The History of Guavaberry–The Caviar of Fruits

Guavaberry—The Caviar of Fruits

When a Caribbean-born person ventures far and wide, one of the flavors he most craves is that of the guavaberry. And today, with next-day courier services routinely making intercontinental deliveries, it is not uncommon for a package destined for a Caribbean national to include a jar of guavaberry preserve. It is as if the fruit’s unique, spicy, sweet-bitter flavor is in the DNA of the region’s peoples.

Myrciaria floribunda, a member of the myrtle family, is a shrublike tree native to the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America. However, the species is most commonly found in the Lesser Antilles, especially on the Dutch/French island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the British Virgin Islands. The tree bears a diminutive fruit called “guavaberry” or “rumberry” that has been dubbed “the caviar of fruits”: It is tiny—about the size of a large fish egg or a pearl. The peeling-bark characteristic of the guavaberry tree is remarkably similar to that of its close relative, Psidium guajava, the botanical name for the guava fruit, which is also native to the region.  Myrciaria floribunda is also botanically related to the Jamaican allspice and the South American eucalyptus.  

Harvested around October, the guavaberry fruit is either blackish-red or amber-yellow in color; has a delicious, distinctive flavor, so much so that it is one of the defining flavors of the Caribbean; and is both rare and prized. And because the harvest years and times are unpredictable, the appearance of the fruit is regarded by the region’s peoples  as a special blessing from Mother Nature.

The historic record indicates that pre-Columbian peoples prized the fruit.  And in 1767 Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, in his capacity as inspector for the Moravian Church, journeyed to the Danish West Indies to report on the Moravian missions, which had been established in the islands 35 years earlier, beginning in 1732. Oldendorp remained in the islands for a year and a half, observing the islands and their peoples.  In 1777 he published History of the Mission of the Evangelical Brethren on the Caribbean Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John.   And of the precious guavaberry he writes: “I must also make mention of another small tree which I have not at all seen, but whose berries—they are called guavaberries—I have eaten.  Like cherries, they are very round, black or yellow. They have one or two small kernels, a pleasant spicy taste, and are quite healthful. They are eaten in the morning on an empty stomach. When prepared in rum, they take on a strong, sweet taste.”

Guavaberry is related to the Brazilian “jabuticaba” (Plinia cauliflora) and is similar in appearance and flavor, except that the guavaberry is about one-third the size and has a flavor of about ten times as intense as its South American counterpart. Guavaberry is also closely related to another Brazilian native, Psidium cattleyanum, also known as strawberry guava or cherry guava, and like guavaberry, comes in two varieties, purple-red and yellow.

The guavaberry plant tends to thrive in sunny, hilly terrain with rich, rocky soil. Because the tree is more shrub-like than tree-like, the fruits are most efficiently harvested when ripe by shaking them from the branches onto a drop-cloth or net. The somewhat-astringent fruit, which tastes like lingon berry, but with undertones of juniper, is oftentimes eaten fresh. But because guavaberry is relatively scarce, it is typically preserved to ensure an annual supply. Held between thumb and index finger, the fruit is gently squeezed, thereby expelling its round stone, which is about half the size of the fruit. The juice, pulp, and skin are then cooked with sugar to make a preserve that is traditionally used to make open-face tarts and as an obligatory topping of one of the layers of the authentic Crucian Vienna cake. The preserve is also added to rum then filtered (typically through cheesecloth or a coffee filter) to make “guavaberry liqueur,” customarily drunk during Christmastime throughout the Caribbean, but especially in the Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten/St. Martin, and part of the Dominican Republic. “Guavaberry rum,” on the other hand—also drunk in the region during the Christmas season—is made by macerating the fresh fruit in rum, thereby infusing the rum (traditionally kept in a demijohn) with guavaberry’s unique flavor and reddish color, a process which takes at least a year. Stored in a cool, dark, dry place in a tightly sealed demijohn or glass container, guavaberry rum can endure indefinitely, improving with age. Unlike its liqueur counterpart, guavaberry rum is not filtered; it is poured directly from the demijohn, the objective being for each serving to contain a portion of the macerated fruit.

On St. Croix, Armstrong’s Homemade Ice Cream, founded in the year 1900 by Minerva Petersen, ancestor of the present-day Armstrong family of the town of Frederiksted, makes a guavaberry ice cream that is highly coveted. Offered only during the Christmas season and on the occasion of the island’s annual Agriculture & Food Fair in February, people queue up—as if buying tickets for a rock concert or a blockbuster movie—to get their serving of the locally famous ice cream. 

The guavaberry fruit is so esteemed in the Virgin Islands that it has been honored in folksong.  Every Christmas season, from time immemorial, Virgin Islanders serenade each other—whether in the historic towns or in the countryside—with the lyrics,

“Good mornin’, good mornin’,

ah come foh mih guavaberry,

good mornin’… [to you an’ yoh family].”

The lyrics suggest the customary right of the visitor to politely demand the holiday treat from the person whom he serenades.  

Beginning in the late 1800s, when Virgin Islanders seeking employment opportunities in the sugarcane industry would emigrate to the Dominican Republic, settling in San Pedro de Macoris and La Romana, they took with them their age-old guavaberry traditions.  And today, when there is scarcity of the esteemed fruit in the Virgin Islands, it is fruit imported from the Dominican Republic that fills the void. Likewise, in keeping with the custom of honoring the fruit in song, “Santo” singer Juan Luis Guerra, in his song titled Guavaberry, pays homage to the drink made of the fruit being enjoyed in the streets of San Pedro de Macoris.

Three Kings’ Day marks the closing of the Christmas holidays.  And it is the tradition of the Virgin Islands to celebrate the occasion with a glass of the islands’ most venerated beverage:  guavaberry rum or liqueur. Such has been the custom throughout four centuries of recorded Virgin Islands history.

The Antique Mahogany Four-Poster Beds of the Danish West Indies–The World’s Most Beautiful Beds

Danish West Indies 4-Poster Mahogany Beds

It is said that God could easily have made a more beautiful bed–but He didn’t…. In all the world, there is no bed more stately than the antique four-poster mahogany beds of the United States Virgin Islands, the former Danish West Indies. Certainly, there are beds more grand, more intricately detailed, more fancy and ostentatious. But in terms of sheer magnificence, that ever-delicate balance between form and function, and understated elegance, the beds of the Virgin Islands are beyond compare. To enter a room in which one is situated is to be drawn, almost instinctively, onto it. Wherever placed in the room, the bed becomes the center of the room—the navel of the space. And it is upon those great beds that families are conceived, born, and die, generation after generation.

In 1493, as Christopher Columbus on his second journey to the New World approached the Caribbean archipelago at its center-point, it is said that he remarked that the islands—some big, some mere rocks jutting out the sea—reminded him of the legend of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins who are said to have been massacred by the Huns near present-day Cologne as she, accompanied by her virginal retinue, undertook a self-declared pan-European pilgrimage prior to her marriage to the pagan governor Conan Meriadoc of Armorica. In honor of St. Ursula and her many virgins, Columbus named the idyllic islands “Las Islas Virgenes” (“The Virgin Islands”).

Almost immediately after the Spanish conquest, the Virgin Islands—especially St. Croix because of its strategic location within the Caribbean archipelago and its relatively flat, arable land—would become the object of desire for a long list of European interlopers and colonizers, from the English and Dutch, to the Knights of Malta and the French, and motley crews of pirates in between. But it was the Danes, towards the end of the 1600s and the first decades of the 1700s, that embarked upon comprehensive, sustained efforts at colonizing the Virgin Islands, namely St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix.

Apart from pre-Columbian Amerindian furnishings, very little of which has survived, much of the furniture-making heritage of the Virgin Islands occurs during the Danish era (1671-1917). By the 18th century, as a result of profits made from the slave trade and the sugar industry, Caribbean plantations had become infamous for their immense wealth, so much so that the adage “as wealthy as a Barbados planter” would become a part of the vernacular, and St. Croix would come to be dubbed “The Garden of the West Indies.” Mansions reflecting and celebrating that wealth were built and had to be furnished and decorated—typically with European luxury items. In the beginning, European planters would import European-made furniture constructed from European woods. But it soon became apparent that the local species of termites had a special appetite for European woods, in many cases leaving the intricately carved, gold-leaf Rococo furniture of the late 18th century so structurally compromised that it would collapse upon being touched.

Beginning in the early 1700s, plantation owners would ship termite-resistant Caribbean hardwoods back to Europe, the wood then used to make furniture that would in turn be shipped back to the islands for use in the plantation mansions and urban dwellings. There are accounts of exquisite mahogany and rosewood being shipped to Europe to be made into furniture that would then be decorated with gold-leaf to suit the tastes of the day, concealing, unfortunately, the beautiful grain of the tropical hardwoods in the process.

Reimert Haagensen’s Description of the Island of St. Croix in America in the West Indies, written in the 1750s and published in Denmark in 1758 states:  “The information will have to suffice on this matter for I must say something about the many rare trees that are found in such quantities there.  These have all kinds of names, such as Mahogany and others of equal value.  From these are made the best furniture to be had, namely writing desks, cabinets with mirrors and chests of drawers.  These would, however, are sold to outsiders since there is no one on the island who can do this work. Indeed, there are samples sent home to Copenhagen.”

By the early 1800s, however, the furniture-making trade was well-established in the islands, Afro-Caribbean craftsmen emerging as major participants. In the 1820s, Lieutenant Brady, in his Observations upon the State of Negro Slavery in the Island of Santa Cruz, published in 1829, writes:  “I visited nearly all of the negro houses at [Estate Manning’s Bay] and was agreeably surprised at the number of articles of household use, and of social comfort, which I met.  In most of them there was a bedstead, straw bed, pillow and blankets, several chairs, a table, sleeping bench, and chest. In some there were drinking glasses, and other decent table ware, and in one a pair of decanters.”  Brady then goes on to write several lines later that, “Few of these articles would have been found in a negro yard thirty years ago….”

The History of Mahogany

Swietenia mahogani is native to Cuba, Hispañola (Domican Republic and Haiti), and Jamaica in Greater Antilles, as well as the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. The tree is believed to have been introduced to the Lesser Antilles and Central America during the colonial era, between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Popularly known as mahogany, West Indian mahogany, Cuban mahogany, and Spanish mahogany (the Spanish word for mahogany being “caoba”), it has for over 300 years been regarded as the world’s finest, most versatile, and luxurious furniture wood.

An upright-growing tree, able to attain heights of 150 feet under favorable conditions, mahogany is highly prized for its dense, tight-grained, reddish-brown wood, which is conducive to a high polish.

Mahogany was first introduced to the European market five centuries ago by the Spanish, the major colonizers of the Greater Antilles, but it was the English, who in the very late 17th century, made the wood a household name. One of the earliest mentions of mahogany in English newspapers occurs in the London Gazette of February 22nd to 25th, 1702. The first reference to mahogany in the statistics of imports filed at the Public Record Office is dated Christmas 1699 – Christmas 1700: “Jamaica. Wood Mohogony….” And it is generally regarded that between 1720 and 1725, the English began using mahogany in the furniture-making trade. The Daily Journal of May 26, 1724 reports what is undoubtedly the first recorded use of mahogany in the construction of doors: “His Magesty’s Ship, the Mermaid, which is coming from Jamaica, hath on Board from thence 600 Planks of the famous Mahoginy or Redwood, which grows in no Part of the World but the West-Indies, which Wood is to be employed, in making all the inner Doors in the new Admiralty-Office, now building at Whitehall; and to be used in Tables and other Purposes for the said Office.”

By 1774 Swietenia mahogani had become scarce in most parts of its natural range, and it was virtually extinct in Cuba by the end of the 19th century. Closely related to West Indian mahogany is Swietenia macrophylla, also known as Honduras mahogany or South American mahogany. Besides sporting a bigger leaf (hence its botanical name), the South American variety is less dense, less beautifully patterned (therefore less valuable as a decorative veneer wood), and less expensive. And unlike the West Indian varieties, which are enhanced by age (the Cuban variety becoming honey-brown when exposed to sunlight and the Hispañolan, which becomes darker with exposure), Swietenia macrophylla is known to bleach if confronted by sunlight over extended periods.

The reputation of mahogany, as unsurpassed for beauty and versatility in the furniture-making trade, has led to its commercial extinction in many regions of the world. Several countries, however, have come to the rescue of the species by enacting laws regulating its harvest, use, and export.

The Emergence of Mahogany as the Primary Furniture-making Wood in the Danish West Indies

By the 1790s and into the first decades of the 1800s, with the clean, simple lines of Empire furniture becoming all the rage and oftentimes replacing the ornately carved Rococo furniture of 50 years earlier, exotic tropical woods, especially mahogany, became prized since the simple line of Empire furniture lent itself to the beautiful grain and rich color of mahogany. And it was the convergence of simplicity of line and richness of wood that laid the foundation for what would become the Virgin Islands’ greatest contribution to the decorative arts: the four-poster mahogany bed.

When Africans were enslaved and forcibly shipped to the Caribbean to labor on plantations, they brought with them their culture, professions, talents, and skills. Highborn and lowborn and skilled and unskilled alike were equalized as manual laborers. The only outlets for artistic expression were in the performing and useful arts. Who otherwise might have been or become a painter or sculptor or poet in a free society oftentimes found him/herself—during the little free time allowed the enslaved—gravitating towards performance arts such as music or dance, or towards the crafts such as cooking, jewelry-making, or furniture-making.

Wood-working and carving, still a strong tradition in Haiti, had long been a part of West African tradition before the emergence of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the 15th century. So, in the early 1800s, when European plantation owners realized that it was more practical to have furniture made in the islands by local craftsmen than shipping Caribbean hardwoods all the way to Europe to be made into furniture, that furniture then having to be shipped all the way back to the Caribbean, plantation owners began utilizing the traditional and European-trained skills of free and enslaved cabinet-makers to produce furniture for local use. What is today stylistically categorized as “Colonial furniture” is the result of a merging of European and African aesthetics.

Afro-Caribbean Influences and Traditions

By the 1830s, during the Late Empire period, African and European aesthetics had converged, giving birth to the 4-poster mahogany bed (and also the elegant, caned Caribbean rocking chairs), arguably the region’s most distinctive and celebrated contribution to the decorative arts.

The necessity of mosquito nets led to the preference for beds with tall, massive, elegantly tapered, lathe-turned, hand-carved posts, surmounted by a “tester,” a framed canopy that, in the finest homes, would typically be dressed with hand-embroidered linen skirting. And the big, upright-growing, abundantly branched mahogany trees provided the necessary lumber for the crafting of the beautiful posts from which the nets could be suspended. Footboards with open spindle-work, a design feature that triumphantly distinguishes the beds of the Virgin Islands from all other beds of the Caribbean, allow the tropical breezes to flow, unimpeded, onto the beds, thereby cooling their occupants. The footboards also impart a certain “finish” and “balance” to Virgin Islands beds that is unmatched in other Caribbean beds.  Each headboard was more impressive than the next, craftsmen oftentimes having signature motifs, many of which were Afro-centric. Mattresses were high off the ground—as high as the typical windowsill, necessitating bed-stairs but also allowing for breezes penetrating jalousie windows to bring uninterrupted comfort on warm, tropical nights. The high-set beds were also infamous for wreaking havoc on the bones of careless sleepers!

The Ubiquity of the Bed

By the late 1800s, owning a mahogany bedstead had evolved as a rite of passage into adulthood for the average Virgin Islander. Most of the beds were made between 1830 and 1940—until the coming of ready-made American furniture. Modest families had “the family bed,” while more well-to-do families had a bed for each child, children typically carrying along their bedsteads when establishing their own homesteads. So much a part of the culture were the beds that a new bed would be given a “bedstead party” in order to celebrate its one-year anniversary: The bed would be dismantled and reassembled outside the home in a public space of the community so that it could be blessed by clergy and praised by neighbors. (At the end of the party, the bed would again be disassembled and then reassembled in the home.)

Virgin Islands four-poster mahogany beds are so esteemed that they are oftentimes bequeathed in last wills and testaments. It is not uncommon, for example, for a testator to dispose of real estate and cash then the bed: “And the mahogany bed upon which I slept should go to….” It is also not uncommon for a mahogany bed to be at the center of family discord and discontent: “Mama had always said that her bed should go to me….” And one of the most highly regarded gifts from a godparent to a godchild is a four-poster mahogany bed. So coveted are the beds that some are said to be haunted by their former owners, making for many a restless night for unapproved subsequent occupants. And many of the islands’ present-day prominent families—the families that produce the lawyers, doctors, university professors, clergymen, and, of course, artists, for example—descend from cabinet-makers who were able to command, on account of the cultural admiration for fine mahogany furniture, a respectable income in the decades following Emancipation in 1848, thereby acquiring private property and availing their offspring to higher education.

