The Virgin Islands National Park Service has prepared a self-guided tour of the historic Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins. The walk through this partially restored old sugar factory provides a great deal of insight into the history and culture of St. John during the plantation and post-emancipation eras.
If you are coming from Cruz Bay via the North Shore Road, proceed to Maho Bay where the road leaves the shoreline and turns inland towards the right. From here, continue about 1.5 miles where you will come to an intersection with the Leinster Bay Road that runs along the shoreline. Turn right when you get to the water’s edge. Go about a quarter mile to the end of the paved road where you’ll find the parking lot for the Annaberg Sugar Mill.
If you are arriving via Centerline Road, turn north on Route 20 near the Colombo Yogurt stand. Go down the hill and turn right at the first intersection. This will take you to the Leinster Bay shoreline where you will turn right and proceed to the Annaberg parking area at the end of the paved road.
The man to give the name Annaberg to the plantation was Solomon Zeeger, a Dutchman from St. Eustatius. Zeeger acquired the plantation in 1758 and named it Annaberg (Anna’s Hill) after his wife, Anna deWindt.
The view from Annaberg is spectacular. You can see down into Leinster Bay, the Narrows, the Sir Francis Drake Channel,several of the British Virgin Islands and forested the mountain valleys of St. John.
The slave quarters (called worker’s quarters after Emancipation) barely remain. However, archeologists have uncovered a wealth of artifacts here. There were more than 16 buildings in this area.
These structures were made of daub and wattle. Daub is a type of mortar made of coral, lime and sand that were fired together and then mixed with molasses and mud. Wattle is a woven structure made of the wood from the false coffee bush.The mortar (daub) was packed into the wattle walls like plaster. The roof was thatched with sugarcane leaves or palm fronds.
The Moravian missionary, C.G.A. Oldendorp, wrote a report on the progress of the Moravian Church in the Danish West Indies titled, A History of the Mission of the Evangelical Brethren, published in 1777.
In the following excerpt, Oldendorp describes a typical slave dwelling:
The layout and the foundation of their houses rest on four stakes, which are driven into the ground. Fork-shaped on the top end and shaped in such a manner as to form a square; these stakes are linked together at the top by an equal number of horizontal boards. On these rest the rafters of the roof which come together in a crest. A few more vertical stakes are placed between the corner posts, and pliable branches are woven among these. The latter are covered with quicklime and plastered with cow dung. Once the roof rafters have been covered with sugarcane leaves, the entire house is complete. The entryway is so low that a man can not pass through it without bending down. The doorway and a few small openings in the walls allow only a little light to flow into the dwelling during the day. The floor is the bare earth, and the two inclined sides of the roof, which extend almost down to the ground on the outside, make up the ceiling. An interior wall divides the house into two rooms of unequal size, the smaller one serving as a bedroom.
As you walk through the ruins you will notice the steep hills behind the factory. This entire hillside was planted in sugarcane. The natural vegetation was cut and burned and the hillsides were terraced using the native stone. The cane was then brought to the fields and planted. Water had to be hauled to the sugarcane plants by hand. When it was time to harvest the cane, the slaves worked 18-20 hours a day. They cut the cane and loaded it onto carts, which were drawn by donkeys to the sugar mill.
A Typical Day
The slave’s day began at 4:00 a.m. when the bomba (overseer) sounded the tutu (a conch shell with one end cut off). The slaves would get up and feed the livestock before reporting to work in the field at 5:00 a.m. They would work until the 8:00 a.m. when there would be a short break for the morning meal. Those slaves without food would eat sugarcane, when available.
Work continued until noon. Between noon and 12:30 p.m., grass was gathered to feed the cattle. After the grass was collected, there was an hour and a half break for lunch. Slaves with families would go home. Slaves without families generally stayed in the fields during the lunch break. After lunch, the slaves worked the fields until sunset.
During the dead season, July to November, when there were no sugarcane crops, the animals were fed again, and the slaves could return home for the evening meal and the preparation of the next day’s lunch. At times there would be additional work called donker work. This was night work, such as hauling manure and water or cleaning up the master’s yard. This work could last from about 7:00 to 10:00 in the evening.
During crop time, the workday was extended further, and everyone including women, children and even those who were ill, were put to work cutting cane and bringing it to the mills. The kaminas, or field slaves, were not given clothes by their masters, and many of them had to perform the laborious fieldwork naked in the heat of the tropical sun. They worked six days a week. On Sundays, the slaves tended their garden plots called provision grounds. On some plantations, the slaves were allowed to tend their gardens on Saturday afternoons as well.
A holding cell called the dungeon is located on the lower south side of the estate. Rust stains show where shackles were attached and remains of graffiti still exist.
When the horsemill was being used, horses, oxen or mules walked around the circular horsemill turning the three crushers. Four slaves were needed to run the animal mill. One drove the animals, two worked the rollers feeding the cane and one took away the left over sugarcane pulp called bagasse.
On St. John, only the plantations at Annaberg, Carolina, Denis Bay, Susannaberg, Cathrineberg and Caneel Bay used windmills. (There were 140 windmill built on St. Croix.) The 40-foot-tall Annaberg windmill was built between 1810 and 1830.
