Exciting Tours in the Beautiful Island of St. John

A picture of the mountains and water taken from a hill.

Historical Synopsis

“St. John is now entirely settled, so that there is no more land left to give away except at the Fort and the company’s plantation, which is still lying idle, as it is not surveyed. Next year the greater number of St. John inhabitants will begin paying the poll and land tax. There are already about 20 works built and others in the process of building…”, so wrote governor Moth to the to the company directors on March 16th, 1726. That is before Laurance S. Rockefeller donated over 5,000 acres of land to the V.I. National Park Service.

St. John (19.5square miles – 18 degrees n/ 64 degrees w) was named Sankt Jan (Saint John) by the Danes of Denmark. Named after a saint it is no surprise that the island is a beautiful haven for anyone wanting to get away from the modernized world in need of nature and all that is left of this world that is not destroyed by man. St. John could be called land of trails; there are over thirty four different trails on the island many of them leading to hidden away pristine beaches.

First inhabited by tribes for many centuries Before Christ: Ortoiroid archaic people, Ciboney, Arawaks, Caribs were all inhabiting these islands since time memorial. Living off of fish and some meat kind like Iguanas, the tribes took care of each other and were also spiritual people. After existing here for so many centuries they were uprooted by colonization. It was left sparsely inhabited for many years after the Spaniards came: conquered, killed and stole some of the aboriginal peoples from the island to take them into slavery.

The British on nearby Tortola drove away potential colonizers with desires on trying to inhabit St. John, mainly the Danes who tried several times to colonize. The Danes was already occupying St. Thomas three miles to the West of St. John. The Danes had to get special permission to inhabit St. John through some type of municipality and by so doing, it was established as Danish territory in 1684, but wasn’t cultivated for crops or officiated until 1718. The governor of St. Thomas at the time was Erik Bredel - he oversaw the twenty European overseers, sixteen slaves and five soldiers that went to St. John from St. Thomas to plant the Danish flag, break bread, and drink to the good health and long life of their king.

In the year 1721 St. John was bustling with agriculture so much that there was “no room left for anymore planters,” with 39 deeds already handed out.

Soon after its short lived prosperity St. John hit a drought and a significant decline in agricultural production, no water, no cane, no sugar, rum, or molasses. These bouts with droughts that hit St. Thomas and St. Croix as well made it a tough time for the Danes. St. Croix always fared better in the agricultural department, however St. John’s continuous depression caused a major slave uprising in 1733 because of the plantation owners and enslavers lack of further empathy and the rationing of food resources. This uprising unlike many others lasted for six months and encouraged other Africans to revolt.

The revolt was squelched with the help from the French colonizing Martinique. France had recently sold St. Croix to the Danes in nearby St. Thomas and St. John. The revolt started at the Fortsberg Fortress, and ended somewhere around Mary’s Point where many slaves jumped to their deaths rather than continue being slaves.

The sale of St. Croix to Denmark from France, proves that there was business interest and diplomatic ties between them. Denmark owned all of the Danish West Indies (St. John, St. Croix, St. Thomas, Water Island and approximately 46 cays from 1733 – 1917).

After 1755 St. John picked back up and was producing all the products that fueled the industrial age once again. After refusing several offers from Germany and an offer in 1866 by America, the Danes finally parted with the United States Virgin Islands as they were renamed by the U.S. and simultaneously reverting to what they were named initially by the first Europeans that came to this area. Columbus named this entire area of archipelagos; Las Once Mil Vergennes, from the inspiring story of ‘the mythical 11,000 virgins’ that followed Saint Ursula to martyrdom in Rome. During parts of Danish Rule Tortola and surrounding islands were already being referred to and generally called the British Virgin Islands.

St. John today has a new main port of entry on the western side of the island in Cruz Bay. In the olden days Coral Bay on the eastern side was the main port of entry and the capital. After agriculture declined and tourism started the main port of entry was changed to Cruz Bay. The name Coral Bay has nothing to do with the coral in the ocean and everything to do with cows. Coral is a transliteration of Kraal the Dutch name for cows. In the past there was a cattle range in Coral Bay where the buccaneers used to make “buccan” with the meat from the cows in the 17th century. Buccan was a smoked meat that was very popular in the days of piracy.

Coral Bay has one of the best natural harbours in the world, it was rated so by Lord Nelson of Britain. He sailed to and spent time in St. John. Coral Bay was used less after America bought the Danish West Indies from Denmark.

