The history of people on the island of St. Eustatius reflects in many ways the past of other islands in the Caribbean archipelago; multiple migrations of peoples occupying the islands, resulting in a diverse and dynamic past. The first evidence of peoples colonizing the islands is from around 5000 BC, coming from Belize. This migration is also evidence that these people mastered seafaring technology, likely using dugout canoes. Especially earlier episodes of colonization were also characterized by frequent return voyages, to keep kinship relations up and maintain social bond with their previous ‘home’. Over time, people became more connected to the Caribbean islands and visits to Mesoamerica became less frequent. The artifacts found in association with these people are mostly chert blades and this era is designated by archaeologists as the lithic age. Most of the sites from this period suggest that people were moving around, living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and exploiting different habitats and islands throughout the year. These people, however, never reached St. Eustatius and evidence is limited to the Greater Antilles.
Around 3000 BC a change appears in the material culture and a ground-stone technology was adopted. This period is called the Archaic age. Previously, archaeologists thought this was evidence of a new wave of people moving into the Caribbean islands from the Trinidad northwards. But more recent evidence suggests that this new technology was likely integrated into existing groups that were already present through continuous contact and exchanges with especially the north coast of South America. During this time, people might have started pottery production, but in very low quantities. Some cultigens might have been grown as well in small-scale ‘kitchen-gardens’, but people were mainly focusing on the natural riches, moving through the islands on seasonal rhythms.
There are a number of sites on St. Eustatius that are associated with these materials of Archaic people. Unfortunately, none of these sites have been thoroughly investigated and none of sites have been dated as of yet. Artifact assemblages that have been documented, show that Archaic people targeted locations with access to reefs on St. Eustatius. This suggests that they were eating shell and fish species that live in these environments, especially West Indian Top Snails and Queen conch. On nearby Saba, prof. Dr. Corinne Hofman and Dr. Menno Hoogland from University Leiden, the Netherlands, excavated and investigated an Archaic site which yielded dates around 1350 BC. It is very likely that people roamed the islands surrounding Saba at this moment and made occasional visits to St. Eustatius as well. There is a lot to learn from these earlier sites though, and future research is necessary to understand the earliest occupation of the island.
Around 500 BC, a bigger change in material culture is recognized, initially in Puerto Rico and the northern Lesser Antilles. Later, these changes appear on islands in the southern Lesser Antilles as well. Although pottery is sporadically found in earlier Archaic sites, around 500 BC pottery becomes an important part of material culture. Because this development is such a radical change with the previous period, this change must be associated with new people coming into the region from elsewhere. This is further demonstrated by the pottery style, as the pottery found in the Caribbean islands resembles the pottery found on the South American mainland. This new migration is associated with larger population movements in the mainland, where Arawakan people spread over large areas in the tropical lowlands. These groups, called Saladoid, have very particular characteristics that are not shared with other groups in the region, namely large, fixed settlements and populations, hierarchical social organization and strong similarities over large distances between regions. Furthermore, the motives on this Saladoid pottery consist of beautifully decorated with white, black and red designs.
Previously, it was assumed that large groups crossed the Caribbean Sea and established villages on the Caribbean islands, but recently researchers are also considering that smaller groups migrated to these islands, integrated with previously existing Archaic groups already present in the islands, and introduced this set of cultural practices. These Archaic groups might have adapted to the lifeways of their new visitors relatively quickly and smoothly, including a larger economic focus on agricultural goods, a more sedentary lifestyle associated with the maintenance of agricultural plots and the large scale production of pottery. Although these new practices, including cultivation of domesticates and the production of pottery, were not completely unknown to Archaic people, the introduction of people from South America introduced a completely different way of understanding the world.
Saladoid people lived on St. Eustatius. In fact, the Saladoid site Golden Rock, located in the center of the island, is unique in Caribbean archaeology and well-known to professional archaeologists. The settlement was excavated by Aad Versteeg and his crew in the late 1980s. Golden Rock is one of the few Saladoid sites where remnants of multiple houses were found and where archaeological investigations revealed how villages were organized during this period. The village was occupied relatively late in the Saladoid times, and radiocarbon dates indicate that people inhabited the region between the 7th, 8th and 9th century AD.
