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HomeCommentaryOpen Forum: How Estates Got Their Names, Part 1

Open Forum: How Estates Got Their Names, Part 1

The 18th century sugar mill and other ruins of Estate Anna’s Hope, named after Anna Heyliger. (Photo by Olasee Davis)
The 18th century sugar mill and other ruins of Estate Anna’s Hope, named after Anna Heyliger. (Photo by Olasee Davis)

The other day, a colleague asked me if I could write the history of how estates got their names in the Virgin Islands, especially on the island of St. Croix. The first permanent European settlement on St. Thomas was established in 1671 after the arrival of the Danish West India Guinea Company. The Danes divided St. Thomas into quarters. They are West End, Little Northside, Great Northwest, Southside, East End, Red Hook, New, and Frenchman Bay.

Olasee Davis
Olasee Davis (Submitted photo)

However, within Charlotte Amalie, it was divided into three sections: Kongens King’s Quarter, Dronningens Quarter’s, and Kronprindsens Crown Prince’s Quarter, which are all Danish names. On March 25, 1718, with the leadership of Gov. Eric Bredal, the island of St. John was claimed as Danish. St. John also was divided into quarters, with Cruz Bay, Maho Bay, Coral Bay, East End, and Reef Bay. In 1650, the French defended the Spanish and drove them off St. Croix. The French ruled St. Croix for 83 years, from 1650 to 1733, until the island was sold to Denmark.

Like so many European colonists in the Caribbean, the French divided St. Croix into six quarters. They were Fond de Monery, Mestre de Camp, Riviere Salee, Pointe de Sable, Nord, and Sud, whereas the Danes came up with nine, namely King’s, Queen’s, Prince’s, Westend, Northside A, Northside B, Company, Eastend A, and Eastend B quarters. On all three major U.S. Virgin Islands, the Danes created a road system in the middle of the islands known as Centreline roads.  

Map of St. Thomas. 1907. A Danish trading company took possession of the small island in 1671. At first the intention was to grow tropical crops like tobacco, cotton, and sugar; but it soon turned out that the mountainous island was not suitable for agriculture. The acquisition of St. Croix in 1733 served these purposes instead, and St. Thomas became a base for trade and shipping. On the large bay on the south side of the island the town of Charlotte Amalie developed. At the head of the bay lies Fort Christiansfort, and beside it the trading center of the town runs along the street Dronningensgade. The settlement continues up into the hills, and highest up above the town at a height of 1,500 feet one can look out over the Caribbean to the south and the Atlantic to the north. (Image courtesy Olasee Davis)
A map of St. Thomas, 1907. A Danish trading company took possession of the small island in 1671. At first the intention was to grow tropical crops like tobacco, cotton, and sugar; but it soon turned out that the mountainous island was not suitable for agriculture. The acquisition of St. Croix in 1733 served these purposes instead, and St. Thomas became a base for trade and shipping. On the large bay on the south side of the island the town of Charlotte Amalie developed. At the head of the bay lies Fort Christiansfort, and beside it the trading center of the town runs along the street Dronningensgade. The settlement continues up into the hills, and highest up above the town at a height of 1,500 feet one can look out over the Caribbean to the south and the Atlantic to the north. (Image courtesy Olasee Davis)

The islands were surveyed and divided into several hundred estates or plots and measured from a “centerline road” that ran the east-west length of the islands. Within these established areas, estates were developed ranging from 150 to more than 200 acres. As time changed due to many reasons, some estates were combined, expanding them into larger operations and acreages. Accordingly, this is the first of several articles about how estates got their names — or lack of names.  

From the get-go of St. Croix’s development in the 1700s, the Danes recognized the island’s potential and their inability to settle it with Danish planters. As a result, the Danish West India and Guinea Company offered generous tax exemptions and attractively low land prices to attract ambitious planters from the neighboring Dutch and British West Indies. For the most part, they were Dutchmen, Englishmen, and Frenchmen. Thus, the history of the estates accounts for the multilingual names of St. Croix. For example, on St. Thomas the settlers came from the Dutch Windward Islands. Settlement on St. Croix came mostly from the English Leeward Islands, particularly St. Kitts. 