Many of the people are proud to be an “American citizen” and love the Unincorporated Territory status that it brings, some feel it needs a little tweaking, such as being given the right to vote for the president of the United States, since they too serve in the military at the will of the president. This is the feeling of some of its citizens.

Because of Laurance S. Rockefeller’s gift (land) donation (5000 acres = 2/3) in 1956, St. John’s land is a hot commodity and prices have sky rocketed exponentially since the 1980’s with such popular and wealthy people like Kevin Chesney buying and selling property there. This has disturbed some St. Johnians who argue that they cannot afford to buy land today at these higher than market prices.

St. John is a tranquil peaceful paradise with some of the finest beaches in the world; in fact words cannot express how very impressive the beaches are in St. John.

Based on the 2000 census a population 4,197 people live there but at the time you read this editorial that number will probably be higher with a boom in construction going on in 2003 - 2008. St. John’s boom will stop soon, but is necessary to adjust to the demand to get ready for the new millennium.

St. John is represented by a senator at large, who as a requirement has to live on the island. This person represents the people of St. John and acts as their voice on issues that most concern them. Senators get paid very well in ratio to senators from the U.S. but cost of living is much higher (33-50%) here given that everything has to be shipped in.

The islands economy is based on tourism and it is rated as one of the best vacation spots in the world. It is quiet, peaceful, and unspoiled for the most part due to Mr. Laurance S. Rockefeller’s donation.

The island has camp grounds at Cinnamon Bay that offer live theater free of charge for years. The famous Caneel Bay Beach Resort, and luscious beaches some rated in the top ten lists of the world, really are gorgeous.

St. John’s population is so small that the island is represented by one Senator At Large, while the sister islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix have seven each.

This beautiful island does not have an airport; you will have to sail by boat to St. John, but with so many cays around, it makes for an enjoyable practice.

St. John has the finest Bay-Leaf trees in the world; the leaves have been harvested here for many years. The island roads are hilly and curvy. The bushes are filled with romantic ruins. Some are visible from the roads as you drive by. With the Bay Leaf trees mixed in with the Ginips, tamarind, and tropical and sub tropical flora galore, it is an awesome sight.

St. John Timeline

+3500 B.C. - early 1500’s: Tribal societies (Ortoiroid (archaic) People, Ciboney, Taino,

Arawak, Carib). The close proximity to Central America and the Yucatan and the vast traveling that tribes did for thousands of years put St. John in an inevitable position on the routes headed to the South of the Caribbean chain.

1500’s – 1600’s: Diverse and curious Europeans; Spanish and English looking for tribal peoples for slaves

1600 – 1694: Now phasing out of the usual “Indians” that were inhabiting the island of St. John due to genocidal extinction, Pirates; Dutch, Danish, and British colonizers, visiting and leaving at different times.The Danes were visiting St. John (1665- 1694) because of its close proximity to St. Thomas and their desire to colonize and settle it. The Danes found water there and enough resources to find it attractive and encouraging to have a serious go at it. At that time St. Thomas was doing well for them except for their high mortality rate in St. Thomas in the beginning. The Danes were not welcomed to settle St. John, they were constantly driven off by the English in Tortola.

1665: The Danes planted their flag in St. Thomas with the help of a blond skipper by the name of Erik Nielsen Smidt.

1671: Construction of Fort Christian began in St. Thomas.

1672: Denmark took over the island of St. Thomas officially.

1673: Slaves were brought to St. Thomas by the Danes to work in the fields and plantations “day in and day out.”

1694  1718: Denmark was granted permission to settle St. John by the British in 1694. Denmark was a non threatening nation and only had establishments in St. Thomas. Even though they received the permission they needed, they did not pursue the plantation system of agriculture until 1718.

1718: The Danish West India and New Guinea Co. settled St. John. They had an official inauguration of their presence and objectives for the island and also was responsible for naming the island Sankt Jan.

1721: 39 deeds were handed out by this time and St. John was a success.

1726: St. John is now entirely settled, so that there is no more land left to give away except at the Fort and the company’s plantation, which is still lying idle, as it is not surveyed. Next year the greater number of St. John inhabitants will begin paying the poll and land tax. There are already about 20 works built and others in the process of building…”, Governor Moth, to the company directors on March 16th.