Though not as obligatory or ubiquitous as they once were, Virgin Islands four-poster mahogany beds are every bit as revered, locally and abroad. And on the rare occasion when they are offered at international auctions, they are known to command enviable prices.

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Bromosexual Subculture Explored in Upcoming Book by Wayne James

Wayne James, former senator and author of the critically acclaimed Manly Manners: Lifestyle & Modern Etiquette for the Young Man of the 21st Century (2016), has just penned an eye-opening, jaw-dropping blogpost titled, “Bromosexuals:  The Naked Truth.”

The ‘bromosexual’ is arguably the foremost emerging social phenomenon of modern men’s lifestyle,” James said. “It’s a masculine behavioral construct that is little-known and less understood. Even online slang dictionaries offer opposing definitions of the term.”

Men’s subculture, however, essentially defines the bromosexual as a man’s man:  the über-male who is so masculine that—ironically—he prefers the company of men over that of women. Not to be confused with “bromance,” which describes an intimate, but platonic, relationship between two men regardless of their respective sexuality, the term “bromosexual” is a mash-up of “bro,” which is the shortened form of “brother,” and “homosexual.”  Essentially, he is a jock-type who has intimate, sexual relations with other jock-types, his homosexuality or bisexuality hidden behind a veil of virility. The operative term within the term “bromosexual” is “sex.”

 “Mere men are Homo sapiens; but bromosexuals are Bromo sapiens,” James said.  “Metrosexualsneed not apply, and effeminate men simply do not qualify.  To be admitted into the ranks of the bromosexual, a man must appear unmistakably—and stereotypically—heterosexual:  the fireman; the construction worker; the Harley-Davidson leather-clad biker; the NFL player; the Wall Street womanizer. And he is oftentimes the most vocal critic of non-hetero sexuality. But looks are oftentimes deceiving, and actions speak louder than words.”

James’ groundbreaking blogpost traces the bromo phenomenon from its early manifestations in college fraternity houses, to its prevalence in prisons, to how it is camouflaged in traditions of “boys’ night out” and “men-only” fishing trips. 

“This is the opposite of Brokeback Mountain or Life on the Down Low,” James said.  “This is man-on-man sex in plain view, but behind your back. A bromosexual and his ‘bro’ workout together, eat together, party together, vacation together, are friends with each other’s wives.  To the unwitting, their relationship is a platonic bromance—just two friends ‘joined at the hips,’ “ James said.

Wayne James is currently writing a 300-page book on this emerging lifestyle. Based on personal observation, Bromosexuals:  In Plain View—Behind Your Back, is scheduled for a September 2021 publication.    

Vicuna–The World’s Most Luxurious Textile


vicuna jacket




A garment made of vicuña wool is so rare and so precious that it is highly unlikely that even the proverbial “gentleman who has everything” has ever heard of one or seen one, let alone worn one.


Vicuña wool is considered the world’s most costly textile:  Based on 2018 pricing, a yard of it retails for approximately $5,000, a custom-tailored men’s suit typically priced between $30,000 and $50,000.  Even a vicuña scarf can command prices of around $2,000.  But for the few men who have ever had the pleasure of wearing a garment or accessory made of vicuña wool, it is worth every penny.


The vicuña (also spelled vicuna and vicugna), the animal that gives the precious textile its name, is a wild South American camelid that lives in the alpine regions of the Andes Mountains. It is a relative of the llama; is believed to be the wild ancestor of the alpaca; and like the closely related guanaco, has never been domesticated.  Smaller, more graceful, and more delicate than the guanaco, the vicuña is native to Peru, northwestern Argentina, Bolivia, and northern Chile, living at altitudes of 3,200-4,800 meters (10,500-15,700 ft.) above sea level. (A small introduced population exists in Ecuador.)  From head to tail, the animal measures about 5 ft., is about 3 ft. tall at its shoulders, and weighs on average less than 150 lbs.

Vicuna photo

By law, a vicuña can only be shorn every two years—after being rounded-up in the wild.  Each year, in an event called a “chacu” (also spelled “chakku,” “chaccu”) that dates back to the Inca era, the vicuñas are herded, captured, and shorn. (Only animals with wool longer than 2.5 cm may be shorn.)  Once shorn, the females and young males are released back into the wild. Old males, however, are slaughtered for their fleece and flesh.


The extraordinary warmth of vicuña wool is derived from tiny scales on the hollow, air-filled fibers, the scales causing the fibers to interlock, thereby trapping insulating-air.  Vicuña wool fibers are amongst the finest in the world, comparable in diameter to that of the angora rabbit and the down-hair (underfur) of the chiru (the Tibetan antelope) that is used to weave the fabled (now infamous and internationally banned on account of traders killing the wild antelope to get is precious fur) shahtoosh shawl, so fine as to be able to pass through a wedding ring. Vicuña, for example, is noticeably finer than cashmere. [It is also much rarer and, correspondingly, much more expensive:  While only 12 tons of vicuña wool that can be processed into yarn are produced annually worldwide, the tonnage of cashmere yarn is 25,000; likewise, 2 pounds of vicuña wool cost between $400 and $600, while a similar amount of cashmere costs $75-$85, with sheep’s wool running around $5-$6.  Harrods of London sells pure vicuña sock by Falke’s for over $600 per pair. And while a cashmere sweater retails for around $1,000, a vicuña one demands $5,000.  Vicuña wool is so fine that to place one’s hand into a sack of the sheared wool is like placing one’s hand into a sack containing nothing but soft, balmy air.]  And since the wool is sensitive to chemical treatment, it is usually left in its natural golden-tan color, dubbed “the golden fleece.”  (Modern manufacturers of the fabric have recently unlocked the secret for dyeing the textile into various fashion-colors.)  But the animal yields small quantities—about one pound per animal per biennial harvest—of a very fine, soft, extremely warm wool. Hence, its justifiably high price.  The Inca civilization (12th-16th century) so prized the wool—declared by Spanish conquistadors “the silk of the New World”—that it was against the law for anyone other than royalty to possess it. And according to Inca mythology, the vicuña was the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden upon whom a coat of pure gold was bestowed when she acquiesced to the advances of an old, hideous king. Today, the vicuña is the national animal of Peru and is featured prominently in the country’s coat of arms.


The vicuña was protected under Inca law.  And today, there are national and international regulations that safeguard the animal and its precious wool.  But from the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1532 until 1974 when the vicuña was officially declared an endangered species, the animal was largely unprotected, resulting in its being hunted and destroyed almost to the brink of extinction. (In 1824, Simón Bolivar[1783-1830], in his capacity as governor of Peru, banned the killing of the vicuña.)  By the mid-1970s, only about 6,000 vicuñas remained. Part of the reason for the animal’s decline is that, because it lives in the wild, harvesters of the wool tended to shoot the docile creature then collect its precious wool rather than undergo the labor-intensive process that engages the services of hundreds or even thousands of people to form a “human ring” around a vicuña herd then slowly close-in on the animals to round-up the live animals, thereafter shearing them before releasing them back into the wild. In 1987, CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) declared that only wool obtained from living vicuña could legally sold. During the Inca era, it is estimated that 3,000,000 vicuñas roamed their Andean habitat.  Today, as a result of local, national, and international efforts, the vicuña population is around 350,000.  And the gentle animal remains on protected species lists.

vicuna round-up

The world’s foremost trader in luxurious vicuña wool, garments, and accessories made therefrom is the Italian firm of Loro Piana ( ).  Founded in the early 1800s by the Loro Piana family in Trivero, a district in northern Italy renowned for textile production, by the second half of the 19th century, the company had moved its operations to Valsesia, Italy, serving as merchants of wool.  In the 1940s, the company, under the direction of Franco Loro Piana, began exporting its fine wool textiles, becoming world-famous for its production of cashmere and then, in the mid-1990s, vicuña.  In 2013, LVHM (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), the Paris-based French multinational conglomerate of luxury goods, purchased 80% of Loro Piana for $2.25 billion. Today, the Loro Piana family, which has been in the wool business for six generations and over 200 years, owns 15% of the company.





vicuna jacket

One Glass For All Wines–the new, versatile wineglass by Jancis Robinson and Richard Brendon

The All-Wines Wineglass

by Jancis Robinson and Richard Brendonthe wineglass designed to complement all wines!


Finally—fi-na-lly—there is a wineglass that can be used—correctly and successfully—for drinking all styles of wine, from red, white, and rosé table wines, to Champagne and prosecco, to Sherry, Port, and Madeira, to Montescudaio vin santo. And the making of that one, über-versatile wineglass required the collaboration of two of the most highly regarded personages in the wine trade: Jancis [No, not Janice] Robinson, the world’s foremost wine critic (so much so that she is a cellar advisor to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and sits on the Royal Household Wine Committee); and Richard Brendon, prominent British designer of bone china collections and a rising star in the rarefied realm of wineglass design.


But laughing all the way to the bank—and banquet—are young, fashionable, wine-drinking men the world over who enthusiastically seek out easy, effortless, elegance, and who have awaited, for untold generations, a savior-glass so that they no longer need feel socially condemned because they do not have cupboards stocked with 8s of 10 different styles of wineglasses; no longer have to hope and pray to inherit stemware; are elated to know that less glasses means less dishes; and now have a one-for-all, all-in-one wineglass that simplifies the already-complicated world of wine. What less could a boy ask for?


When Brendon—confidently, but deferentially—approached Robinson with the suggestion of a collaboration on a line of wineglasses, he had not considered that Robinson, a self-proclaimed, no-waste pragmatist from Northern England, would immediately edit his idea down to a one-glass collection. But when one has been around the notoriously esoteric, trendy, hyped-up wine industry for decades—since the 1970s in the case of Robinson—one manages to learn a thing or two. And one thing Robinson—Oxford University-educated in mathematics—seems to have learned is that wines, like fractions, have a common denominator, thus making them more fundamentally alike than dissimilar. So why all the fuss about specific glasses for specific wines—especially in the 21st century where less is more, simpler is better, and everyone is trying to de-stress and un-clutter?


But the need for a versatile wineglass is nothing new. After all, when attending a wine festival, for example, one is given a pouch-bib with one glass that must serve for sampling all wines. So why did it take this long for someone in the industry to get the brilliant idea to do the seemingly obvious: Make and market an all-wines wineglass to the general public?


To the untrained eye, to behold the Robinson-Brendon glass is to see a wineglass that looks—from a distance at least—like any other modern, Riedel-inspired, long-stemmed wine glass. But to hold the glass, and then to drink from it (after inhaling the aromas contained therein, of course), makes for a singular epicurean experience.


In the height of the designer jeans craze, 15-year-old brunette beauty Brooke Shields, in one of the era’s most provocative television ads, coyishly queried and answered, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing….” A similar sensation, so it seems, must have inspired Robinson to insist upon a wineglass so thin at its rim that it imparts a sensation almost like drinking wine out of thin air….


The glass,—the central figure and pièce de résistance of the Jancis Robinson Collection, a 5-piece wine suite comprised of a long-stemmed, all-wines wineglass; a stemless water glass, its tulip shaped bowl directly informed by its wine counterpart; a wine-bottle-inspired decanter with glass stopper for old, mature wines; a generously proportioned young wine decanter that encourages wines to aerate and is large enough to accommodate the contents of a magnum bottle; and a water carafe, which is the old-wine decanter sans stopper—like all the pieces in the ensemble, is mouth-blown and handcrafted of lead-free crystal by some of Europe’s finest glassblowers, following centuries-old traditions. (The glass’ stem, for example, is not a separate unit that is attached to the bowl. Instead, it is one contiguous element of the sublime whole). But even they had to initially struggle to achieve Robinson and Brendon’s directive to handcraft the world’s thinnest, most refined wineglass. Though sleek, the wineglass is durable, sized to fit into standard dishwashers, and, because of its lead-free composition, resistant to those unsightly “clouds” that tend to descend upon glasses over time. And priced at around $60 per glass and available in sets of two and six, this exquisite wineglass is well within the reach of many a modern gentleman.


The Jancis Robinson Collection by Richard Brendon was officially launched at Harrods of London on July 1, 2018. It is available online at . Bartholomew Broadbent, wine expert and son of the world-famous Christie’s wine auctioneer Michael Broadbent, already swears by Robinson’s new all-wines wine glass, declaring it the finest in the world. And when Broadbent speaks, the world of wine bends its ear.


Chateau Musar–the world’s best wine!

Chateau MusarChâteau Musar—the world’s best wine


There is no such thing as “the world’s most beautiful woman.” But if there were, she would certainly be the incomparable Naomi Campbell. Likewise, to declare a “world’s best wine” would be shamelessly subjective; but if a wine were so lauded, Château Musar would undoubtedly be the one.


According to the foremost experts, connoisseurs, and purveyors of fine wine, Château Musar is arguably the world’s greatest wine. And it has a cult-like following—in a notoriously trendy industry—to prove it. Experiencing the wine can be so moving, so profound, that people first introduced to it have been known to shed tears. And since each bottle is subtly unique—even within a single vintage—tears have been known to beget tears with the opening of each subsequent bottle. That is because to taste the wine is to awaken dormant memories—some happy, some sad, some beautiful, some painful—of life itself: a late-afternoon walk in an enchanted forest to gather mushrooms with Grandfather; sitting, disillusioned, on a cliff overlooking a tumultuous sea; the intimate scent of a one-night lover; parched soil at the moment it is moistened by a shower of rain; a kitchen table piled high with baskets of fresh game, ripe fruits, herbs and spices, and vegetables in preparation for a scrumptious feast. “Aroma,” more so than “bouquet,” would more aptly describe the wine’s fragrance, for it resonates more as “savory” than “fruity” or “floral.”


Surprisingly, Château Musar does not hail from one of the venerated vineyards of one of the esteemed wine regions of one of the world’s great wine-producing countries such as Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Chile. Instead, Château Musar is from the Levant, the Biblical land of Cannan—specifically from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, albeit a valley that has been home to vineyards for over 2,000 years and wine-drinking peoples for seven millennia. But not surprisingly, like the great luxuries and mysteries of the fabled East of yore, Château Musar—since 1979, but especially since 2000—has taken the West by storm.


History of Château Musar

In 1929, after studying medicine for one year in Bordeaux, France, Gaston Hochar (1910-1972), the scion of bankers and traders, realized—to the initial dismay of his father—that wine, not blood, was his passion. So, upon returning to his ancestral Lebanese homeland, where it is believed the Hochar family (pronounced “Ho-shar”) has lived for some 800 years, he entered the wine business in 1930, which at the time in Lebanon was an avocation for farmers, not a vocation for the bourgeoisie. But because Gaston possessed a penchant for things elegant, he set out to transform Lebanese winemaking into a thing sublime: He, for example, became the first Lebanese to market his wine in bottles rather than in casks. Soon, he become the sole official supplier of wine to the French officers’ mess across the Levant. (The French army had been posted in the region since World War I.)


In 1930, Gaston Hochar established the Château Musar winery ( ) in Ghazir, Lebanon, 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the capital city of Beirut, where it is said the Hochars have lived for 200 years. The vineyard, however, was situated in the sunny (300 days per annum), fertile, Bekaa Valley—known in Classical antiquity as Coele-Syria—at 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Beirut. Bekaa Valley, Lebanon’s most important agricultural region, is located between Mount Lebanon to the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains (the mountain range that forms most of the border between Syria and Lebanon) to the east. Seventy-five miles long and ten miles wide on average, the region boasts a Mediterranean climate of wet, oftentimes-snowy winters and dry, warm summers. The region also boasts a terroir perfect for viticulture. Gaston, it is said, allowed terroir—even if in conflict-prone mountains—to dictate the location of his 180-hectare vineyard. But when it came to the situ for his winery, he insisted upon land securely within his ancestral homeland of Lebanon.


The name “Musar” derives from a 400-year-old castle-turned-convent called “Mzar,” where the winery was first housed. Gaston changed “Mzar” to “Musar,” a name that he thought would be easier to pronounce in both his native Lebanese and abroad. The winery’s first vintage came in 1933.


