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St. Croix Landmarks Society | An Overview of St Croix History | An Overview of St Croix Recorded History | Research | Preserving the History and Culture of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Research

Come Home to St. Croix

St. Croix Landmarks Society Photo Exhibits


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An Overview of St Croix Recorded History

1493

SPAIN. Columbus discovered St. Croix and named it Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) on his second voyage. The Indians called it "Ay Ay"; spelled also as "Iahi" or "Agay" by early writers.

1587

ENGLAND. John White, sent by Sir Walter Raleigh as Governor at Virginia, stayed here three days; found evidence of Indian habitation.

1625

HOLLAND & ENGLAND. Both nations began small settlements; Dutch near Bassin; English on SW shore area. French filibusters had been using island as base for careening boats for years.

1642

Holland increased its settlement, called it Nieuw Zeeland, later Nieuw Wa1cheron. Still held jointly with the English, but under much dissension. Tobacco and indigo chief products. English had an early sugar works.

DOUBLE DEALINGS BY THE DUTCH, ENGLISH & FRENCH. The story of these settlements on St. Croix is a cloak and dagger one with its details lost in history. The historian John Knox reasons that the Dutch preceded the English hi a few years, but it is certain that both were there by 1625. The Dutch and a hundred French Huguenots from St. Kitts lived in or near Bassin, while the English settled on the south shore not far from present-day Frederiksted.

Affairs muddled along until 1645. By then the colonies had a good high tone with a Dutch Governor-General appointed by their West India Company, and some English noblemen with letters-patent from the King. By that year there were some 600 persons on the island.

Then things came to a boil. That year the Dutch Governor killed the English one in his house, and a rousing fight took place between the two colonies, with the Dutch Governor wounded and dying a few days later. The Dutch chose another Governor and he was asked to visit the English, who promised him protection. This promise was violated; he was seized, condemned and publicly shot. The Dutch, being the weaker, decided to abandon their colony and left for St. Eustatius and St. Martins. The French, who had sympathized with the Dutch, asked permission to leave. They were sent off to Guadaloupe in an English ship after they promised to give the captain their abandoned plantations.

When they arrived at Guadaloupe, the refugees registered protests against the captain. He was seized, imprisoned and his ship and cargo sold. "All this," says Knox, "made quite a noise in England, France and the Islands."

1646

ENGLAND held island after Dutch and French driven out.

1650

SPAIN. Duke of Marlborough's English settlement massacred or driven out by 1,200 Spaniards from Puerto Rico. Many went to Bermuda. The Dutch from St. Eustatius tried to recapture it the same year; defeated by the Spanish Garrison.

1650

FRANCE. Governor de Poincy of other French West Indies took possession for French crown; planned to make it his capitol. DE POINCY bought St. Croix and other islands from French King, for private domain. As a leading Knight of Malta, he sent other Knights and Frenchmen to colonize St. Croix. KNIGHTS OF MALTA. All de Poincy's private possessions in the West Indies granted to this Order of St. John.

1651

1653

1657

Chevalier de la Mothe sent by de Poincy with supplies for relief of inhabitants. Some 200 rebellious French colonists put de Mothe in chains and sailed off in his ship, presumably to Brazil. Two years later, the new Governor, Chevalier du Bois, sent to restore order.

THE DAYS OF THE FRENCH. Sieur du Bois built a "castle" in 1659 on Hemer's Peninsula which is now Estate Judith's Fancy. The ruins of this residence stand today, done in the old French style of a small chateau, with two unusual towers at either end, one of which is still there. Legend has it that du Bois brought in our small white tailed deer to the island to stock his estate park with them.

The French government headquarters lay along the east bank of Salt River which then was a real river arising near Canaan and coming down through Estate Concordia into the Salt River Bay.

On the opposite bank of the bay, the Knights of Malta threw up a triangular earthenwork, called Fort Sle. Its outline is still visible today if one scrambles through the underbrush to find it. Upriver from the Fort just off the present-day Northshore road was the French landing stage and customs house. This site was later used by the Danes as a guardpoint. Somewhere above on the present Kirkegaard Hill was the Jacobin, or Dominican monastery shown on old French maps. It was here that Pre Labat, the famous writer-priest is believed to have once stayed on one of his many journeys between French islands.

The French had a fairly difficult time on St. Croix. The Knights were aristocrats and not used to the hard work of running plantations. There were six-hundred men among them who could bear arms, but not too many who understood the problems of running a sugar, indigo or tobacco plantation, all of which they attempted.

It was these Frenchmen who at one time burned off all they could of St. Croix', dense forests and lived on their ships until the fires ceased. They wanted more Ian:: for cultivating, and believed that the forests caused their strange fevers, and nigb: vapours.