The wind-powered blades turned the rollers that crushed the sugarcane. While the horsemill could only crush about 50 cartloads of cane per day, the more efficient windmill could crush 75-100 cartloads. The sugarcane had to be juiced within 24 hours of being harvested to prevent spoilage. Slaves worked almost around the clock at harvest time. When it was windy, both windmill and horsemill were operated simultaneously. It took about ten slaves to work the windmill. Two of the men fed the bundles of sugarcane back and forth through the cane crushing rollers. An ax was kept nearby in case an unfortunate worker got his hand caught in the rollers. Then if nearby workers acted fast enough, his arm would be chopped off before the rollers crushed his whole body.
After the cane stalks were crushed, the juice ran from the crushers down into the boiling room through wooden troughs. The juice then went into the first of five iron pots where it was boiled. The fire was made in a fire pit and fueled from the outside of the sugar factory walls.
The crushed cane stalks that remained were collected, dried, and taken to a storage shed, the stone columns of which still remain.
The thickened juice was then ladled into the neighboring pot and boiled again to just the right consistency and then ladled into the succeeding pot. This was done, pot after pot, until a brown sugar, called muscavado, was produced. The workers in the boiling room had to be highly skilled. A mistake in timing would end up in the production of molasses, which was not nearly as valuable as sugar.
The muscavado was then cooled and dried. The finished product was loaded into large wooden barrels called hogsheads containing about 1,000 pounds of sugar each. The barrels were brought to dories and then loaded onto larger vessels bound for Europe.
Sugar Production Video
Rum was produced at the rum still. Sugarcane trash, cane juice drippings and molasses were all fed into a fermentation cistern. The fermented liquid was then boiled in a copper still over a slow fire. The alcohol vapors rose up in copper coils that led into the cooling cistern. The cool water of the cistern caused the vapor to condense, and a harsh raw rum called “kill devil” was formed. More refined rum was produced by aging the kill devil in wooden barrels for several years.
Water was collected and stored in cisterns, which were all connected by aqueducts. Three cisterns are located within the ruins at the mill. The remains of the others are higher up on the hillside.
The Provision Grounds
The Danish colonization of St. John was characterized by the establishment of plantations dedicated to the production of sugar, cotton and other tropical products. Africans, forced into slavery, provided the labor for these plantations. Under such a system, the slave owner had to decide how these slaves would be fed.
Ideally (for the slave owner) food would be purchased and fed to the slaves. This would give the slave owner complete control of his captives. On St. John, however, where plantations were, at best, only marginally successful, estate owners did not have the resources to buy food for their slaves.
Another possibility would be to produce food on the plantation itself, under the supervision and control of the slave owner. This was not practical on St. John either. Cleared and terraced land came at too high a cost in time and labor to be devoted to food crops.
The solution on St. John was to have slaves produce their own food, on plots called provision grounds located on the less productive areas of the plantation.
Although the additional responsibility of providing for their own food was a great hardship for the already overworked slaves, the system did provide them with certain hidden benefits.
Because the provision grounds were unsupervised, the slaves were able to gather and interact out of sight of their masters. Although often forbidden, slaves from different plantations could meet on the more remote provision grounds. On these occasions cultural traditions could be passed on, news could be disseminated, and conspiracies involving escape and resistance plans could be discussed.
Slaves often worked together on their plots and shared the harvest. Those who were strong and healthy supported the old, weak or infirm. On some plantations the slaves were able to produce a surplus of food, charcoal or crafts and a system of exchange developed along with an underground economy, which even provided some slaves with enough money to buy their freedom. Moreover, the tradition of an agriculturally based society enabled the slaves to survive on St. John after the failure of the sugar industry and the end of slavery.
A tradition of independence, extended family, cooperation and sharing developed around the provision grounds. This spirit is still evident on St. John even in these modern times, which tend to be more orientated toward individualism and self-interest.
On the Annaberg plantation the provision grounds were located on the hillside to the south of the estate. This area was chosen because it was only marginally suitable for sugar production. After the St. John slave revolt of 1733, planters were apprehensive about the possibility of another revolt. As a result they tried to keep the slaves from different plantations from communicating with each other. On Annaberg the hillside to the south that was chosen as the provision grounds area was fairly close to a provision grounds of a neighboring located on the opposite slope of the same hillside. To prevent slaves from the two estates from meeting with each other a slave named Ajax was posted on the top of the hill to stand guard. The name of that hilltop to this day is “Ajax Peak.”
Brief History of Annaberg
Before the arrival of the Europeans, Annaberg was heavily forested with tall tropical hardwoods which created a shady canopy, a park-like setting where one could walk easily between the trees. After European colonization, almost all of these trees were cut down to establish plantations. Today what we see is all second and third growth.
In 1718, the island of St. John was claimed by the nation of Denmark and settlement began that year.
What was later to be named the Annaberg plantation was first taken up by a French refugee, Isaac Constantine in 1721. It took almost 10 years to clear the hills, establish the sugar making infrastructure and get the first crop put in the ground.
In1733, the slaves on St. John revolted and most of the buildings at Annaberg were destroyed or heavily damaged.
In 1796, Annaberg was purchased by James Murphy, a wealthy St. Thomas merchant, ship owner and slave trader. In addition to Annaberg, Murphy bought five other plantations that were contiguous with Annaberg. The consolidated lands were called Annaberg, which became the largest and most successful plantation on St. John. At its heyday Annaberg covered 1,300 acres of prime land and produced some area 100,000 pounds of sugar annually. It was James Murphy who had the then state-of-the-art windmill at Annaberg built.