[ Upon his death in 1972, Gaston Hochar passed the winery on to his two sons: eccentric, creative Serge (1939-2014); and conservative, methodical Ronald. In 1959, Serge, while completing his winemaking studies at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux, becomes Château Musar’s winemaker (though, on account of his demonstrated gift at viniculture, he had begun overseeing the company’s wine production from 1954 at the tender age of 15), while Ronald in 1962 begins heading up the company’s marketing and finance departments, thereafter, in 2015, becoming the company’s chairman. Today, Ronald’s son Ralph leads the company’s social media activity as well as sales and marketing for France and Southern Asia. ]


For almost 50 years, Château Musar enjoyed a relatively provincial existence, selling most of its product domestically. Under the stewardship of brothers Serge and Ronald, however, the company began its foray into international marketing—promoting at trade shows, entering international tastings, forging relationships with foreign chefs and restaurants, etc. But Château Musar’s proverbial “big break” came in 1979 when, at the Bristol Wine Fair, Christie’s wine auctioneer extraordinaire Michael Broadbent and esteemed journalist Roger Voss selected a 1967 Château Musar Red as the “discovery of the Fair.” And the rest, as it is said, is history. And, in many ways, it is the company’s decision to market its wine internationally that ensured it survival.


From 1975 to 1990, Lebanon was gripped by a religious-political civil war that pitted the country’s Christian, Jewish, and Muslim populations against each other, the conflict further complicated by interventions and shifting allegiances from Syria and Israel. By the time the war finally came to an end, Lebanon’s pre-war population of three million people had witnessed a death toll of 120,000; one million people had migrated; and 76,000 were displaced, most permanently. The war had a devastating effect on life in Lebanon, its wine industry one of the many casualties as Lebanese people—people with an ancient winemaking tradition—stopped drinking even locally produced wine on account of the abject hardship that took center stage in the theater of war. Most Lebanese wine producers simply ceased operations.


But bon vivants have a way of making sure that life remains beautiful—regardless. And Serge Hochar was the quintessential bon vivant. As such, amidst years of bombings, blockades, and invasions, Château Musar not only survived, it thrived. During those war-torn years, only 1976—the year after the war began—saw no wine production: The precious grapes were left to wither away on the vines. And the mysterious 1984 vintage, made from grapes harvested one month late because of the war and pressed five days after harvest (instead of immediately after the typically three-hour drive from the vineyard to the winery), was not offered at market seven years after the harvest, but was instead uneventfully cellared, where it quietly aged into a remarkable wine that was, according to March Hochar, Serge’s son, finally released to the market 30 years later in 2014.  (Only two truckloads, representing ten percent of the harvest, were allowed past the checkpoints on the road to Damascus—the road connecting the vineyard and the winery.)


Serge Hochar was convinced that it was fate that allowed Château Musar to emerge relatively unscathed from those trying times: No employees died at the hands of the war; the winery was able to ship its wine to its international markets whenever roads, airports, and ports were operational; and the winery’s bunker-like, 5-story-deep cellars—located in the Christian heartland  and containing enough inventory accumulated before and during the war to see the company through a 20-year war—was only slightly disturbed.


Thus, it was Château Musar founder Gaston Hochar’s elegant (but also fortuitous) decision in 1930 to bottle his wine—which served to later facilitate the international marketing of it—that would enable his winery, 45 years later, to weather the woes of war. So, on that fateful day in 1979 when Château Musar was declared the stand-out wine of the Bristol Wine Fair, the winery had long been poised for the celebrity and prosperity that would ensue.


The Wines

Privileged to a six-month-long fermentation process in cement vats; aged for one year in barrels made of French oak from the forest of Nevers; expertly blended before being returned to cement vats for an additional year; then, three years after harvest, bottled then bottle-aged for four years before its release—seven years in the making—onto the market, Château Musar Red is the winery’s eponymous protagonist, its “primo vino,” its “ne plus ultra.” And it is upon Château Musar Red that the winery’s fame, fortune, and international reputation rest. By 2000, the wine had begun its rise to fame in the United States. Celebrated New York restaurant Terroir Tribeca has a designated section named “All Hail the Almighty Château Musar.” Château Musar’s various wines—Château Musar [red, white, and rosé], Hochar Père Et Fils [red], and Musar Jeune [red, white, and rosé]—are today exported to over 55 countries around the world, so much so that when Serge Hochar suffered an untimely death in December of 2014, he was mourned by practically every significant wine publication. And at a retail price of about $55 for the winery’s top-of-the-range Château Musar, the wine is considered one of the best-priced exquisite wines in the world.


Yes, the Broadbent-Voss declaration at the Bristol Wine Fair in 1979 did open the door to Château Musar’s international success as a winery. But at the end of the day, the wine had to speak for itself. And it is Serge Hochar’s philosophy of winemaking and commitment to producing authentic Lebanese wine with minimal human intervention that has ensured Château Musar’s success for the better part of a century. Today, Château Musar is a source of Lebanese pride, a national icon. What Chanel or Dior is for France, Château Musar is for Lebanon.


By 1954—while in his mid-teenage years—Serge Hochar had already established himself as a child prodigy of winemaking, his father allowing him to serve as principal blender of that year’s Château Musar White. Then two years later, in 1956, Serge blended the winery’s Château Musar Red. In those days, under the leadership of Serge’s father Gaston, the winery’s winemaking methodology reflected that of the day, every effort being made to introduce science, technology, order, and standardization to the process. But when artsy Serge assumed full leadership of Château Musar’s winemaking in 1959 at age 20, he began implementing a philosophy that was decidedly natural and non-interventionalist—à la laissez faire wine. And by the 1960s, the winery was on the path of distinguishing itself as a producer of living, evolving, bottle-unique wines: Red wines are fermented in cement or cement-lined vats, regarded as the most neutral material during the formative stages of wine; only the winery’s white wines—in order to achieve the desired clarity—are fined; wines are filtered only for the purpose of removing obviously extraneous materials; oak barrels are comprised of only 10% new wood since the winery’s mission is to produce wine that tastes like wine, not like wood; minimal amounts of sulfites are added only so as to ensure the stability of the wines while in transit; etc. The result is wine that is an authentic, nuanced, unadulterated expression of lands and hands that give it rise.


Precisely why Château Musar (red, white, and rosé), unlike most other unfortified wines, endures for decades—improving all along—is unknown. Grapes, it is said, are exceedingly impressionable fruits, the wine they produce influenced by things big and small, tangible and intangible. Perhaps, then, the Hochar family’s will to produce a living wine amidst the death of civil war has helped to imbue the grapes, and thus the wine, with tenacity and longevity. Likewise, the rocky soil of the villages of Aana and Kefraya, home to the vines of Château Musar, engenders a deep-rooted desire to survive, collaterally imparting character to the grapes and the wine they yield. Though time has not yet revealed when Château Musar is at its optimum, experts recommend that the wine (red and white) be drunk after 15 years, at which point it begins demonstrating its potential for the evolution of secondary and tertiary notes. While no bottles of the inaugural 1933 vintage exist, bottles from several pre-Serge Hochar vintages have been preserved within the cool, dark recesses of the winery’s cellar. “I tasted a red 1952 last Christmas [2017], and although it was produced by my grandfather [Gaston] with a different approach (i.e., he did fine and filter the wines at the time) to my father’s [Serge] noninterventionist philosophy, the wine was very lively, complex and continued opening up for 3 hours after decanting,” said Marc Hochar, head of marketing and sales. It is believed that the initial oak-aging acclimates the wine to minimal exposure to oxygen. And after about 50 years, bottles are reconditioned and outfitted with new corks, thereby preparing the vintages for additional decades of aging. But such methods are not singular to Château Musar. So, for the time being, the lifespans of Château Musar Red, White, and Rosé remain a delicious mystery. Since the 1960s, however, it is the company’s policy to sell only wines produced pursuant to Serge Hochar’s noninterventionist methods, beginning with the Château Musar White of 1954 and the Château Musar Red of 1956.


Château Musar Red

Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault are blended to make what is oftentimes declared the “world’s best wine.” According to Gaston Hochar, managing-director of Château Musar and grandson of his namesake founder of the company, the Cabernet Sauvignon gives the wine its structure, while Carignan provides body, with the Cinsault imparting elegance and finesse. The wine is blended to reflect the overall character of the particular vintage. In its youth, Château Musar Red is dense and richly textured with indications of baked and dried fruits. As the wine ages, however, it acquires tawny hues subtler notes. The company still proudly offers Château Musar Reds from the 1950s. Because the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered, it should be allowed to stand upright for 24 hours before serving, thereby allowing the naturally occurring sediment to settle. Decanting is recommended. The wine should be allowed to breathe for several hours before being served at 18°C. Château Musar Red is beautifully paired with lamb, game, roasts, and mature cheeses.



Château Musar White

Two ancient, indigenous, Lebanese white grapes unite to create Château Musar White: Obaideh, from the chalky, stony soil of the foothills of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains; and Merwah, from the calcareous gravels of the seaward side of Mount Lebanon. Seven years in the making—after fermenting in French oak barrels for nine months before being blended and bottled at the end of the first year, then bottle-aged for six years before release onto the market—the wine is in its youth yellow-gold in hue, mildly oaky, and rich and creamy in texture, though dry. As the precious liquid ages in the company’s cellars at Ghazir, it attains tawny hues and mellow, spicy notes. Like its red counterpart, Château Musar White ages beautifully for decades, the company proudly offering bottles dating as far back as 1954. This complex wine, sometimes compared to dry Sauternes or mature white Graves, is best served after breathing for several hours. Decanting is recommended. Best if presented “cellar-cool” (around 15°C), Château Musar White makes for an exquisite complement for foie gras, pâtés, seafood dishes, and spicy foods.


Château Musar Rosé

Since specific grape qualities are required so as to ensure an elegant combination of the varietals, Château Musar Rosé is not made every year. When made, however, at its foundation are the two native Lebanese white grapes—Merwah and Obaideh—the origins of which go back 5,000 years to the era of the Phoenicians, and the Cinsault red grape. The grapes are pressed together, the juice fermented and aged for six to nine months in barrels of French oak. The wine is bottled a year after harvest and released onto the market two years later. Château Musar Rosé is a still, softly oaked tribute to the “blended” rosés of Champagne, a style much admired by Serge Hochar. In its youth, Château Musar Rosé is a gentle salmon-pink in color, with a smooth, balanced, velvety texture. Its refreshing aroma and flavor suggests of citrus, almonds, wild herbs, and peaches. As the wine ages, it takes on a tawny hue, with hints of spice. Château Musar Rosé should be allowed to breathe for several hours before serving at cellar temperature (around 15°C). The wine pairs perfectly with seafood, Provençal dishes, nuts, and olives.



In a dozen years—in 2030—Château Musar will celebrate its centennial year, the company’s iconic status predictably intact. And it is likely that the “formula” finalized by Serge Hochar in 1977 for making Château Musar Red, the wine that has come to be called “the world’s best wine,” will still guide Hochar family winemakers—now in their fourth generation—in the making of the quintessential Lebanese wine that elevated not only the winemaking of the Levant, but of the world.

Literary Critics Praise Volume Two, “Manly Manners: The Cultivation of the Inner, Spiritual Gentleman” by Wayne James

Critics Praise Volume Two of Manly Manners Trilogy by Former USVI Senator Wayne James

 Wayne James’ Manly Manners:  The Cultivation of the Inner, Spiritual Gentleman, is garnering critical acclaim.  Volume two of a trilogy on modern men’s manners and lifestyle, the book received a coveted five-out-of-five-star review from Foreword Clarion, and a glowing review from Kirkus, which does not have a star system but has earned a reputation since its establishment in 1933 for being conservative with its laudatory declarations. “James…finds a more to say about etiquette in this wonderful new volume,” says Claire Foster of Foreword Clarion.  “In this second book, [James] dives deeper to explore the ethical questions that underlie etiquette, providing moral grounding for what would otherwise be empty rituals,” declares Kirkus Reviews.

The premise of volume two is that ethics must be at the foundation of etiquette; and that upholding good manners must be good men. Volume two guides the reader towards achieving inner peace and equilibrium, thereby increasing his inclination towards gentle and genteel behavior. To that end, the book delves into topics that are not typically included in traditional books on manners:  how to gracefully deal with the emotional upheaval of a heartbreak; what distinguishes “love” from “lust” and “in-love”; what differentiates a job from a profession or a calling; how to identify one’s genius, and what are the best ways to avoid midlife crisis; how to survive “frenopause”; what to expect in inter-generational, same-sex marriages; and what distinguishes a “man” from a “gentle man,” a “genteel man,” and a “gentleman,” for example. The book’s mission is to build gentlemen from the inside out—to make men internally happy. “It is harder for a man to be polite and helpful to others if he is fundamentally unhappy in his own life,” James said.

“In order to write volume two, I needed solitude and quietude.  So, I set off for Italy, where a Tuscan friend lent me his family’s grand Palladian villa, set amidst vineyards and olive groves, to enjoy all to myself,” James said. “There, for one full year—actually, for thirteen months—I envisioned myself writing what I would tell a son or nephew or student who was about to depart for distant lands, perhaps never to return. The volume is a veritable ‘master’s class’ on ‘class’ as well as on modern men’s spirituality. The book also contains what I regard to be the masculine wisdoms. I wrote it from my soul—from a place that has allowed itself to be touched by youth and adventure, disappointment and triumph, life and love. My mission with volume two is to give young men a crash-course on what has taken me over a half a century—a lifetime—to learn.”

Published by the iUniverse division of Penguin-Random House, distributed by Ingram Books, and with a glowing foreword by Baron Peter von Troil of Finland and Sweden, Manly Manners:   The Cultivation of the Inner, Spiritual Gentleman (ISBN:  978-1-5320-2818-2) comes on the heels of the critically acclaimed volume one, Manly Manners:  Lifestyle & Modern Etiquette for the Young Man of the 21st Century (Nov., 2016; 840 pages), declared by BlueInk Reviews, “one of the 21 best indie books of 2017”; “ornately mannered prose,” says Kirkus Reviews; and “Emily Post…would likely tremble in her petticoat at some of the subjects James takes on,” says Claire Foster of Foreword Clarion. The edgy-but-elegant trilogy gives guidance on everything from how to eat caviar and open a bottle of Port with a feather, to how to suggest an enema before engaging in anal sex, to how to distinguish a blazer from a sport coat. Manly Manners is already being touted as “the new Bible of masculine behavior.”  James, also a lawyer, fashion designer, historian, and art collector, has been writing the 1,800-page, three-volume treatise since completing his tenure in the U.S. Virgin Islands senate in January of 2011.

Volumes one and two of the Manly Manners trilogy are available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats at bookstores worldwide and online at , , and .  Volume three is scheduled for a fall 2019 release.



Front Cover Vol. II Manly Manners Official

The “Panama Hat” of Montecristi, Ecuador–one of the masculine luxuries of the world

Montecristi Panama HatPanama Hats

What came to be called “Chinese Checkers” in 1928 was actually invented in Germany in 1892 and is not a form of checkers. And French fries, it is believed, originated in Belgium. But when it comes to misnomers, the Panama hat takes the crown, for the hats are actually made in Ecuador. And while, understandably and rightfully, Ecuadorians themselves never refer to the hats as “Panama hats,” but instead as “sombreros de paja toquilla,” the rest of the civilized world calls them Panama hats, oftentimes having no knowledge of the true origin of the hats.

The History of the Panama Hat
In 1526, when Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in what is today Ecuador, he encountered the inhabitants of the coastal areas wearing almost-brimless headwear made of woven straw. And those 16th-century straw hats apparently had ancient origins, for ceramic figures from the region dating back to about 4000 B.C.E. depict persons wearing headwear similar to that worn by the Ecuadorians encountered by Pizarro. The Ecuadorian straw hats also resembled the European “toque,” a diminutive hat with a small brim, fashionable during the 16th century. Consequently, the Europeans called the straw used to make the local hats “paja toquilla,” presumably after “toque.”

Beginning as early as the middle of the 1500s, hat-weaving had emerged as a cottage industry all along the Ecuadorian coastline, with hat-weaving and hat-wearing becoming more popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Even then, however, the hats of highest quality came from what is today the Province of Manabi. And in Manabi two towns, Montecristi and Jipijaba, emerged as the leaders of the blossoming hat-weaving industry, both towns gaining a reputation for producing the absolute finest hats.


How a Hat Made in Ecuador Came to be Called “Panama Hat”
In 1835 Manuel Alfaro migrated from Spain to Ecuador, settling in Montecristi and establishing himself in the local hat industry. With the intention of exporting the hats, Alfaro organized the various hat artisans into a viable production system. He sent his hats to the port cities of Guayaquil and Manta, bound for Panama, a crossroads of the Americas and gateway for the East and West. Alfaro also established a trading company in Panama, dealing in hats, cocoa, and pearls. And when the California Gold Rush hit in 1849, the hat of choice for providing protection from the sun while panning gold was the Ecuador-made straw hat.