1733: The famous slave uprising that started at the Fortsberg Fortress on Leinster Bay spread throughout the island and was the first successful slave rebellion. The African slaves held the island for six months until the French came from as far away as Martinique to assist the Danes in recovering the island. The French hadrecently sold St. Croix to the Danes in that same year. They offered the slaves pardons to trick them to come out of hiding and then they killed them. Many had already committed suicide with the belief that they would go to heaven or some place better than what they had alive.

1754: The Danish Crown took control of all three islands plantations in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John.

1773: Boston Tea Party occurred; The British were placing taxes on the tea and it started a revolt.

1776: Sugar cane and all of it’s by products were doing so well that it would have been difficult to realize that there was such a successful rebellion in 1733. It took years to get planters to sign on to St. John again.

1776: American Revolution

1805 and 1806: Great fires burnt down much of Main St. Dronningens Gade

1825-26: Great fires burnt down areas in Savan, and the original Catholic Church edifice, the current Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church (ca.2008) was built between 1845 – 1848. The building codes were changed and required building with rubble stones and bricks.

1848: Slavery was abolished all over the Danish West Indies on July third but was notofficially read in St. John until the 5th of July.

1864: Smallpox and dengue fever were widespread in the British islands and entry into Tortola was prohibited. The islands were put under quarantine to help stop the spread and fears that were brewing.

1872: The capital of the Virgin Islands was moved from St. Croix to St. Thomas.

1917: The United States of America Pays $25,000,000.00 worth of gold to Denmark for the entire Danish West Indies (four islands and approximately 46 cays) on March 31. This deal took a period of 51 years and several offers on both sides to before the sale was accomplished. America wanted a location in the Caribbean to secure the region with most of their concerns on Germany and their intentions. The Panama Canal was an opening that could have been a weak spot and they were not going to take any chances. America was interested in Santo Domingo (Hispaniola) and Cuba as well.

Germany went on to start World War II. Germany also wanted to have a presence in the Caribbean

and did; the Germans leased out large portions of St. Thomas between 1685 and 1718 through the Brandenburg African Co. involved in the Triangular Slave Trade and had headquarters here for their German-American Hamburg Lines.

Theoccupied that whole building which is today part of the old Bern Ice Plant and that whole area across and south of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church built in 1844 -1848, There were other churches built in that location but were destroyed by fire previously in 1825-26.

Naval Administrators governed the islands

1917-1919: James Harrison Oliver; Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy administered the Islands.

1920-1921: Joseph Wallace Oman; Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy.

1921: Cyril E. King was born in the beautiful island of Saint Croix. This man was to become a great leader in the U.S. as well as in the Virgin Islands. This humble and great leader started going to school in St. Croix attending Catholic schools St. Ann’s and St. Mary’s and later in his life he received a degree from the American University in Washington D.C. and many honorary degrees and commendations.

  • He was the first African to work in the office of a U.S. senator when he worked in Senator Humphreys (Minnesota) office from 1949-1961.
  • He was the second elected Governor of the Virgin Islands.
  • Appropriated funds to rebuild the airports world war II hanger that was used as a terminal and extended the runway into the ocean.
  • He tried to empress on the people of the Virgin Islands to pursue agriculture.

1921-1922: Sumner Ely Wetmore Kittelle; Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy.

1922-1923: Henry Hughs Hough; Captain of the U.S. Navy.

1923-1925: Phillip Williams; Captain of the U.S. Navy.

1925-1927: Martin Edward Trench; Captain of the U.S. Navy.

1927-1931: Waldo Evans; Captain of the U.S. Navy.

1927: U.S. citizenship was granted to the people of the Virgin Islands.

Governors appointed by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior

1931-1935: The first appointed Governor; Paul M. Pearson, was born on Oct.22, 1871 and died March 27, 1938.

1935-1941: The second elected Governor; Lawrence W. Cramer, was born on Dec. 26,1897 and died Oct.18, 1978.

1941-1946: The third appointed Governor; Charles Harwood, was born on May 14, 1880 and died on Oct.23, 1950, the Charles Harwood highway was named after him.

1946-1949: The forth appointed Governor; William Henry Hustie, was born Nov.17, 1904 and died April 21, 1976.

1950-1954: The fifth appointed Governor; Morris Fidanque De Castro became the first native born Governor.

1954-1955: The sixth appointed Governor; Arcihbald Alphonso Alexander, was born May 14, 1888 and died Jan. 4, 1958. Archibald was appointed at a very mature age.