History of Annaberg Video
Annaberg and the Decline of the Sugar Industry on St. John
Several factors combined which in the end resulted in the total demise of sugar as an industry on St. John. To begin with, the planting conditions on St. John were marginal due to the steep terrain, rocky soil and low rainfall. In addition, depletion of nutrients in the soil after years of continuous sugar planting without soil replenishment and persistent erosion that could not be completely controlled by terracing lead to lower and lower crop yields. The price of sugar declined with increased competition from other areas that were better suited to produce sugar.
The introduction of the sugar beet put further pressure on the industry. Unlike sugar cane, which could only be grown in tropical and sub tropical climates, the sugar beet could be grown in temperate climates leading to production in Europe, North America, Asia and elsewhere.
Sugar production in those days was extremely labor intensive and even more so on St. John due to naturally poor conditions and its remote location. In fact, St. John’s sugar production was only economically feasible because the labor force was enslaved. Slavery was not only morally reprehensible, but problematic. Slaves died prematurely due to overwork, disease, mistreatment and poor nutrition. Slaves would often rebel in various ways including in maroonage (escapes), work stoppages, and even suicides. Emancipation in the British West Indies put additional pressure on the planters depending on slave labor.
Emancipation in the British West Indies and Grand Maroonage (Escape by Sea) on St. John
Slavery was abolished in the British Virgin Islands in 1840, but continued in the Danish West Indies until 1848. Between those years, the proximity of St. John to Tortola provided slaves on St. John with a unique opportunity to achieve their freedom. Tortola lay just across the Sir Francis Drake Channel. From Annaberg this distance was only a little more than one mile.
In May of 1840, eleven slaves from the Annaberg Plantation fled to Tortola. This was the first major slave escape occurring during that period.
After emancipation, planters on St. John tried to keep their slaves working on the plantation by enforcing labor laws designed to perpetuate the plantation system. Slaves, now known as workers, could not leave the plantations. Wages were kept artificially low and often were paid in the form of goods called an allowance. Disgruntled workers began to offer resistance to the unjust labor laws. They brought their grievances to the Danish authorities, organized strikes and work stoppages, and often ran away to Tortola or St. Thomas.
After emancipation, slavery continued on St. John in practice, if not in theory. But worker resistance and the unfavorable economics of sugar production on St. John, more than any legal proclamations, eventually brought about the end of this unofficial system of slavery.
The Last Straw
In 1867, a major hurricane followed by an earthquake and a tsunami led to the abandonment of Annaberg by the owner. Two hundred laborers on the Annaberg and Leinster Bay Plantations were left to fend for themselves. They asked the authorities’ permission to stay on and work the plantations on their own, but they were refused.
After the twin disasters of 1867, George Francis, a slave born on the plantation, who became foreman of the estate after emancipation was able to purchase the once prosperous Annaberg estate for a fraction of what it was once worth.
In 1899 the estate passed to his son, Carl Francis, who set out to restore the estate that had further declined over the years.
Mr. Francis raised cattle on the estate from the early 1900s until its sale to Herman Creque in 1935. He built a house on the site of the horsemill, which was rebuilt after the great hurricane in 1924. The family survived by taking refuge in the windmill, which, although it had no roof, provided the necessary protection. (St. John did not experience another major hurricane until Hurricane Hugo in 1989.)
Carl Francis was chosen as the mann to raise the US Flag for the first time on St. John after the United States purchased the Danish West Indies in 1917.
In 1935, Carl Francis sold Annaberg to a Mr. Herman Creque, who left the estate to his wife, Emily. In 1955, Annaberg was sold to the Rockefeller controlled Jackson Hole Preserve Inc. and donated to the National Park. When the National Park acquired the land in the 1950s, they dismantled the house. The cookhouse is all that remains.
The cookhouse at Annaberg was built in the early 20th Century by Carl Emanuel Francis. Food was baked in iron pots called coal pots.
Charcoal was placed underneath the coal pot, which was then covered with galvanized steel. Additional charcoal could be placed on top.
Herbs for medicine and cooking were gathered from the bush or grown in the garden. Maran bush was used for brooms and pot scrubbing a (readily available natural material – it scrubbed and deodorized as well). Sea fans were used as whisks and sifters. Baskets were made from hoop vine.
Today, Miss Olivia, bakes dumb bread in the traditional method as a cultural demonstration.
Annaberg Cultural Demonstrations
National Park interpreters and volunteers give demonstrations and discussions on the local culture of the time including baking, basket weaving, folk life and agricultural techniques. For more information, contact the VI National Park online at www.nps.gov/viis or call (340) 776-8811.
The Annaberg area, south of Mary Point, was once the most populated section of St. John. There were plantations at Maho Bay, Mary Point, Fredriksdal, Annaberg, Leinster Bay and Windberg. The historical ruins and places of interest can be accessed via the North Shore Road, south of Leinster Bay Road. This is an excellent area for a leisurely stroll. The terrain is relatively flat, and the surrounding forest is shady and lush. The historical sites are close to the road and easy to get to. The more intrepid can make their way further into the bush to explore the area to a greater degree.
Old Danish Road
The National Park has cleared a section of an old Danish road, so that you can see what the island roads looked like back in colonial times. The cleared section of old road is located right near the intersection of the North Shore Road and Leinster Bay Road, just across from the Annaberg School.
Just east of Big Maho Bay, the North Shore Road splits into two one way roads. The Windberg Ruins are located on the side of the road that heads back toward Big Maho Bay and Cruz Bay.