By 1671, the French had built another Fort or Battery at Bassin, the present-day Christiansted. It stood on the point at the entrance to the harbor, and was called Fort Saint Jean. Later the Danes rebuilt it and renamed it Fort Louise Augusta.

The Knights of Malta gave up on St. Croix, but the name they gave the island stayed with it, if not their pronunciation.

Judith - whose Fancy the old du Bois estate became - was Judith A. Letta Benners, born Heyliger in 1762. Her tombstone may be seen today near the old Castle-Greathouse ruins. Back of the ruin stand some Danish additions - a windmill and the later-period chimney from steammill days, with the sugar factory ruins nearby.

1665

FRENCH WEST INDIA COMPANY bought St. Croix and all the other islands held by Knights of Malta.

1674

FRANCE. King paid off Company debts and took possession.

1695

ABANDONED. French King ordered all inhabitants removed to Santo Domingo. France still claimed it but island was not officially settled. Sometimes it was uninhabited; ships of all nations used harbor. English planned a settlement in 1720, but did not carry it out. French renewed their claim in 1727, by taking seven English merchant vessels in the harbor. An undetermined number of English families were squatters there, and remained under the Danes.

1733

DANISH WEST INDIA AND GUINEA COMPANY bought St. Croix from the French Crown.

1755

DENMARK. took over the island as a Crown Colony.

THE DAYS OF THE DANES. The first colonization of St. Croix under Denmark came in 1734, when a few Moravian missionaries cleared six estates given them by the Danish Chamberlain de Plus . . . they found the British families raising cane and making rum when they arrived. The next year, the West India and Guinea Company began to survey the island and to divide it into 150 and 300 acre plantations, as well as into nine quarters! To encourage settlement, land costs were extremely low, and some tax benefits were offered. The planters Flocked in from St. Thomas, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Montserrat and other islands. Soon there were five English estates to every one held by a Dane. Things did not go too well however, and 1753 found the settlers petitioning the Danish King to make St. Croix a Crown Colony as the Company was almost bankrupt. This was accomplished by sale at about one and one-half million dollars. The settlement Flourished with a population of over 10,000 by 1755, and some 375 plantations under cultivation with sugar, cotton, indigo and tobacco as main crops.

During the following half century St. Croix's economy, based on sugar and rum and the slave trade, rose steadily to a phenomenal peak. The first event to disturb this picture was the protracted quarrel over slavery which went on between the planters on St. Croix and the more liberal government in Denmark. This same problem confronted every European nation which had colonies in the West Indies or trading stations in Africa. In St. Croix it culminated in:

1792

The Danish Government declared the slave trade to be planters to buy slaves during a transition period.

1795-1800

These years marked the peak of prosperity and of the sugar and rum economy; planters foresaw the beginning of the end.

1801

St. Croix captured by the British; restored to Denmark in a few months.

1803

The slave trade was completely abolished by Denmark.

1807-1815

Taken and held by British during Napoleonic Wars. The English planters, who had complained of stiff Danish trade restrictions and limited markets were not dissatisfied. The island, however, was returned to Denmark. During the next 30 years, the island's economy worsened with droughts, political upheavals and wars in Europe, and a general depression.

1848

Governor von Scholten freed the slaves on St. Croix, after rioting began.

1866

A disastrous fire in Christiansted in February.

1867

Earthquake and tidal wave. Further decline in economy.

1871

Capitol moved from St. Croix to St. Thomas.

1872

Severe hurricane destroyed crops and buildings.

1875

The Danish government lent the island money to build a Central Sugar Factory,

and construction began the next year.

1876

A severe hurricane; followed by depression years until about 1888.

1878-1892

Serious labor riots took place in 1878 and Frederiksted was partially burned. Later the Capitol was divided, with the Governor to reside six months in St. Croix and six in St. Thomas each year. Financial difficulties came through valueless Mexican silver; this silver was abandoned, causing local riots in 1892. The island's economy was at a low ebb.

1917

THE UNITED STATES. When the United States bought the three islands in 1917, mainly to keep them out of the hands of the Germans during the First World War, hopes rose high in St. Croix for better days ahead; hopes that were not fulfilled for some years. The island became first a possession under U.S. Navy administration, a period which was satisfactory to no one. As the economy began a gradual slow rise, it was dashed again by the impact of Prohibition on rum industry. Later, toward the end of the depression years, the U.S. Co gave the island its Territorial Organic Act or Constitution, which defined relationship to the U.S. under the Department of The Interior, with an appointed Governor and an elected local Senate. St. Croix continued to muddle along an uneven economy until the mid-1950's when the influx of tourists began. Since then there has been a steady growth, based on the island's re-discovery, by seeking retirement, new business enterprise and investment, or just a lovely tropical vacation.

*The Folmer Anderson Collection given to the National Park Service in Christiansted by the former St. Croix Museum

 






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