Many of us grew up thinking of history as the story of ancient times. We learned about the ancient Egyptians and the Roman Empire, the Renaissance and the American Civil War. They all seemed like very distant things, and they were.
On St. Martin, we don’t have to look so far back in time to see a totally different island. The tourism industry really began to transform St. Martin in the 1960s. The economy grew, the population grew and the island became more closely connected with the rest of the world. Today, we have access to global culture and commerce: Game of Thrones, the latest iPhone and fresh foods from around the world.
Going back just a few years earlier—within the lifetime of St. Martiners still living here today—the island was a very different place. Fishing, farming and raising animals were key parts of the struggling local economy. Many had left the island to find jobs abroad. Salt was still being harvested and sold using age-old techniques. But that era was coming to an end.
A series of journals collected and saved by Pierre Beauperthuy gives us a unique window into this period. Spanning from 1935 to 1957, they mostly record financial transactions. But even the most mundane ledger becomes interesting over time. We can see which ships came and how much salt they purchased. We learn the cost of oars and paint for marking salt bags.
The entries that record the work and wages bring us closer to understanding life back then. Inese II stopped in Orient Bay and bought 318 barrels of salt in May of 1948. To bag the salt, there was a breaker, and there were shovelers, holders and helpers. There were many carriers to move it. There were boatmen, receivers and overlookers. There was a measurer. You don’t have to be a historian for this scene to come alive in your mind.
Even more importantly, we have names. Gaston Brooks, Mitilda Richardson, Charles Vanterpool, Marie Lake, Eduardo Fleming, Martha Brooks, Leonard Wescott and Roland Hodge are among the dozens who loaded the Inese II in 1948. Surely some passed on stories of their work to their children. Some of the people working in the later years may still be alive to tell their own story.
We can learn much from the journals themselves. We hope to learn more from the stories of the people who were there. If you have stories to share, write in to The Daily Herald or to [email protected]. To find your relatives in the full list of names from the ledgers, visit: https://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/salt-worker-names/.