History of Windberg Plantation
Slaves on the Windberg Plantation, as well as on plantations all over the island, did anything in their power to resist the conditions to which they were subjected. These acts of resistance included such tactics as mutinies aboard slave ships, overt rebellion such as the violent and almost successful slave rebellion of 1733, suicide, self-mutilation, abortion and marooning or running away from the plantation. They resisted as well by pressing for the enforcement of already established laws, which had been passed by Danish liberals to improve the conditions of slavery, and by conducting labor actions, such as strikes, work stoppages and sick-outs.
In 1831, the slaves at Windberg staged such an action. Forty slaves reported to be ill and checked into the plantation sick house. The overseer on the plantation reacted by forcing the slaves to work. One woman died, and the police conducted an investigation. The overseer was fired, and a new overseer was brought in. The new overseer, reluctant to use extreme force, was faced with the difficult task of restoring the plantation regime. He was neither feared nor respected and was unsuccessful in compelling the slaves to go back to work. Windberg remained in a state of disorder until the landfoged (island administrator) intervened on the overseer’s and owner’s behalf.
Fredriksdal was named for Frederick Von Moth who lived on St. Thomas. He purchased the property from Reimert Sødtmann, magistrate of St. John in the early 1730s. (Sødtmann and his stepdaughter were among the first victims of the slave rebellion in 1733.) Von Moth was commander of the civil guard on St. Thomas and later became governor of St. Croix.
The grand entrance and stairway of the Fredriksdal Ruins are the remains of the estate house, which served as living quarters for the owners of Annaberg Plantation and are visible from the road. There are extensive ruins extending back into the bush. They include the remains of an oven, a well, a horsemill and other old structures and walls.
The area is covered with sweet lime and other thorny vegetation, so wear appropriate clothing to explore.
Old Stone Bridge
Across the road from the Fredriksdal Ruins is a seldom used trail that was once part of the Old Danish Road. It leads to a fairly well preserved stone bridge that is almost hidden in the thick bush.
The Annaberg School
The Annaberg School was one of the Caribbean’s oldest public school houses. 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. The structure was stabilized in 1987 through the efforts of the the St. John Historical Society who also provided the informational exhibit. In 2006 volunteers again cleared bush, improved the trail and dedicated a new informational plaque.
The Annaberg School
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.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.
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.
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.
Informational Plaque Donated by the St. John Historical Society 2007 Dedicated in Memory of Steve Edwards and Walter and Florence Lewisohn
The Annanberg School was a modified version suitable for St, John’s smaller population and hilly terrain.
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, but 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.
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.
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.
History of the Annaberg Country 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.
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.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.
Cathrineberg is located on Johns Head Road just about 100 yards north off Centerline Road. The windmill and surrounding ruins are the property of the National Park and may be visited by the public. The Cathrineberg windmill has been restored and is in excellent condition. Beneath it is an old stone warehouse with arched passageways.
The horsemill, across the road from the windmill has been converted
to a cistern that used to serve as a fresh water pond containing
attractive aquatic plants, until it was allowed to crumble and
The remains of the sugar factory and rum still are near
the intersection of Centerline Road and John Head Road.
Either by design or by geographical coincidence, the windmills
at Cathrineberg, Susanaberg and Peace Hill are in perfect alignment.
Look for the tiny sensitive plants near the road in front of the windmill. They will react to your touch by closing their leaves.
The 150-acre Cathrineberg plantation was taken up by Judith Ann
Delicat in 1718 just after the Danish colonization of St. John.
The Delicat family also started up two other plantations that
same year, Jochumsdahl A and Jochumsdahl B. Both were 75 acres
and adjoined Cathrineberg. These plantations were eventually
consolidated into one 300-acre property known variously as Jochumsdahl/Cathrineberg, Cathrineberg or Herman Farm.
By 1721, Cathrineberg was harvesting sugarcane and the following
year a sugar factory was completed. In 1797, at the peak of the
sugar boom, 107 people lived at Cathrineberg. One hundred fifty
acres were devoted to sugar and 150 acres to other crops. There
was no unimproved land on the plantation.
Sugar declined as an important crop during the nineteenth century
and Cathrineberg discontinued production in 1896. By then, most
of the estate was devoted to stock raising. By 1915, Cathrineberg
had ceased operations. During the 1940s, an American named Cory
Bishop operated a small farm on the estate.
Remains of the 1940s Farming Operation
The windmill was constructed about 1820. The unusual vaulted basement story is similar to the windmills at Diamond Keturah and Two Brothers in St. Croix.
Just east of John’s Head Road on the north side of Centerline
Road is a short trail leading to the only bamboo grove that
I know about on St. John. Also of note in this area are beautiful
mampoo trees and a large kapok.
The area is frequented by wild hogs as can be evidenced by the depressions in the soft soil caused by their rooting.
A narrow and rarely used trail leads from the grove to John’s
Head Road, passing by the remains of what appeared to be
a barn or storage area for the old truck farm run by Cory Bishop
in the 1940s.
Cruz Bay Battery
The Cruz Bay Battery now houses most of the government offices on St. John and is the only remaining government building on St.
John that dates back to the Danish days. Additionally, many,
but not all, of St. John’s island administrators have lived here
during their time in office.
The Battery’s old prison cells are now used for government offices.
The Cruz Bay Battery is listed in the National Registry of Historic
Sites. It was originally constructed as a fort in the late
1700s and was then known as Fort Christian or Christianfort.
It was armed with cannons mounted on platforms designed to
fire either toward land or toward the sea.
