Blog Schedule

I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Catherineberg, St. John

Last Monday I mentioned the slave revolt of 1733. Besides the hardship of slavery there were several other causes for the up-rising. A drought was followed by a hurricane. Then came a plague of insects. These natural disasters destroyed food crops and caused famine. The slaves, hungry and restless, began running away to the bush. (They were called maroons.) In a vain attempt to keep them from running away the Danes imposed a severe slave code with punishments that included torture, branding, whipping and even death.

Among the slaves were a large group from the war-like nation of Akwamu in present day Guinea. It was they who organized the rebellion, using drums to communicate.  In the early morning hours of November 23rd,  they killed six of the seven soldiers garrisoned at the fort at Coral Bay. The one surviving soldier managed to escape to St. Thomas to spread the word.

From the fort they swept through the rest of Coral Bay and on into the interior of the island, killing whites as they went. They did not destroy the plantations as their ultimate goal was to operate them.

Which brings us, finally to Catherineberg. Built around 1718 it was one first sugar plantations on the island. It is here that the Akwamu warriors headquartered themselves.

This picture is by Sydney and Russell Poore. The rest are mine.

Catherineberg Sugar Mill Ruins; Saint John, United States Virgin Islands

It's the only windmill on the island (that I know of) that has rooms beneath it.

A wonderful book that tells the full story of the revolt of 1733 is Night of the Silent Drum, by John Lorenzo Anderson. John and his wife Adrienne, first came to St. John on their honeymoon in 1935. They stayed at my grandmother's guest house at Trunk Bay. John was so taken by the history of the revolt that he spent the next 40 years researching it. He learned to read nine languages in 18th century handwriting and traveled widely to gain access to archival documents. He and Adrienne (a children's book illustrator) came to St. John every year and were close family friends. In fact, it was Adrienne who gave me my very first drawing lesson when I was about seven years old.


  1. Slavery always shocks me... and I come from a culture where indentured servitude is part of life. To think you own someone ... to do with them as you please, even kill them, it is so wrong. Sigh.

  2. And to think that slavery still exists! We are not yet enlightened beings.

  3. Then it was obviously a successful revolt. I'm sure you learned much from John and Adrienne.

  4. I love these pix, and thanks for the interesting history lesson! Maroons. Hmm... And aren't there some of these old sugar cane structures that are made from shells? Maybe I'm thinking of something else. Regardless, very cool! :o) <3

  5. Those photos are awesome. Wow! And to spend 40 years researching to write his book and learning nine languages, that's amazing. And it's so cool that they were friends of your family and that Adrienne gave you a drawing lesson!

    Your story about the escapee is in my post today, along with the cute pic of you when you were a kid. Thanks for sharing, Bish!

  6. 40 years, now that is dedication!
    I found this post really interesting, and a bit sad that, as you say, nearly 300 years later and slavery still exists.

  7. What a fascinating story about the revolt - probably not a good idea to take slaves from a war-like nation!

  8. Alex, it is considered one of the first most successful revolts to take place in the New World.

    Leigh, Coral was often incorporated but shells? Not that I know of. I think in Florida or the Cayman Islands that people have build homes out of conchs.

    Thanks Lynn! In looking back I sometimes think I lived a rather charmed life.

    Sarah, I know, 40 years right? We should all be so dedicated! As for slavery...just makes me heartsick.

    Susan, you are absolutely right. They used to split people up who were from the same tribe or family unit just so as to prevent them from being able to communicate. Obviously it didn't happen in this case.

  9. It always amazes me that people can't figure out that if they treat others in horrific ways, this will come around as rebellion, war, or some other sort of ugly retribution.

    Interesting bit of history, Bish. And with great pictures.

  10. What interesting stories. The revolt, of course, but also the one about John and his wife. I'm always amazed at how we stumble on our passions. They honeymooned on St. John, and that changed how they would spend their lives.

    Thanks again for another great blog post.

  11. How cool that John was so inspired by your island's history!


Your Random Thoughts are most welcome!