Also significantly contributing to the misnomer is the fact that during the construction of the Panama Canal (1881-1914), the 48-mile manmade waterway that cuts across the Isthmus of Panama to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, many of the laborers donned Panama hats since the lightweight hat provided excellent protection from the sun. But one of the greatest publicity boosts for the now-classic hat occurs in 1906 when a photo of American president Theodore Roosevelt sitting at the controls of a steam shovel during his three-day inspection tour of the construction of the canal was published in seemingly countless newspapers and magazines the world over. The early 20th-century equivalent of “going viral,” the photo helped established the hat as a fashion statement as well as to indelibly associate the hat with Panama.

By 1850, Americans had developed a taste for the Ecuadorian hats—not carrying a label of origin—that were widely sold in Panama. Thus, is was only a matter of time before the hats became known as “Panama hats,” Americans purchasing 220,000 per year in the middle of the 19th century.

Manuel’s son Eloy Alfaro (1842-1912) joined the family enterprise and expanded the company’s prominence and channels of distribution. Eloy would go on to become the first-elected president of Ecuador, serving two terms: 1895-1901 and 1906-1911.


The Making of the Panama Hat
Approximately 20 steps and an equal number of specialists are required to produce one Panama hat from start to finish. The end result, however, is one of the world’s true masculine luxuries: There is a certain, particular, undeniable je ne sais quoi achieved when a gentleman effortlessly wears a Panama hat.

The Paja Toquilla palm-like plant that produces the fine straw from which all genuine Panama hats are made is native to South America. And when gathering the raw material to construct Panama hats, only the best frond-stalks from the best plants are selected. (The stalks are cut in a special way so as to ensure the regrowth of the plant.)

After the stalks are selected, they are beaten on the floor, causing the tubular-shaped stalks, each about four feet long, to transform into long strands or streamers. The tip of a needle is then used to further separate the strands into narrower strips. The beaten stalks are then rapidly boiled then hung out to dry in the sun.

Once thoroughly dried, the strands are placed into an oven to be smoke-bleached, using Sulphur, for approximately 24 hours. After the smoking and bleaching, the strands transform into Paja Toquilla straw.

Once removed from the smoking-oven, the best straw is hand-selected for the finest hats, with the lesser-quality straw set aside for lower-quality hats. The straw is evenly cut; then each strand, using the tip of a thumbnail, is further divided into thinner strands. The thinner the straw, the finer the hat.

The prepared straw is then given to an “armador,” who starts weaving the hat with about 12-18 strands of straw. He or she makes the very center of the “plantilla,” the middle-center of the top of the hat’s crown. While some “armadores” use wooden hat blocks when weaving the “armado,” others weave it free-hand.

After the “armador” has done his or her work, the hat then goes to a “weaver,” the person who does the majority of the work, weaving the crown and brim of the hat. Depending on the fineness of the straw, a weaver may take up to several months to complete a single hat.

Once the weaver has woven the crown and brim to the desired size, the hat is handed over to a “rematador,” who weaves the end of the straws back into the brim of the hat, thereby creating an edge that does not unravel. Once that task has been completed, the hat is regarded as “remate.”

Once “remate,” the hat passes along to an “ajustador,” whose job it is to tighten all the straws around the “remate” edge of the brim.

Thereafter, the hat undergoes its first trimming—and the straw extending beyond the “remate” and “adjustado” brim is clipped off with scissors, thereby facilitating the remaining steps in the hat-making process.

Next comes the “lavado” process, where the hat is washed in soap and water, with the aid of a scrubbing-brush. After all, by this point, the hat has been intimately handled by numerous craftsmen, each working with his bare hands.

After a thorough washing, the hat is allowed to air-dry for 24 hours before it is smoke-bleached in an oven, a process which takes a full day. Once removed from the smoke-bleaching oven, the hat is again trimmed.

“Apaliado” describes the process whereby stacks of about six hats are beaten by hand with the use of a wooden mallet, Sulphur sprinkled onto each hat as it is being stacked for the collective pounding. The purpose of the beating is to make the hat more pliable, improving its overall appearance and feel in the process. Special care must be taken to use the right amount of force, for a hat beaten too hard can be destroyed.

Once “apaliado,” the next step is the “planchado,” where several things occur: The hat is assigned a size based on its woven size; the hat is fit onto a wooden hat block; a flat iron is used to iron-out creases in the hat and to give the hat’s brim a good balance; and a break line is created so as to distinguish the brim from the crown. An ironing cloth is used so as to prevent the straw from coming into direct contact with the hot iron (typically an iron, the heating source of which is hot coals that are deposited into the belly of the iron via its “mouth”).

With the aid of a razorblade, the hat is then given a careful, meticulous, final trim.

Hats are then placed onto wooden hat blocks called “shaping-blocks” so that the milliner can give each hat its final shape (with pinched or creased crowns, etc.) (Whereas the finest hats obtain their final shape by hand, hats of a lesser quality are machine-pressed into their final shape).

The finest Panama hats are sold in wooden boxes of balsa—but so are counterfeits, so caveat emptor!

The Grading of Panama Hats
Today, there are two centers of Panama hat production in Ecuador: The city of Montecristi, and the city of Cuenca, the former situated on the coastline, while the latter is located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Though Cuenca produces more hats, the finest hats come from Montecristi, so much so that many Cuenca-made hats are surreptitiously marketed as of Montecristi origin to unsuspecting customers and to meet international demand. Each year there are more Cuenca-made hats sold as “Montecristi” hats than there are Montecristi hats made for sale as such. (The best Cuenca hats come from the town of Biblián, just outside Cuenca proper. Weaving-wise, they rival the hats of Montecristi and Jipijapa. Color- and texture-wise, however, they are not as refined as their coastal counterparts).

Most Montecristi hats are today woven in towns and villages—such as Pile and Pampas—that are situated close to Montecristi. But many of the finishing steps of the production of the hats still take place in Montecristi proper. (See above, “The Making of the Panama Hat”).

In 1836, in response to the increasing popularity of Panama hats, the city of Cuenca, situated in the Province of Azuay, entered the hat industry. Within a few years, Cuenca workshops were thriving, training all who were willing and able to learn the trade. In 1845 Don Bartolome Serrano of Cuenca hired master weavers from the Province of Maniba (in which the city of Montecristi is situated) and went about the business of upgrading then streamlining Cuenca’s production of Panama hats.

But today, an unhealthy rivalry between Montecristi and Cuenca, fueled partly by outside forces demanding the best Panama hats, has resulted in the degradation of the esteemed reputation of one of the true masculine luxuries: an extra fine Montecristi, Ecuador, Panama hat. Mislabeling, false declarations, unwitting buyers, greed, etc., have all resulted in a misnomer of a misnomer.

In order to protect the integrity of the authentic Montecristi Panama hat, The Montecristi Foundation has taken the necessary steps to establish the equivalent of a protected and guaranteed Denomination of Origin that would promulgate manufacturing-standards for the hats; specify the geographical boundaries within which hats labeled and or marketed as “Montecristi” must be made; establish a recognizable logo of authenticity that should be used by all qualified manufacturers; etc.

In the meantime, there is no universally accepted grading-system for Panama hats. Terms such as “grade 10” to describe the highest grade hat or “Fino Fino” or “Super Fino” to describe top-quality hats from Montecristi mean different things to different hatmakers. And such terms are also deliberately misused by unscrupulous vendors to mislead buyers. The moral of the story, therefore, is that a gentleman desiring top-quality Panama hats should purchase hats made in Montecristi or Jipijapa and sold by the most reputable manufacturers. Brent Black’s The Panama Hat Company of the Pacific ( ) is one of the world’s foremost purveyors of high-quality, authentic Panama hats of Montecristi, Ecuador. The company’s website offers a wealth of information, including how to properly measure one’s head when ordering a hat; how to determine the quality of hats; how to care for Panama hats; etc.

Traditionally, one way to gauge the quality of a hat is to count the number of rings in the center of the crown. The general rule is that when it comes to rings, more is more, not less. But that method of determining hat quality is not foolproof. To the extent that it is employed, however, a hat with 10-12 rings—perhaps best determined by holding the hat up to a light, observing from the inside of the hat—is considered good.

A more reliable way to judge a quality hat is to tediously and painstakingly count the number of weaves in a vertical inch and then the number of weaves in the corresponding horizontal inch, thereafter multiplying the two numbers. A hat with, for example, 30 horizontal weaves per inch and 28 vertical weaves per inch (Rarely do the vertical and horizontal weaves number the same.) would have a weaves-per-inch count of 840. A hat with a weave-per-inch count of 900 would be exceedingly rare. (There was once a hat woven with straw so fine that it was finer than fabric. Because the hat was so labor-intensive, it has disappeared, the weavers who wove such hats long dead).

But there is more to an exquisite Panama hat than number of weaves—somewhat the adage, “It’s not size; it’s how you use it….” The quality of the weave is also or paramount importance. Most lay persons can see the difference between a poorly woven hat and an exquisitely woven one. The difference between “very good” and “exquisite,” however, is a much more subtle distinction. Uniformity of color is also more desirable than non-uniformity. At the end of the day, though, the best Panama hats are handmade of natural materials. And as such, every hat will have some minor, even if almost imperceptible, “imperfections” that in many ways add to the charm and uniqueness of the hat. An undyed leather sweatband is preferred.


Sources: , , ,

The History of Slavery in the Danish West Indies–A Comprehensive Timeline

Slavery in the Danish West Indies—A Timeline



Slavery in the French Era—1650-1695 (1733)


-1650:  France acquires St. Croix.  Source of Slaves is Senegal.


-1651:  Phillipe de Lonvilliers de Poincy acquires St. Croix as a private island.


-1653:  de Poincy grants Sainte Croix to the Knights of Malta


-1653-1665:  Knights of Malta attempt the colonization of the island. But the aristocratic knights, who never fully embrace a life of agriculture in the tropics, fail at their colonial endeavor.


-1665:  France acquires St. Croix from Knights of Malta, thereby becoming the first official colonizers of Sainte Croix.  The French, using African slaves, establish approximately 90 plantations along the islands coastline, cultivating indigo, cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane.  A capital is established at present-day Estate Judith’s Fancy. (It is believed that the plantation names “La Grange” [French for “The Farm”] and “La Grande Princesse” [“The Big Princess”] originated during the French era.)


-1695:  King of France declares the colonial effort on Sainte Croix unsuccessful and orders the island’s inhabitants to destroy the island’s infrastructure (so as to discourage interlopers); set the island ablaze; pack up personal belongings and the enslaved population; and head for Saint Domingue (Haiti), concentrating their colonial efforts on that larger island.



Definitions (as applies to this timeline):

African—a person born on the continent of Africa.

Bomba—a slave-driver.

Bosal—an African-born enslaved person recently brought from Africa to the Danish West Indies.

Coloured—a person of mixed racial heritage totaling at least 50% white. (Light-skinned persons with less than 50% white blood were referred to as “light-skinned” blacks.)

Creole—a person, black, white, or of mixed racial heritage, born in the Danish West Indies.  As such, the term was oftentimes preceded by adjectives such as “white” or “black” (e.g., “white creole,” “black creole,” or “colored creole”) for clarification/distinguishing purposes. In general, however, while recently imported blacks were specifically referred to as “bosals,” island-born black were rarely called “creoles.”  Instead, they were referred to as “blacks” or “negroes.”  The term “creole” was more typically used to describe island-born whites or island-born persons of predominantly white ancestry.

Driver—a Bomba or slave-driver.

Field-slave/Plantation slave—an enslaved person who labored primarily in agricultural production, whether in sugarcane, cotton, tobacco, or indigo fields.

Freedman—a person born into slavery but who obtained freedom by testamentary devise; during the lifetime of his/her owner; by some other form of manumission; or by self-purchase.  The term “freedman” is also used to describe persons born free to free(d) non-white parents/mothers.

-Free person—a person born free.

-Grand marronage—running away from enslavement with the intention of permanently separating oneself from one’s owner.

House-slave—a slave who principally worked in the home of his/her master.

Indentured servant—a European or non-African brought to the Danish West Indies in or because of some capacity of indebtedness, with a contractual agreement to render labor for a specified period (usually six years) in order to relieve himself of said indebtedness.

Maroon—a runaway slave.

Mulatto—the offspring of one white parent and one black parent.  (Technically, a mulatto can also be produced by two mulatto parents, but such persons are traditionally classified as “colored” as opposed to as “mulatto.”)

-Petit marronage—running away from enslavement with the intention of eventually returning to one’s owner.

Provision plot (also called “Negro ground”)—a plot of land, approximately 30 ft. by 30 ft., provided by the plantation owner to each adult slave for the purpose of growing basic food for sustenance.

Seasoning—the process by which newly arrived slaves were, through branding, beatings, torture, food deprivation, excessive work, etc., forced into submission so as to accept their lot in life as slaves and the property of their masters.

Unfree—an enslaved person.

Urban slave—a slave who lived in the towns of Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, or Frederiksted.

European/White—a person of white European ancestry born in Europe.



Slavery in the Danish Era—1666-1848


-1659:  Establishment of the Danish African Company.  Construction of the slave-trading Danish forts, Christiansborg and Frederiksborg, begins shortly thereafter on the “Gold Coast” (Lower Guinea area) of West Africa.


-1660s:  Denmark officially enters the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.


-1666:  Erik Smith occupies the island of St. Thomas in the name of the King of Denmark.  Denmark attempts to establish a colony on the island, which is occupied by a few English and Dutch interlopers, but the colonial attempt fails within a year and a half, partly because Smith’s colonial efforts were frustrated by the Dutch and English residents, but primarily because of illness. (Dutch vessels transport enslaved Africans to St. Thomas.) Smith and his compatriots die.


-1671:  The royally chartered Danish West India Company (DWIC) established.  In effect a joint-stock company, the DWIC, with investors such as the king of Denmark and other wealthy Danes and foreigners, was granted, among other perquisites, a national monopoly. The company’s overall mission was to successfully administer the colony (as opposed to obtaining African slaves on the continent of Africa, which was the mission of the 1674-established Danish West India and Guinea Company).


-1671:  Denmark, via the Danish West India Company (DWIC), successfully establishes a colony on St. Thomas. Because Danes show little interest in moving to the islands, the DWIC institutes a policy of “colonization by invitation,” enticing European planters to invest in the island.  The Dutch show the most interest, and by the 1680s, St. Thomas was more “Dutch” than “Danish.” By 1701, the Dutch controlled the St. Thomas economy.  And by 1727, Dutch had become the lingua franca of St. Thomas, to wit: Of the nine governors of St. Thomas between 1672 and 1727, the last six (6), beginning with Christopher Heins in 1688, began occasionally issuing proclamations in Dutch as well as in Danish.


-1672:  White indentured servants transported to St. Thomas to serve 6-year terms before being granted full rights.  Most die from hard labor and tropical conditions.


1673:  Slaving vessel delivers 103 enslaved Africans to St. Thomas. [According to leading Danish scholars, approximately 100,000 slaves were shipped to the Danish West Indies during the 129-year period between 1673 and 1802:  775 slaves per year; 64 slaves per month; 21 slaves per island, per month (to service over 200 plantations on all three islands combined and urban slavery in Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, and Frederiksted, all cities ranking amongst the most populous cities in the Danish empire during the 18th and early 19th centuries).  Considering that throughout the history of slavery in the Danish West Indies mortality rate exceeded birthrate; and that until 1792 the general policy was to “buy, not breed,” slaves, many scholars consider a “slave trade” averaging 21 slaves per month, per island, as simply unsustainable, dismissing the 100,000 number as grossly—and perhaps deliberately—deflated.]


-1674:  Founding of the Danish West India Guinea Company (for the purpose of engaging in the Triangular Trade, including acquiring enslaved Africans on the west coast of Africa and transporting them to the New World via the Middle Passage).


-1680:  There are 156 whites and 175 slaves occupying 47 small plantations on St. Thomas.  By the taking of the first census in 1688, there are 317 free inhabitants and 422 slaves.  Forty-five percent (45%) of the white inhabitants declared themselves to be of Dutch nationality, while only 13% were Danish.


-1688:  St. Thomas firmly established as a plantation colony.



