Mr. Elroy Sprauve Addresses the St. John Historical Society - Estate Sieban Mollendahl Hike
Good Morning, I’m Elroy Sprauve. This is my brother, Vernon Sprauve. We were both born on Estate Sieban. So that meant that somebody had to get on a horse and go to Cruz Bay and get Miss Myrah, for whom the clinic is named after. Then she had to get on her horse and come all the way down to Sieban. to do the delivery.
I really regret that you could not see the estate when it was cleared. Its’ all grown up now, so you really cannot get a good feel of what the Estate looked like. But it was a beautiful estate when it was cleared, because the topography is so varied. There’s a very large beautiful flat area. There are deep, deep valleys. There are rolling hills, and there were lots and lots of fruit trees. One thing I remember is that there was no shortage of water because there’s a gut, the Fish Bay Gut, that passes through Estate Sieban. There were some large pools, some that were so large that we could swim in them. And they were filled, filled, filled, with fish and freshwater shrimp. So there was lots of water for the family to get from the gut and enough for the animals.
Now one thing I said before, there were a lot of fruit trees there, and I remember distinctly there were two types of mangos that were only from there and on no other place on the island. The one was a tiny mango they called cent bread, I guess it was named after a little bread that was sold for just one penny. It was a very, very sweet mango. Then there was a large one called a peach mango. This was the only place on the island where these mangos could be found. There was a calabash tree that we call gobis. Honest to goodness, they were about this large. (about 18 inches) Now, I think this tree may still be there, because these trees live a very long time.
Our maternal grandmother is buried on Estate Sieban. She died there in January of 1935. And what was sad, and yet happy at the same time, she died in one room of the house just one hour after my brother, Julius Sprauve, who was her first grandchild ,was born in another room. So they had life and death at the nearly same time in that house. So you could imagine what it was like being out there with this happening and with no neighbors around, removed from everything. Her grave is still standing.
I think one thing I should bring to your memory, some years ago I was a member of the Virgin Islands Humanities Council. There was a Dr. Rashford who was applying for a grant to study the baobob tree, a tree that is considered sacred in many parts of Africa. Dr. Rashford said that he discovered that the largest amount of these trees outside of Africa were in the Virgin Islands, most of them being on St. Croix. In making his presentation to the council he said that there were several on St. Croix and a few on St. Thomas. He said there were none on St. John.
I said, “Dr. Rashford, I think I can recall that on Estate Sieban. there is a tree that fits your description.”
He said, “I don’t think so. If there is one, I’ll have to go completely over my proposal. Anyway, I’m going to come to St. John and see what I can find.”
So he came to St. John and Dr. Rashford, Noble Samuel, Jim Provost and I hiked to estate Sieban. We got down there and when I got to Estate Sieban. I was completed disoriented. When the estate was cleared, I knew exactly where the tree was and could walk right there, but when I got there it was all overgrown. And then I began to have all these doubts. Was this a figment of my imagination? Had I brought Dr. Rashford all the way here and there was no tree? Anyway we decided that we were going to try. We walked about, but no tree. Oh, my goodness!
But then someone said, “Why don’t you look up?”
And there is the tree. And sure enough it is a baobob. I don’t know if there are any on St. John now, but then it was the only known baobob tree on St. John.
The estate, as I said before , was a beautiful estate. There are a lot of old ruins on the estate. There’s an old cemetery there. It was owned by several different owners and at one time it was a very happening estate.
Are there any questions?
Question: How old was the tree?
I think Dr. Rashford believed the tree to be over one hundred years old.
Paula Savel: How long did you live there?
Surprisingly, I was born on Estate Sieban., but when I made one month, my mother took me to Cruz Bay to be baptized, and we remained in Cruz Bay. But we came back and forth as I was growing up at least once a week we went out there and in the summer my father would send us out there two times a week. We kept animals there. We had people living there working the estate, so we went there very, very often. And during the summers, especially during mango season, we went there quite often.
David Knight: Could you tell us more about the type of livestock that was there.
Primarily goats. Most of the animals he kept were goats. Quite a few sheep. One or two cows, but a lot, a lot of goats. I remember my parents told me there was so many goats and sheep, but my father for some reason, he had a rapport with animals that he would just clap his hands and they would all come out of the hillsides and come around.
David Knight : Were there folks down at Reef Bay and Little Reef Bay at the time?
Yes, and you know that down in Reef Bay there was a chilling story of a murder in 1937. A gentleman went and killed a lady in Reef Bay named Miss Anna Marsh. And that night he passed by Estate Sieban. on his way down to reef Bay. Rumor has it, I don’t know how true it is but, that he wanted to do some harm to my father also. My father was not home that, but the lady that lived at Mollendahl, Mrs. Babtiste, was spending the night with my mother. And they said that he called and he knocked, but that they refused to open the door. He left and then the next day they heard about the murder at Reef Bay.
David Knight: Now how about L’Esperance. Was there anyone there?
No, no one at L’Esperance. Of course many times persons who went to Sieban., sometimes they would sail around and come into Fish Bay and then come up to Sieban. I remember when my grandmother was ill and they say she came up to see my mother and that they brought her in a sailboat to Fish Bay. They put her in a rocking chair and they had to take turns lifting her up that steep hill to Sieban.