People living in the village probably grew cassava or bitter manioc and maize, the two main staples of the prehistoric Caribbean diet. Furthermore, people were eating iguanas, agutis, rice-rats (a native to the region, which is extinct now) and birds, but isotope analysis has shown that shellfish were the major protein source for these people. When people prefer certain animals over others, they take in the same minerals as the animals that they eat did. These minerals are then incorporated in the bones and teeth. Chemical isotopic analysis of these remains can, therefore, inform on dietary patterns of these people. The most likely source of shellfish is Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), but relatively little shell pieces are found at this site. The same holds for the other possible source, the West Indian Top Snail (Cittarium pica). But it is very likely that people caught these animals near the shore or on the water, extracted the edible part of the animal, and discarded the heavy shell away from the site. These heavy shells were only brought to the site when people used these shells to make tools, such as axes, adzes, hammers, scraper and other handy items to make life easier!
Environmental and wood data from the site show that St. Eustatius looked quite different from what it looks now. Wood and trees were much more abundant and a semi-deciduous forest was growing over the island. This might have made woodworking and canoe building an import economy on the island, as people made many tools of this perishable material. Although very few wooden artifacts survived, early historical sources written by colonists refer to many items made of wood. Even though these references are made several centuries later than when people were living at Golden Rock, it can safely be assumed that people made many tools from wood, including their most important tool, the canoe.
In total, nine burials were also found at Golden Rock. These burials consisted of complete and partial burials and a number of artifacts were found in them, such as coral and shell tools, pottery vessels and quartz and shell beads. These burial gifts indicate that people were associated with certain objects and that social differences between people existed. The partial burials are probably the result of what is called secondary burial rituals. In these situations a previously buried person is excavated, most likely by his or her relatives, and certain parts of the skeleton are removed and placed elsewhere. These practices were widespread throughout the Caribbean islands and were performed to re-celebrate these people and pay homage to their life. The people that held these ceremonies also tried to relate to these deceased people and establish a social connection with them. Bones of the deceased were also thought to have magical properties and ancestors were often venerated in Saladoid times. The creation myth of people living on Hispaniola at contact, as recorded by Fray Ramón Pané who joined Columbus on his second voyage to the Caribbean, mentions how the remains of a god were placed in a gourd, hanging from the roof of the house. This practices was later also observed by the colonists throughout the islands and this practice might have existed at Golden Rock as well.
The most interesting aspect of the Golden Rock site for archaeologists are the clear patterns of six large houses. Archaeologists recognized distinct circular patterns of colorizations in the soil. These patterns were the result of people placing posts into the ground to build structures, such as houses. These colorizations are produced when posts decay in these locations, adding organic matter to the ground, or when posts were removed, filling it up with a different material than the original soil. The houses found at Golden Rock are large; one even has a diameter of 19 m! In later periods, houses are much smaller, with diameters of approximately 10 m. This suggests that larger families lived together in one house at Golden Rock, suggesting a different social organization and kinship relations than in later times.
The most interesting house is the ‘Sea Turtle House’. One of the structures has a very distinct pattern and, when the locations of the post are connected and seen from above, a drawing of the skeleton and carapace of a Hawksbill turtle appears. The floorplan of the house resembles in many ways the anatomy of this particular turtle. Although this interpretation might seem to be a stretch, a pottery bowl was found that had the shape of a turtle at Golden Rock. Furthermore, a burial of a complete Hawksbill turtle was found at the site. If people would have caught this animal for meat, a proper burial would not be expected and the bones would certainly not be in the right anatomical position. This find is therefore interpreted as a cache, an intentional deposition of an artifact as a human practice to materialize a certain social relation between people and the buried artifact. At Smoke Alley, a post-Saladoid site, another cache was found with a hawksbill turtle. It seems that people living on St. Eustatius had a very special relation with Hawksbill turtles, which makes the interpretation of the Sea Turtle House much more convincing than it would be without these other finds at the site.
It was Wednesday 13th November 1493 when Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the New World, sailed by St. Kitts and became the first European to lay eyes on St. Eustatius. He did not land here, but he gave the island a name: S. Maria de la niebe (this name was later given to the island currently known as Nevis). Later explorers called the island by its possible Amerindian name Aloi, meaning ‘cashew island’. Throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the island appeared on charts and in documents as Estasia, Estaxia, St. Anastasia, St. Eustatius, Stacio, Statia, Eustathio and S. Eustachio. In the end, two of these names are still used today.
