the house where wages were paid, on Chamba Hill (named after the Chateau de Cambois, France), now opposite the Catholic Church in French Quarter. It was one of two houses that "Mr.Dan." Beauperthuy and his wife (Pierre's grandparents) lived in. One was referred to as "his" house, from which he conducted not only company business, but municipal and judicial business as well. He was at some time both the Mayor and the Judge. The other, "her" house was the family home.
The Salt House
This building was near the road connecting the salt pond with the beach. It had limerock foundations and was of wooden construction. In it's cellar were kept the tools of salt production.
These tools were irons used for digging, dishes for washing similar to the way gold is panned, baskets for carrying it to the pyramids. Also stored at the Salt House were the sacks for transportation. It's position today would be opposite the entrance to Club Orient Resort. Post war hurricanes and sand mining have removed all trace of the Salt House.
Pierre played in the house as a child "It was always open, there was no stealing then." However his childhood sanctuary disintegrated when he came across a human skull in the cellar. 1 never ran home so fast in all my life."
Orient Salt Pond
In Orient Salt Pond you can still see physical evidence of salt production. The dykes or dams were used to separate the ponds. The salt water flowed through control gates from the Fish Pond that French Quarter is today built around. It was then allocated to either the Big Pond, Daniel's Dam or Marie Severe. Also visible today are the sticks on which the salt would deposit which were indicators of the amount of salt sediment on the bottom of the pond.
Careful attention had to be paid to inundation of by rainwater. The science of salt production is a balance of natural forces within a created environment. Salt naturally occurs on St Martin, however commercial quantities always had to be manufactured. Evaporation of an already saturated salt solution would cause more salt to precipitate out of solution, and deposit onto the bottom of the pond. The maximum rate of precipitation occurred in the summer, especially when there was no wind.
The Demise of Salt
Government control of the price of staple commodities such as salt, meant that the very labour intense St Martin industry was not lucrative in a period rising wages and fixed prices. Luckily about this time, the late fifties/early sixties St Martin was beginning to find it's feet as a tourist destination. It was up until this time that the islands were very inter-dependent on each other, for example; until this time no ice was manufactured on St Martin and it was brought as cargo in blocks insulated by sawdust.
So a resource that had become uneconomic to produce was to be left in the shallow waters of Orient Salt Pond and next door the clean sands of Orient Beach would prove to be a magnet for a new resource. As Pierre's mother, Innis Richardson Beauperthuy says "Now we have the four masters on Tintamarre", referring to the cruising clipper ships, with a smile. When her husband, Lil' Dan first arrived at Orient Bay in 1928 from America, "there were thousands of lobsters and conchs. So many, you could walk out and pick them up. We didn't eat them, we used them as bait in the fish traps. There was a lobster cannery in Marigot run by a couple of Cubans, Comas and Tornas." Now in Orient Bay you wont find many lobsters. On Orient Beach you'll find plenty of tourists about the same colour as a cooked lobster.
Orient Bay Today
Charter yachts now replicate the movements of working schooners and sloops. Coming from St.Kitts, Anguilla bound schooners would overnight at Tintamarre. Look over to Flat Island and you will often make out the mast lights of boats and ships. A yacht will anchor for a day or two behind Green Key, though nowhere near the tonnage of a salt schooner. Every September the Anguilla based schooners would use Cul de Sac as a hurricane hole, as local boats do now.
The author is indebted to Louis and Irmis Beauperthuy and their son, Pierre for sharing their stories. The article is based mainly on personal recollections. This kind family realises the importance of the history of the island, and has dedicated a portion of their land as a museum site. Pierre is an avid collector of museum artefacts. Likewise a big thank you Miss Jeanne Hyman and her daughter Elisa Hyman. Frederick V1aun, who runs the ferry service from Cul de Sac to lle Pinel, gave the perspective from the northern end of the bay.
Clean Sweet Wind, Sailing craft of the Lesser Antilles by Douglas C. Payne.xl
Diary of a Salt picker
"Miss " Jeanne Hyman was born on 24th December, 1891 and except for five months on Aruba, has lived all her life on Shambar Hill, behind the Catholic Church in French Quarter. Miss Jeanne described how the salt was harvested The salt was hard crust on the bottom of the pond. An iron or "crow" was used to break it into cakes. She motioned how she would crouch down and lift the cake out whole with both arms underneath and then place it in saltboat called a 'flat". "We use to sing a song when we were picking the salt, but I can't remember. "
"The salt was picked in the morning, when the sun get hot we stop, because the water is too hot -you can't stand in it". Sometimes the salt would come away clean, other times mud would have to washed off the cake. Summer was the season for harvesting the salt. "We'd carry our lunch to the pond, and go to the beach and rinse out the salt water in the sea ", (Orient Bay's seawater not being as harsh as the salt pond's saturated solution.) "Our children carried the bags to the small boats. That's the way we use to live here, we would help each other. "
Miss Jeanne married Bertin Hyman. "My husband was a working man, cultivation. He went to Aruba for thirty years and Curacao for five years", (many St Martiners were attracted to the prosperity created by the construction and operation of oil refineries on Curacao and Aruba.) "My father (David Richardson) leave me 14 acres on Flag Mountain (Flagstaff but it was no use to me, ', and went on to describe a remarkable daily routine of her childhood, having to carry produce down and provisions back up, till her daughter dismissed it as a ruse, "she lived here all her life. " Miss Jeanne raised two daughters and two sons, one of whom Club Orient patrons know very well as Johnny the taxidriver. She has had a hand in rearing four generations of children. Only recently has she found it too much of an effort to walk to church, next door. She still crochets, the patterns being very intricate.
Salt picking was seasonal work, the workers being paid by the weight of the cleaned salt they had harvested from their allocated area of the pond, Miss Jeanne did pick cotton for just one day for Carter Ray, "worked all day to pick a bag this high " (gesturing waist high). That earned her two Francs. She got by on her wits, "I never cleaned house for nobody, but lots of cooking. " These were the days of "hard asses " work, before the U. S. dollar became the main currency of the island, St. Martiners were more self sufficient, by growing fruits and vegetables and raising animals. There didn't seem to be a any demarcation, "we all lived like one big family, you help me and 1 help you. "
Of the ships that came into Orient Bay, Miss Jeanne could remember the "Luisa B " because she had salvaged a pot from it. She recently gave it away to somebody who wanted it because of ifs origin. It's probably the only tangible evidence that Orient Bay was once aport. "Plenty of things I remember, but not everything. If anybody come by me I like to make them feel happy. "
About the Author
Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Andrew MacDonald has been a regular visitor to St.Martin since 1987. While here, he lived and breathed the local history and culture. To find it he walked around the island probably about 40 or more times, meeting and talking with people. He made numerous contributions to the Orient Beach News including the historical feature on Tintamarre Island, published in the last issue (Vol.2No.4)of the OBN back in 1993. His favourite interest in life is travel and he's presently in living in Sydney Australia and working as an accountant.