Stories Between the Pages

In a clothbound ledger of salt production accounting from Pierre Beauperthuy’s collection, there are hints of many stories about the salt business and life on St. Martin from 1935 to 1950. The stories are hidden in expenses and timesheets and sales of salt to different ships.

Royalty shares for salt production rights.

Tucked between the pages of this ledger a few scraps of paper have even more to tell us. A small rectangle of paper shows the “Royalty for Salt Ponds for year 1941.” It shows the royalty shares for investors, 1/8 to L.C. Fleming, 1/6 to D.C. v Romondt & Co, 1/3 to D. Beauperthuy and 3/8 to L.R. v Romondt’s sons. The total amount is 205.25 francs.

Payment receipt for the salt royalty fee.

Also tucked in to the ledger is an official form from Guadeloupe. It is a receipt for the payment of the 200 francs royalty fee for the right to produce salt on the salt pond in St. Martin. It doesn’t specify the pond, but perhaps it covers all the ponds on the French side, and the 205.25 francs collected from the various families was for paying this fee.

These papers help us see how salt production was managed collectively. They also show the relationships between the families with wealth at the time. Perhaps it tell us something about the unity on the island that these ponds were shared resources, managed cooperatively.

A tally of salt picking work.

Another sheet of paper shows personal relationships in a different way. It is a list of names, each one followed by a set of numbers added together. The page has no title, but it is almost certain that the people were salt pickers at the Orient Bay pond. The numbers were the barrels of salt picked per day. The names themselves certainly sound familiar: Alice Barry, Jane Hyman, Joseph Fleming, Susan Richardson, James Gumbs, Martha Brooks, Carmen Illidge and many more. They are people with family still living in French Quarter today.

In one way, this sheet of paper captures something almost timeless. The names have been St. Martin names for generations. The salt picking was done in a way that goes back hundreds of years. The ponds themselves and the spring sun that dries them out until the salt blows are far older still.

But this salt picking tally was actually written on the back of a notice sent by a trading company called Merritt and Critchley. Dated February 14, 1941, it announced that the company could no longer ship oils in metal containers, including kerosene and cooking oils. It had also finally got a license to sell rope again. These restrictions were put in place by the U.S. government as it began to control materials needed for the Allied war effort in WWII.

Trade restrictions due to WWII.

In 1941, local people picked salt in the traditional manner. In many ways they were distant from the outside world. But as a faraway war gathered steam, they would face hardships, being cut off from some of the goods they used in daily life.

If you want to take a closer look at these papers, visit http://soualibra.com and go to the Archives page to download them.

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