Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Founding of the Town of Cruz Bay in June of 1766

Cruz Bay deBooy
Cruz Bay, c1916
(Image from: The Virgin Islands, Our New Possession, De Booy & Faris [J.B. Lippincott Co.,1918])

Danish Crown Surveyor Julius P. B. von Rohr and the Founding of the Town of Cruz Bay on St. John

David W. Knight Sr

© 2016 All Rights Reserved

In the early hours of Monday, November 23, 1733, a well-planned insurrection carried out by a determined group of enslaved Africans interrupted Danish-colonial rule on the island of St. John. Not only was there great loss of human life, there was also widespread damage to property and infrastructure. Although the combative spark of the revolt was relatively brief, ongoing skirmishes with entrenched rebel factions, and failure on the part of colonial authorities to bring swift closure to the conflict, resulted in a protracted period of uncertainty that lingered well beyond the brutal ending of this episode in August of 1734. [Westergaard, 1917; Caron & Highfield, 1983; Pannet, 1733]

In the wake of hostilities some property owners simply quit St. John and sought fresh opportunities on the island of St. Croix, which had been purchased by the Danes from France in 1733. However, the majority of St. John’s struggling stakeholders lacked sufficient resources or the resolve to relocate. Induced by promises of compensation and security, the Danish-backed settlers cautiously reoccupied their ravaged properties and pressed onward, although insecurity and fear now became their permanent condition. [Westergaard, 1917; Bro-Jørgensen, 1966; Caron & Highfield, 1983; Pannet, 1733; Martfeldt, c1765]

As life on St. John slowly returned to the status quo, in 1736 a concerned group of plantation owners petitioned the Governor and Commandant of St. Thomas and St. John, Frederick Moth, for the establishment a fortress as a place of “refuge and protection” on the western side of the island. The planters argued that while inhabitants on the eastern portion of St. John enjoyed the benefit of security offered by the recently strengthened fort at Coral Bay, the planters to the west were left with no protection against external or internal threats to their lives and property. [Martfeldt, c1765]

In answer to their plea, in 1737 the Danish West India & Guinea Company purchased a parcel of coastal land at Little Cruz Bay from a poor Mulatto cotton planter, Frank Gonsal, with the expressed intent of constructing a fortress. This, however, was where the company’s initiative ended, and it was not until the Danish Crown took over governance of the colony in 1755 that any further action was taken. [LD, 1745; SJLL, 1728-1739; Larsen, 1940; Martfeldt, c1765; von Rohr, 1766]

In 1756 Governor-General von Prock visited St. John to re-investigate the idea of constructing a fortress at Little Cruz Bay. Two years later, formal plans to build a fort and establish a garrison were put into writing and the necessary funds were requested from Denmark. At that time it was also suggested that a small “flat” on the land purchased by the West India & Guinea Company back in 1737 be measured out and divided into plots for houses. [Martfeldt, c1765; Larsen, 1940]

Approval of von Prock’s plan finally came in 1764 and a building commission was established and funded. It was recommended by the commission that along with the construction of a defensive battery and garrison buildings, the remaining land adjoining Little Cruz Bay should be purchased for the establishment of a proper town. Consequently, on August 8 the bankrupt Little Cruz Bay cotton plantation belonging to the widow of deceased planter Leonard Lewis was bought on behalf of the Crown for the sum of 1,900 Rigsdalers – more than twice the land’s appraised value. The new town and the bay that fronted it were to be named Christiansbay, in honor of the Danish King. Clearing of the land commenced in September, and twenty-eight enslaved laborers were provided by local planters each week to man the project. [Hoff, 1986; Martfeldt, c1768; Oxholm, 1780; von Rohr, 1766; SJPP, 1752-1772]

By April of 1765 a five-room barracks, kitchen, and officer’s quarters stood near a convenient landing place at Christiansbay. The cost of project was reportedly between 15,000 and 16,000 Rigsdalers. Earlier that year the old fortress at Coral Bay (Fredericksvaern) was decommissioned and its cannons and ammunition brought to Little Cruz Bay for placement in the new fort. However, due to ongoing indecisiveness over the best location for a battery, construction had not yet begun. As a result, the cannons and ball were temporarily placed in a crude earthwork on the beach where they quickly rusted and became unservaceable. [Martfeldt, 1765; Oxholm, 1780]

Oxholm Cruz Bay RA

The garrison structures at Little Cruz Bay rendered by Peter L. Oxholm in 1780
L to R: a five-room barracks, bell gallows, kitchen, and officer’s house
(Rigsarkivet, Denmark)

In June of 1766, Danish Crown Surveyor Julius Philip Benjamin von Rohr was dispatched to St. John to begin the task of measuring the Crown’s holdings and laying out the streets and plot divisions for the new town of Christiansbay. [von Rohr, 1766]

An accomplished surveyor and avid amateur botanist, Julius von Rohr had been born in Merseburg, Saxony, in 1737. After studying medicine at Halle University, von Rohr immigrated to Denmark at the age of nineteen. On April 13, 1757, he was appointed to the post of municipal buildings inspector and land surveyor on the island of St. Croix in the Danish West Indies. [von Rohr, 1766; Dahl & Licht, 2004; Hopkins, 2013; Global Plants, 2013; Wikipedia, 2013]

Upon arrival on St. John, von Rohr began his survey by establishing the boundaries of the parcel of land purchased by the West India & Guinea Company back in 1737. Once its boundaries were conclusively determined, von Rohr immediately turned his attention to measuring out the broader extent of the Crown’s property, which was now made up of both the 1737 purchase and the adjoining Little Cruz Bay plantation acquired from the Leonard Lewis estate in 1764. After locating a single verifiable boundary marker, a “turpentine tree” situated on the northeast corner of Madam Wood’s plantation (Estate Enighed), von Rohr, using coordinates culled from deed descriptions and an astrolabe, took less than a week to reconcile the broader boundaries of what we know of today as the town of Cruz Bay. [von Rohr, 1766; Hoff,1986]

