Let’s Talk About Tintamarre

Romance is so intrinsic to Tintamarre that the two have been inextricably linked since the very first time the island received its name. A word so typically French it bears no translation, like bougainvillea, or turquoise. A word from the New World, the Wiki(pedia), in its commendable effort to make things simpler, affirms it stems from Acadian French. Itself the paroxysm of romance, Acadia, a linguistic corruption or evolution from the prior Arcadia, seemed so beautiful to the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, so perfect, that it evoked in him the idyllic state of perpetual happiness associated with the pastoral dream. Not that this bore any relevance a few hundred years later when Acadia was ceded to the British together with the rest of the French territories in modern Canada, in exchange for Martinique and Guadeloupe (those were the days!) as part of the Peace that put an end to the Seven Year War.

But I digress. Tintamarre, pure cacophony at its best, has a confused origin (then again, what, allow me to ask, hasn’t, at this point in time). Three syllables that allude to the foreign mystery of the new territories, to the muddled hierarchies of unknown lands, to the rattling noise of romance in the distance. Tintamarre, a small piece of flat land located some two nautical miles away from St. Martin’s quarter of Orleans, would have remained deserted and unnoticed just about anywhere else in the world. But not in the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean, where the English, the French and, for a brief period, the Dutch ploughed the seas in search of viable places where to assert their individual claims as Master of the region, even small, little Tintamarre had a role to play.

This role, however, would be substantially increased with the arrival in Sint Maarten of the young Diederik Johannes van Romondt, sometime in the early days of the nineteenth century. Escaping Europe on the eve of the Napoleonic Wars, Diederik Johannes excelled in the colonial setting, where he climbed the social ladder with such ease that he was appointed Governor to the island in 1820, before his fortieth birthday. Thus began the tale of a local dynasty that obtained as much land and power as could be had in the island. Fast forward the family saga by three generations and we come to the figure of Diederik Christian van Romondt, great-grandchild to the original Diederik Johannes.

Legend has it that Diederik Christian, fed up with the payment of taxes in Sint Maarten, boarded up the property at his “Mary’s Fancy” estate and set off to the neighboring Tintamarre, sometime near the turn of the twentieth century. There he engaged a number of workers from Anguilla and Sint Maarten to built a large Manor House with a farm, where he cultivated Sea Island cotton and raised cattle and goats. Indeed, the construction of the house, together with the adjoining stone walls that most likely signaled the perimeter of the farm, must have taken a number of years to complete. So much so, that still today some Anguillian descendants of the men involved in the construction of the buildings tell in bewilderment the story of the crazy man who wanted a wall built around his island for no reason.

Eventually the farm was up and running, and, if you go by the information contained in St. Martin’s official website, Mr. van Romondt managed to raise as many as 70 heads of cattle and over 500 goats. While Sea Island cotton was certainly a successful enterprise in the island, it seems like the export of local diary products was already an important source of income for Mr. van Romondt. In a story that will be implausibly affected by the presence of a certain milk boy, this would make more than just a trivial fact.

Tintamarre’s notoriety as a fairytale location reached its climax in 1913, when an entry in the Parisian newspaper Le Journal described Diederik Christian van Romondt as the King of Tintamarre. Apparently the story hit the nail of escapism right on its head at a time when Europe was well on its course to battle it all out in a war to end all wars, because Mr. van Romondt received letters from admirers courting him all the way from France, Italy and Germany. Alas, in D.C. van Romondt suitors found a tough customer, as would be proven at last when he died, unmarried and without legitimate children, in 1948, no longer in Tintamarre, but back in his estate in Cul-de-Sac, “Mary’s Fancy”, which he left to his long-time partner, a native of St. Kitts whom everyone knew as Miss Josie.

De Haenen delivers mail to Saba in his Kingfisher seaplane. Photo: thesabaislander.com.

Much in the tradition of the earliest Dutch families in Sint Maarten, when it came to selling Tintamarre D.C. van Romondt chose to sell, not to competing members of the island’s high society, but to someone from the outside, in this case L.C. Fleming, a trader from French St. Martin who eventually would purchase a good portion of the van Romondt properties. Mr. Fleming, in turn, leased the island to an intrepid adventurer called Rémy de Haenen. Half French, half Dutch, born in London and residing in St. Barths since 1938, de Haenen owned a shipyard, traded fish in the French Caribbean and had a passion for flying. His Rearwin Sporster was the first aircraft ever to land in what later became Gustav III Airport in St. Barths, and many years later he would be responsible for the development of the airport at Saba.

However, back in the 1940s, long before anyone in Saba even dreamt of having a car, let alone a landing facility, rumor has it that de Haenen was already linked to Tintamarre as he engaged together with the collaborationist Vichy government of French St. Martin in operations of supply of provisions, ostensibly brought from other French islands, and replenishment of German U-boats in one of the few Nazi “R&R” stations in the Caribbean.