Slave Life—on the plantations; in the towns


“Whence They Came”:  The Primary African Homelands of the Africans Transported to the Danish West Indies


While Denmark established its slave-trading fortifications along the Gold Coast of Lower Guinea, it would be unwise to assume that the majority of Africans transported to the Danish West Indies derive primarily from that region.  Firstly, ships from various European nations transported African slaves to the Danish West Indies. Secondly, according to Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, who visited the islands in the 1760s, many slaves self-identified/were identified as Fulani, Mandingo, Amina, Akim, Popo, Ibo, and Yoruba, peoples native to a region stretching from the Senegal River to the Bight of Benin, even though Oldendorp insists (even if without recorded data) that the Amina people were the most numerous.  [According to scholar Pauline Homan-Pope, the Twi-speaking Akan-Amina people were the most numerous on St. Croix and St. John in the 18th century.]  Thirdly, across the three centuries of active Danish slave trading—from the 1660s to the early 1800s—various regions along the west coast of Africa were sourced for slaves, shifting, for example, from the Gold Coast to the Congo in the late 18th century.  And fourthly, because of the Free Port status of Charlotte Amalie since 1764, the diverse ethnic make-up of the slave population on that island was remarkable in the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Many scholars today, especially with the advancements in DNA testing, maintain that the enslaved population of the Danish West Indies derives primarily from Upper Guinea to Angola, between the Senegal and Cuanza Rivers.


The Triangular Trade Route Defined

During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from the 15th to the 19th century, perhaps most graphically depicted by the “Triangular Trade Route,” European vessels would leave that continent’s great ports laden with European goods to trade for enslaved human beings along with west coast of Africa, thereafter transporting those enslaved souls in the holds of those European ships to a life of toil in the New World, thereafter filling those same ships with products and raw materials from the New World for transport back to the great ports of Europe, only to repeat the notorious, but immensely profitable, three-legged enterprise time and time again. (The Triangular Trade Route of New World slaving nations such as Brazil and the United States featured a triangle pointing in the opposite direction:  the first leg involved ships leaving New World ports en route to Africa to trade goods for slaves; the second leg entailed delivering those enslaved Africans to the Caribbean, where sugar, rum, molasses, and exotic hardwoods, for example, would be loaded onto the ships for delivery to the New World ports of origin, thereby completing the third leg of the triangle.)


The Middle Passage Defined

The second leg of the notorious Triangular Trade Route, the Middle Passage is defined as that portion of the Atlantic Ocean between the west coast of Africa and the New World upon which European vessels transported enslaved Africans to a life of chattel slavery in the Americas between the 15th and 19th centuries.  It is said that sharks would trail behind the slaving vessels devouring the dead, dying, and discarded, so much so, that if the Atlantic Ocean were to dry up today, there would be a trail of human bones stretching from the Bight of Benin to Brazil.



The Middle Passage Described (Edward Reynolds; Isidor Paiewonsky’s Eyewitness Accounts of Slavery in the Danish West Indies)



Upon Arrival in the Danish West Indies:

-Public auction (outlawed in 1830s as dehumanizing)


-The March to the Plantation



[The Earliest Years—See Johan Lorens Carstens]



According to a written account dated 1788 from Johan Lorentz Schmidt, surgeon on the Schimmelmann estates of La Grange and La Grande Princesse:


Plantation Slaves

-The slaves’ day, established by routine, began at 4:00 a.m., when the Bomba (“Driver”) would ring the plantation’s bell or blow a conch shell horn called a tuttue. (According to Peter von Scholten’s 1838 Labor Ordinance, the driver was to be considered the plantation equivalent of a police officer. His typical attire consisted of a red jacket with a green collar).

-Slaves would work until 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m., at which time they would be allowed 30 minutes for a breakfast break, which the slaves would take in the cane fields.  Breakfast typically consisted of leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Slaves with nothing to eat would eat a couple stalks of sugarcane (during crop season—December to June).

-After breakfast, work would resume until midday, at which point slaves would be given 90 minutes to eat lunch.  Slaves with families would return to their homes for lunch; but single slaves would typically eat their lunch in the cane fields.  The typical lunch consisted of fungee [also spelled fungi] or johnny cakes with salted fish or beef; kallaloo; or boiled or roasted provisions such as sweet potatoes, yams, or cassavas.

-After lunch, slaves worked without any additional break until sundown. (During the crop season, they would work until late into the night, oftentimes beyond 9:00 p.m., and even later on moonlit nights. Even the ill were expected to work during crop time).

-At the end of the workday, prior to returning home, the slaves had to feed the animals (cut guinea grass, etc.) in a routine called “throwing grass.”

-Only after feeding the plantations’ animals were the slaves allowed to return to their homes in order to attend to their personal needs, the needs of their families, prepare and eat dinner, then, finally, rest for the following day’s labors.

-Because sugarcane grass is a perennial (During harvesting, the grass stalks are cut close to the ground between December and June then allowed to grow back to full height and maturity between July and November, known as the “dead season”) but should be replanted every 4-14 years—depending on the cultivar—in order to obtain highest yields, the years designated for replanting of new cane plants were especially arduous. The difficulty of the work-routine of each stage of the sugar cycle is undeniable, but holing-and-planting is notoriously so.  In order to ease the tedium of their labors, slaves would sing in unison, rhythmically holing and planting.

-Female slaves were expected to return to the fields within two weeks after giving birth.

-A nursing mother worked with her infant tied onto her back.

-Mothers with unweaned children would, while working, lay the children in the cane field atop calf or sheep skin.


Division of Labor

Field-laborers were divided into “gangs”:

-“first gang,” “big gang,” or first-class laborers:  grown men and women.

-“second gang,” “little gang,” or second-class laborers: half-grown adults of both sexes, aged 15-18.  Also called “crooken” gang.

-“third gang”:  children between the ages of 6 and 14.

-“fourth gang”:  children under 6 years of age.




Plantation house-slaves

-There is a paucity of information in the historical record on the housing conditions of plantation house slaves (They did not live inside the greathouses).  What can be gleaned from the records suggests that the standard of housing was the equivalent of urban house slaves—the “long-row” type of housing that is typical in the “big yards” of the towns’ finer homes. Plantation house- slaves typically occupied a separate village (apart from the field-slave village), situated to the rear of the greathouse.


Plantation field-slaves

-By the 1750s, plantation field-slaves lived in the plantation village, generally situated in the immediate vicinity of the sugar works:  mill, boiling house, etc. The standard-size plantation of about 136-150 acres and approximately 70 slaves would likely have a plantation village consisting of about 21 slave huts, generally laid out in three or four rows.  Richard Haagensen, in his 1754 description of plantation houses, describes them as being of wattle-and-daub construction with thatched roofs made from the dried blades of the sugarcane grass. The doorways were very low, requiring a person of average height to bend to enter/exit.  Bare earth served as the floor for the houses, and slaves slept either on the bare earth or a board for a bed.  Only the doorway and a few small openings in the walls allowed for air and light to enter the houses. An interior partition divided the houses into two rooms of unequal size, the smaller of the two serving as the bedroom.  The typical plantation slave village dwelling was expected to house three to four people.  According to Haagensen, slave houses in the Danish West Indies were of poorer construction and accommodations than the homes of the humblest serfs in Denmark.


  1. G. A. Oldendorp, who visited the islands between 1767-1769, reports that the Christianized slaves kept better houses than non-Christian ones. Oldendorp describes Christian slaves as having houses with walls [presumably, wattle-and-daub] plastered with a coat of lime; a separate cookhouse; modest furnishings of tables, chairs, and chests; and mattresses, called “kavanna,” made from reeds.


Writing in the 1780s, Hans West describes slave bedding made of banana leaves.  And according to Schmidt, also writing in the 1780s, a slave woman’s most important item of furniture was a sheep’s or calf’s skin that was used for bedding within the slave huts and as a blanket upon which to lay infants while working in the cane fields.


Very little documented history exists on the actual dimensions of slave dwellings. According to Victor Schoelker, writing in the 1840s, the decade of emancipation, even the slave quarters of the Moravian-owned and -run Friedensthal plantation on St. Croix were deplorable:  wooden planks, instead of beds, were still in use; the slave quarters served as stark contrast with the spacious, airy houses of the missionaries; and the slave houses of the Danish West Indies were of poorer quality than contemporary slave housing in the French West Indies. Bending to enter a slave dwelling was still the order of the day in the 1840s, according to Schoelker.


On St. Croix’s 16 royally leased plantations, however, slave housing had to meet certain minimum standards:  masonry walls; wooden floors; and of high, airy construction; roofs were to be shingled or tiled; and each dwelling had to be partitioned in two with overall measurements of 18 feet by 12 feet, with a separate kitchen.


Peter von Scholten’s 1838 Labor Ordinance calls for housing improvements. But wattle-and-daub slave/laborer quarters remained the order of the day until emancipation (and beyond).  In essence, then, slave housing in the Danish West Indies went from non-existent to deplorable, then remained deplorable for the 246-year-long history of slavery in the Danish West Indies.



-Few slave houses had separate, outdoor kitchens before the 1840s.  Consequently, food was primarily prepared outdoors on open-fires [presumably, on “three-stones”].  During the rainy season, food was prepared indoors on fires established on the earthen floors of the huts.

-C.G.A. Oldendorp describes the system of “provision plots”/ “provision grounds” in the 1760s, where each adult slave was allowed usage of a small tract of land (approximately 30 ft. by 30 ft.) upon which he could grow food to sustain himself. Items such as sweet potato, yam, cassava, okra, tania, etc., were routinely grown on provision plots, the term “provisions” (or “ground food”) used to this day by Caribbean peoples to describe tubers. Some slaves who produced extra provisions would sell/barter them.  (While slaves, themselves regarded as property, could technically own nothing in their own right, and while laws specifically prohibited slaves from selling in their own right, custom, by the 1760s, had sanctioned slaves offering provisions for sale in the public markets (on Market Day) or as itinerant, door-to-door hucksters). (Some English plantation owners did not implement the system of provision plots, instead providing rations for their slaves.)

-In general, the slaves’ diet consisted of rations of salted beef, herring, and cod—with cornmeal and cassava flour, the cornmeal used to make fungi (also spelled “fungee”), and the cassava flour used to make boiled dumplings and a skillet-baked bread called “johnny cakes.” Kallaloo was the main fare, and “provisions” were eaten as the starch complement to the protein rations of salted beef and fish.

-Johan Lorentz Schmidt, who lived on St. Croix between the 1770s and ‘80s while serving as surgeon on the Schimmelmann plantations, La Grange and La Grande Princesse, writing in the 1780s reports that the standard breakfast consisted of fungee and salted meat or fish.

-But even into the 1790s, slaves were still expected to fend for themselves for food.  Sanctioned by custom and viewed as a practical approach to enhancing slave productivity, food rations were specified in Frederik V’s 1755 Reglement, but that instrument was never made law in the Danish West Indies. Until Peter von Scholten’s amelioration initiatives of the 1830s, therefore, slaves in the Danish West Indies had no rights to food.

-Food was especially problematic on St. Thomas and St. John.  By the 1720s, after approximately five decades of marginally successful plantations but blessed with one of the best ports in the entire Caribbean, slavery on St. Thomas had evolved into a primarily urban-based slavery.  Provision plots, therefore, did not exist.  And since food rations for slaves were left largely to the discretion of the owner, St. Thomas slaves were historically challenged with obtaining daily sustenance, a condition that would ultimately adversely impact the evolution of the island’s cuisine. Provision plots also never became the norm on St. John.  And because of the island’s hilly terrain, St. John’s plantations (though, ironically, the largest in the Danish West Indies) enjoyed, at best, modest financial success, thereby adversely impacting their owners’ abilities/inclinations to provide discretionary food rations to their slaves.




-Overall, slaves’ clothing in the Danish West Indies was generally more deplorable and substandard than their food situation.

-House-slaves, whether in the colony’s towns or in the plantation houses, by necessity wore better clothing than field-slaves.  The garments provided to house-slaves were typically commensurate with the status/financial wherewithal of their owners. Urban slaves—washer women, cooks, artisans, harbor laborers, etc.—who occupied support-staff housing in the town’s “big yards,” also, by necessity, wore a better-quality garment than field slaves and were oftentimes the recipients of the “hand-me-down” and “cast-off” garments of their owners.

-According to Haagensen, as late as the 1750s—80 years after slaves were first taken to St. Thomas and 20 years after the Danish colonization of St. Croix—most slaves were still wearing nothing at all or just a rag to cover themselves.  Gardelin’s 1733 Slave Code makes no provisions for slave garments.  And the never-officially adopted 1755 Reglement of Frederik V specifies slaves should be provided with two sets of garments made of coarse linen or cotton or, alternatively, be provided with eight alens (approx. 5 yards) of such fabric from which to construct their own clothing).  Oldendorp, in the 1760s, writes that Christian slaves tended to wear clothing:  men in trousers made of rough linen and, occasionally, a short shirt; women in a skirt and possibly a shirt with a jacket.  All slaves [except for house-slaves in the finest homes] went about barefooted, even when dressed in their finest for the most festive or solemn occasions.


-As late as 1802, Adrian Bentzon suggested that owners who could neither afford to feed nor clothe their slaves should be forced to sell them, indicating that food and clothing remained problematic in the Danish West Indies into the 19th century. 


Belief Systems

-Christian slaves were buried by day in the tradition of their denomination.  Family members of deceased house-slaves were provided with four boards from which to make a coffin.

-Non-Christians slaves, by law, were to be buried at night in unconsecrated ground.  Silence was required at such funerals. According to Johan Lorentz Schmidt, writing in the 1780s, Bosals interred their fellows in the African manner—with dance.

-By the 1780s, wakes, with food and drink, were being conducted in the home of the deceased.

-1788:  Edvard Colbiørnsen (a judge in the colonial services) reports that the Ibos believed that suicide was a sure way to return to the African homeland—provided that the body had not been touched by fire.

-Ancestors as the Christian equivalent of guardian angels.

-General belief in spirits, jumbies, ghosts.

-Obeah practitioners, typically old women, served a dual purpose:  as medicinal healers; and as sorcerers. Witchcraft was punishable by death; medicinal healing was encouraged.

-According to Schmidt, based on his observances of slave life at Estate La Grande Princesse, the first eight days after the birth of a child were critical.  Candles [New mothers were customarily given gifts of wine, rice, and candles.] were left burning each night for the first eight days, and on the eighth day, the child was carefully guarded by in excess of 20 persons in order the protect the newborn from being stolen or eaten by evil spirits. (The belief was that if an evil spirit was able to look the newborn in the eye during the first eight days, the evil spirit would absorb the child’s spirit, resulting in death of the child. Beyond eight days, however, the power of the evil spirit would dissipate.)

-Babies were typically delivered by midwives—typically older slave ladies on the plantation.

-In the 1750s, mothers were expected to return to work within two weeks after delivery.  Only in Peter von Scholten’s Labor Ordinance of 1838 was a work-free post-natal period specified.

-According to Hans West, writing in the 1780s, herbal-induced abortions were widespread:  “Ram Goat Bush” (tagara tragodes) and Adelia Rincinella Linnaes were well-known abortion herbs (similar to the use of “Gully Root” in Barbados and the use of the root of Mimosa Sensitiva in Demerara).



Urban Slaves



-By 1750s, urban slavery was firmly established in the Danish West Indies.  And from its inception, urban slavery tended to facilitate grand and petit marronage as plantation slaves could hide themselves/be hidden within the black ghettos typically situated on the outskirts of the towns.  Likewise, in the case of St. Croix, with its two towns, urban slaves from one town could successfully hide in the black ghetto the other town.

-1758:  Urban slaves account for more than 60% of the populations of Christiansted and Frederiksted.  (And during the second half of the 18th century, the slave population never registered below 50% of the overall urban population.)

1758-1803:  St. Croix’s urban slave population grew from 1,454 to 3,879.

-1797:  Slaves account for 66% of Charlotte Amalie’s total population.

-At the end of the 18th century, the urban slave populations of the three towns exceed that of the white and freedmen population of the three towns.

-By 1838, more than 75% of St. Thomas’ total population resides in Charlotte Amalie, primarily because by 1782, St. Thomas’ position as a thriving Free Port was firmly established, while its status as a plantation economy had begun its decline by the 1720s, thereby enticing the island’s population to its harbor town. In 1802, freedmen own 30% of all slaves in Charlotte Amalie.

-Because of the labor associated with urban living, there were generally more female urban slaves than male urban slaves:  83:100 in Christiansted and Frederiksted; 68:100 in Charlotte Amalie.