On July 5 von Rohr began the work of laying out the streets of the proposed town. That day’s entry in his survey journal clearly expresses his approach and attitude towards the process:
“I first began with measuring of the streets as it had rained constantly in the meantime. I also thought it best to focus on the lay out of the streets as the royal buildings were already built, which occupied a place of 200 feet long and 20 feet wide. The buildings are surely in the most inconvenient place, both in prospect of the town itself and its position … As this at the time does not concern me, and as they already are standing, it is best that the streets be aligned according to the buildings. …[I] made each street 40 feet wide, having as my objective the health and comfort of the future inhabitants as well as the respectability of the city itself …” [AOTA, July 5, 1766 (Translated from von Rohr’s original German by Gary T. Horlacher)]

The first street laid out by von Rohr was obligatorily christened Großen Königs Straße (Great King’s Street), which began at the southwest corner of the recently completed officer’s quarters and ran in a southerly direction along the shoreline 700 Danish feet. The second street was named Königins Quer Straße (Queen’s Cross Street), which ran inland from the bay on the south side of the town, intersected and crossed Great King’s Street, and ended near the western boundary of Madam Wood’s plantation. In the process of measuring Queen’s Cross Street, on July 9 von Rohr briefly paused to survey the first privately held parcel within the town:

“[While] I was busy with the adjusting of Queen’s Cross Street I measured also at the same time Madam Lewis’ retained lands that stood there. … Madam Lewis’ place in the town of Little Cruz Bay is south and westward on the Queen’s Cross Street 140 feet long, Southward from the street 100 feet wide, and its length on the [south] side is 190 feet. … Madam Lewis’ is not by the sea; a decent country road must remain between her place and the shore. [AOTA, July 5, 1766 (Translated from von Rohr’s original German by Gary T. Horlacher)]

According to von Rohr, one of the terms of sale of Madam Lewis’ plantation to the Danish Crown was that the widow would retain a piece of land near her former plantation residence. Von Rohr’s final statement regarding the measurement of this property refers to a caveat in Madam Lewis’ agreement, and informs us of the planned creation of another of the town’s streets, which he later named Strand Straße (Beach Street). [von Rohr, 1766]

On July 10 and 11 von Rohr continued with the “clearing, staking out, and measuring” of Queen’s Cross Street. While in the process of dividing the blocks he determined the intersection of the town’s third street, which he initially referred to as Queen’s Street, but later changed to West Street – most likely because it ran roughly parallel to the western boundary of Madam Wood’s plantation. [von Rohr, 1766]

On July 12 von Rohr moved on to completing his measurement of the southern extension of Great King’s Street. At the terminus of this street he found himself at the top of a steep hill overlooking Cruz Bay. Here he envisioned the eventual creation of yet another cross street, which would run along a ridge-line that defined the southern boundary of the town. From this point he first measured a line eastward until, by mid-day, he had reached the western boundary of Madam Wood’s property. Later that afternoon von Rohr returned to the southern terminus of Great King’s Street, where he took up the same line in a westerly direction towards the shore on Gallows Point. Delayed by rain and heavy brush, it was not until July 14 that von Rohr recorded in his journal that he had finally reached the 1,075-foot mark, where he “…came to the place on the point that would have been the most advantageous location for both a battery as well as the royal buildings.” [von Rohr, 1766]

Von Rohr now began the final phase of his survey. Having previously determined the town’s boundaries to the North, East, and South, it was only left to accurately map its western coastline. To this end, on the morning of July 16 he returned to a spot on the shore where on June 23 he had planted a turpentine-tree post to mark the northwest corner of the boundary between the Crown’s land and von Schleu’s plantation (Estate Lindholm), and slowly began to wend his way along the double-arched shore of Little Cruz Bay. [von Rohr, 1766]

Over the next few days von Rohr also took time to measure out and record the ownership of three additional town plots: two on Great King’s Street, taken up by the Moravian Brothers and Torsten Roseweld, and one large shore-front parcel measuring one-and-a-half town lots on the corner of Queen’s Cross Street and Great King’s Street, given over to Peter von Beverhoudt. [von Rohr, 1766]

After a period of persistent rain kept him from the field for the better part of a week, on July 24 von Rohr finally arrived at the southwest corner of the town on Gallows Point, thereby completing his survey. Late that afternoon he received orders to proceed to St. Croix, and so, after hastily preparing for travel, Crown Surveyor Julius von Rohr unceremoniously departed St. John, leaving behind an enduring legacy in the muddy streets of the newly created town of Christiansbay. [von Rohr, 1766]

Von Rohr next returned to St. John in September of 1766 to survey the Carolina plantation in Coral Bay. Although he continued to measure and record new lots at Little Cruz Bay in his journal through 1774 , there is no indication that he carried out any further survey work on the layout of the town. This leaves us with only two maps of Christiansbay that are known to have been rendered by von Rohr during his survey. One of these can be found affixed alongside corresponding field notes in von Rohr’s survey journal labeled, Book A, Maaleprotokol for Øerne St. Thomas og St. Jan fra 1764, which is presently held at the Office of the Tax Assessor on St. Thomas. The other, a rather formal color version, is in the map collection of the Danish National Archives (Rigsarkivet), in Copenhagen, Denmark. [AOTA, 1766-1774; Rigsarkivet Map Collection]

It is a poignant footnote to this history that Julius von Rohr’s long and distinguished career as a Crown Surveyor was to be profoundly impacted by the controversy over the appropriate location for the Cruz Bay Battery. It is well documented that von Rohr was strongly opposed to the fortress being built on the inner point of Little Cruz Bay, where it remains to the present day. Instead, he was of the opinion that the fort should have been placed on Gallows Point, where it could easily observe approaching vessels and be in a better position to defend the entrance of the harbor. In 1769, when a proposal by Governor Peter Clausen finally resulted in the release of funds for the construction of a battery at Cruz Bay, ongoing squabbles over its proper placement once again stalled the initiative. According to a report penned by Lieutenant Peter L. Oxholm in 1780, no action was taken until 1773 or 1774, when von Rohr took matters into his own hands and “…chose the best location [for the battery] according to the outlines of the town on Gallje Pynt (Gallows Point) where ground was broken.” However, after more than 400 Rigsdalers had been expended on the project, the Governor overruled von Rohr’s decision and insisted that the fort be placed on a small rock outcropping within Little Cruz Bay. [Oxholm, 1780; Martfeldt, 1765, von Rohr, 1766]