The Battery was expanded by order of Governor Peter C. F. von
Scholten and officially opened on December 5, 1825 with the addition of a courthouse and a dungeon, the purpose of which was to provide more humane punishment for the slaves. The new construction is attributed to James Wright a freedman born on St. John, who also held the position of First Lieutenant in the St. Thomas Fire Brigade.
Fort Frederiksvaern (Fortberg)
Fort Frederiksvaern is located at Fortsberg, a peninsula that juts
out into Coral Bay separating Coral Harbor from Hurricane Hole.
It is on private property owned by the Samuels family. Ask Fred
or Faye Samuels at Fred’s Bar and Restaurant in Cruz Bay for
permission to visit the fort – it shouldn’t be a problem.
Take Centerline Road east about a half mile past the Moravian
Church in Coral Bay. Turn right on the dirt road near the Flamingo
Club. The road passes the Carolina Corral and follows the coast
of Coral Harbor before ascending a steep hill and coming to
The left fork leads up to the fort and the right fork runs
down to the water battery.
There are magnificent views along both of these roads. You can
drive to the end of the improved portion of either road, after
which it would be best to walk the remaining distance.
Frederiksvaern, constructed at the top of the 400-foot high
Fortsberg Hill, was first completed in the early 1720s. In 1780,
the fort was intentionally destroyed.
A round stone wall surrounded by an outer circle of pinguin were
the first lines of defense.
Within the stone walls of the fort, were the commandant’s headquarters, a powder magazine, housing for five soldiers, four gun emplacements, a cookhouse and a mess hall. Three eight-pound cannons covered the approach from the land, and a sixteen-pound cannon faced the sea.
Six more cannons were located at the water battery below the
fortification. The cannons at the water battery still exist.
On November 23, 1733, a group of slaves carrying concealed cane
knives killed six of the seven soldiers stationed at the fort
and fired a cannon to announce the beginning of the historic St. John Slave Rebellion.
“A number of Negroes from the warlike Amina nation took
control of the fort while fulfilling their accustomed job of
supplying the place with firewood. They struck down the small
contingent of soldiers there with knives, which they had hidden
in their bundles of firewood. After they gave their fellow conspirators
the agreed-upon signal for the uprising – several cannon shots
– the rebellion spread to all the parts of the island…”
– C.G.A. Oldendorp, History of the Evangelical Brethren on the
Caribbean Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John
Fort Frederiksvaern is listed in the National Registry of Historic Sites.
The Elaine Ione Sprauve Library
The Elaine Ione Sprauve Library is located in the
renovated Estate Enighed (pronounced EN nee high) greathouse
in Cruz Bay. To get there from town, make the third right turn
after the Texaco Station going east on Route 104. The library
and museum are at the end of the road.
The library is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday.
For information, call (340) 776-6359.
The library’s Caribbean collection has a great deal of
information on St. John, the other American and British Virgin
Islands and the Caribbean in general. A room on the lower floor
is used for a children’s library and reading room.
The first recorded owner of Estate Enighed was William Wood,
an Englishman who was born on the Dutch island of Saba in 1692.
He came to St. John with his family sometime in the 1750’s
and became the owner of the estate. William Wood died on St.
John in 1757, and his grave can be found on the Estate Enighed
property in back of the library.
Until about 1837, Estate Enighed was dedicated to sugar production. At the peak of the estate’s prosperity in 1803, it consisted
of 225 total acres; 110 acres were planted in sugar, and 15 acres
were devoted to provision grounds and pasture land.
Structures included the estate house, cookhouse, sick house,
30 “Negro houses” and a sugar factory with a boiling
room, horsemill, rum still, storage house and curing house. There
were 64 slaves working on the plantation.
The viability of sugar production as an economic activity began
to deteriorate in the nineteenth century, and Estate Enighed,
whose fortune was then closely tied to the sugar industry, also
began a period of steady decline.
Gradually, sugar cultivation was phased out. After the emancipation
of the slaves on St. John in 1848, sugar cane was no longer planted,
and the estate was dedicated entirely to cattle, provision farming
The post emancipation era on St. John was characterized by a
series of rigid, confusing and outmoded labor laws. Workers
had to sign yearly contracts with their employers, and a maximum
wage of two dollars per month was mandated. Many laborers failed
to renew their contracts because other more profitable or desirable
In St. Thomas, for example, labor laws were not enforced, and
much higher wages were paid. Laborers were, therefore, tempted
to flee St. John in order to work in St. Thomas.
One man, who was returned to St. John after being apprehended
in St. Thomas, reported that he had been working at the St. Thomas
harbor for $1.25 a day. This was a far better wage than the $2.00
a month paid on St. John.
Another escape option for laborers was Tortola. On that British
island it was possible to obtain land for farming. Moreover,
right on St. John were hundreds of acres of abandoned sugar plantations,
where workers could survive on their own by subsistence activities
such as provision farming, charcoal production and fishing.
John Weinmar was one of the owners of Estate Enighed during
this period. He tried to get laborers to stay and work on his
land by offering more money. Colonial authorities would not allow
him to do this. He appealed to the administration to change the
laws, but his efforts were to no avail. Large scale farming,
as an economic activity on St. John, became less and less feasible.
Division of the Estate
In 1883, Estate Enighed was sold to Judge Frederick Julius Colberg,
and in 1898, to Judge Jens Peter Jorgensen. Both of these owners
were Danish administrators from St. Thomas. They used the estate
as a part time residence and country home, and the land was no
In 1803, Estate Enighed was valued at $77, 000. By 1853, its
value had declined to $6,000. The estate was sold in1874 for
$822 and again in 1899 for $270.