In the sixteenth century the Spanish, who constituted the majority of Europeans in the Caribbean, did not settle on Statia. One of the reasons for this is that the island did not have the things that the Spaniards were looking for: treasures like gold and silver. Furthermore, it did not have many (if any) Indian slaves who could be employed to mine these precious metals. Not surprisingly, other European powers came to have a presence in the area as well during the sixteenth century, and over time they were successful in making dents in the Spanish monopoly in the Caribbean. The Spanish, forced to defend their major ports and the treasure fleets, directed their attention to the Greater Antilles. The Lesser Antilles, including St. Eustatius, served as entry points for pirates and buccaneers, but later also for merchants, leading eventually to a presence in the Caribbean for, among others, the English, French and Dutch. They soon saw the value of the islands beyond points from which to attack the Spanish. In the early seventeenth century these European powers started to see potential in agriculture and commerce, resulting in rapid colonization of the Lesser Antilles.
In the 1630s, the Dutch began to colonize various Caribbean islands. St. Maarten was colonized in 1631, Curaçao in 1634, Aruba, Bonaire and St. Eustatius in 1636 and Saba around 1640. In December 1635 the Zeeland merchant Jan Snouck and his partners received permission to establish a colony on St. Croix. They fitted out a ship, appointed Peter van Corselles as leader of the future colony and sent him with sufficient men to the West Indies. On arrival the island appeared not to live up to expectations regarding fertility and anchorages, so they concentrated on the nearby St. Eustatius. This island was occupied by the Dutch in the spring of 1636. The expedition found the island uninhabited. The Amerindians who had lived there had probably died out or moved to other islands.
The English were the first Europeans to settle on St. Eustatius in 1625, but they moved soon after, probably due to unsuccessful agriculture. Van Corselles and his men found the ruins of a deserted bastion on the island, on which they built Fort Oranje. The bastion Fort Oranje was constructed on was built in 1629 by the French. In this year they temporarily settled on Statia, because they were afraid that the Spanish were going to use the island as a base from which to attack the French settlement on St. Kitts. Insufficient quantities of drinking water made their stay a short one. The Dutch strengthened the French fort with some cannons. In 1636, the new population of St. Eustatius consisted of 40-50 people. These were mainly Zeelanders, Flemings and Walloons. They set up tobacco, sugar cane and cotton plantations and called the island ‘Nieuw Zeelandt’. Coffee and indigo were also grown on the island. As the plantations increased, so did the number of imported black and red slaves. Because of the international trade, several European merchants settled on the island as well, although the emphasis in this century lay on agriculture. In 1665, the population had grown to 330 white people and 840 Negroes and Indians. The yields from the plantations, which by 1650 were even to be found on the slopes of the hills, were exported to Zeeland. Prosperity increased steadily, but it was probably not until the beginning of the eighteenth century that urban development started to take place. Habitation in the seventeenth century most likely consisted of scattered farms around the fort. There were also a few warehouses built indicating small-scale trade. All this Dutch activity on the island caused Great Britain to be envious, particularly since a royal patent of 1627 declared Great Britain the owner of St. Eustatius. Despite these irritations these first few decades were very peaceful.
In 1663, peace was disrupted when the Englishman Robert Holmes sacked the island. The English occupied St. Eustatius in 1665 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War after an attack led by Edward Morgan. In 1667, St. Eustatius was given back to the Dutch after the Treaty of Breda. In 1672, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, Statia was under English control again, but a year later the Dutch took over the island. At the Treaty of Westminster in 1674, it was officially returned to the Netherlands, but the English were afraid it would fall into French hands, so they held on to it. This was agreeable to the Heren XIX, the board of the West India Company; in this way they did not have to spend any money on the defense of the island. In 1679, it was taken back into Dutch hands. In the same year though, the French attacked the island and destroyed the whole settlement. A year later a joint English/Dutch attack placed the island in Dutch hands again.
At this time the West India Company thought St. Eustatius would be very suitable as a transit harbour for slaves. Until now, Statia had been owned by various ‘patrons’. These were individual merchants and representatives of the Zeeland Chamber, who had a large capital at their disposal and were responsible for law and order and the appointment of a commander. In 1682, the island became completely the property of the Second Dutch West India Company. The Zeeland merchants who had owned the island gave it to the Second WIC, since the constant disruption to planting and trading activities by pirates and privateers proved too difficult for them. In 1689, St. Eustatius was captured by the French during King William’s War. They hauled away a booty close to two million dollars. By 1697, the Dutch found themselves again in possession of the island, after the English recaptured it for them. The poor state of the island’s defense, including cannon that refused to fire or would even explode, was one of the main reasons why it was often given over without any significant opposition during the last four decades of the seventeenth century. Moreover, the inhabitants over time lost the will to resist, since the Dutch Republic most of the time failed to supply them with sufficient ammunition.