-1792:  Burgher Council reports that many poor urban whites and freedmen had no property besides a few slaves and had no other means of income besides what could be earned by those slaves.   Generally, urban slave owners hired-out their slaves to do various income-earning chores:  as carpenters, seamstresses, jockeys, messengers, watercarriers, silversmiths, barbers, hairdressers, musicians, etc.  Such slave owners also used their slaves as “hucksters,” itinerant vendors who sold everything from haberdashery notions to bread and butter to meat and vegetables to candles. In 1784, it is estimated that the total sales from hucksters is in the vicinity of 100,000 Rigsdaller.  (The cost of maintaining the Danish West Indies garrison in 1826 is estimated to be 68,000 Rigsdaller.)  By the beginning of the 1800s, hired-out slaves could bring approximately $2.00-$3,00 per week for their owners, a considerable amount for that time.


Housing, Food, and Clothing of Urban Slaves


Little data were compiled on urban slave dwellings, diets, and their wardrobing.  What is known, however, is that the majority of the people who owned urban slaves were modest whites and freedmen, the latter living in the Free Gut areas of the towns. And since, for the most part, the homes of those owners were modest, it can be inferred that the housing they provided for their slaves was even more modest.  Considering the deplorable housing conditions in plantation villages, and given building regulations and codes for urban structures, however, it is safe to say that the housing of urban slaves was superior to that of plantation slaves, even if only slightly so.




While the plantation slaves were allowed to maintain provision plots and were generally provided with food rations, urban slaves were not afforded such “luxuries.”  But because of access to the towns daily markets, urban slaves were likely to be exposed to greater varieties of food.


While the sale of spirits was prohibited on the plantations, such proscriptions did not exist in the towns.  Taverns could sell spirits to slaves, though tavernkeepers were required to serve the slave patrons outside the establishment, per an ordinance of 1766. And to avoid loitering, slaves were to be sold only one drink. Also, no alcoholic beverages were to be sold on Sundays (per a pre-1766 ordinance), on church feast days, and after the beating of the sundown drum.  Those advisories/ordinances were rarely followed, however.

-1741:  Ordinance forbids whites to sit and drink or gamble with slaves.  Punishment to whites:  8 days imprisonment on bread-and-water diet.




Whereas plantation slaves were afforded approximately 5 yards of coarse linen or cotton from which to construct their garments each year, urban slaves were allowed to construct their garments from linen and cotton or a slightly finer quality.  Also, because of the proximity and intimacy of the urban slave to the towns’ populations, urban slaves were known to obtain cast-offs and hand-me-downs from white and freedmen town residents.  And, of course, slaves owned by wealthy owners dressed in a manner consistent with the wishes of their owners, even if such owners were encouraged to exercise moderation in the wardrobing of their urban slaves.


[-In the 1790s, Christiansted, founded on May 2, 1735, had approximately 664 houses and 250 horses; Frederiksted, founded on October 19, 1751, had 190 houses and 50 horses.]

-1789:  If the ability to avoid epidemics is any indication of overall condition in life, the death rate of slaves in the 1789 influenza epidemic killed 1:77 persons in Christiansted; 1:45 in Frederiksted; and 1:16 everywhere else on the island of St. Croix.  (And the difference in rate between Christiansted and Frederiksted is attributed to the then-foul-smelling lagoon just north of the town of Frederiksted). The statistics suggest that overall living conditions of slaves in the towns exceeded that of slaves on the plantations.


-1774:  Ordinance prohibiting whites from attending any dance at which slaves are present.  Whites were also prohibited from dancing or drinking with slaves. Violators were punishable by imprisonment on bread and water for 14 days or were required to pay a fine of 100 Rigsdaler.


-(After emancipation in 1848, many former plantation slaves moved into the Free Gut neighborhoods of the towns, as evidenced in the censuses of 1850 and 1860 and the subdivisions of Free Gut plots.  Also, post-emancipation, to accommodate the migration to the towns, neighborhoods such as “Pond Bush” in Frederiksted and “Water Gut” in Christiansted [both low-lying, swampy areas prone to flooding, hence their names] were developed.  Additional streets were also added to the towns.  In Frederiksted, for example, New Street and, finally, East Street, were added to serve as residential areas for the town’s black population).





With amputations and castrations of slaves becoming less prevalent in the later decades of the 1700s, whippings remained the go-to device for administering punishment, the quantity of lashes (usually between 25 and 100) determined by the seriousness of the crime.  For urban slaves, most whippings were with cartwhip (also called “cowskin” and “bullbud”) at the prison (forts) [St. Croix’s first designated prison, the Richmond Jail, also known as “Bassin Jailhouse,” was not built until the early 1840s, a handful of years before the 1848 emancipation].  But for more serious crimes, the whippings occurred at the public beating-post, the “Justitsstøte,” located in a prominent place (usually in the market square) of each town, with the whippings for the most egregious violations occurring under the gallows. Whippings were potentially deadly.  In 1803, Governor-General Walterstorff claimed that if administered in anger against the bare flesh, the whipping left marks more indelible than branding, with unknown long-term consequences. Like the punishment of branding, whipping at the gallows rendered a slave ineligible for manumission.


(In 1815, Governor-General Peter Oxholm exempted imprisoned “mustee” [one-quarter black/three-quarter white] and “castice” [one-eighth black/seven-eighths white] children from comprising chain-gangs engaged in public works and road maintenance, his rationale being that persons with sufficient quantities of white blood should not be subject to such degrees of public degradation.)


For private disciplining, owners of urban slaves could either punish them privately or request that the allegedly refractory slave be punished by the authorities at the fort, the private owner thereby availing himself of the public correctional system.


-In 1799, with the assumption of office by Governor-General Lindermann, slaves (urban and plantation, but the option was primarily exercised by urban slaves) are allowed to file complaints to the authorities for alleged abuses by their owners.




-1685 – 1715:  As part of the “colonization by invitation” initiative instituted by the Danish West India Company, the Brandenburgers (part of Prussia, present-day Germany) are invited to help colonize the St. Thomas.  The 30-year lease entitled the Brandenburgers to:

-as much land as could be supported by 200 slaves;

-the ability trade freely with all nations;

-engage in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade;


[The Brandenburgers’ headquarters on St. Thomas is the handsome building with the lion-head portal directly across from the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.  The Brandenburger headquarters is the oldest German building in the New World.  The Danes soon discovered that the lease was far more advantageous to the Brandeburgers than to the DWIC, and the lease was not renewed in 1715].


-1688:   Slave population on St. Thomas is 422; white population is 317. (Another source reports 392 slaves, 338 free).


-1690:  The first year the DWIC declared dividends for its shareholders.


-1700:  By 1700, there are 122 plantations on St. Thomas.


-1708:  DWIC forced to grant a long list of concessions to the island’s planters, including their right to ship and trade their produce with North America and Europe.


-1715:  By 1715, there are 160 plantations on St. Thomas, with 32 operational sugar mills.  The population is comprised of 3,000 slaves and 547 whites.


-1717: Danes acquire, uncontested, St. John.


-1717:  By 1717, the following churches were established on St. Thomas:  Lutheran; Dutch Reformed; French Reformed; Anglican; and Roman Catholic.  All except the Roman Catholic have resident priests by 1717. Thus, by the early 1700s, the Christianizing of the enslaved African population had begun.


-1718:  Denmark establishes colony on St. John.


-By 1720s:  St. Thomas achieves its summit as a plantation economy.


-1721:  By 1721, there were 39 planters on St. John:  25 were of Dutch origin, and 9 were Danish.  The enslaved population of St. John, consequently, spoke a Dutch creole.  


-1725:  Slave population of St. Thomas numbers 4,490; white population totals 324.




Evolution of the Dutch Creole and English Creole Languages in the Danish West Indies.



-From the earliest years of Danish slavery in the DWI, the slave population derived from a variety of nations, cultures, ethnic groups, and language groups of West Africa.  Consequently, upon being randomly grouped on the various plantations in the Danish colonies, and when forced to interact with plantation and municipal personnel, a slave lingua franca emerged by necessity. On St. Thomas, and then on St. John, for the 130-year period between the 1670s and 1800, a Dutch creole, on account of the predominance of Dutch plantation owners and personnel on those islands, emerged.  That Dutch creole was also spoken on St. Croix during its earliest years of Danish colonization since some of the island’s first Danish-era settlers came over from St. Thomas, beginning on September 1, 1734. By the 1760s, however, because of the high percentage of English-speaking plantation owners and personnel on St. Croix, an English creole emerged on the island. Then, as a result of the capital of the Danish West Indies being established as Christiansted, St. Croix, in 1755, and because of the island’s overall economic importance vis-à-vis St. Thomas and St. John, by 1841, an English creole had come to be spoken on all three of the Danish West Indian islands.


Lingua Franca Timeline

-By 1680s: Dutch nationals outnumbered Danish nationals on St. Thomas.  St. Thomas was more “Dutch” than “Danish” by 1680.

– Of the nine governors of St. Thomas between 1672 and 1727, the last six (6), beginning with Christopher Heins in 1688, began occasionally issuing proclamations in Dutch as well as in Danish.

-By 1701:  A Dutch lingua franca emerges on St. Thomas.  (Dutch are considered controllers of St. Thomas’ economy. Dutch dominance on St. Thomas/St. John continued into the 1760s.)

-By 1741:  The English-speaking population of St. Croix exceeds the Danish population by 5:1.

-1749:  Born in Montserrat of Irish extraction, plantation owner Nicholas Tuit[e] visits St. Croix in 1749 in search of a plantation island where he can freely practice Catholicism, the practice of which is restricted in British-owned Montserrat.  Pursuant to the Danish policies of “open colonization” and “freedom of religion,” Tuit arrives in 1754 along with 1,000 English-speaking Catholics, Tuit establishing himself as one of the islands largest plantation operations, he and his heirs between 1754 and 1804 collectively owning more than 2,000 slaves and 1,500 acres.  Similarly, English-speaking Christopher McEvoy, Sr., and then Jr., collectively owned 3,000 acres and 1,000 slaves on St. Croix, the language of the enslaved population on Tuit’s and McEvoy’s plantations undoubtedly being English creole.

-By 1770:  Dutch creole is being written and printed in books—mainly Bibles, prayer books, and hymnals—for use by the black population.

-1770 -1802:  The Royal Danish American Gazette, the first newspaper regularly printed on St. Croix, featured a masthead in the English language.  Also printed in English were obituaries, advertisements, notices of impending auctions, etc. The paper was overwhelmingly English in overall tone. Proclamations and government announcements were published in both Danish and English.

-1780s/’90s:  Danish school headmaster Hans West confirms the existence of an English creole on St. Croix.

-Before the end of the 1700s:  English creole has taken definitive form on St. Croix.

-1802 -1808; 1815 -1917:  Dansk Vestindisk Regerings Avis (“Danish West Indies Government’s Newspaper”), St. Croix’s second regularly published newspaper, was similarly English.

-From 1815:  The St. Thomas Tidende was also English in overall tone.

-By 1841:  English creole had replaced Dutch creole in the Lutheran churches of the Danish West Indies thereby marking the official beginning of English creole as the popularly spoken language amongst the enslaved population of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John.



-1732:  Count Zinzendorf dispatches two Moravian Brethren to St. Thomas to convert the enslaved population to Christianity.  Because of the concept of “Pietism,” which requires that each Christian encounter God through reading the Bible on his own, the illiterate amongst the Moravian-converted enslaved population begin learning how to read the Bible (and, by extension, read in general).  [Get names of two missionaries]


-November 23, 1733:  Slave Revolt on St. John.  The Danish military presence on St. John in 1733 consisted of six (6) infantrymen, one corporal, and one lieutenant.  The overall white population numbered 208, while the slave population stood at 1,087, or 1:4.  According to Mielche, 76 whites, including a 12-year-old girl, were killed in the revolution. [According to Mielche, the total white population on the island was 140.]


On November 23, 1733, enslaved Africans, primarily those formerly of the Akwamu Empire, seize St. John’s fort Fortsberg, thereafter taking control of the entire island, killing many of its white inhabitants. The mission of the slaves was revolution, not simply rebellion.  For seven months, the Africans controlled the island, flying their makeshift flag over the fort.  The revolution was put down when military assistance from neighboring colonial powers, primarily the French of the island of Martinique, arrived to assist Denmark.  Most of the revolutionaries either committed suicide, were executed, or perished in captivity. Approximately 50% of the revolutionaries were females.


-1733:  Demark purchases St. Croix from France for 750,000 Livres.  The Danes “inherit” 50 English families upon the acquisition of the island. (Apparently, after the French abandoned St. Croix in 1695, interlopers—whites of humble means from neighboring British colonies—settled on St. Croix.  The Danes permitted them to remain, granting them each a small tract of land from which they could eke out a living while serving as a white yeomen class to help prevent a St. John-type uprising on St. Croix.) [Denmark in the 1660s had a national population of only about 500,000 people.]


-September 1, 1734:  First Danish-era settlers arrive on St. Croix from St. Thomas and immediately begin construction of Fort Christiansvaern, which is largely completed by 1749.


-1734:  Moravian missionaries (Friedrich Martin, Christian Gottlieb Israel, and Georg Weber) sent to St. Croix to convert and teach the island’s enslaved population, thereby beginning the history of formal education on the island. [Verify that there are only 3.  I think there were four]



-1735:  DWIC begins aggressively inviting planters from other Caribbean islands to establish plantations and help colonize St. Croix since few Danes of financial means were interested.  Besides tax incentives, Danes use cheap land, low-interest loans, and St. Croix’s unexhausted fertile soil as incentives.


-1741:  Five times as many English on St. Croix as Danes.


-1740s:  No formal legislation regarding the manumission of slaves before the 1740s, at which point slaves could be manumitted by testamentary devise or during the life of the owner.  (See below:  October 10, 1776)  Question:  What happened when a slaveowner died intestate and heirless?  Did his/her slave(s) become free?



-1754:  The Danish West India Company (DWIC) transfers administration of the Danish West Indies (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix) to the Danish crown.


-1755:  Immediately following the transfer of ownership of the Danish West Indies from the Danish West India Company to the Danish crown, the population of enslaved Africans on St. Croix totaled 8,897; the slave population on St. Thomas stood at 3,949; and the island of St. John had a slave population of 2,031, for a total slave population in the Danish colony of 14, 877. (The total free population—whites and non-whites—was 1,979).



Freedmen Within a Society of Free Men and Slaves in the Danish West Indies


Earliest Data on Freedmen:

-1755:  138 freedmen on St. Thomas (no data for St. John and St. Croix)

-1775:  368 freedmen on St. Croix (50 on St. Thomas; no data for St. John)

-1789:  16 freedmen on St. John (953 on St. Croix; 160 on St. Thomas)

-[1797-1815:  Number of freedmen in the Danish West Indies trebled, from 1,418 to 5,035—as a result of immigration, natural increase, and manumissions].


-1755 Frederik V’s Reglement indicates that freedmen have same rights as free-born (white and non-white), but earlier Gardelin Code of 1733 and subsequent ad hoc provisions of 1741 and 1746 indicate that freedmen are not equal to whites under the law.  But even after the 1755 Reglement (which never became law), governors issued many restrictive proclamations, the rationale being that as the colonial representatives of an absolute monarch (until institution of Constitutional Monarchy in 1848), governors were authorized to make proclamations as they saw fit.


-1755:  Nearly 30% of the free population of St. Thomas are freedmen. (1755 is the earliest year of data.)  But in 1775, twenty years later, freedmen account for only 10% of the free population of St. Thomas, the likely reason being migration to St. Croix, which, because of its then-thriving agriculture economy and its 1755 appointment as capital of the DWI, had become the premier island in the colony, offering the most opportunities for free persons of color. Between 1789 and 1797, freedmen on St. Thomas accounted for 25% of the free population on that island, but only 4% of the overall population. The island of St. John never had a total of more than 20 freedmen (10% of the total free population of that island) before the end of the 1700s.  In 1797, freedmen on St. Croix accounted for 35% of the free population but only 4% of the total population.



-1765:  On St. Thomas, freedmen were permitted to serve on the “Town Watch,” a paramilitary entity, the leader of which was called “captain.”  (8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.).  By the 1780s, such patrols of freedmen were armed and uniformed.  [The first “captain of freedmen” was Mingo Tameryn—of 1733 St. John rebellion fame. (See below). His son Pieter Tameryn became a captain of freedmen on St. Croix in the 1770s].



-1774:  No freedman could live in rural areas of the Danish West Indies; they had to live in the “Free Gut” areas. 


