The Golden Rock
St. Eustatius, locally known as Statia, lies half way between the Americas and Europe and as such was the ideal trading station for the Zeeland chapter of the Dutch West Indies Company. The Netherlands took maximum advantage of her position as the only Free Port in the Caribbean to the point that practically all trade between Europe and the Americas passed through Statia. Dutch vessels were free of British and French interference and in fact made use of this neutrality to move their Caribbean trade produce. Thus British and French sugar was transported on Dutch ships! The trade meant that Statia was the richest Island of the period and got the nick name of “The Golden Rock” with more than 3000 vessels provisioning and loading goods annually with an average of 200 ships anchored off Fort Orange each day!
The First Salute
Among the 10,000 inhabitants were a number of Dutch traders and officials that had invested heavily in the Americas and sympathy for the Revolutionary cause ran high so when the Andrew Doria, an American brig, anchored off the roads and fired her salute in 1776, this was answered by the guns of Fort Orange (on the insistence of the then governor who had investments in the new state) and ipso facto the Netherlands was the first European power which recognized the independence of the United States (while still allied to Great Britain!). This was not well received in London but was not judged sufficient to end the alliance. The final straw was when Britain discovered a trade agreement between Amsterdam and New York and thus war was declared in 1781, some 5 years after the first salute.
Admiral Rodney was sent with a huge fleet including 3,000 soldiers vs less than 90 defenders. The invasion yielded booty estimated to be 3 million pounds for the crown from which Rodney expected a large reward. He ignored orders to head for the Chesapeake to help Cornwallis being more interested in enriching himself. The result was that the French fleet defeated the British ending the Revolutionary war. Statia’s contribution has been underestimated by most historians in this matter. Rodney’s avarice was a major factor in causing Cornwallis’s surrender. Even Rodney defeating De Grasse at “the Battle of the Saintes” could not make good his previous error.
Statia in the 21st Centurry
Ten months after the capture of St. Eustatius the island was recaptured by the French and finally handed back to the Dutch in 1784 at the end of the 4th Anglo Dutch War. The island never recovered as new trade routes had already been established. The population shrank to some 970 souls by 1950. Currently the population is approaching 4.000 and since 2010, Statia has become part of the Netherlands with the status equal to a municipality.