St. John Virgin Islands History: The Trunk Bay Mystery

If you’ve been to Trunk Bay lately, you’ve probably noticed the that the ruins of the old Trunk Bay sugar mill have not only been cleared, but also are undergoing a stabilization project headed by the Virgin Islands National Park.

The Trunk Bay area was first claimed and settled by Adrian Runnels even before Denmark laid official claim to the island of St. John in 1718.

But Mr. Runnels and his enslaved entourage were not the first people to live on Trunk Bay. That honor belongs to descendants of indigenous Americans who first came to St. John around 1000 BC.

Archeological findings indicate that Trunk Bay was settled by these first Americans who called themselves Tainos around 700AD. Here they lived, planted yucca, fished, gathered fruit, fabricated pottery, tools and weapons and conducted their social and religious ceremonies until about 900 AD.

It seems that around that time these settlers left in a hurry, evidenced by the finding of cooking pots, which were still filled with food.

When Christopher Columbus sailed past the north shore of St. John on his second voyage, he either did not see, or at least did not report, any signs of the island being inhabited. This seems quite strange in that archeological evidence indicates several rather large villages along that coastline that existed until sometime around Columbus’ voyage.

The question is, what happened to the Tainos of St. John? Did they flee advancing Carib warriors? Were they in fact still on the island when Columbus passed by and were later wiped out by the depredations and diseases brought on by the European onslaught? Were they forced off the island by some natural disaster such as a hurricane earthquake or tsunami or did they just move on seeking greener pastures.

Perhaps the answer lies buried under the soil of St John waiting for an archeological discovery or perhaps we will never know what happened.

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4 thoughts on “St. John Virgin Islands History: The Trunk Bay Mystery”

  1. Yes, very intriguing indeed Gerald. I wonder if the Taino’s would have wanted to be seen any passer-by’s such as Columbus? I try to put myself in their shoes and wonder if they would be running to the beach in awe of such a large vessel, or fleeing in fear to the trees?

  2. The thing is that these settlements were apparently quite large. The one at Cinnamon Bay is even suspected as having a ball court. So for a village like this to get it together and hide just as they see these great ships proceeding down wind from the east would be quite a feat.

    No fishermen in dugouts. No campfires. No activity at all? So if in fact Columbus didn’t see any signs of habitation, my guess would be that there were none, and that the Tainos had already left,

  3. The Geographic Dictionary of the Virgin Islands speculates that the name Trunk Bay “may be from either Trunkscildpatt (the giant leatherback turtle) or Trunkfish.” My choice would be that of the impressive leatherback, which can be as much as nine feet long and weigh over 2,000 pounds.

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