-1775:  Freedmen account for 20% of the overall free population of the DWI.



-October 10, 1776:  Definitive laws regarding manumission.  Three state-sanctioned manumissions had occurred prior to 1776:

1)  1733 manumission of Mingo Tameryn for his efforts to thwart the 1733 St. John rebellion.

2)  1759 manumission of Quamina for his role in the revelation of the 1759 conspiracy on St. Croix.

3)  1763 manumission of the elderly Christian Sort (Christian the Black) for his exemplary embrace of the Christian faith and his honesty.


-1775:  Freedmen cannot assume last names of their former owners, the rationale being not to tarnish the good names of upstanding families.


-No freedman’s evidence was admissible against a white person in the local courts.


-Early 1800s:  Freedmen own two-thirds of all slaves in the towns of the Danish West Indies.


-1802:  According to St. Thomas notary public C. G Fleischer, several freedmen are renting properties to white tenants and establishments:


  1. a) Firm of Beverhoudt and Meyer renting property from Hester Frederiks, a free black woman. She also runs a grocery store.
  2. b) Manderpal, a white schoolteacher, occupying a house owned by black innkeeper Marie Joseph.
  3. c) Ludwig Meyer, a gunsmith, renting from Anthony Derry, a black grocery-store keeper.


Freedmen’s Day-to-Day Existence

-June 22-23, 1802:  John Messer, a freedman and Captain of the Frederiksted Town Watch, is arrested, along with his wife Sarra, a slave, for hosting cockfights (Food prepared by Sarra would be served at the events).

-December 25, 1806:  Elisa Messer, a free black, arrested for singing bawdy songs with Fillis, also free, and a slave named Hanna.

-1806:  Benjamin Jeppe, a free black on St. Thomas, obtains a 3-year liquor license (extraordinary for the time).  Ten years later, in 1816, only three rum shops, all on St. Thomas, are owned and operated by freedmen.  All other requests for licenses had been denied.

-1807:  William Cosvelt, a free mulatto, obtains right to hold cockfights in Christiansted once per month for five months.


-1811: During the second British occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, Samuel Hackett, an immigrant freedman, announces that he was receiving freedmen borders and students at his school for freedmen’s children. First recorded attempt at providing education for children of freedmen in the DWI.


-May 1815:  St. Croix’s freedmen refuse to perform militia duty.


-April 1, 1816:  A total of 331 freedmen sign a petition addressed to the Danish king requesting equal treatment as whites.


-April 18, 1834:  Granting of civil rights to freedmen’s population in the Danish West Indies. (But people not manumitted by that date—but manumitted before emancipation—had to serve a 3-year probation period before being granted full, free, equal-to-whites status. Recently arrived foreign freedmen and children over 15 years of age also had a 3-year waiting period before being endowed with full civil rights).





The Slave Codes:


From the very early years of the Danish colonization of the West Indies, the slave population exceeded that of the white.  And the slave codes reflect the discomfort that fact presented to the plantocracy and administration.


Gardelin’s Code of 1733:

Drafted at a time when the slave/white ratio was 5:1, Gardelin’s Code of 1733, the work of Governor Philip Gardelin, can best be described as “draconian.”    The Code coincided with the 1733 rebellion on St. John and the purchase of St. Croix for its potential as a major plantation island necessitating thousands of slaves. Consisting of 19 clauses, almost half of them address the subject of grand and petit marronage, the running away of slaves, “grand marronage” being defined as the taking of leave of one’s owner with the intention of never returning, while “petit marronage” describes those instances when a slave intends a temporary leave from his owner.


At the foundation of Gardelin’s Code is the notion that a slave, as the property of his owner, had no rights; and a slave could possess or own nothing (and could, therefore, offer nothing for sale in his own right).  Slaves had only obligations—but no rights to food, clothing, shelter.  A slave did not even have the right to his own life:  An owner could kill his slave for any or no reason. A slave’s welfare was irrelevant in Gardelin’s Code.


[Despite subsequent codes, ordinances, and sanctions by custom that, de facto, softened the harshness of Gardelin’s Code, those measures were never made law.  As such, Gardelin’s Code remained on the books—and were relied upon by planters and other member of the white population with impunity.  It would not be until 1838, ten years before emancipation, that Peter von Scholten’s reforms superseded Gardelin’s Code that had endured over 100 years].


Re:  Marronage

-Death penalty—after torture in three (3) separate locations—for all ringleaders of marronage, intended or actual, that involved slaves taking leave of the island.

-Leg amputation for running away (or for conspiracy thereof) unless pardoned by owner.  And if pardoned, then 150 lashes and the loss of one ear.

-Punishments range from death to amputations, branding, and whipping for absences of over six (6) months, three (3) months, 14 days, and failure to report an impending marronage.


Re:  Public Order

-Menacing gestures and/or insulting words towards a white person resulted in torture followed by hanging.  (But if it was the wish of the insulted white person, the right hand of the slave would be amputated.)

-Slaves could be beaten by any white person for failing to step aside on public walkways or for failing to dismount when riding.

-Theft of property valued at more than five (5) styvers, or 20 pence sterling, would result in hanging after torture.

-Branding on the forehead and more than 150 lashes was the penalty for theft of less valuable goods.  The same punishment was meted out for the receipt of stolen goods.

-No plantation slave could be in the towns after the beating of the evening drum. Violators were to be beaten.

-Prohibited was all dancing, merrymaking, and funeral rites involving the use of “negro instruments.” (On days of no work, some small diversions were allowed if approved by owner/overseer.)

-Slaves were beaten for practicing obeah.

-Slaves convicted of poisoning or the intent to poison were tortured with glowing pincers, broken on the wheel, then burnt alive.


[Between Gardelin’s Code in 1733 and the ameliorative initiatives under the Governor Peter von Scholten administration in the 1830s and ‘40s, several ad hoc code-attempts, reglements, and custom would converge to shape the evolution of slavery in the Danish West Indies. But since none of those intervening elements ever became actual law, Gardelin’s harsh, inhumane Code, to the delight of many a slave master who would invoke it at will, remained “on the books” for the 100-year period until von Scholten. Below are the intervening attempts at addressing slave life in the Danish West Indies:]


-December 11, 1741:  Governor Moth’s “Articler for Negerene”

-elaborates upon Gardelin’s Code of 1733, providing detailed regulations pertaining to slaves’ movements, public order, and deference to whites.

-eliminated/restricted sexual congress between slave and free.

-whites discovered gambling or drinking with slaves were subject to imprisonment on bread and water.

-no slave woman allowed in room of white man at night—except when performing household or “innocent” chores.


-1742:  Under Governor Moth, there is the first inkling of the concept of the slave’s welfare being a matter suitable for legislation. 


Background Facts:  In 1742, nine years after the Danish purchase and occupation of St. Croix, the island’s lush primordial forests were still being cleared to make way for island-wide agriculture. (The French plantations on St. Croix during the 17th century were all situated along the island’s periphery.) Trees had to be felled, fired, then uprooted.  Overseers and others, without permission from owners, got into the habit of hiring-out slaves to engage in this work on the slaves’ free day(s) [typically Saturday and/or Sunday], compensation being in the form of rum.  As a result, many slaves who engaged in the forest-clearing work would be rendered too tired and too inebriated to render full service to their masters the following Monday. Though motivated by what was in the best interest of slave owners, Governor Moth’s 1742 prohibition of the practice serves as a recognition of his awareness of the welfare of slaves.


-Governor Lindemark, Moth’s successor, in the interest of public order, served to interpret Gardelin’s 1733 Code with even more specificity than Moth:   for example, no slave was to be seen with a dog unless authorized by the slave owner. And the dog had to be on a leash.


King Frederik V’s Reglement of 1755:

Frederik V’s Reglement of 1755 holds the distinction of being the first slavery-era Danish document acknowledging the rights and well-being of slaves.


Re:  Food

-Slaves 10 years and older are entitled to 2.5 quarts of cassava flour or corn meal (or 3 cassavas, each weighing at least 2.5 pounds); 2 pounds of salted beef or 3 pounds of [salted] fish.  Children under 10 years of age were entitled to half of the above-specified rations.


-According to the Reglement, signed by King Frederik V, no slave was to be offered a free day in lieu of rations.  And the custom of giving slaves unrefined rum, called “kill devil,” in lieu of rations was specifically prohibited in the Reglement.


Re:  Clothing

-Two sets of clothing made of coarse linen or cotton annually, or 8 alens (approx. 5 yards) of similar material from which slave could construct his own garments.


Re:  Housing

The Reglement was deafeningly silent on the subject of slave housing.


Re:  Overall Welfare

-Owners were “encouraged” to treat slaves with humanity. But owners were required to care for sick and old slaves, otherwise such slaves would be forfeited to the crown, their owners assessed a daily sustenance fee.


Re:  Religion

-Religious instruction (but not coercion) was to be made available through a mission established by the Danish Lutheran Church.

-All slave children to be baptized at birth and exposed to the catechism of his faith at an appropriate age.  (Learning to write is regarded as unnecessary, but learning to read for the purpose of reading the Bible is encouraged.)  All instruction of slaves is to take place on plantation premises.

-No slave is permitted to enter a church unless in a domestic-servant capacity accompanying a white person. But at death, a baptized slave is entitled to a Christian burial without condition.

-The 1755 Reglement was certain to re-confirm that a slave is property and that Christian baptism did not diminish a slave owner’s rights over his slave, the rational being that baptism impacted a slave’s soul, not his body, which remained the province of the slave master.

-Slaves’ right not to work on Sundays and high holy days is recognized.


Re:  Marriage and Family

-Slaves were permitted to marry, but only with owner’s permission. (All slaves wishing to marry had to be Christian, but slave not wanting Christianity could not practice polygamy.)

-Marriage automatically protected spouses from separation by auction, other sale, attachment for debt, etc. Minors were not to be separated from their parents.

-The Reglement acknowledges that a child born to a slave mother is owned by the owner of the mother.  But the Reglement also rejected the notion of perpetual servitude.

(-Fornication with slave women is specifically prohibited.  White men convicted thereof were to be fined 2,000 pounds of sugar.  And a fine of equal value was to be imposed on the owner of the female slave if he/she was aware of the circumstances but did nothing to prevent the act).


Re:  Marronage

The 1755 Reglement was harsher than the 1733 Code regarding marronage:  There was no distinction between petit marronage and grand marronage.  Under the 1755 Reglement, the first offence enduring up to one month was punishable by branding and loss of both ears.  The second offense was punishable by the loss of both legs. And the third offense was punishable by execution.


Re:  Manumission

-The concept of manumission was acknowledged—by testamentary devise or during the owner’s lifetime. But a slave could not self-purchase his/her freedom, the rationale being that a slave was property and could therefore own nothing.


Re:  Public Order

-Violence or bodily harm perpetrated upon a white person was punishable by death.

-The penalty for theft is not death (as was the case in the 1733 Gardelin Code); instead, the penalty is branding and castration.

-For fear of congregation as a pretext for plotting insurrection, slaves owned by different masters could not assemble at weddings and other festive occasions.  First offense, whipping and branding.  Second offense, death.  (Any white person could arrest any slave found in violation of this law.)

-Slaves could not bear firearms (for example for hunting) unless with master’s written permission.

-Slaves were prohibited from selling anything in the town’s public markets—unless on behalf of the master.


Re:  Judiciary

-Evidence from a slave not admissible in civil or criminal cases (but such evidence could be taken into consideration for determining truth).

-Slaves were, however, indictable for offenses.

-A free person could bring charges against a slave, but a slave could not bring charges against a free person.





Despite the fact that custom had sanctioned certain concessions such as half-free day on Saturday and the selling of provisions from provision plots on Market Day on Sundays (until 1843, when it changed to Saturday, with Sunday being reserved for rest, attending church, attending to provision plots, etc.), when the crown assumed the administration of the Danish West Indies in 1754, Gardelin’s Code was the law.  And Frederik V’s Reglement, in fact, remained a dead document since the Danish authorities permitted its first royally appointed governor, von Pröck [The previous governors under Company rule had been appointed by the board of directors of the Company], to publish whichever portions of the Reglement he deemed appropriate.  Von Pröck exercised that discretion by publishing no part of the instrument, allegedly so as to remain in the good graces of the plantocracy, the preference of which was for slaves to have no rights, à la Gardelin’s Code of 1733.


Impact of the 1759 Conspiracy on the Slave Codes:

The 1759 Conspiracy resulted in many planters setting aside the customary concessions towards slaves that had been witnessed between 1742-1755, reverting to the directives of Gardeline’s Code:


-Itinerant Christmas minstrels were forbidden;

-Random visiting from plantation to plantation—even for spouses—was restricted;

-Selling rum or punch to slaves was forbidden;

-Slaves caught gambling were immediately taken to the whipping-post for 50 lashes.


The 1760s and ‘70s witnessed further reductions in customary privileges and allowances:



-No urban slave could be on street after 9:00 p.m., unless on a documented errand.

-Slaves could not attend Moravian Mission beyond 8:00 p.m. And slaves leaving Services could walk in groups comprised of no more than six persons, each group with a designated leader.

-Dancing (in St. Thomas) until 10:00 p.m. (or later with police permission), but no drumming.

-No slave wakes, the rationale being that they were an excuse for drunkenness and revelry.





-Punishment for gambling on streets raised from 50 to 150 lashes, the rationale being that 50 lashes had not served as a deterrent.

-The Bangelar (the metal-tipped stick used in stick-fighting) was banned.

-Itinerant vendors (“hucksters”) were banned, the rationale being that they encouraged slaves to steal from their masters so as to be able to purchase/barter for the irresistible items offered by the hucksters.

-Efforts were made to limit the amount of mourners at black Christian funerals to six pairs (besides pallbearers) as it was not uncommon for as many of 300 slaves to attend funerals—all dressed in their finest garments.  Rationale:  It was unwise to have so many negroes assembled in one place.

-The ever-popular tea and coffee parties were discouraged on the grounds of their popularity and because they encouraged slaves to dress beyond their means.



Lindemann’s Draft of 1783:

In the beginning of the 1780s, some Danes (and other whites) began arriving at the conclusion that Gardelin’s Code of 1733 was exceedingly brutal, especially as pertaining to public order.  The Colonial Government agreed that Gardelin’s Code was no longer appropriate.



Lindemann’s Draft featured four (4) sections and addressed:

-Regulations pertaining to slaves;

-Regulations for free coloreds;

-Obligations of whites to their slaves;

-Judicial processes vis-à-vis slaves.


-Amputations, branding, executions, etc., should be reserved for offences that could lead to/lead to rebellion.

-Draft offered suggestions for secular education.

-Opportunities for self-purchase.

-Encouragement of slave marriages.

-Regulation of punishments on the estates.

-Mutilations, castrations, etc., to be disallowed.

-Murder of a slave becomes a crime—to be adjudicated in Denmark, not in the colonies.

-The Draft is very strict towards slaves regarding deference to whites:  assault, arson, rebellions and conspiracy thereto, and poisoning all carried death sentences.

-Desertion and marronage no longer capital offenses, but in extreme cases, branding, 200 strokes, and in-chains for life is the penalty.

-Regarding public order, the Draft was very unyielding:  gambling, wakes, unauthorized dances are all prohibited.

-Stone-throwing and kite-flying are banned, the latter because it was known to startle horses, causing many a steed to separate from its white rider.

-Every white person possesses the power to arrest.

-No sexual relations between white men and slave women; and the unthinkable—relations between a white woman and a slave—was not only prohibited, but would result in the deportation of the white woman.

-Slaves were entitled only to summary judicial proceedings.

-Court Martial, to be invoked by local police, was proposed for grave offenses.  (Rationale:  Court matters involving slaves were too costly and too time-consuming.  Petty crimes to be handled by police. Courts to deal with matters involving the death penalty).

-Slaves were not competent witnesses against whites, but baptized slaves could testify against other slaves.

-Slaves’ rights to earn towards manumission.

-Each newborn slave was to be baptized.



Lindemann’s Draft proposed minimum obligations of whites to their slaves:


-food rations

-five to six meters of coarse cloth annually for slaves to construct their own garments

-a hat every two years

-compulsory care when ill

-each estate was to keep a plantation journal to record illness, marronage, rations, etc.


As was the case with Frederik V’s Reglement of 1755 and all the other proposed slave codes after Gardelin’s Code of 1733, Lindemann’s Draft was never officially implemented.



1785 Code by committee under van der Østen

-Code never implemented.


1791:  Commission established by the Danish crown to consider the abolition of the Danish involvement in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

-The Commission was of the opinion that amelioration and abolition were inextricably linked.