Be that as it may, de Haenen found himself in the perfect position at the end of World War II to pursue his aeronautical dream. While the Destroyers-For-Bases and later the Lend-Lease agreements between the British and US governments had secured the creation of airport facilities in Sint Maarten (later Juliana Airport) and several other islands in the region, the French islands remained entirely dependant on the one airport in Martinique, where de Haenen had obtained his license. Given the natural advantage provided by the terrain in Tintamarre, de Haenen set out to establish a local airline, Compagnie Aerienne Antillaise, equipped with single engine, high-winged Stinson Detroiters (6-seaters) for the shorter trips and larger (10-seat) Stinson Trimotors for the longer journey to Guadeloupe.

This mad adventure too would come to a sudden halt shortly thereafter, as recurrent accidents depleted CAA’s fleet within a short period of time. By 1948, the year of D.C. van Romondt’s death, Rémy de Haenen had given up on his air travel venture and had moved on to real estate. A few years later he would purchase a useless piece of land in the area of St. Jean in St. Barths for a few hundred dollars (the amount varies according to whom you ask, but the highest I have ever heard is US $300). There he went on to build one of the most iconic and exclusive properties in the entire Caribbean: Eden Rock.

Meanwhile, back in “Mary’s Fancy”, Miss Josie kept the farm running and the patrimony of D.C. van Romondt very much alive. Helping her on the day-to-day running of affairs were two young men, Andy Peterson and Ronald Webster. Ronald had first arrived in St. Martin as a ten-year-old boy looking for a job. He worked at “Mary’s Fancy” for over twenty years, most famously delivering the farm’s renowned fresh milk to customers around the island. When Miss Josie passed away, in 1958 her entire estate was divided between Andy Paterson and, low and behold, the milk boy, Ronald Webster.

Webster paraded in 1967. Source: Scrapbook of Anguilla’s Revolution.

The hectic days of Quixotic delusions in Tintamarre were gone, but directly or indirectly, its influence could still be traced ten years later, when amid haphazard steps to attain secession from St. Kitts the people of Anguilla started a revolution. At the end of 1967, the first year of the island’s self-determination, the books in Anguilla showed a balance of EC $805.22 in hand, thanks to a loan by Ronald Webster, revolutionary leader and Minister of Defense, of EC $34,222.75, which he had been able to provide by sectioning his land and selling plots individually. More plots would have to be sold for the same purpose over the following two years. However, this, the most extravagant, the most romantic of all dreams connected in any way to the island of Tintamarre, would eventually come to a happy ending. Perhaps, after all, D.C. van Romondt knew something about fairytales most of us forget once we grow out of childhood. Perhaps Rémy de Haenen knew something about it, too. Who knows. But next time you plan a getaway weekend out there, just remember there is a lot more to the island than long beaches and healing mud baths.

 

PUBLISHED IN THE WEEKENDER SUPPLEMENT OF SINT MAARTEN’S DAILY HERALD ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2009.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Tintamarre

  1. I have recently engaged on an interesting debate with Jerry Casius, quite an authoritative figure. The following is a transcription of his initial comments, vehemently discrediting the rumours concerning any collaboration between Rémy De Haenen and Nazi Germany. Here is his argument, along with another few minor issues:I have just read your article on Tintamarre (Daily Herald 16/6/09), and while I don't have time to go into an in-depth discussion of CAA and De Haenen, I am a bit disappointed that you mention the old fables of DH supplying U-Boote in WW-2 again. This is widely besides the truth. Needless to say, I also heard all these tales when I came to St. Maarten in 1966, Five Islands supposedly being the place where U-boot crews went ashore for some recreational activities and to pick up supplies that De Haenen would have deposited there for them. Fascinating stories, but not true. First of all, the French High Commisioner of the French Caribbean islands, Admiral Robert, did not collaborate with the Germans. He remained loyal to the Vichy government in France, but only because he saw this government as the legitimate administration – which in fact it was – and as, for instance, also the US Government did, which maintained an Embassy in Vichy, as well as a Consulate, including a US Naval Attaché, in Martinique. Robert strictly observed the stipulations of the German-French Armistice of June 1940, which required him to maintain full neutrality. It meant that he could not yield to the extreme pressure applied by the British and the Americans to get him to release the French-owned aircraft stored at Martinique, as well as the oil tankers and other French merchant ships holed up there. He also did not allow German ships (U-boote) to use his harbors,There has been one case of a German U-boot requesting to be allowed to drop off a wounded officer (lost his leg in the artillery-action at Aruba, Febr. 1942) at FDF, as is perfectly legitimate under the rules of warfare (belligerent ships are allowed to enter neutral ports for 24 hours to care for wounded and repair seaworthiness items, viz. Graf Spee in Montevideo). Even so, Robert told the German U-boot (U-156) to stay outside his territorial waters and he sent out a barge to pick up the wounded man. Still, an enormous stink was made in the US/British press about Vichy-Robert aiding German U-boats (Can you imagine, for aiding a man whose leg had to be amputated!?). Robert even went as far to remove vital parts from the stored airplanes and from the armament of the French warships at Martinique, just to ensure to the Allies that he would absolutely undertake any hostile action. All this was done under supervision of the US Consulate, which had full access to all French military installations on the islands under the Adm. Robert – Adm. Greenslade agreements. Only, again, Robert could not turn this military material over to the British or Americans, because that would be a violation of the Armistice-agreement, so under US supervision these vital components were shipped on French cargo ships to French West Africa. We must not forget that giving in to the Allied demands for release of the planes and the (much needed) tankers would be a perfect excuse for the Germans to accuse the Vichy government of collaboration with the Allies and take action accordingly (like occupying the rest of (Vichy) France).In retrospect, Robert was naive, in that he did not see that Petain and Darlan had virtually become German puppets and that his loyalty to the French nation had become quite misplaced, but fact is that he, Robert, did not play hanky-panky with the Germans. Despite the fact that the US, through its Consulate, was entirely aware that the French Caribbean remained absolutely neutral, Robert was portrayed as a subversive factor, which cost him a very damaging embargo on food supplies and other essentials causing starvation on the islands. Personally, he was put on trial in France after WW-2.

