|"First Official Salute to the American Flag", Philips Melville|
On the island of St. Eustatius, or Statia as the inhabitants have long called it, today is a national holiday celebrating Statian history and culture.
Johannes de Graaff, the Dutch governor of St. Eustatius from 1776 – 1781, ordered a return salute to the USS Andrew Doria, recognizing the American colors it flew as those of a sovereign nation. This act made the Dutch government the fist to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation.
|Johannes de Graaff|
What were these questionable activities on St. Eustatius and why was an American ship of war entering a Dutch free port in the Caribbean? Merchants on St. Eustatius, many of them Jews with ties to the American colonies, were selling guns to the Americans. Because it was a free port, St. Eustatius was the ideal location to import guns from Europe. The USS Andrew Doria was in St. Eustatius to pick up a shipment of weapons for the American cause.
|Plaque given by President Roosevelt to St. Eustatius in 1939|
to honor their role in American independence
According to historian, J. Franklin Jameson, "St. Eustatius was on of the chief, and at times the quickest and safest, means of communication between our representatives abroad and the Continental Congress and its officials at home."
Jameson also reports that merchants on St. Eustatius bought tens of thousands of pounds of gunpowder that was smuggled to various American ports. The British knew of these trades and threatened the Dutch with war if they did not stop them. The Dutch government issued more than one proclamation banning the trade of munitions to the Americans, but merchants in the Caribbean ignored them for the most part.
The illicit gun trade only ceased in February 1781, when a British fleet surrounded the island and occupied it. Admiral George Rodney, the commander of the occupation, blamed the Jews of St. Eustatius for helping the Americans. To punish them he imprisoned all of the Jewish men in Fort Charles on St. Kitts and he had the synagogue burned down. Rodney wrote of St. Eustatius to his wife, "This rock, only six miles in length and only three in breadth, has done England more harm than all the arms of her most potent enemies, and alone supported the infamous American rebellion."
"St. Eustatius in the American Revolution", J. Franklin Jameson, The American Historical Review , Vol. 8, No. 4 (Jul., 1903), pp. 683-708, Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association
"How the Jews Saved the American Revolution", Jerry Klinger, Jewish Magazine, installment 3/9, 2004
American Jewish History, Jeffrey S Gurock, American Jewish Historical Society, Taylor & Francis, 1998