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St John Places: Annaberg Country School

St. John USVI Places: Annaberg School

Annaberg School St. John USVI
Annaberg School Trailhead


The Annaberg School was one of the first public school houses in the Caribbean offering compulsory free education to all children, both free or enslaved.

 

 

Annaberg School St. John Virgin Islands
Trail to the Annaberg School

 

 

The partially restored building, sometimes referred to as the Mary Point School, can be reached by means of a short (0.2 mile) well maintained trail, which begins off the North Shore Road about thirty yards from the intersection of the Leinster Bay Road. Map of Annaberg Area

 

 

Construction of the Annaberg School was begun in 1844. The location was chosen because, at the time, this was the most populated area of St. John. The school was completed in 1847, but left vacant due to lack of funds and lack of support by the planter class that gererally opposed education of enslaved people. Classes did not begin until 1856 and were taught for five years. Running the school proved to be difficult due to problems with funding and with obtaining proper staff. In 1861, schoolmaster, Augustus Knevels, was dismissed charged with "gross immorality," after which the school was closed, abandoned and left to retreat into the bush.

Annaberg School St. John Virgin Islands
National Park Service employee
and Master Mason, Reggie Callwood
guides volunteers in stabilization
and restoration work, circa 1987

 

 

The structure was stabilized in 1987 through the efforts of the the St. John Historical Society.

 

 

 

The school building is representative of the architecture of the period. The location, overlooking Mary Point, Leinster Bay, and Tortola is quiet, serene and well worth a visit.

Annaberg School Ruins St. John Virgin Islands
Annaberg School St. John Virgin Islands
Annaberg School Ruins St. John

Informational Plaque Donated by the St. John Historical Society 2007
Dedicated in Memory of Steve Edwards and Walter and Florence Lewisohn

Original Plan for the Country Schools
Albert Lovmand's original plan
for all country schools throughout
the Danish West Indies.
The Annanberg School was
a modified version suitable
for St, John's smaller
population and hilly terrain.
Peter von Scholten
Informational Plaque

 

Site Significance
The ruins of the Annaberg Country School are among the most significant historic sites on St. John. Not only are they a wonderful example of uniquely Danish-colonial architecture in the neoclassical style, burt they are also a physical representation of the first effort to institute compulsory education throughout the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) in 1839.

 

 

Peter von Scholten
Governor-General of the
Danish West Indies
Peter von Scholten

 

Site Background
Often referred to as "von Scholten Schools,"for Governor- General of the Danish West Indies Peter von Scholten, who ordered their construction, the "Landskole" (or, in English, "Country Schools') were to built to a plan by Danish architect, Albert Lovmand. In all 17 Country Schools were originally proposed throughout the colony: eight on St. Croix, five on St. Thomas and four on St. John. The school on Estate Annaberg, however, appears to be the only facility built on St. John to Lovmand's general design. While the religious-based instruction at the schools was mandated to be interdenominational, Moravian missionaries served as teachers and all classes were taught in the English language.

 

Conceptual View of Annaberg School
Conceptual view of
Annaberg Country School
Front Elevation and Floor Plan with two classrooms
and center hallway
(Drawn by Glover Thompson, 1987).

The Country Schools of St. John
Scaled down and modified to St. John's smaller population and hilly terrain, the Annaberg Country School was intended to provide free, compulsory education to the children of the enslaved laborers on six estates within the Maho Bay Quarter: Cinnamon Bay, Vaninberg, Munsbery, Annaberg, Mary Point and Leinster Bay. Another Country School was built on the Lameshur plantation on the south side, but details of its design and operation are unknown. Two other schools were operated at the Moravian mission stations of Bethany (near Cruz Bay) and Emmaus (in Coral Bay), although the Lovmand design was not utilized. A fifth school was built on the mid-island Beverhoudtsberg plantation, but this smaller wooden building was apparently never used for its intended purpose.

Peter von Scholten
Detail from a Danish map
(Oxholm Map)
showing the location of the
Annaberg Country School
marked as "Skole"

History of the Annaberg Country School
Although construction had begun on the Annaberg Country School by 1847, the building was not fully completed at that time. It was not until August 12, 1856, that the school director, Brother J. Gardin, penned a report for the Moravian Church periodical announcing the opening of the school: "In St. Jan we have, this year, opened a school at Annaberg, on the north side of the island. The schoolhouse, which is a very fine one, and is in a charming situation, by the sea, was built many years ago, but never used. There are now 25 children in attendance."

Staffing the Annaberg facility soon proved problematic. Sometime prior to October 1861, the school was closed after Augustus Knevels was dismissed as schoolmaster. From that date onward, all students from Maho Bay Quarter were sent to school at the Emmaus Mission Station in Coral Bay and no teacher was ever engaged to fill Mr. Knevels' position.

To explain why the Annaberg Country School was never reopened or utilized for some other purpose, researchers have long presumed that the building was destroyed in the disastrous hurricane and earthquake of 1867. However, it may be that the school had simply outlived its usefulness. The purpose was to provide limited education for the children of enslaved workers, in a situation that kept these children on, or close to, the estates to which they were bound. After emancipation was achieved in the Danish West Indies in 1848, the dwindling numbers of formerly-enslaved workers who remained on St. John's estates quickly embraced self-determination, and they naturally turned to places outside the plantations to fulfill their spiritual, social and educational needs. The busy Moravian mission stations of Emmaus and Bethany became the centers of community life on St. John/. As the mission stations thrived, the Annaberg Country School retreated into bush, a failed experiment in amelioration, to little, offered much too late.

cleanup crew
St John Historical Society
bush clearing & cleanup crew
February 2006

 

In 2006, the Historical Society was assisted in its clearing efforts by an Elderhostel group and two Park Service interns. Since 1987, the Society under the guidance of the National Park Service has spent more than 1700 hours of volunteer work-time stabilizing and maintaining the ruins of the Annaberg Country School. When the Society first undertook the project, the ruins had been totally overgrown with bush, and long forgotten.

It is the hope of the Historical Society that this site will continue to be visited and serve to impart a keener awareness of the rich cultural heritage of the Virgin Islands and its people.

History of the Annaberg School
In 1839, the Danes passed a law requiring that both free and slave children attend school. The schools were built with funds obtained from the colonial treasury and were run by Moravian Missionaries. Classes were taught in English.

This concern for the education of the slaves was quite unusual considering the low priority given to schooling in the West Indian plantation societies in general. In the Danish West Indies, public education, even for white children, was not available until 1788. As a justification of slavery, the Europeans promoted a philosophy that Africans were somehow less than human and could not be educated. In most colonies education for Africans was prohibited either by law or by custom. In the Danish West Indies, the philosophy gradually became more liberal. This was, in great part, due to the success of the Moravian Church in attracting African converts. White society now had to contend with the fact that many of these enslaved people were, like themselves, Christians.

Moravian clergymen taught the slaves at their missions in the islands, even before the passage of the 1839 law. They also pressed the government for educational reforms.

Another factor that led to the establishment of public schools for slave children was the ongoing process of humanitarianism and reform in Europe. King Frederick VI of Denmark was a liberal and a reformer. He maintained a friendship with Peter Van Scholten who was the governor of the Danish West Indies in the early 1830s. Van Scholten dedicated his governorship to the amelioration of the adverse conditions of slavery, and was instrumental in the passage of the educational reform law. In 1848, Van Scholten declared an end to slavery in the Danish West Indies, when faced with the prospect of a major rebellion on St. Croix.

The Annaberg School Ruins at Mary’s Creek By David Knight