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  2. Jerry Casius' comments continued from above:It has become clear in more recent years, that much of the "secret U- boot bases / secret nazi airfields in Colombia / German pilots landing on Martinique to use the French airplanes there to attack the Panama Canal / nazi-saboteurs on Caribbean islands" type misinformation was in fact planted by the British Security Coordination organization in NY, under the leadership of William Stevenson, the famous "Intrepid". During 1940-41 there was an extensive campaign going on by the BFC to feed fake information to the US press and politicians, in order to get the USA to enter the war. Roosevelt took it hook, line and sinker, repeating on several occasions such fables in his famous "fireplace chats" on radio. On the more practical side: people generally could not believe that German U-Boote were capable of coming all the way from their bases in France and operate for several weeks in the Caribbean and return home without being supplied locally, yet this was exactly what they COULD do. So, in local lore, it just MUST have been local nazi-agents who supplied the subs. And needless to say, pretty soon stories circulated that Mr. X or Mrs Y had seen such and such with his/her very own eyes. Spanish tankers supplying diesel to U-Boats off the shores of Curaçao, a German U-Boot captain going to the movies on the islands, and, of course, empty German ration cans being found on Five Islands, with remains of barbeque fires and all. In fact during research I did on all this, including in the US National Archives and US Navy Archives in Washington, I found a report on an investigation that had been launched after stories had been received that Germans subs frequented Five Islands. A US Navy flying boat plane was sent from St. Thomas to land there, go ashore and investigate. They even sent a combat plane along to fly top cover, just in case they would run into Germans. Absolutely no evidence was found of any German presence there. And this is entirely logical, because any former German U-boat crew member would tell you – as they have to me – that they would not be so stupid as to go lay still, much less with part of the crew ashore, in an area patrolled as intensively buy anti-submarine forces as the Caribbean was. And why was De Haenen mentioned in all this? Well, you must remember that he was not everyone's favorite boy on St. Barths – a "metropolitain" who came to compete with the local island-traders and became active in politics (eventually even becoming Maire). DH's methods of doing business were not always spotlessly clean (as indeed the local merchantmen were usually not), a little smuggling being pretty much a way of life at St.Barths, especially in the embargo period when there was big money to be made. DH always remained a bit of a controversial figure at St. Barths, so he would be a likely subject for pro-nazi suspicions and fables. I would not be surprised if his adversaries / competitors at St. Barths would also have been quite happy to do a little U-Boot business themselves.

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  3. Finally: – The creation of Juliana airport at St. Maarten had nothing to do with the bases-for-destroyer deal and, as far as I know, was not funded via Lend Lease. It was created by the Dutch government because the boat-connection Curaçao – St. Maarten was virtually impossible. In fact, the only way for Dutch government people to travel to St. Maarten was to try to hitch a ride on a US military plane flying from Curaçao to PR, and then again trying to get on a (military) flying boat that could/would land at St. Maarten. It also made communication with PR and Antigua easier, which had become pretty much indispensible for medical care etc.. The Americans did assist with loaning heavy equipment to make the runway. You could say that the St. Maarten airport was created due to war-circumstances, but It was not planned as, and in fact never was, a US airbase. – Martinique and Guadeloupe did not have airfields in WW-2; this was not acceptable under the Robert-Greenslade agreement. In fact Raizet and Lamentin were not built until about 1947-48. The CAA landed simply on a suitable piece of land in the savanne at Guadeloupe, and mostly on the water in FdF . Before and during WW-2, as well as in the immediate post-war years, all "major" flying at the two main islands was done with flying boats, including Air France and Panam. – De Haenen did not learn to fly at Martinique. De Haenen's family was Dutch (Van Haanen, well known painters/ illustrators) – his father worked for the London Illustrated News and became war-correspondent in WW-1 for them in France. That's how DH came to grow up in France. If I am not mistaken, he was drafted in the French Navy, visited the Caribbean on a French cruiser and decided that that is where he wanted to live. After his service time, he went back as crew on a French cruise-ship and stayed.

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