The multiple changes of power and an economic recession led to great poverty on the island at the end of the seventeenth century. People sometimes did not even have money to buy shoes. Because land was extremely cheap, people from other islands started moving to Statia. Between 1705 and 1715 the population on the island more than doubled from 606 to 1,274 inhabitants. Because of this population increase and the prevailing poverty, in 1717 the Statians wanted to colonize St. Croix, but an answer from the States General of the Republic was never received. During the first three decades of the eighteenth century, family feuds and rivalries increased dramatically, ruining all chances of good and stable government and undermining a solid basis for prosperity. Since Statia was not very productive at that time, the Heren X did not really care about this turmoil.
In the 1630s, the Dutch conquered parts of Brazil and Guinea. From this time on they improved their position as slave traders. In the period of 1660-1670, Curaçao developed into an important slave depot for the West Indies. After 1730 everyone was allowed to export slaves from the Dutch West African coast, but had to pay tribute to the WIC to do so. The WIC lost a lot of money to smugglers who did not pay and could offer slaves for a cheaper price. On St. Eustatius these smugglers sold a lot of slaves, since the WIC failed to supply slaves time and time again. Already in 1675, St. Eustatius provided the French, Spanish and English islands with slaves. By 1725, the Dutch shipped 2,000 to 3,000 slaves per year to the island, almost all in transit. Slave ships brought their cargo to Statia to be auctioned to buyers from the surrounding islands. Fort Amsterdam, at Oranje Bay’s northern end, hosted slave auctions and served to store slaves. Initially, the main building was only one storey; however it was expanded to two in 1742 to accommodate additional slaves. Sometimes, the slaves were transferred from one ship to another without even coming ashore.
Slaves were delivered dressed, and if you wanted to get a good price for a slave, he/she needed to be well fed. The Statian slaves worked not only on plantations, but also as crewmen on ships, ship workers, transporters of goods to and from ships, and as servants. They possibly also helped in making illegally imported raw sugar into rum. The slave trade reached its peak in the early 1770s. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, people started to protest against this trade. The slave trade in the Dutch colonies was ended in 1814, but it was not until 1863 that the Dutch abolished slavery. In the island’s urban center, slaves lived both in and around the merchants’ homes; various inventories indicate that slave dwellings were part of these properties in addition to other outbuildings. There is also strong evidence that a large number of freed slaves lived in areas at the periphery of Oranjestad. On plantations the enslaved population lived in little villages, often referred to as ‘slave quarters.’ One such village was excavated by SECAR on Schotsenhoek plantation in 2012-2013. The remains of seven post-in-ground dwellings were found, ranging from 10 to 21 m². Artifacts associated with the village included a wide variety of European trade goods, indicating that the enslaved population on St. Eustatius had more access to luxury goods than previously thought. Interestingly, whereas on most other Caribbean islands the slave dwellings were in sight of the plantation owner’s house, on Statia this was not the case, suggesting that surveillance of the slaves’ home lives was more limited. Owners could have, as was found elsewhere, placed slave housing in an area that was more easily observed. However, the owners may have felt no need to constantly watch their slaves due to the small size of Statia. As a result, slaves probably experienced a much different physical and social environment that those living on other islands. On Statia, slaves moved between the plantations and throughout the trading district with relative ease.Thus the living conditions were likely less difficult for slaves on Statia compared to those in other places. Here they could earn money with which they could purchase their freedom. These so called ‘free blacks’ would sometimes have a few slaves of their own. Nevertheless, it often happened that slaves tried to escape, not always without success. In 1750, a ship named the Young Elias lay at anchor at St. Eustatius. The only people on board were four slaves, who hoisted sail and escaped to Puerto Rico, where, once they were baptized, they did not have to worry about being sent back. In 1780, an estimated 50 slaves escaped into the crater of the Quill, who were quickly apprehended.