Not long after this incident von Rohr abruptly retired from survey work to pursue his interests in medicine and science. He soon received a commission from the Danish Crown to conduct an in-depth study of the natural history of the islands, and in June of 1773 von Rohr founded a botanical garden in the south-eastern section of Christiansted, on St. Croix, at the ends of Kirkegade (Church Street) and Dronningens Tværgade (Queen’s Cross Street). [Dahl & Licht, 2004; Global Plants, 2013]

Von Rohr next turned his attentions to the topic of tropical agronomy, particularly cotton cultivation, which became his passion. To this end, he began traveling throughout the West Indies and the Caribbean Coast of South America, collecting botanical samples and corresponding with many of the most noted naturalists of his time. While on a field trips to French Guiana in 1784 he obtained samples from the first nutmeg plants introduced into the Americas – the preserved flowers of which remain housed in the herbarium of the Natural History Museum in London to the present day. In 1786 he traveled to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, where he collected seeds and plant specimens that were sent back to Copenhagen for further study and cataloging. In all, von Rohr is credited with having described eight new genera. His observations on cotton plants in the West Indies represent the primary source of information on that crop from the eighteenth century. Ultimately, von Rohr’s documentation was used as the basis for naming thirty-eight species and/or varieties of cotton, two of which are named in his honor, G. rohrianum Raf. and G. rohrii Tod. [Dahl & Licht, 2004; Hopkins, 2013; Global Plants, 2013; Wikipedia, 2013]

Today, Julius Philip Benjamin von Rohr is best known in Denmark for his contributions to the fields of botany and horticulture, while his meticulously rendered survey maps and plans of the Danish West Indies languish in obscurity. He is believed to have been lost at sea in 1793, while on a mission to investigate the establishment of cotton plantations in the area of the former Danish slaving stations on the Guinea Coast of Africa. [Oxholm, 1780; Dahl & Licht, 2004; Hopkins, 2013; Global Plants, 2013]

As we commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Cruz Bay in June of 2016 , it is only fitting that Julius von Rohr be recognized for his contributions to the establishment of the town. So enduring is his legacy that if one were to hand a copy of von Rohr’s 1766 Cruz Bay map to modern-day tourists arriving on St. John for the first time, they would easily be able to navigate the town using only this 250-years-old document.

vonRohr Cruz Bay Survey 1766 cover

Julius von Rohr’s draft map of Cruz Bay, c1766
(Rigsarkivet Map Collection, Copenhagen, Denmark)


PRIMARY SOURCES (Alphabetical by abbreviation)
[AOTA] Book A, Maaleprotokol for Øerne St. Thomas og St. Jan fra 1764 (Office of the Tax Assessor, St. Thomas, USVI).
[LD] West India and Guinea Company Archives, Letters and Documents, 1674 – 1754 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
[SJA] Central Management Archives, West Indies Audit Registers for St. John, 1755 – 1915 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
[SJLL] West India and Guinea Company Archives, St. John Land Lists, 1728 – 1733 & 1736-1739 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
[SJLPP] West Indies Local Archives, St. John Landfoged, Probate-protocols, 1741 – 1823 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
[STM] St. Thomas / St. John Mortgage & Deed Registers (Office of the Recorder of Deeds, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands).
PRIMARY SOURCE MANUSCRIPTS (alphabetical by author)
Christian Martfeldt, Samlinger om de Danske Vestindiske Öer St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Jan, (Rigsarkivet, Chamber of Customs’ West India and Guinea Files, Martfeldt Manuscript Collection, 1760-1770).
Peter Lotharius Oxholm, Oxholm Journal, St. John 1780 (Rigsarkivet, Generaltoldkammerets Archive, West India and Guinea Files, Diverse, Pk. II, 1775-1832).
Julius P. B. von Rohr, Survey Journal (Book A, Maaleprotokol for Øerne St. Thomas og St. Jan fra 1764, Office of the Tax Assessor, St. Thomas, USVI).
BIBLIOGRAPHY (alphabetical by author)
J.O. Bro-Jørgensen, Vore Gamle Tropekolonier, Dansk Vestindien Indtil 1755, vol.1 (Fremand, Denmark, 1966).
Thorkel Dahl & Kjeld de Fine Licht, Surveys in 1961 on St. Thomas & St. Croix (Copenhagan, Royal Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture, 2004).
Daniel Hopkins, Peter Thonning and Denmark’s Guinea Commission: A Study in Nineteenth-Century African Colonial Geography (Leiden & Boston, Brill, 2013).
Kay Larsen, Guvernører Residenter, Kommandanter og Chefer (Copenhagen, Denmark, Arthur Jensen Forlag, 1940).
Peter Lotharius Oxholm, De Dansk Vestindiske Oers Tilstand I Hanseende til Population, Culture og Finance… (Kobenhaven, Johan Frederik Schultz, 1797).
Pierre J. Pannet (Translated and Edited by Aimery Caron and Arnold R. Highfield), Report on the Execrable Conspiracy Carried Out by the Amina Negroes on the Danish Island of St. Jan in America 1733 (U. S. Virgin Islands, Antilles Press, 1984).
Waldemar Westergaard, The Danish West Indies Under Company Rule (New York, The Macmillen Company, 1917).
PERIODICALS (Alphabetical by publication)
Henry B. Hoff, F.A.S.G., C.G., “Some Americans in the Danish West Indies,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 74; #1 [National Genealogical Society, Arlington, VA, March 1986].
Aimery P. Caron & Arnold R. Highfield, “St. John Slave Revolt of 1733-34; Historical Account,” Virgin Islands Education Review, Vol. 1; #8 [Office of Public Information, VI Department of Education, St. Thomas, VI, November 1983].
Global Plants, Julius Philip Benjamin von Rohr: http://plants.jstor.org/person/bm000007121
Wikipedia, Julius von Rohr: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_von_R%C3%B6hr

Envisioning St. John’s North-Central Coast at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century


Detail of the North-Central coast of St. John from a map by Peter L. Oxholm, 1780 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark)

David W. Knight Sr © 2013 All Rights Reserved

 While the roughly three-mile stretch of St. John’s North Shore between Mary’s Point and Leiven Marche’s Bay appears remote and unspoiled today, back at the turn of the nineteenth century it was the most active and densely-populated section of the island’s coastline — replete with three grand estate houses, five sprawling laborers’ villages, four sugar factories, an abattoir, workshops, barns, stables, warehouses, boat sheds, animal pens, lime kilns, turtle corrals, road networks, field systems, pastures, bridges, and even hospitals, one of which, at Waterlemon Bay, was described in 1805 as being “the largest and most convenient and comfortable sick [house] in all of the islands.”

