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The origin of the name “Saba” is often mistakenly believed to be derived from the Arawak Indian word for “rock,” which was “siba.” However, the true source of the name Saba s(a)- ba is of Greek and Arabic (colloquial Arabic Saba ???? and classical Arabic ????) origin, and its meaning is from Sheba: “morning”. Saba refers to the Biblical queen of Sheba. Christopher Columbus is said to have sighted the island on 13 November 1493, but he did not land, being deterred by the island’s perilous rocky shores. In 1632, a group of shipwrecked Englishmen landed upon Saba; they stated they found the island uninhabited when they were rescued. However, there has been some evidence found indicating that Carib or Arawak Indians may have been on the island.
In 1635, a stray Frenchman claimed Saba for Louis XIII of France. In the latter 1630s, the Dutch Governor of the neighboring island of Sint Eustatius sent several Dutch families over to colonize the island for the Dutch West India Company. These Dutch family names included Heyliger, Leverock, and Vanderpool, to name just three. In 1664, refusing to swear allegiance to the English crown, these original Dutch settlers were evicted to St. Maarten by Thomas Morgan, to return within the months and years following. The Netherlands have been in continuous possession of Saba since 1816, after numerous flag changes (British-Dutch-French) during the previous centuries.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, its major industries were sugar and rum, and later fishing, particularly lobster fishing. In the 17th century, Saba was believed to be a favorable hideout for Jamaican pirates. England also deported its “undesirable” people to live in the Caribbean colonies, and some of them also became pirates, a few taking haven on Saba. The island of Saba is forbidding and steep, a natural fortress, and so the island became a private sanctuary for the families of smugglers and pirates. The most notable native Saban pirate was Hiram Beakes, who famously quipped, “Dead men tell no tales”. Later legitimate sailing and trade became important, and many of the island’s men took to the sea, during which time Saba lace, pulled thread work, became an important product made by the island’s women. During this period of time, with most of the island’s men gone out to sea, the island became known as “The Isle of Women”.