The last resident of the estate house was a man called Scipio.
He was a 73-year-old fisherman who was reported to have been
living in the estate house in 1901 as caretaker.
Sometime between 1903-1905, a fire destroyed the roof of the
estate house. It began accidentally when a caretaker named Howell
was burning brush.
In 1918, Captain Alfred Benjamin (Benni) White bought Estate
Enighed. He divided the land into smaller parcels and sold some
of them. In April of 1920, Halvor “Neptune” Richards
bought four acres, and in August of 1920, Athoner Moorhead bought
30.5 acres. In 1941, the remainder of the estate was sold to
Alice Neilson, who sold it to the municipality of St. Thomas
and St. John in 1944.
In 1945 and 1946 the municipality of St. Thomas and St. John
broke up the remaining land and parceled it out to local Virgin
Islanders such as Cory Bishop, Mario Wattlington, Sylvia Masac,
Herman Smith, Christian Samuel, Josephine Williams and Vivian
France. The government of the Virgin Islands kept the 0.6 acre
of land containing the estate house ruins.
On April 16, 1982, the renovated estate house was dedicated
as the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum.
The Construction of the Greathouse
The Enighed Estate house that existed in 1803 was severely damaged in the hurricane of 1837. It was renovated and expanded by St. Johnian stone masons John Bernadine Sprauve and George
Nissen. The dwelling was repaired again sometime in the 1870s
by George Nissen.
John Bernadine Sprauve was born on St. Thomas in 1811. He held
the rank of Sergeant Major in the Brand Core of Free Negroes.
He came to St. John in the early 1840s and married Amanda de
Windt. In 1860, he acquired the waterfront property at 4A Cruz
Bay Quarter. The walls of this house, located just before Wharfside
Village, are still standing. Mr. Sprauve died in the 1860s.
George “Boss” Nissen, was the great grandfather
of the Boynes brothers of St. John. He was born in Africa around
1810. He learned to be a stone mason in St. Thomas and was able
to save enough money to purchase his freedom. He moved to St.
John in 1839 and continued to work as a mason. He married Marion
George of St. John and lived on the island until his death in
1903. He worked on several old St. John Estates and was reported
to be “always working around and fixing old places.
Virgin Islands National Park Service Visitors Center
The National Park Service maintains the Visitors Center in Cruz Bay containing the park offices and the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park Store.
The Friends of the Park has opened a bookstore and gift shop in the VINP Visitors Center. The stated purpose of the store is to “compliment the park’s interpretive activities, increase visitors understanding and appreciation of the park’s resources and enhance the visitor experience.”
“The store will feature Caribbean-based books for both children and adults. Gifts will include everything from affordable binoculars to collapsible water and wine bottles, hand painted clothing, beach towels, educational games, cards, postcards etc. that will enhance the overall visitor experience while educating people to the amazing experiences that are possible while visiting our beautiful park. They will also host live demonstrations of local arts and crafts throughout the year and will sell locally made traditional food products.”
Reservations for the Reef Bay and L’Esperance hikes can now be made conveniently at the Visitor Center store where hikers can obtain everything they need from hike vouchers to drinks, walking sticks, trail snacks, water, sunscreen, bug repellent, hats, socks and other items. Call 340-693-7275 or visit www.friendsvinp.org for more information.
It’s only a five-minute walk from the ferry dock and a one-minute walk from Mongoose Junction. A visit to the center would be a good way to spend time downtown while waiting for the ferry or as an alternative to shopping.
Hassel Island was originally a peninsula with a narrow isthmus between the peninsula and the area now known as Frenchtown. It was this peninsula that created the well-protected harbor that would become so important to the future of St. Thomas.
The Hassel Peninsula was first settled by indigenous Americans who established several small settlements there.
With the arrival of Europeans in the 16th Century, the St. Thomas harbor formed on the west by the Hassel peninsula became an important entry point and stopover for vessels plying the Caribbean waters. The part of the harbor behind the narrow isthmus was so well protected that it became a hurricane hole, used by vessels when tropical storms and hurricanes threatened less secure anchorages. The early European settlers named the peninsula Orkanshullet, meaning hurricane hole.
The isthmus itself was known a a haulover, because small craft could be hauled over the narrow spit of land easier and faster than sailing or rowing around the peninsula.
The Gateway to the Caribbean
‘The place that is on the way to every other place,’ is the mariners terse way of describing St. Thomas. When he lays his course for any part of the Caribbean Sea, the tip of his horny finger points to St. Thomas. To call the little island the gateway to the Caribbean is not mere poetic fancy. The shortened and best course from England to any Central American port, for steam or sail, is by St. Thomas. The route from Spain to Cuba or Mexico is by St. Thomas. For the lines from the United States to Brazil, the most convenient port of call is St. Thomas. To go from the Greater to the Lesser Antilles one goes by the way of St. Thomas…
– William Drysdale, Harpers Weekly,
January 20, 1900, “The Gateway to the Caribbean”
Putting together the location of St. Thomas at the outer corner of the Greater and Lesser Antilles, a convenient stopover for ships crossing the Atlantic or plying the Caribbean, the liberal nature of its government concerning religion and nationality, and the and the excellence of its harbor, St. Thomas became the most important port in the Caribbean. Pirates and privateers frequented the town of Charlotte Amalie, entering port often with no questions asked. Merchant ships from all over the world could take advantage of the many facilities offered on the island often with no duties or taxes levied upon them. With the advent of steam powered vessels, St. Thomas became a coaling station where vessels could refill their coal bins before venturing again across the Atlantic to Europe or the Americas and for many years the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company used St. Thomas as the hub for mail delivery throughout the Americas meaning that all transatlantic mail would be offloaded and sorted on the island before being routed to the various destinations in the Caribbean and North and South America.