Despite this area’s high state of development by the outset of the 1800s, organized agro-industrial development appears to have initially been slow to occur. The first Danish-colonial land grants along the north-central coast of St. John were not taken up until 1722, four years after formal Danish occupation of the island. Two French Huguenot refugees, Isaac Constantin and Jan Loisan, were the first settlers to establish themselves in this area, having been granted neighboring properties that would later become components of estates Annaberg and Leinster Bay. Another Frenchman, Pier Castan, was granted a plantation in the area of Brown’s Bay in 1725. In fact, so many French Huguenots settled in the northeastern section of St. John that early tax records refer to this portion of the island as the “French Quarter.”

The high concentration of colonists of French background in this area may have been due to the unwillingness of Danish and Dutch settlers, who made up the majority of early St. John land grantees, to establish themselves so close to the British on Tortola. Ever since the formal occupation of St. John by the Danes in 1718 tensions had run high, with the English constantly threatening to forcibly dislodge the Danish-sanctioned settlers – just as British forces had done to Dutch colonists on Tortola forty-some years earlier.

By 1728 the number plantation properties established along the coastal area between Mary’s Point and Levin Marche’s Bay had reach a peak, with eight properties engaged in the cultivation of cotton and/or sugar. Tax records indicate that by 1755 this number had dropped to six, as prosperous planters vied to acquire neighboring properties in efforts to increase their yield, and therefore, profitability. This consolidation of holdings was to be an ongoing pattern of development throughout the Danish-colonial period. Along the north-central coast of St. John consolidation of properties reached a pinnacle in 1808, when a single individual, James Murphy, effectively gained control over all of the plantations between Francis Bay in the West, to Brown’s Bay in the East, and inland, to the boundaries of Estate Carolina in the Coral Bay Quarter.

James E. Murphy, a wealthy St. Thomas-based merchant, slave trader, and sugar planter, acquired the Waterlemon Bay plantation in 1796. It is believed that it was Murphy who renamed the estate “Leinster Bay,” presumably in honor of the Irish Provence of his ancestry. Within the year Murphy went on to acquire the neighboring Annaberg and Mary’s Point estates, along with a portion of the former deWintsberg property (also known as Betty’s Hope) that joined the two parcels.

Following these acquisitions, construction began on a massive state-of-the-art sugar factory on the Annaberg property, while a stately and well-fortified estate house began to take shape on a prominent hilltop overlooking Waterlemon Bay. Along the half-mile shoreline that connected these two ambitious projects, Murphy developed a veritable port city, flanked on either side by sprawling laborers’ villages, with a total of 126 houses occupied by over 400 enslaved workers. Along the beach at the head of the bay, warehouses, support buildings, and secondary industries soon lined the waterfront: a coopers’ shop, blacksmiths’ shop, woodshop, lime kiln, boathouse, turtle corral, and a hospital. In Waterlemon Bay’s secure harbor, Murphy’s swift, tall-rigged “Westindiamen” were frequent visitors, while the estate’s five boats plied the local waters engaged as lighters, fishing, or carrying small freight and passengers. Immediately behind the beach, the former Waterlemon Bay sugar factory was refitted and upgraded, doubling its rum production capabilities. In the deep inland valley beyond the beach grazed six cows, one bull, two calves, six horses, thirty-five mules, and thirty-two sheep. The graceful hillsides of St. John, in every direction and as far as the eyes could see, were clear-cut and planted in sugarcane or guinea grass for grazing.

In 1803, Murphy once again set out to expand his landholdings with the acquisition of the Munsburry plantation, which lay along Annaberg’s southern boundary; and, in 1807, he purchased the Brown’s Bay estate on the far eastern boundary of Leinster Bay — thereby amassing a total of 1,245 contiguous acres, of which 494 were planted in sugar cane. It was the largest amount of sugar land ever controlled by a single individual in the history of St. John to that date.

On November 17, 1808, at the age of fivty-one, James E. Murphy died at his Leinster Bay estate house and was buried on a prominent hilltop overlooking his vast domain. At the time of his death Murphy had not only become the single largest sugar producer in the history of St. John, but he also controlled the island’s largest labor force, 591 enslaved workers, of whom more than 60 were skilled crafts-persons.

After James Murphy’s death his properties were appraised separately and either sold off to service the accounts of his creditors, or apportioned amongst his heirs. The Leinster Bay plantation was given over to Murphy’s son, Edward C. Murphy, while Annaberg, along with Mary’s Point and Betty’s Hope, became the property of his daughter, Mary Murphy Sheen. After Mary M. Sheen and her husband Thomas died without issue, in 1827 title to Annaberg reverted to the widow of Edward C. Murphy, Catharina Sheen Murphy, who had married for a second time to Hans H. Berg.

Long a respected civil servant, Hans H. Berg became Governor and Commandant of St. Thomas and St. John in 1853. He retained proprietorship of both Annaberg and Leinster Bay as guardian for his wife and stepson (James Murphy’s grandson, Edward Falkner Murphy, son of Edward C. Murphy and Catharina Sheen) until his death in 1862. By that date, the production and profitability of the former James Murphy properties had been in steady decline for over half a century.


Mary’s Point and Water Lemon Bay, c1940

(Photo by George H. H. Knight)


A Brief Timeline of the Danish Settlement of St. John from 1718 to 1734

David W. Knight Sr © 2013 All Rights Reserved

The following is a highly condensed contextual timeline of the first seventeen years of Danish-colonial settlement on St. John, from the island’s formal occupation in 1718, to the suppression of an island-wide African slave rebellion in 1734. St. John references in this timeline have mostly been sourced from letters of report sent by successive governors of the Danish West India & Guinea Company colony on St. Thomas to company officials in Copenhagen, Denmark. These documents are housed at the Danish National Archives (Rigsarkivet), and are a part of a record group referred to as “The West India and Guinea Company Archive, 1671-1754.” English translations of many of these reports have been provided by my friend and colleague Leif Calundann Larsen, whose publication The Danish Colonization of St. John 1718-1733 (The Virgin Islands Resource Management Cooperatve, St. Thomas, 1986) remains the most comprehensive and well-documented English-language resource for this important period in St. John history. Danish West African references have all been sourced from Georg Nørregård’s seminal work, Danish Settlement in West Africa 1658-1850 (translated by Sigurd Mammen [Boston University Press, Massachusetts, 1966]). All other references have been culled from a variety of broadly-accepted secondary sources.


