Thanks from letting me take over your blog, Meradeth! What follows is a brief history of the island of St. John.
ST. JOHN: A BRIEF HISTORY OF A VERY SMALL ISLAND
1493: November 17, Columbus sails by St. John and names the small archipelago the Virgin Islands after St. Ursula and her entourage of 11,000 virgins.
1672: Denmark settles St. Thomas.
1718: The first permanent Danish settlement is established at Coral Bay on St. John.
1728: There are 87 plantations on St. John and the population is 677 blacks, 123 whites.
1733: 109 plantations are in operation with a population of1087 blacks, 208 whites. That summer there is a drought, an insect plague, and two hurricanes. A merciless slave code is imposed on September 5. On November 23, a well planned slave revolt begins. Seven months later almost a quarter of the island’s white population has been killed.
During the revolt, Catherineberg was
used as the slaves’ headquarters.
1734: French troops from Martinique quell the rebellion between April and May. Rather than surrender the remaining uncaptured slaves commit suicide.
1739: Five years later there are 109 plantations with a population of 1414 blacks, 208 whites
1802: Denmark abolishes the slave trade (but not slavery), making it the first European country to do so. However, slaves continue to arrive until 1820 when the law is more rigidly enforced.
1834: The British emancipate the slaves in the British Virgin Islands. Tortola, at the closest point about a quarter of a mile away, offers St. John slaves an excellent place to escape to. Slaves continue escaping through the 1840’s.
1839: Denmark passes a law requiring slave children to attend school. Classes are taught
1848: A slave revolt on St. Criox, leads the Danish Governor to grant emancipation on July 3. He can’t wait for approval from Denmark as correspondence would take months, and destruction of the plantations is eminent. On July 4th, news reaches St. John. But the “freed” are prohibited from leaving any of the islands. On July 10th the freed are compelled to sign labor contracts with their former owners.
It was from the steps of this church,
the Lord Sabaoth Lutheran Church on St. Croix,
that Governor Peter von Scholten read
the Emancipation Proclamation.
1849: The Labor Act forces freed slaves to stay on plantations.
1854: A cholera epidemic on St. John kills 218.
1856: Two more cholera epidemics ravage population.
1867: A devastating hurricane, followed by an earthquake, severely damages estates and crops, effectively ending the plantation system on St. John.
1879: The Labor Act is amended to allow contract negotiations.
1917: March 31, marks the official transfer of Danish West Indies to United States which bought the islands for $25,000,000.
1918: The Reef Bay factory on St. John closes, ending all sugar production.
The Reef Bay steam engine, used for grinding sugar cane,
is one of two steam engines that were built on the island.
1956: The St. John National Park, about two thirds of the island, is established from land bought and donated by Laurance Rockefeller.
In my book, The Bowl and Stone: A Haunting Tale from the Virgin Islands, Sam and her best friend Nick, are being haunted by a ghost they believe was once a slave. At one point they find a mysterious etching in a dungeon at a sugar plantation called Annaberg, which later disappears.
Nick is studying other parts of the wall when I notice a bunch of scratches near the floor, in the darkest corner of the tiny room.
“Hey, Nick, come take a look at this.”
He squats down next to me.
Etched into the wall is a drawing.
“I’ve never seen this before,” I say.
“What is it?”
“A lot of people lying on the ground all lined up in rows.”
“Looky here.” Nick points. Bending over one of the bodies is the figure of a person carrying a bowl. “These drawings aren’t like the others. It’s not as detailed and the scratches are fresh. The plaster is white where it’s been scraped away. In the old drawings the lines are dark.”
The drawing is about a foot long and three to four inches tall. The people are nothing more than stick figures.
“What do you think it means?” he asks.
“There were a lot of diseases back then. They had epidemics of cholera, yellow fever, and smallpox. A lot of people died. Maybe it’s a picture of sick slaves, and this one is doctoring them.” I barely touch the bent over figure and jerk my finger away as a tingle shoots up my arm and ruffles the hair at the back of my neck.
Pirates. Explorers. And spooky ghost hunters.
It’s 1962. Sam and her best friend, Nick, have the whole island of St. John, in the U. S. Virgin Islands, as their playground. They’ve got 240 year-old sugar plantation ruins to explore, beaches to swim, and trails to hike.
But when a man disappears like a vapor right in front of them, they must confront a scary new reality. They’re being haunted. By whom? And why? He’s even creeping into Nick’s dreams.
They need help, but the one who might be able to give it is Trumps, a reclusive hunchback who doesn’t like people, especially kids. Are Sam and Nick brave enough to face him? And if they do, will he listen to them?
As carefree summer games turn into eerie hauntings, Sam and Nick learn more about themselves and life than they could ever have imagined.
Bish Denham, whose mother’s side of the family has been in the Caribbean for over one hundred years, was raised in the U. S. Virgin Islands. She still has lots of family living there whom she visits regularly.
She says, “Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named the islands, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix. The ruins of hundreds of sugar plantations, built with the sweat and blood of slave labor, litter the islands. Then there were the pirates who plied the waters. It is within this atmosphere of wonder and mystery, that I grew up. Life for me was magical, and through my writing I hope to pass on some of that magic.”
The Bowl and the Stone: A Haunting Tale from the Virgin Islands, is her third book and second novel. You can find Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales and A Lizard’s Tail, at Amazon.com.