Coal-carriers walk in a row on the East Asiatic Company’s quay. The firm was established on St. Thomas after the Danish Parliament rejected a treaty on the sale of the islands in 1902. The EAC’s coal harbour was on Hassel Island, and the company quickly became the biggest coal supplier in the Danish West Indies. (Photo courtesy Olasee Davis)
Coal-carriers walk in a row on the East Asiatic Company’s quay. The firm was established on St. Thomas after the Danish Parliament rejected a treaty on the sale of the islands in 1902. The EAC’s coal harbour was on Hassel Island, and the company quickly became the biggest coal supplier in the Danish West Indies. (Photo courtesy Olasee Davis)

Nonetheless, the number of estates on St. Croix has varied over the years as the island developed from 300 to 271 estates, give or take a few depending on which source you get your information from. According to the late Arnold R. Highfield, Danish estate names number about 11 on St. Croix, namely, Hafensight, Bulow’s Minde, Hogensborg, Sorgenfri, Fredensborg, etc. This is about four percent due to the very limited population and capital resources the Danes had at that time to develop the island of St. Croix.

French estate names on St. Croix total more than 13. This is about 4.7 percent, whereas there are about two German, and three Spanish, with the latter part of St. Croix colonial history coming from the Moravian missionary. The English population on St. Croix was largely from the settlement of the island. English estate names number about 191, which is approximately 71 percent. This also includes names ethnically derived from the Northern Irish, Irish, or Scottish, with such estate names as Caledonia, Tipperary, Fareham, and Carleton. However, there are estates with no names at all. The naming of estates on St. Croix reflected the island’s geography, and European origins such as Longford, Grenard, Windsor, and Richmond — places found in Europe — as well as the land’s natural resources such as water. 

For example, Estate Little Fountain on St. Croix could mean water because of the large underground water resources in the area. Not too far away, you have an estate named Fountain or Big Fountain, located in Northside A Quarter of St. Croix in the valley where the head streams of Jealousy flow. Therefore, the land topography of St. Croix dictated the naming of estates on the island. Perfect examples are Lowry Hill, Recovery Hill, Herman Hill, and Dolby Hill, to name just a few estates named with hills. These estate names probably reflect the elevation of the land where a windmill was situated to catch strong breezes. 

Estates also were named after people. In 1737, Edward Bayley of St. Eustatius claimed Estate Betty Hope, which is located within Prince’s Quarter on the south shore of St. Croix. In 1739, Theodonius Ketterling, who was also from Eustatius, claimed the same estate. In 1758, Robert Stewart acquired the other half of Estate Betty’s Hope from John M. Constantine, along with half of the Prince No. 43 plot of Estate Betty’s Hope. In 1770, Samuel Thompson and his father Thomas Thompson, who named it “Betty’s Hope,” acquired Robert Stewart’s property, which comprised 475 acres. Today, the estate is still named Betty’s Hope.

Another example of naming estates after people is Estate Coakley Bay on the East End B Quarter of St. Croix. This estate was named for John Coakley Sr., recorded as owner of the plantation in 1749. The estate had an earlier French name of “Grande Anse.” There were estates also named after women. Judith’s Fancy and Anna’s Hope are two examples. In the 1770s or 1780s, Count Bertram Peter de Nully, the son of Pierre Bertram de Nully from the island of Martinique, acquired Robinson’s Plantage estate on St. Croix.

He later married Catharine Heyliger, the daughter of a powerful planter Pieter Heyliger, and the Robinson’s Plantage estate was eventually left for the couple. Thus, Robinson’s Plantage estate was renamed Anna’s Hope after his daughter Anna. In 1766, the Estate Judith’s Fancy area was known as Hemmers Plantation or Hemmersfryd. The estate was patented to Jens Pieter Hekimers. Pieter Heyliger, who was an extensive land owner in the late 1800s, named the estate Judith’s Fancy after his daughter.

Olasee Davis is a bush professor who lectures and writes about the culture, history, ecology and environment of the Virgin Islands when he is not leading hiking tours of the wild places and spaces of St. Croix and beyond.

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