St. John & the DWI

March 25 – Governor of the Danish West Indies Eric Bredal lands at Coral Bay on the eastern side of St. John and claims the island in the name of the Danish Crown. With him are five soldiers, twenty planters and sixteen slaves.

British officials in the Leeward Islands quickly lodge protest and demand that the Danes vacate St. John; Bredal flatly rejects their demands. Although tensions run high the British take no immediate action other than to restate their claim to St. John.

The West India & Guinea Company (WI&GC) begins to establish a plantation and build a fortress at Coral Bay. The fort is named Frederiksvaern.

August 30 – Governor Bredal reports that nearly thirty plantations have been taken up by Danish-sanctioned settlers on St. John.


The situation at the Danish slaving fort Christiansborg on the Guinea Coast is chaos.

There has been continual war between the Akim and the Akwamu, who have long been the Dane’s ally and primary source of slaves.

The fort is under staffed and under supplied; ships arrive many months apart and bring poor quality goods for trade. The Akwamu King, Aquando, demands constant tributes that the Danes can little afford.

Gradually the war between the Akwamu and Akim brings the gold trade to a standstill, however, the many prisoners of war being taken assures a constant inflow of new slaves to the fort.


Denmark has become an absolute monarchy.

The country’s economic situation grows increasingly precarious as a prolonged period of war throughout the Baltic region erodes its resources.

Norway and Denmark cling to a loose, but strained affiliation.


Sweden’s King, Charles XII is killed while attempting to invade Norway; Sweden has lost all of its territories except Finland.

England declares war on Spain.

The New Orleans colony is founded by the Mississippi Company


St. John & the DWI

January 7 – Governor Bredal expresses concern of an English attack on St. John – there are only five soldiers on the island.

February 12 – Bredal reports that the Spanish have captured two ships at St. John: one belonging to Thomas Bordeaux; the other, to Johannes van Beverhoudt. Bredal states that the occupation of St. John has become a “burden” and that the island is badly in need of men.

May 28 – Bredal again expresses fear of an English attack.


Conditions at Christiansborg on the West Coast of Africa continue to deteriorate.


France declares war on Spain.


St. John & the DWI

April 4 – Bredal complains of severe lack of manpower. He states that if more slaves are not provided St. John will need to be abandoned; suggests sending the Company ship Crownprince directly to Guinea to bring back slaves for St. John.

May 29 – Bredal reports ongoing trouble in establishing the Danish presence on St. John.

The crew of a WI&GC ship anchored at St. Thomas is sent to Coral Bay to bolster defenses as there are reports that the Spanish are preparing an attack on St. John.


August 6 – Commandant of Christiansborg, Knud Rost dies. His successor, Peder Ostrup, finds it impossible to maintain order.


The Treaty of Fredericksborg is signed between Denmark and Sweden.

Peace gradually comes to the Baltic region. Eighty years of almost uninterrupted war has left the Danish economy in shambles.

Russia emerges as an important Baltic power and Denmark retreats into its boundaries, only retaining a portion of Slesvig, where the Danes allow the German language to predominate.


The failure of John Law’s Mississippi Company leads to French national bankruptcy.

The colony of New York begins trade with the West Indies — later reaches trade agreement with the Danish West Indies.


St. John & the DWI

July 14 – Bredal reports there is not much unoccupied land left on St. John and that he has acquired a sugar mill and accessories for the Company plantation.

July 15 – Word reaches St. John that the Spanish have armed six vessels for an attack on the island.


Frederik IV declares himself to be absolute monarch over the duchies.

Queen Louise dies. Frederik IV immediately marries his mistress, Anna Sophie Reventlow, and names her queen. Unabashed nepotism causes a split in the royal house.


St. John & the DWI

January 22 – St. John is put into a state of defense as rumors continue of a Spanish attack.

April – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley arrives at St. Thomas with 201 newly-enslaved Africans.

May 11 – Spanish threat has blown over. Bredahl reports that an indigo works will be built on the Company plantation.

June 17 – The British once again restate their claim to St. John and demand that Bredal’s settlers vacate the island.

June 18 – Bredal reports that the sugar works is nearly completed on the Company plantation

July 15 – Bredal reports that there are now thirty-eight plantations on St. John and compiles a list of the owners: Eric Bredal, Cornelius Delicat, Joachim Delicat, Jacobus Delicat, Pieter Deurloo, Andreas Hissing, Jacobus van Stell, Wilhelm van Stell, Johannes Seis, Jan Vlack,  Isaac Groenwold, Andreas Torstenson, Adolph Pieter Maynfelt, Johannes Charles, Isaac Runnels, Abraham Runnels, Johannes Beverhoudt, Glaudi van Beverhoudt, Gerhard Moll, Lucas van Beverhoudt, Adrian van Beverhoudt, Francois Buk, Thomas Bordeaux, Isaac Constantin, Madam Parquereaux, Jacob Boufron, Adrian Charles, Frenk Gonsaloes, Johannes Uytendael, Betel Søfrensen, Jacob Magens, Johan Casper Cracowitz, Adrian Runnels, Paul Stage, Jan Loison, Lieutenant Ullerup, Jacques Thoma’s children, and Jochim Coop.


January – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley is the first Danish ship to arrive at Christiansborg since Ostrup replaced Rost as commandant in 1720. Upon arrival the crew finds the situation at the fort in a hopeless state of confusion. Ostrup is replaced as commandant by David Herrn — Ostrup later dies aboard the Haabet Galley before it reaches the West Indies.

February 11 – Haabet Galley leaves Guinea with a cargo of over 200 slaves.

August 9 – while on a visit to the Dutch territory of Accra Commandant Herrn is attacked, beaten, and robbed by natives. The Danish flag he carries is torn to shreds.


Herrnhut (in eastern Saxony) is founded as a Moravian settlement by Count Zinzendorf.             


