The Mysterious I.D. Gumbes

In a small notebook from St. Martin, recipes for medicines and other valuable notes were stored. Though many of the cures were surely useless, this small book was clearly valued. It has been protected and saved for perhaps 200 years.

A handwritten index on the book’s final page gives the user a quick guide to the contents. The letter F leads to three different cures for fever and one for flux. S is for swelling, P is for pills and poultice. B is for belly ache and W for worms.

Amidst the single letters is IDG for “I.D. Gumbes pills (receipt given by Dr. Allaway).” A review of page 12 reveals that these were pills “to act on the Liver.” Even in this unconventional index, it would make more sense to file them under L for liver.

An unconventional index.

Who was I.D. Gumbes? It is a good question. This person was probably wealthy. The other people named in this notebook were mostly land owners. The people who received most European medical care at that time were wealthy.

Like many with the name Gumbes or Gumbs, I.D. may have had a connection to Anguilla. But they surely lived on St. Martin for a while. They received a prescription from Dr. Allaway of St. Martin. The author of the notebook mentions a prescription “for my daughter Anna Gumbes.” I.D. may have been her parent.

The I.D. Gumbes map of the Great Salt Pond.

I.D. Gumbes also drew a detailed map of the Great Salt Pond and town of Philipsburg in 1847. Their name is in the bottom right corner of the map. The map is beautiful. It shows plans for a crescent-shaped dam in the pond to divert rainwater from the hills away from the salt pans. The writing on the map is a mixture of pencil and ink, printing and cursive. Could it be the cleanest and most careful handwriting by the same person who wrote the little notebook?

Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be any other information about I.D. Gumbes. There seems to be no record of them being born, getting married, or dying on the French side. Searchable Dutch records start later, probably after I.D. was dead. If their major life events happened elsewhere, records could exist. But it would be much harder to connect them to the person in the notebook.

Based on the map and the notebook, I.D. Gumbes was probably wealthy and educated, at the top level of local society. Yet, we have almost no information about this person. It is like looking at a person’s life through a keyhole.

If we know so little about I.D., what about the poor planters and fishermen? What of the enslaved people who were the majority of St. Martiners? As more documents are digitized and shared, we will surely learn more about life on St. Martin 200 years ago. But countless stories will never be told.

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