THE HISTORY OF FORT ORANJE
The Public Prosecutor's Office of the BES islands on St. Eustatius (discovered by Columbus in 1493) is located in the 'monumental' Fort Oranje .
In the seventeenth/eighteenth/nineteenth century St. Eustatius had about 24 forts, batteries and artillery. Despite this number, the enemy (French, English) succeeded on 23 occasions between 1636 and 1816 to come ashore.
Fort Orange is one of the remaining defences on the island. The others are: the remains of the fortifications Chitchie, Panga, Amsterdam or Waterfort, Nieuwe (New) Fort and of the batteries Bouille, Dollijn, La Haye, Nassau, Frederick, de Windt, Corre Corre, St. Louis, Concordia, and the Zeelandia Bay, Venus bay, Coculus bay, Jenkins Bay, Tommelendijk Bay, plus battery Jussac, Royale, Rotterdam and from the unfinished escape bridge on the Mount Gilboa.
The fortification was built in 1636 on the remains of a French fortification dated from 1629. The French (Captain Rotondy) of the neighbouring island of St. Kitts had an entrenchment or small fort built in 1629, to repel any Spanish attack. Because there was not enough drinking water on the island it was again abandoned after a few years.
On April 25, 1636, the Zealanders, conducted by Pieter from Corselles, on behalf of the Zeeland Chamber of the Dutch West India Company, took possession of the then unoccupied island. The Dutch built the current Fort Oranje on the same spot where the little French fort was.
The fort was then rebuilt several times over the years and expanded. The present form dates from the early eighteenth century. The quarter - circular fortification consists of three bastions between imposing ramparts. In the northern bastion is the gateway. On the ramparts on the sea side, still there are drawn several cannons, yet not from the eighteenth century, but of more recent dates.
It was from this fort that on November 16, 1776 the famous First Salute was discharged.
Governor Johannes de Graaff (born in 1729 on St. Eustatius) had the cannons of the fort bring a salute to the new Flag of the United States, the Great Union flag, of the thirteen rebellious North American colonies, who had just declared themselves independent from their British motherland.
The Americans interpreted this as the first recognition of their independence by a foreign power, and De Graaff has been honoured as a hero. It was one of the reasons for the Fourth English War (1780-1784).
In the early nineteenth century there was a garrison consisting of infantry (hunters) and artillery stationed at Fort Oranje. In 1829 there were still two twelve pounders (of the original salute) left behind in the Fort, which were used for unloading cannon salutes until 1882 on the birthdays of the Royal House.
Cannon salutes were also unloaded during government transfers. But because of the deplorable condition of the cannons, the salutes would be divided in three parts: eleven in the morning, eleven in the afternoon, and eleven at four o'clock. After 1919 there was no longer an appointed Lieutenant Governor for St. Eustatius; the cannon salutes were abolished in 1925.
In December 1829, Fort Oranje was restored because it had fallen into disrepair. The walls were restored, the gatehouse (now the Office of the Public Prosecutor) was refurbished and the home of the garrison commander was furnished above the gatehouse. In 1846 the garrison left and the Fort became vacant. After this, the Fort was again refurbished a little, and furnished as Administrative Centre. The commander, after 1833 once again the Lieutenant Governor, and after 1919 the Deputy Lieutenant Governor, after 1951 the Administrator and after 1983 again the Lieutenant Governor, took office in the Fort. Government services and the Prison were also housed in the fort.
Up to 1979, not much attention was paid to maintenance. In 1979 it came to a thorough restoration: the three bastions were given a new foundation; walls were given new battlements, the existing buildings were demolished and built up in the old form using new material.
In 1939, the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered a plaque in recognition of the salute of 1776, that was given a place at the flagpole at the fort square. The transfer of this memorial plaque took place on December 12, 1939.
The obelisk in the middle of the courtyard was established in 1933 to commemorate the visit to the island of Lieutenant -Admiral Michiel Adriaensz de Ruyter (1606-1676) in May 1665. Moreover this Dutch naval hero visited St. Eustatius two more times. The first time was in 1647.
Besides the already mentioned obelisk and brass plaque, Fort Oranje is home to two other memorials. One memorial dates from 1957 and commemorates the fallen of World War II. And in 1976 a fourth memorial was added to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the United States, offered by the U.S. Virgin Islands.
We also find a sundial there.
Besides the Offices of the Public Prosecutor and the Probation Services, nowadays are housed in the Fort Oranje: the Planning Department, and the Tourist Office.
Source: (De forten, verdedigingswerken en geschutsstellingen van St. Eustatius en Saba van dr. J de Hartog. 1997) (The forts, fortifications and artillery of St. Eustatius and Saba by Dr J de Hartog 1997.)