The economic situation of Statia changed for the better after 1730. In 1739 a synagogue (Honen Dalim) was built in the center of Oranjestad for the growing Jewish community of the island. Most people, however, were Christian, resulting in the building of various churches over time. By the 1740s it was no longer possible to expand agriculture, since all arable land was under cultivation. The demand for sugar soared in this decade. As a result, the plantations growing cotton, coffee and tobacco were converted into sugar cane plantations. A 1742 map of the island shows 88 plantations and/or landholdings. Nearly four decades later, in 1781, this number had diminished to about twenty, indicating an economic shift from agriculture to trade. On Statia, plantations were designed for two primary purposes. First, to process illegal sugar for re-export and second, to grow provisions for re-supplying ships and for slaves on other islands.The residential and commercial areas on the island were enlarged in the eighteenth century despite various setbacks and difficulties like lazy workers, conflicts about landownership and devastating hurricanes in 1772 and 1780. The bay area, where Lower Town is located, was extended by reclaiming land from the sea and Upper Town by newly built merchant houses on a stretch of land called the ‘Compagniessavane’, a West India Company owned plantation above town. The latter was laid out in lots approximately 0.1 hectares in size. Lower and Upper Town were divided by high cliffs. Several steep paths connected the two parts of the town. Lower Town started to become a trade locus towards the end of the first half of the eighteenth century. Due to steady population growth, housing was scarce and rental of a house was very expensive. This caused merchants to build houses on the bay after 1760, some of which were of palatial dimensions.Besides the residential houses new warehouses, trade offices and a new weighing house were built. In the latter half of the eighteenth century building activities and trade increased resulting in a strip of an estimated 600 two-storey high warehouses that stretched for one and a half kilometers along the bay. They were sometimes so full that the doors could no longer be used. An account from the Scottish lady Janet Schaw dating to 1775 shows Lower Town to have been a continuous market displaying goods of different types and qualities sold by people from all over the world. Schaw called the island “a place of vast traffick from every quarter of the globe.” After 1760, the number of ships arriving on Statia numbered between 1,800 and 2,700, reaching a maximum of 3,551 ships in 1779. They came from Europe, Africa and the Americas. Lieutenant Cornelius de Jong remarked that in 1780, when he visited the island, there were frequently 200 ships on the road, of which about 40% were Dutch. Almost 20,000 merchants, slaves, sailors and plantation owners were crowded on this small island in its heyday (a large proportion of these were temporary residents). In the 1770s imports exceeded the capacity of the island’s warehouses and sugar and cotton were piled up high in the open air. It was almost impossible for new residents to find a house to rent, as many residential buildings were also stuffed with merchandise. This was the time at which St. Eustatius reached its greatest prosperity and earned its nickname the ‘Golden Rock’.
There were several reasons for Statia’s economic success. First, it had an ideal location on the busy sea-lanes between the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Second, the harbour was ideally situated on the leeward side of the island and geological conditions inhibited the condensation of rain clouds on The Quill. This reduced the quantity of rainfall, restricting the quality and quantity of tobacco, sugar cane and other farm products that could be produced on the island. Left with no agricultural promise, trade was the best option for the residents. Third, the island was surrounded by colonies of various European countries. These colonies were dependent on supplies from their mother countries according to the monopoly system, which were not always sufficient or on time. Every colonial power tried to monopolize trade with its colonies in order to keep the prices high. Since it was a Dutch custom to favour free trade and the Republic was in a neutral position in many European wars, in 1754 St. Eustatius was made into a free port which was in an excellent position to ship not only slaves but also other illegal supplies such as sugar, tobacco, foodstuffs, gunpowder, and weapons to these colonies. This illicit trade between the Caribbean islands, the Spanish-American mainland and the North American colonies is termed the kleine vaart. On Statia this took on enormous proportions. For example, around 1770 Statia produced about 600,000 lbs of sugar annually, but it exported 20 million lbs. The remaining 19.4 million lbs were brought over from other islands and sold tax free on St. Eustatius to maximize profit. Weapons and gunpowder, originally coming from Europe, were shipped in great numbers to the English colonies in North America in exchange for commodities such as sugar and tobacco. This trade reached its peak during the American War of Independence. The outbreak of this war in 1774 brought as many as twenty North American ships at a time crowding into the small bay at St. Eustatius to buy supplies needed by the rebels. Even the English merchants on the island were willing to sell whatever the enemies of their country needed. In 1775 the export of arms and war equipment to North America from Dutch ports was forbidden by the Dutch government under pressure from Great Britain, but on Statia this was ignored and the illegal trade continued to flourish. This is aptly illustrated by a letter from Abraham van Bibber, the Maryland agent on the island, written to his superiors, saying: ‘obedience to the law would be ruinous for the trade’. Gunpowder was shipped in boxes labeled as tea or in bales labeled as rice, officials were bribed and the control by customs officers was faulty. These three factors caused the island to become the major trading center in the Atlantic World during the late eighteenth century.
