The U.S Virgin Islands are known as America’s Paradise in the Caribbean. The sun is always shining, the water is a brilliant blue and the concept of “island time” is alive and well. Travel sites advertise the many attributes of these beautiful islands in hopes to hook tourists in. I was lucky enough to visit the island of St. Croix and experience the many attractions. However, I got to experience what most tourists do not get the chance to, an inside look on St. Croix’s rich history and culture.
St. Croix is the largest of the Virgin Islands sitting just 120 miles from Puerto Rico, another U.S territory. The island itself has been under different leadership including Spain, Netherlands, Knights of Malta, Great Britain, France, Denmark and the United States. The Danish in particular were a major influence in the Transatlantic Slave Trade that included the island of St. Croix. The enslaved population of the island during this time included around 20,000 people.
The population today is around 50,000 with the main ethnic groups being Afro-Caribbean, Puerto Rican and Caucasian. Many Crucian family lineages come from people who were enslaved under Danish rule. Many places on St. Croix have history that was sacred for people who were enslaved. Maroon Ridge is just one of these places.
Maroon Ridge has a long history as a sanctuary dating back to 1650. Maroons were enslaved people who ran away to the northwest hills, later known as Maroon Ridge. The enslaved people would escape slavery and either jump off a cliff to commit suicide or attempt to sail to Puerto Rico on a piece of wood. If caught, they would be tortured or killed.
Something I observed on the island, that is lacking in the United States, was the connectedness of the people with the past. As we sat in a community meeting, I noticed many members taking notes and being involved in the presentation. The presentation was for a project called The African Slave Wrecks Project. The project focused on finding sunken ships that were carrying enslaved people during the Transatlantic Slave Trade Era. The community members at the meeting spoke about their concerns for this project and implications it has.
The building we were in was one of the first stops a person who was enslaved would make before being sold to plantation owners. The Crucians on the island are very connected to the history of the island and even trace back their family lineage for generations. This is not a situation I have observed in people not of African descent.This connectedness could come from the strong will their ancestors had. It is known on the island that people that were enslaved freed themselves. In the article, “St. Croix slaves freed themselves” written by Professor Olasee Davis, he explains that revolts by enslaved people began shorty after slavery started on the island. They revolted so long and so hard, that in 1848, Governor Peter Von Scholten had no choice but to free the enslaved people, or else the island was going to go up in flames.
While on the island, our group had the chance to participate in many tourist activities. We went on a catamaran tour (which is a huge boat), snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and turtle watching. Even though much of the islands population are people of color, non-native white people ran most of the tourist attractions. It is interesting that the main native populations, Crucians, are not represented highly in the tourist industry.
The island of St. Croix is truly a paradise and if given the chance, everyone should visit. There is plenty of fun in the sun activities to complete, and the island is enriched with so much culture and history. So take a trip out to the island, visit the sacred spaces and interact with the people of St. Croix. I promise you will not be disappointed.
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