Little Hassel Island, with its location within the St. Thomas Harbor played a major role in all this international maritime commerce with warehouses, coaling companies, wharfs, and major repair facilities including the historic Creque Marine Railway. Today ,most of Hassel Island is part of the Virgin Islands National Park and the left behind relics of the island’s maritime past has left a treasure trove of artifacts for marine historians and archeologists as well as providing a most fascinating place to visit for both Virgin Islanders and visitors.
On the eastern coast of the peninsula was a shallow bay that proved useful for the careening of vessels that needed repairs or hull cleaning. This small bay became known as Careening Cove.
Careening Cove was mentioned on a 1687 map of St. Thomas Harbor drawn by John Jenifer who wrote, “In this harbor Prince Rupert (a buccaneer who preyed on English shipping) careened some of his ships when he was in America.
The Danes who settled St. Thomas constructed a fort called the Prince Frederik’s Battery at Magens Point on the south eastern shore of the peninsula. The battery was built in 1779 and was designed by Peter Oxholm of map making fame.
During the British occupation of the Danish West Indies, Prince Frederik’s Battery was taken over by the British Navy and renamed Fort Willoughby and a magazine was built just north of the fort.
The British also constructed Shipley Battery on a hilltop on the north part of the peninsula and Cowell’s Battery atop the hillside on the south. The fortifications included barracks, officer’s quarters, a hospital, cisterns, powder magazines, latrines and mess buildings.
Cowell’s Battery later served as a signal station to identify ships passing or entering the harbor.
The peninsula was owned by the Hassel family during the nineteenth century, eventually leading to the name Hassel Island after the Haulover cut was opened.
In 1840, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company set up headquarters on the northeast shoreline and the St. Thomas Marine Railway Co. began construction of a ship repair facility on Little Careening Cove on the northern end of the island.
(Now in ruins, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company building later became the Royal Mail Inn, which some say was the inspiration for Herman Wouk’s novel, “Don’t Stop the Carnival.” It is more likely that the hotel in the novel was the Water Island Hotel owned by Wouk’s friend, Walter Phillips.)
In 1865, the isthmus was opened to the sea.
In 1871, the Hamburg America Line established a depot on Hassel Island.
In 1905, the East Asiatic Company built a coaling wharf on the island.
In 1917, after the purchase of the DWI by the USA, the US Navy established a naval station on the island, which remained in operation until 1932.
In 1929, Haulover Cut, the channel made through the isthmus was widened and deepened allowing larger vessels to pass through.
In the 1930s, most of the Hassel and Water Islands were purchased by the Paiewonsky family in order to provide water for the family’s distilleries.
In the 1940s, the Paiewonsky family acquired more of the island from the department of the interior resulting in Paiewonsky family ownership of 125 of the island’s total 135 acres.
Heading the Paiewonsky family were two brothers Ralph and Isidore Ralph Paiewonsky, who served as governor of the Virgin Islands wanted to develop the island commercially with construction of resort facilities such as condominiums, hotels and marinas.
The Korean Reverend, Sun Myong Moon, offered the Paiewonskys $3,000,000 for the island and later a German banking consortium offered them 5,000,000, a considerable sum in those days.
Ralph’s older brother, Isidore did not agree with his brother’s plans. Isadore wanted to preserve the island’s natural setting and maintain it as a historic site.
Isadore prevailed and both the Sun Myong Moon and the German banking consortium’s offers were declined.
In 1978, the Paiewonsky’s sold the Hassel Island to the Virgin Islands National Park
Most of the island is now owned by the National Park. The remaining lands are divided between the territorial government and private residences.
The St. Thomas Marine Railway
In 1840 the St. Thomas Marine Railway Co. purchased six acres of land on the peninsula from James Hassel Jr.
The company had the shoreline on Little Careening Cove cleared and a slipway into the water was prepared. Steel tracks led into the water and a wooden cradle rode upon the tracks. The cradle, upon which a vessel could be secured, would be hauled out of the water and up the gentle incline by a steam-powered winch located in the head house. Other facilities on land included coal storage, a repair shop, storage buildings and a dock.
Once on dry land hulls could be cleaned, caulked and painted. Repairs could be made and sails could be mended.
Henry O Creque purchased the marine railway in 1910 repairing restoring and upgrading the operation which was renamed the Creque Marine Railway and begin commercial operation a few years later continuing until the 1960s.
The slipway was 156 feet long and 30 feet wide and could accommodate vessels of up to 400 tons. The pier was 200 feet long and the water alongside was 31 feet deep.
The Creque Marine Railway is considered one of the earliest steam-powered marine railways in the western hemisphere and the oldest surviving example of a steam-powered marine railway in the world.
Water Island is located just south of Charlotte Amalie. The island provides the protection from the open sea that serves to create Charlotte Amalie
Water Island is approximately two miles in length and a mile in width with an area of almost 500 acres. Sheer cliffs line the exposed southern coast while deeply indented bays and beaches characterize the rest of the island. The 2000 census reports Water Island as having 161 permanent residents.
This rock formation on the south east corner of the island is often referred to by locals as Water Island’s “Mount Rushmore.”
