Statia was discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. Throughout a swaggering colonial era that followed, the island had changed hands at least 22 times.
In 1636, near the close of the 80 year war between Holland and Spain, the Dutch took possession. During the 17th and 18th century, Statia was a major trading center with some 20,000 inhabitants and thousands of ships calling at her shores.
It is hard for present day visitors to imagine that this tiny island once had one of the busiest ports in the region.
During the latter part of the 18th century, St. Eustatius was the major supplier of arms and ammunition to the rebellious British Colonies in North America and the subject of conflict among the most powerful seafaring nations of the time.
For a while, Statia was the only link between Europe and fledgling American colonies. Even Benjamin Franklin had his mail routed through Statia to ensure its safe arrival. Statia remembered as the emporium of the Caribbean, was nicknamed The Golden Rock, reflecting its former prosperous trading days and wealthy residents.
On November 16, 1776 the American Brig-of-War, the Andrew Doria, sailed into the harbor of Statia firing its 13-gun salute indicating America’s long sought independence. The 11-gun salute reply, roaring from the canons at Fort Oranje under the command of Governor Johannes de Graaff, established Statia as the first foreign nation to officially recognize the newly formed United States of America.
Each year, thousands of ships anchored on the roadstead of Oranjestad and the shore of the Bay was lined with hundreds of warehouses packed with goods. More trade (both legal and illegal) transpired here after the end of the American Revolution than on any other Caribbean island until Statia reached its economic peak around 1795.
As the eighteenth century drew to a close St. Eustatius gradually lost its importance as a trading center and most merchants and planters left the Island, leaving their homes and warehouses. Through the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries Statia became and remained a quiet island waiting to be discovered by history minded visitors.
Fortunately, in the 1960’s and 70’s, the people of Statia became increasingly aware of the cultural value of their unique heritage and initiatives were taken to preserve and maintain it.
To promote the exploration and dissemination of the unique history and culture of this special island, the St. Eustatius Historical Foundation was founded. The founding members of the Historical Foundation and its subsequent boards have provided a vision that includes the creation of a world class Museum , the impetus for the Historic Core Renovation project and the establishment of the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (SECAR) . New museums are also being planned.
Plans are also underway for a preservation of the exterior structure of Honem Dalim , St. Eustatius’s Jewish Synagogue through the Historic Core Renovation project . Additional funds are being sought from private sources for a complete restoration that would return the Synagogue to its former glory and allow a place for future worship and as a museum to the History of the Jews in St. Eustatius.