On 16th November 1776 Johannes de Graaff, the commander of St. Eustatius at the time, ordered a return salute to be fired to the Andrew Doria, an armed North American brigantine flying the colours of the rebelling thirteen colonies. Although this counter salute was insufficient for a recognition of the sovereignty of a foreign state (it was not in accordance with protocol) and De Graaff did not have the slightest competency to do such a thing, the act was interpreted by the English as clear recognition of the rebellious colonies’ newly found state by St. Eustatius. The English were furious and felt betrayed by the Dutch because Statia, the representative of what was at that time still an allied state, chose the side of their enemy. The Statians, however, just wanted to make as much profit as possible, and ships like the Andrew Doria always came to buy arms and ammunition. Moreover, it was not the first time that a ship flying the Grand Union Flag received a return salute. Earlier that year it also happened on St. Croix and St. Thomas. The big difference with Statia was that here the flag was flown by a commissioned naval vessel whose captain, Isaiah Robinson, was a Captain of the Navy. The Statians had no idea of this, because the Andrew Doria did not look like a naval vessel by outward appearances.
Nevertheless, this event, together with the capture of an English ship by the American ship Baltimore Hero near Statia in 1776, the continued saluting of North American ships buying arms by commander De Graaff whom the English wanted to be fired, the constant equipping and fitting-out of privateers to prey on British commerce, and the steadily growing envy of the English to the prosperity of St. Eustatius led to increased conflict with Great Britain – which declared war on the Republic in December 1780 – and the capturing of the island by Admiral George Brydges Rodney in February 1781. Together with Sir Samuel Hood and General Vaughan he arrived on St. Eustatius with 3,000 men in 23 ships of the line, five frigates and a number of smaller ships.The odds were clearly against the Dutch garrison of fifty men in their neglected forts and batteries and the two Dutch men-of-war lying at anchor. Nevertheless, a few shots were fired for honour’s sake before the island surrendered. Rodney kept the Dutch flag flying from Fort Oranje for a month in order to seize the cargoes of unsuspecting ships arriving on the island. The warehouses were sealed and all shops had to remain closed. When Rodney landed, the yearly rent on the warehouses totaled £1,200,000. Over £3,000,000 was realized from goods that were auctioned from the warehouses in what the 1783 Annual Register described as “one of the greatest auctions that ever was opened in the universe.” In addition to this sum, over £4,000,000 in bullion was confiscated from island residents. All of these figures are in eighteenth-century terms. They represent the largest single booty taken in time of war by any nation during the eighteenth century. The intended destruction of the island, which Rodney called ‘a nest of vipers which preyed upon the vitals of Great Britain’, did not take place. Towards the end of 1781 the French managed to take over the island with a surprise attack. At this time, France and the United Provinces were allies against Great Britain. St. Eustatius returned to Dutch control in 1783. In 1784, after the actual change of government had taken place, St. Eustatius again became a free port and trade recovered, causing the economy to flourish even more than it had done so in the previous decade. The population increased to a record breaking 8,000 at the end of the 1780’s, of which almost 5,000 were slaves.Around 1795 the importance of St. Eustatius as a transit harbour declined. The United States had become independent and trade moved to North America. To make matters worse, the end of the slave trade was looming. On top of all this the French captured the island in 1795. The French policies governing trade inhibited the free transactions that built the island’s wealth. These events signaled the end of prosperity on what a mere fifteen years earlier was the richest trading centre in the Caribbean. In 1801 the English seized St. Eustatius again, but a year later Dutch rule was reinstated with the peace of Amiens. In 1810 St. Eustatius surrendered to the English. In 1814 Great Britain agreed to return the six Caribbean islands to the Dutch. The actual change occurred two years later, causing the Dutch flag to reappear in the West Indies.
In the following decades the warehouses that used to be stuffed to their roofs decayed, just like the forts and batteries. The houses in Upper Town fared a bit better. In 1840 there were just ten plantations left. The size of Oranjestad rapidly decreased along with the population density. After the abolition of slavery, slaves left the countryside to settle in the town and as a result the cultivation of crops came to an end. In order to provide some income 80,000 warehouse bricks were exported in 1855. Another way the people on the island made money in these years was by exporting trass, a volcanic earth that makes good mortar, to other Caribbean islands. Devastating hurricanes in 1898, 1899, 1900, 1923 and 1928 caused a lot of damage and increased the rate of decline. The population decreased from 2,668 people in 1816 to a mere 921 in 1948. The island that was once known as one of the leading ports of the world became an almost forgotten community.