St. John & the DWI

November 26 – Bredal reports that a storm has damaged some of the plantations on St. John and that the indigo works on the Company plantation has been completed.


January 22 – Commandant Herrn dies at Christiansborg. He is succeeded by Niles Jensen Ostrup.

October 30 – Commandant N. J. Ostrup dies at Christiansborg.

November 7 – WI&GC ship Christiansborg arrives from Copenhagen. Company assistant C. A. Syndermann is named acting commandant.


St. John & the DWI

March 16 – Bredahl complains that more slaves are badly needed on St. John.

May 1 – Eric Bredahl is replaced as Danish West Indies governor by O. J. Thambsen

June – WI&GC ship Christiansborg arrives at St. Thomas with a cargo of 351 slaves.

September 14 – Acting Governor Frederick Moth suggests that the Company sell its Krum Bay plantation on St. Thomas to help man and supply the plantation at Coral Bay.

Moth reports that Frederiksvern needs eight gun carriages and that Militia-Captain De Buyk has been forced to give up plans to hunt down runaway slaves as there are not enough capable men on St. John.

September 18 – Governor Thambsen dies on St. Thomas. He is formally replaced by Frederick Moth, a former WI&GC ship captain and Head Merchant on St. Thomas.

December 16 – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley arrives on St. Thomas with 219 Africans. All are sold to plantations on St. Thomas or St. John.

Captain Andreas Hammer of the Haabet Galley is granted a plantation on St. John.


March – WI&GC ship Christiansborg sails from the Guinea coast with 412 slaves.

April 27 – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley arrives at Christiansborg with Henrik Suhm who replaces Syndermann as commandant.

August 16 – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley leaves the Guinea coast with 250 slaves.

Wars among the African tribes continue. The Akwamu’s raids against neighboring towns along the coast force many inhabitants to flee the area. Provisions grow scarce and general trade becomes slow.

King Aquando enters into an alliance with the Fanti and together they launch an attack against the Agona who live between the Akwamu and Fanti territories. The Fanti attack first, causing the Agona to flee towards Akwamu territory where they are taken prisoner and enslaved.


November 21 – J. P. Gardelin receives a commission as Head Bookkeeper and Vice Commandant of St. John, and embarks for the Danish West Indies.


St. John & the DWI

The Commandant of Frederiksvaern, Lieut. Peter Froling, is granted a plantation on Company land in Coral Bay.

April 25 – Governor Moth reports work underway on a sugar boiling house on Company plantation.

J. P. Gardelin returns to the Danish West Indies as head Bookkeeper and Vice Commandant of St. John (he had previously served as WI&GC Secretary on St. Thomas from 1711 to 1716).

July 6 – English once again demand that the Danes evacuate St. John.

November 22 – A severe drought is reported. Hardly ¼ of the inhabitants are able to plant a corn crop.

Late in the year the sugar boiling house on the Company plantation is completed. However, it still needs sugar kettles.


Summer – Aquando, the warrior king of the Akwamu, dies. Only his great rivals the Akim had not been brought down by him.


St. John & the DWI

Interim Governor Capt. Frederick. Moth is granted a plantation on Company land in Coral Bay

Vice-Commandant Philip Gardelin is granted a plantation on Company land in Coral Bay

March 6 – Governor Moth reports that the Company plantation has only produced twenty-three hogsheads of sugar (over 100 were expected). He suggests sending all the slaves from the Company’s Krum Bay plantation on St. Thomas to St. John.

Worms have destroyed almost the entire cotton crop on St. Thomas and St. John

Soldiers are still badly needed on St. John

A Water Battery has been built on the eastern shoreline below Frederiksvaern.


September – WI&GC ship Christiansborg sails from the Guinea coast with a cargo of 281 slaves.


St. John & the DWI

February – WI&GC ship Christiansborg arrives at St. Thomas with 207 slaves — 74 slaves had died during the passage from Africa.

May 5 – Governor Moth reports that twelve hogsheads of refined white sugar have been sent from the Company plantation at Coral Bay to Copenhagen.

May 14 – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley arrives on St. Thomas with 217 African slaves. Also on board the Haabet Galley is the former Commandant of the WI&GC fort on the Guinea coast, Henrik Suhm, who is to replaces Moth as Governor on St. Thomas.

May 24 – Vice-Commandant Gardelin reports that John Reimert Sodtmann has been appointed bailiff on St. John (he had previously been a WI&GC clerk). Also, Jean Chartier has been employed as sugar refiner on the Company plantation.

June 17 – Governor Suhm reports that he is helping Gardelin make a provisional tax list for St. John.

September 29/ 30 – A hurricane damages the crops on the Company plantation.


March – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley sails from the Guinea coast with a cargo of 238 slaves. On board is Henrik Suhm.

September – WI&GC ship Young Virgin sails from the Guinea coast with a cargo of 47 slaves.

March 4 – Suhm is replaced as commandant of Christiansborg by Frederick Pahl.

September 18 – Commandant F. Pahl dies. He is replaced by Andreas Willemsen

The power of the new Akwamu king, Ansa Kwoa, begins to crumble. An Akwamu prince, Amaga, stages independent raids and is seen to usurp the power of the King.


The Quakers announce their opposition to slavery.


St. John & the DWI

January – Slave ship Young Virgin arrives at St. Thomas with 32 African slaves.

April 13 – Governor Suhm reports that the Company’s sugar refinery on St. John is now ready to go into full operation.

May 14 – The first tax rolls are compiled for St. John and sent to Copenhagen. Suhm reports difficulties in compiling the tax list as there are many problems with land measurements and deeds. He states that St. John is now fully occupied. Ninety-eight plantations are accounted for.

September 22 – A severe hurricane strikes the Danish West Indies causing much damage. The Company bark is wrecked in Coral Bay.

St. Thomas bailiff L. Hendrichsen is granted a plantation on Company land in Coral Bay

December – Governor Suhn is granted a plantation on Company land in Coral Bay.


December 24 – Andreas Willemsen is relieved as commandant of Christiansborg by Andreas Pedersen Waeroe.


October – A fire destroys 60% of Copenhagen. Reconstruction strains the Royal purse.


St. John & the DWI

January 12 – Governor Suhm reports that due to last year’s hurricane no refined sugar will be sent from the Company plantation, and that the cotton crop has once again been eaten by worms.

July – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley arrives at St. Thomas with 126 African slaves.

August 11 – Suhm reports that the Spanish have attacked St. John and carried away thirty slaves.

August 15 –  WIGC ship Salvator Mundi is wrecked between Anagada and Virgin Gorda with a full cargo from St. Thomas bound for Copenhagen.

November 2 – Suhm orders that any newly arrived slaves that have not been auctioned away on St. Thomas are to be sent to St. John. He suggests closing the Company plantation at Coral Bay as it has not proved profitable. Claims the soil is bad due to too much saltpeter.


March – There is a general uprising by the “hill people” against the Akwamu. The Akwamu attack the Accra, whom they feel have coerced the hill people into revolt. At first the Accra are defeated, but they remain bitter and soon resume the fight. The general unrest cuts off the flow of supplies and provisions to the Christiansborg.

May – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley sails from the Guinea coast with a cargo of 120 slaves.

September 28 – the WI&GC ship Prince Frederich arrives at Christiansborg with much needed supplies. The fort has been virtually under siege for six months.

December 28 – the Haabet Galley returns to Christiansborg directly from the Danish West Indies bringing gun powder and ball. Commandant Waeroe recruits sailors from the ship to help defend the fort. He appeals to Prince Amaga and King Ansa Kwoa for assistance.


The Treaty of Seville ends war between Spain, France, and England.


St. John & the DWI

April 22 – Gardelin reports that there is much smuggling of cotton from St. John to the English islands. He suggests that a fast coast guard boat should be fitted out to patrol the waters around both St. Thomas and St. John.

The decision is made that the sugar refinery on the Company plantation will be closed.

C. F. Bodger employed as doctor on the Company plantation on St. John.

September 17 – The WI&GC slave ship Christiansborg is wrecked on a return voyage from St. Thomas.


January 8 – the Accra begin to fire directly on the Christiansborg fortress. For more than two weeks there is a continual exchange of gunfire between the Africans and the Danes.

January 23 – In the morning, five Akwamu leaders and their forces arrive at the fort carrying a Danish flag. The Akwamu engage the enemy and drive the Accra away from Christiansborg. For many days the struggle continues.

February 14 – The Akwamu King, Ansa Kwoa, arrives at the battle scene with a great force of warriors and by March 22 the Accra are finally defeated. Meanwhile, while the Akwamu have been busy fighting the Accra, other Kings have made advances on Akwamu territory. This leads to a general state of war among the Akwamu and the Ashanti, Wasa, Fanti, Agona, Assini and Akim. A large area of the country around Christiansborg becomes a no-mans’-land.

September 17 – News reaches Christiansborg that the Dane’s long-time alley, the Akwamu, have been soundly defeated by the Akim.

The WI&GC ship Haabet Galley, which has remained off Christiansborg for nearly a year, is still there to aid in the defense of the fort or to evacuate the Danes if it becomes necessary.

After a time, the Akim make it known to the Danes that they are willing to carry on trade for the same tributes the Danes had previously paid to the Akwamu.

December 12 – the Haabet Galley finally sails from the Guinea coast with a cargo of slaves acquired from the Akim – many, if not all, are Akwamu prisoners of war.


King Frederik IV dies at age 59.

The 31-year-old son of former Queen Louise, Christian VI, ascends to power.

Christian VI is a shy and physically weak individual who is seen as unapproachable. He has been schooled in German and speaks no Danish. The King is greatly influenced by his German wife, Queen Sophie Magdalene.


St. John & the DWI

February – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley arrives at St. Thomas with fifty-five African slaves – many, if not all, are Akwamu prisoners of war.

March 3 – The citizens of St. John are called to Frederiksvaern to give the oath of allegiance to their new king, Christian VI.

April 23 – Governor Suhm reports that due to the drought the island of St. John is unlikely to produce more than 150 hogsheads of sugar. He advises the Company to consider selling the Coral Bay plantation or planting it with cotton.

April 26 – Suhm reports that the severe drought has now done damage to most of the plantations on St. John, and that a “hard working Englishman,” Denis Silvan, has been employed as an overseer on the Company plantation in Coral Bay.


March 28 – WI&GC ship Countess of Laurweg arrives on the Guinea coast.


St. John & the DWI

March 19 – WI&GC ship Haabet Galley is in Hurricane Hole for caulking.

June – WI&GC ship Countess of Laurweg arrives at St. Thomas with 115 African slaves.

June – Governor Suhm purchases 25 newly-arrived slaves from the Countess of Laurweg for his Coral Bay plantation: P. Durloo buys 3; F. Moth, 2; R. Soetmann, 15; G. van Stell, 1.


April 1 – After more than a year and much difficulty in securing a cargo, the WI&GC ship Countess of Laurweg leaves the Guinea coast with 116 slaves – the majority are Akwamu.


St. John & the DWI

February 23 – Former Vice-Commandant Philip Gardelin replaces H. Suhm as governor.

March 3 – According to an inventory of the Company plantation signed by R. Soetmann, there are 110 slaves on the Coral Bay plantation: 44 men, 42 women, 15 boys and 9 girls. Of them, 4 are listed as runaways (3 men & 1 woman).

April 16 – Governor Gardelin reports that there has been severe drought. The Company plantation is failing as its soil cannot resist the dry conditions. He also notes that Soetmann, who is deeply in debt to the Company, will be receiving 1000 rigsdalers from Gardelin’s late wife’s probate (Soetmann is married to the daughter of Gardelin’s deceased wife by a previous marriage). Suggests Soetmann should be allowed to invest the money in his plantation so he will be able to live and pay his debts in the future.

May, 11 – WI&GC ship Laarbourg Galley arrives in St. Thomas with 242 African slaves – 45 are sold to St. John planters.

June 15 – A treaty is signed for the purchase of St. Croix from the French. Frederik Moth is appointed as the new governor and takes up residence on St. Croix.

June 18 – Gardelin reports that a severe drought has now lasted for 5 months. Sugar cane crops have been left in the fields as none is suitable for harvest. He feels the Coral Bay plantation has become a liability to the Company and will now be difficult to sell – suggests selling it off in plots of 1000 ft. He adds that Fort Frederiksvaern is in dire need of maintenance.

July – A destructive hurricane strikes St. John.