The roads on the island are narrow and scenic. Some are paved others are dirt. Many of the inhabitants use golf carts and bicycles instead of cars to get around.
The paddle-wheeled Amalie Queen once served as the ferry for the Frenchman’s Reef Hotel on St. Thomas. It was washed ashore on Water Island during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Magnificent views abound from all over the island.
Honeymoon Bay is the most popular beach on Water Island with calm waters, beautiful surrounding and fine snorkeling.
Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill serves lunch on the beach and on Saturday evenings Heidi serves a candlelight gourmet dinner. Mondays is Movie Night with hot dogs, popcorn and drinks.
A short trail leads down to the rarely visited Limestone Beach, an excellent venue for beach combing, shelling and bird watching.
A tree on Limestone Beach is decked out with shoes washed ashore from often distant shores .
There is scheduled ferry service between Crown Bay on St. Thomas and Water Island. The “Water Island Post Office” is right up from the ferry dock.
A well-protected marina occupies a salt pond opened to the sea, accommodating vessels of up to 20 feet..
The island’s sole police car is parked at the marina. In case the police are needed, they will come across to the island and will have a police
car ready at their disposal.
Water Island was officially declared the fourth Virgin Island in
1996 making it, politically at least the newest Virgin Island. Geologically, however, it is the oldest Virgin Island, consisting of rock formed some 100 million years ago when a volcano erupted far below the surface of the sea.
Water Island was first inhabited, almost 3,000 years ago by Amerindian farmers, fishermen and gatherers who migrated from the South American mainland, traveling north through the Leeward Island chain. Their first known settlement upon reaching the Virgin Islands was at Krum Bay, just across the harbor from Water Island. These first settlers arrived
In the 16th century, Water Island was frequented by pirates, fishermen, woodcutters and explorers seeking the fresh water that happened to be available on the island, hence the name “Water Island.”
In the 18th century, much of Water Island was purchased by free blacks, who managed cotton plantations and raised livestock.
During the 19th Century, the island was dedicated primarily to raising livestock and provision farming.
Water Island was purchased by Danish East Asiatic Company in 1905 for a price of $21,000. The company retained title after the Virgin Islands was transferred to United States control in 1917. Fear of Germany during World War II and a desire to protect the Sub Base on St. Thomas prompted the United States to initiate condemnation proceedings leading to the acquisition of Water Island by the US Government in 1944. The Danish East India Company was compensated to the tune of $10,000.
Upon the acquisition of the island the United States began construction of Fort Segarra, a barracks, some 30 other support buildings and related infrastructure, such as docks, roads, cisterns and sewage and electrical systems.
Two artillery emplacements overlooked the harbor and surrounding sea.
The fort was built underground with only the watch tower protruding slightly above the hilltop.The tower is reached by a steel ladder embedded in the wall. Once inside you can look out through the narrow opening that could be closed off with steel shutters.
Today there is a bench on the top of the tower where people can sit and enjoy the spectacular view.
Weapons were stored in two underground bunkers on other parts of the island.
After the end of World War II, Water Island was turned over to the
Chemical Warfare Division of the US Army. In 1979 declassified documents revealed that the US Army secretly conducted biological and chemical testing on Water island and St. Croix.
Daily News November 29, 1979 p. 24
In 1950 Water Island was turned over to the US Department of the Interior who shortly thereafter leased the island to Water Island Inc. a Virgin Island Corporation formed by a Continental by the name of Walter Phillips for a term of 40 years at a cost of $3,000 a year.
At the termination of the lease the lands were sold to the lease and sublease holders and in 1996, Water Island became the official fourth Virgin Island and is primarily residential.
William W. Boyer, author of America’s Virgin Islands considered
the lease granted to Phillips to be “a rare example of an extraordinarily generous lease of US public land without competitive bidding to a private party for private profit.”
Walter Phillips and his wife, Floride came to the Virgin Islands during the winter of 1951, thinking that St. Thomas might be a good place to spend their retirement years. A wealthy and influential man, Phillips had served as head of the legal department for a large Texas and Washington DC banking firm.
Phillips first visited Water Island on an offshore excursion with his friend, author Herman Wouk. They found only one man living there who tended goats, the rest of the island was uninhabited, The remains of army installations during the past decade were abandoned. Fascinated by the natural beauty and somewhat remote location, Phillips became interested in securing the island for himself.
Phillips created the Virgin Islands Corporation, Water Island Inc. and managed to secure a 40-year lease from the Department of the Interior promising to develop the island.
Phillips, who became known as the “father of Water Island,” brought in generators for electricity and laid sheets of galvanized on a hillside for water. He converted existing Army buildings into a successful hotel, improved the roads and other infrastructure and sublet plots of land to friends and acquaintances.
Phillip’s adventures and misadventures as a hotelier provided his
friend, Herman Wouk, with much of the inspiration and material, Wouk used in his novel, “Don’t Stop the Carnival.”
He also created what is the present Honeymoon Beach from a relatively small stretch of sand and coral rubble beach to the impressive sand beach that exists today. He removed the existing trees, vegetation and rocks, dredged the bay, depositing the sand ashore and landscaped the area with coconut palms and other iconic tropical vegetation.
Additionally, Phillips established the Water Island Botanical Garden bringing in plants from all over the world.
Walter Phillips died at the age of 97 a few weeks after suffering a stroke while swimming at Honeymoon Beach. A permit was obtained allowing Phillips to be buried on Water Island.