1956: Laurance Spelman Rockefeller the conservationist and heir to the Rockefeller fortune donates 5000 + acres (approximately 3/5 of the island) to the V.I. National Park Service, he also donates 33,000 acres in the Grand Teton National Park. Serious about saving the environment he was the head of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality from the 1969-73. He also sat on many different committees that involved environmental protection. Laurance served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, after co-founding Eastern Airlines. Later on in his life his interests lead him to speculate in the hotel and technological industries.

1955-1958: The seventh appointed Governor; Walter Arthur Gordon was born on Oct.10, 1894 and died April 2, 1976 at the ripe age of 81.

1958-1961: The eighth appointed Governor; John David Merwin was first native born administrator of the Virgin Islands, a sign of things to come. He was born on Sept.26, 1921.

1961-1969: The ninth appointed Governor; Ralph M. Paiewonsky was born on Nov.9, 1907 and died on his birthday on Nov.9, 1991.

  • King was appointed as Government Secretary by John F. Kennedy. This position was the equivalent of the Lieutenant Governors position today.

1969-1970The tenth and last appointed Governor; Melvin Evans was appointed as Governor after the early resignation of Ralph M. Paiewonsky. Something was very curious about his resignation. He was probably aware of the up coming elections and the changes that were on the horizon. To save embarrassment he was probably asked to resign.

Term limited elected officials, a supreme court, and a constitution

1970-1974The first elected Governor; Melvin Evans was elected by the people of the Virgin Islands he was the first person to be elected by the people after 53 years under American rule. Melvin was born on August 7, 1917 and died on Nov. 27, 1984. The time had come for the people to choose their own administrator. Melvin Evans should have been an easy choice because he served the people in that position by appointment of the President previously, but due to Cyril E. Kings popularity won by runoff election.

1974: Second elected GovernorCyril E. King, was born on St. Croix April 7th, 1921 and died January 2nd, 1978 before he was able to complete his term in office.

1977: Cyril E. King wrote a congratulatory letter to Dawuud N. Nyamekye; formerly David M. Horsford, on his victory as the 25th Prince of Carnival.

1978-1987: Third elected Governor; Juan Francisco Luis was born on July 10, 1940.

1987-1995: Fourth elected Governor; Alexander A. Farrelly was born on Dec.29, 1925.

1995-1999: Fifth elected Governor, Dr. Roy Lester Schneider was born on May 13th, 1939. Dr. Schneider was a former Prince of Carnival in St. Thomas and as governor pushed for the hospital to be named after him. An obvious affinity for women of a lighter or white complexion he was viewed by many as being pompous.

1999-2007: Sixth elected Governor; Charles W. Turnbull Ph.D. was elected.

2002: Governor Charles W. Turnbull was re-elected as the seventh Governor.

2007: Eighth elected Governor; John P. DeJongh was elected, with his running mate and lieutenant Governor was Gregory R. Frances from St. Croix.

Currently: St. John is still preserved and is trying hard to balance paradise and development. The task of maximizing the limited amount of landspace; a hot commodity, is daunting. The local government recently had to allocate some of National Park land to build a new school. Architecturally the local homes are very ordinary. The more affluent homes have more interesting and unique designs many use the Dutch inspired styles creating a renaissance of that occurring all over the Caribbean.

Many residents, both black and white are anti development and believe that the island is losing it's undeveloped charm.

Historically: St. John has been producing the finest quality Bay Leaves in the World, noted so by botanists, the leaves were used and still are today to produce Bay Rum for many years. This is a potential industry that has not received enough attention.

Government: St. John has one Senator (at large). The other two islands St. Thomas and St. Croix has seven senators each for a total of fifteen total. Under the new constitution these dynamics may change. There is now a growing desire in the community for changes to made in the legislature. Currently in the executive branches of government a Governor and Lt. Governor is elected every four years and fifteen senators in the Legislative Branches that are elected every two years. There is also Delegate to Congress but without voting rights in the House.

Commissioners are appointed by the Governor and are approved by the Legislature. They head: Agriculture, Police, Housing

Parks and Recreation, Education, Tourism, Planning and Natural Resources, Public Works.

In the judicial branch the District Court of the Virgin Islands and the Territorial Court exists.

Population: 4,157

Notes: St. John’s time-line has important information of St. Thomas V.I. included because decisions made in St. Thomas affected St. John’s history directly.