September 5 – Gardelin issues a harsh slave code in an effort to maintain control.

Late in October – All of the slaves on the Suhm plantation, as well as many others from surrounding properties have gone “maron” (run away).

Monday, November 23, approx. 4 am – Twelve to fourteen salves from the Company plantation seize Frederiksvaern at Coral Bay.  Six Danish soldiers are killed.  Only one escapes.  A cannon is fired from the fort by the rebels to signal the beginning of a general uprising. A group of about eighty slaves proceed to kill any whites they can find throughout the island.

About 2 pm John Gabriel, the surviving soldier from Frederiksvaern, reaches St. Thomas bringing the first news of the rebellion.

St. John planters, overseers, and loyal slaves gather at the Durloo plantation. The plantation is attacked at approximately 3 pm. A siege lasts through the night into the next day.

November 24, early morning – The rebels resume their attack on the Durloo plantation. They manage to burn a warehouse and cut off the colonists’ water supply.

William Barents arrives on St. John with supplies and a detachment of about seventeen men to relieve the besieged planters.

Thursday, November 26 – Thomas Magens and a force of twenty-five men retake Frederiksvaern in Coral Bay. Afterwards, they come across a rebel encampment on the Suhm plantation. A group of rebel slaves flee into the bush in the area of Base Hill – eight to ten are captured and sent to St. Thomas.

November 29 – Governor Gardelin appeals to the British on Tortola for assistance.

December 4 – Word arrives from St. John that the rebels have assembled on the Kroyer plantation at Brown Bay. Peter Pannet reports that thirty-two rebels have been executed by this date; others were being tried.

By late December the rebels have broken off into small groups and are scattered throughout the island.


Early in the year WI&GC ship Laarbourg Galley arrives at Christiansborg. In the month that she is there only fifty-two slaves are taken on at the fort. The ship later leaves the Guinea coast with a cargo of 443 Africans, 199 of whom die before reaching the Danish West Indies.


War of Polish succession begins: France & Spain vs Austria & Russia.


St. John & the DWI

January 5 – Governor Gardelin informs the Company directors that enough slaves had been killed on St. John as to present the danger of plague due to rotting bodies.

1st. week of February – Captain Tallard of a visiting man-of-war in Tortola, sends sixty men to St. John to join in the chase.  They are ambushed at night and four soldiers are wounded.  The captain then withdraws his men.

February 17 – St. John planters again appeal to the English for assistance

Sunday, March 7 – British Capt. John Maddox arrives from St. Kitts with a force of fifty volunteers. A list compiled at this time indicates that there are 140 slaves on St. John suspected of being involved in the rebellion.

March 18 – Maddox engages the rebels and three of his men (including two of his sons) are killed. Five others are wounded.

March 19 – Disheartened, Maddox and his men depart St. John.

March 21 – Governor Gardelin writes to Mons. De Champigny, Governor-General of the French Windward Islands requesting assistance.

March 23 – Lieutenant-Governor John Horn sails to Martinique in a French ship to personally deliver Gardelin’s message to the French governor.

April 5 – Horn arrives in Martinique

April 12 – Champigny sends orders to Capt. Longueville instructing him to proceed to the Danish islands with 200 men in two ships to assist the Danes.

April 14 – Longueville departs St. Pierre, Martinique.

April 19 – Approximately forty rebels once again attack the Durloo plantation.

April 24 – Longueville’s ships sail into Coral Bay after a one day stopover at St. Thomas. With them is a Danish force of about thirty men under the leadership of Lieut. Froling.

April 24-25 – A constant downpour prevents any action.

April 28 – The search begins as Longueville sends out four detachments. The first encounter takes place in a ravine, at which time one rebel is killed. A rebel camp consisting of twenty-six huts is subsequently located and burned.

April 29 through May 2 – Four days of fruitless search.

May 3 – Longueville returns to camp. The French are visited by a man from St. Thomas bound for Tortola. He reports having seen smoke rising from a point (perhaps Ram’s Head).

May 4, early Amorning – Longueville sends out two detachments of forty-five men to the place where smoke had been seen. Longueville’s men are observed as they approach and the rebels flee after setting fire to their camp. One dead rebel is found at the camp and another has recently hung himself.

About May 8 – A young slave, January, who has been captured, leads Longueville’s men to a place where eleven of the rebels have killed themselves not far from Ram’s Head.

Sunday, May 16 – Longueville informs Gardelin of the capture of eight rebels: six men and two women.  A judge is sent from St. Thomas to conduct a trial. Three of the men are burned at the stake on St. John.

May 17 – The remaining five captives are sent to St. Thomas where they are subsequently publicly executed (see: May 27).

May 19 – One rebel man and a rebel woman are killed by the Free Negroes Corps on St. John.

May 23 – Twenty-five dead rebels (including six women) are found by a detachment of the Free Negro Corps on Gabriel van Still’s point near Brown Bay. It is judged that they had been dead for eight to ten days.

May 24 – Longueville sends out two detachments to look for any surviving rebels; none are found.

May 26 – Longueville departs St. John for St. Thomas.

May 27 – Longueville’s ships arrive in St. Thomas. The French remain there for five days being entertained and provisioned. During this time the five rebels captured on May 17 are publicly put to death: one is burned to death slowly; one is sawed in half; and, one is impaled. The two women have their hands and heads cut off — all five are first tortured with hot pincers.

June 1 – The French set sail for Martinique.

August 25 – The last fifteen rebel slaves are lured into giving themselves up at the Adrian plantation. Prince, their leader, is immediately beheaded, while the remaining fourteen are taken prisoner and sent to St. Thomas. Of them, four die in prison, four are condemned to be worked to death on the fortification on St. Croix, and six are executed by various means.


February 24 – WI&GC ship Countess of Laurweg sails from the Guinea coast with a cargo of 224 slaves — only seventy-four are boarded at Christiansborg.


February – WI&GC directors and chief stock holders meet to debate whether to continue the slave trade. A majority vote to cease the company’s participation in the trade, yet the trade continues.


Coral Bay, St. John, published by Gerard van Keulen 1719

The earliest-known rendering of St. John after Danish occupation is this inset map of the Coral Bay area published by Gerard vanKeulen in Amsterdam, 1719.


Coral Bay, St. John, published by Gerard van Keulen 1719