-The Commission was of the position that the amelioration of slave conditions should be left to the planter class since it was obvious that there were benefits to be realized by amelioration. (The alternative, the Committee felt, would be insurrection.)

-The Commission upheld the notion of the sacred right of property and the position that slaves are the property of their owners. The Commission opted not to make any statutory inroads that would infringe upon the masters’ discretion in areas pertaining to food, clothing, housing, pre- and post-natal care, or care of children and the sick.

-Peter Oxholm, spokesperson for the planters, lobbied for the continuation of the slave trade, and the Burgher Council of St. Croix was in support of his position.


(As late as 1805, Kirstein, Secretary of the Abolition Commission, was still espousing the position that a comprehensive slave code was not a priority and that the more immediate concern was a police code that would reflect what had become customary for master-slave relations in the Danish West Indies. Thus, even into the beginning of the 19th century, the welfare of slaves was not established by code law.)





-Between 1742 and 1755:  The notion of slave rations (of food and clothing) becomes the custom/practice, though not by law.


-1754:  Danish West India Company sells St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix to the Danish crown, the islands thus becoming a crown colony.


-1755:  Because of the significance of St. Croix as a plantation island and, as a result, its importance to the Danish treasury, St. Croix, after a mere 22 years as a Danish possession and one year under crown administration, becomes the capital of the Danish West Indies, maintaining that distinction until 1871 when the seat of government was temporarily moved to St. Thomas after a series of natural disasters that devastated St. Croix (hurricane, earthquake and tidal wave in 1867; two hurricanes in 1871).


-1755:  Slaves are allowed to marry—with slave owner’s consent.


-1755:  Nearly 30% of the free population of St. Thomas are freedmen. (1755 is the earliest year of data.)  But in 1775, twenty years later, freedmen account for only 10% of the free population of St. Thomas, the likely reason being migration to St. Croix, which, because of its then-thriving agriculture economy and its 1755 appointment as capital of the DWI, had become the premier island in the colony, offering the most opportunities for free persons of color. Between 1789 and 1797, freedmen on St. Thomas accounted for 25% of the free population on that island, but only 4% of the overall population. The island of St. John never had a total of more than 20 freedmen (10% of the total free population of that island) before the end of the 1700s.  In 1797, freedmen on St. Croix accounted for 35% of the free population but only 4% of the total population.


-ca. 1755:  Lutheran Mission for slaves and free people of color established.  In 1756, ten Lutheran missionaries arrive in the Danish West Indies. Instruction and books are in Dutch creole.


-1759:  Conspiracy on St. Croix.  William Davis declared ringleader; “Frank” or “French” declared his collaborator.


-1760 – 1820:  The “Golden Age” of the sugar economy in the Danish West Indies. St. Croix being described as the “Garden of the West Indies.”


-April 9, 1764:  Charlotte Amalie established as a Free Port.  Anyone is permitted to establish an enterprise on St. Thomas for the purpose of engaging in trade in European and/or American goods.  The Ordinance was confirmed and expanded in 1767, enabling enterprises to send cargo wherever they chose.  (The 1764 Ordinance required that return-cargo go to Denmark or that they be transported on Danish ships.)  The Free Port ordinance was renewed on November 4, 1782.


-1768:  Danish slaving vessel Fredensborg wrecks off the coast of Norway on the final legal of its triangular trade route during which it took onboard 265 enslaved Africans on the west coast of Africa and sold the 241 survivors of the journey in Christiansted. Discovered in 1974, retrieved from the wreck were precious elephant tusks from Africa, exotic woods from the Caribbean, and personal items of the crew such as cans of tobacco and leather shoes with fine buckles. The ship and its contents together constitute one of the most comprehensive examples of a slaving vessel ever found—anywhere in the world.


-1768:  Danish crown says public school system for slaves would serve “no useful purpose.”


-1768:  Peter Tongerloe, a “free Negro,” is owner of Estate Catherine’s Hope, situated east of Christiansted, and a townhouse at No. 25 Company Street, Christiansted.  He is also the owner of 10 slaves. Historian Neville A.T. Hall in his Slave Society in the Danish West Indies (p. 144), writes of Johasie Abrams as the owner of the10-acre “plantation” Catherine’s Hope, believed to be named after Abrams’ wife Catherine. Abrams, according to Hall, owns an unspecified number of slaves. Hall describes Abrams as a freedman who owned Catherine’s Hope “before 1800” and indicates that Abrams acquired the property by way of inheritance, along with his freedom, from a white slave owner. It is believed that Peter Tongerloe and Johasie Abrams are one in the same.  Further research is required.  



-1769:  Missionary Peter Lund suggests a special court for dealing exclusively with slaves and slave-matters.  The court was to be comprised of “coloureds” [presumably, persons of at least half-white racial make-up] who would function under the supervision of the governor and other whites. The colonial government thought the proposal administratively impossible; politically incorrect; and premature, given the pending slave code at the time.


-1770:  Armed, able-bodied colonists, numbering 320, serve as militia troops to defend the colony:  100 in Christiansted; 100 in Frederiksted; 80 on St. Thomas; 40 on St. John. (For economic and philosophical reasons, Denmark historically elected to implement a system of colonial defense that was based on local militia rather than on professional soldiers.  The professional soldiery rarely numbered more than was absolutely necessary to serve as official guards and for ceremonial duties).



-1774:  Gambling amongst slaves outlawed.


-1774:  No freedman could live in rural areas of the Danish West Indies; they had to live in the “Free Gut” areas. 


-1775:  Freedmen account for 20% of the overall free population of the DWI.



-October 10, 1776:  Definitive laws regarding manumission.  Three state-sanctioned manumissions had occurred prior to 1776:

1)  1733 manumission of Mingo Tameryn for his efforts to thwart the 1733 St. John rebellion.

2)  1759 manumission of Quamina for his role in the revelation of the 1759 conspiracy on St. Croix.

3)  1763 manumission of the elderly Christian Sort (Christian the Black) for his exemplary embrace of the Christian faith and his honesty.




The establishment of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, as a Free Port figured significantly in the evolution of urban slavery in the Danish West Indies. Also, because Charlotte Amalie, with its excellent harbor and strategic location in the center of the Caribbean Archipelago served a major slave depot for the entire Caribbean, slaves being transported on ships bearing the flags of all the European slave-trading nations passed through St. Thomas, many of those slaves remaining on the island, thereby adding to the cultural and ethnic diversity of the slave population of the Danish West Indies.


-1787:  Danes establish public schools—two in Christiansted, one in Frederiksted, and one in Charlotte Amalie—to educate the islands’ free black and enslaved populations.  Denmark, thereby, becomes the first nation in the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to officially educate its New World black population.  The public education, available at a small fee, focused on reading and memorization.  Extra instructions in writing and mathematics could be obtained at an additional cost.  The Danes (their official religion being the Lutheran faith), recognizing that the Moravians had had more experience in the educating of the black population through the Moravian Missions, utilized Moravian instructors and administrators in the Danish public schools. Moravian instructors would remain the educators of choice of the Danish West Indies school system until 1872.



-1789: “Great School Commission” established in Denmark.  By 1814, Danish public school system organized to educate peasant class.


-1792:  86% of St. Croix’s slaves are plantation slaves; artisans and urban slaves comprise the remaining 14%.


Christian Marriage in the Slave Population of the Danish West Indies


[-1717:  By 1717, the following churches were established on St. Thomas:  Lutheran; Dutch Reformed; French Reformed; Anglican; and Roman Catholic.  All except the Roman Catholic have resident priests by 1717. Thus, by the early 1700s, the Christianizing of the enslaved African population had begun.

-1805:  By early 1800s, church affiliation by slaves exceeds 50%.

-By1835:  99% of all slaves in the Danish West Indies baptized into the Christian faith.]



-1755:  King Frederik V’s Reglement specifies that slaves may marry—but there must be consent by their owners. (And children born to such marriages were owned by the owner of the female slave.)

-1792:  In a population of 8,568 adult slaves 20 years and older, there are 2,338 recorded intimate unions, but only 371 Christian-married couples. After the 1759 Conspiracy on St. Croix, slaves’ ability to congregate and visit from plantation to plantation on their free days is strictly regulated.  Married couples living on separate plantations, therefore, are not able to engage in conjugal visits without permission.

-1805:  At the beginning of the 19th century, after slaves have been authorized to marry for 50 years, only 10% of the adult slave population opts for Christian marriage. But 30% of adult slaves are in committed relationships.



-1792:  Abolition of Serfdom in Denmark


-1792:  One-third of all “Bosals” (newly arrived African-born slaves) expected to die during the “seasoning” process. By the 1830s, “guinea bird” had become an insult used by island-born slaves to describe Africa-born slaves.


-1792:  There are 197 plantations in operation on St. Croix:  71 plantations with 51-100 slaves; 70 plantations with 0-5 slaves; 13 plantations with 151-200 slaves; 4 plantations with 201-300 slaves; and 2 plantations with over 300 slaves. Of St. Croix’s 84 square miles, 40 are flat land, perfect for the cultivation of sugarcane.  Most of the island’s most profitable plantations are situated in the western portion of the island. Many of the plantations east of Christiansted, because of the lower fertility levels of that portion of the island, have few slaves and were devoted to the cultivation of cotton and grazing of livestock more so than to the production of sugarcane. In 1792, thirty-six (36) of the forty-one (41) plantations east of Christiansted had less than 100 slaves.  The average slave population on plantations east of Christiansted is 42).


-1792:  Denmark’s King Christian VII issues the Abolition Proclamation, which specified that Denmark would abolish the slave trade in 10 years, on December 31, 1802, Denmark thereby becoming the first European nation to abolish the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (though Denmark was not the first European nation to end the institution of slavery.  That distinction would go to the British.) 


In the 1790s, for practical and humanitarian reasons, various slave-trading European nations decided to cease going to the continent of Africa to obtain Africans for transport as slaves to the New World (the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade).  However, slaves could still be purchased, sold, and shipped within the New World.  (Furthermore, the institution of slavery itself would not end until the various declarations of emancipation, beginning with the British in 1834 [with the full effect of emancipation to occur in 1838] and ending with Brazil in 1888.)


Below is a listing of when the various slave-trading nations abolished the Trans-Atlantic Trade in enslaved Africans:


-January 1, 1803:  Denmark (and Norway, which, until 1814, was politically joined to Denmark)

-May 1, 1807:  Great Britain

-1813:  Sweden

-1814:  Holland (Netherlands)

-1814:  Spain (Agreed to stop the slave trade—except to her possessions)

-1815:  France

-1816:  Portugal (Agreed to end slave trade north of the Equator.  Therefore, Portugal continued shipping enslaved Africans to Brazil, her largest colony utilizing the labor of enslaved Africans.  Brazil gained its independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822)

-1820:  Spain (except to Cuba)

-1852:  Brazil


Emancipation in the New World—the ending of the institution of slavery itself—would not end until a generation or two later in the colonies of the above-listed nations.  Below is a listing of when emancipation occurred in the various slaving nations: 



*(Haitians claim their emancipation from France in 1803 after defeating the French at war.)


-August 1, 1834:  Great Britain (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), to take full effect in 1838.

-October 9, 1847:  Sweden

-April 27, 1848:  France

-July 3, 1848: Denmark (by rebellion)

-January 1, 1863:  United States (But it would not take full practical effect until the ending of the American Civil War in 1865)

-July 1, 1863:  Holland

-July 29, 1880:  Spain (All colonies except Cuba, which received emancipation in 1886)

-May 13, 1888:  Brazil (Brazil obtained its independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822, thereby ending Portugal’s official involvement in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and embarking upon its own that would endure for another 66 years.)


-1792:  Danes implement the policy of “Breed, Not Buy.”  Prior to Denmark’s King Christian VII’s Abolition Proclamation in 1792, which set the abolition of the Danish slave trade at January 1, 1803, ten (10) years after the Proclamation, the Danish slaving policy was to “buy, not breed,” to wit Danish slave traders would prioritize the acquisition from West Africa of young males in their physical prime (between the ages of 15 and 35) to serve as slaves in the Danish West Indies.  The objective was to work slaves to death (usually within five years), rather than having them live beyond their physical prime, thereupon becoming less productive and more costly to maintain. Under the old “buy, not breed” policy, a newly purchased, young, male slave would replace his physically expended predecessor. And in the labor-intensive sugarcane system, male slaves were preferred to females, whose productivity would be diminished, even if temporarily, by pregnancy and then infant care. (As such, the male slave population in the Danish West Indies always exceeded that of the female slave population until 1815, twenty-three years into the “breeding initiatives.”)  In addition, because of the poor working and living conditions of the enslaved population in the Danish West Indies, the mortality rate exceeded birthrate well into the late 19th century.  And low birthrate—on account of amenorrhoea, or absence of menses, a condition where women, owing to excessive labor, fail to even menstruate due to excess levels of testosterone because of the excessive labor—remained a problem throughout the history of slavery in the Danish West Indies.


In response to the 1792 Abolition Proclamation, Danish slave traders and plantation owners adopted a new policy: “breed, not buy.”  Thus, they began importing more female slaves, a policy which resulted in 1815—for the first time in the history of the Danish slave trade—a population of female slaves which exceeded that of male slaves.  In 1792, there were 7,364 female slaves and 8,579 male slaves on St. Croix.  But in 1835, there were 10,423 female slaves to 9,453 male slaves on St. Croix.


-1797: Total slave population in the Danish West Indies numbers 32,213 (25,452 on St. Croix; 4,769 on St. Thomas; 1,992 on St. John);

            Total freedmen population in the Danish West Indies numbers 1,418;

            Total white population in the Danish West Indies number 3,062.


-1797:  Total population of freedmen in the Danish West Indies is 1,418, with 80% of that number living on St. Croix. The vast majority of the freedmen in the DWI were “coloureds,” persons of mixed racial heritage, most having at least 50% white ancestry.


-1799:  Official Danish military presence in the Danish West Indies is meager, totaling 447 troops:  373 infantry; 56 cavalry; 18 artillery. (The official military presence was typically supplemented by local militia [armed, able-bodied colonists], consisting of whites and coloureds.


-By 1800:  The forts in the Danish West Indies towns of Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, and Frederiksted are, by 1800, well-established as the discipline venues of the colony, so much so that until the 1970s, the phrase, “…I will take you to the fort” [for legal redress, both civil and criminal] remained in everyday usage in the Virgin Islands.


-1802:  Freedmen (typically mulatto or with a higher percentage of white ancestry) owned 30% of the slaves in Charlotte Amalie.


-1802:  Case of Hans Jonathan, a slave from St. Croix taken to Denmark by his owner.  The issue was whether, by setting foot upon Denmark-proper soil, where, in 1802, slavery was not allowed, Hans Jonathan had automatically become free. The Danish court ruled that Jonathan was not entitled to freedom since his owner’s property rights extended to Denmark. The Hans Jonathan ruling was in stark contrast with the Somerset case of 30 years earlier where the English court held that a slave, upon setting foot on English-proper soil, automatically became free.


-1805:  By early 1800s, church affiliation by slaves exceeds 50%.



-1805:  Only 10% of adult slave population opts for Christian marriage; but 30% are in committed relationships.


-March 19, 1820:  John Gutliff (General Buddhoe, General Bordeaux, Moses Gotlieb), leader of the July 3, 1848 rebellion for emancipation, is born enslaved at Estate La Grange, Frederiksted.


-1830s:  Public auctions of slaves outlawed—as inhumane and degrading.


-1831/1832:  First comprehensive census of all three Danish West Indies.


-1828:  Peter von Scholten appointed governor-general of the Danish West Indies.


-August 3, 1832:  Public holiday declared to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Moravian Mission in the Danish West Indies. Ten thousand (10,000) slaves attended the celebrations at the Friedensfeld Moravian Mission.


-April 18, 1834:  All free people (whether free-born or manumitted), regardless of race, are considered equal in the Danish West Indies.


-November 1834:  Copenhagen endorses the idea of a public education system for slaves in the Danish West Indies.


-By1835:  99% of all slaves in the Danish West Indies baptized into the Christian faith.





Slave Education in the Danish West Indies

-1732:  Moravian missionaries arrive on St. Thomas and shortly thereafter on St. John.  Moravian concept of “Pietism,” which holds that Christians should know God through reading the Bible for themselves, requires that slaves learn how to read the Bible, and, by extension, how to read in general, thereby laying the foundation for slave education in the Danish West Indies.  Many enslaved persons gravitate towards the Moravian faith so as to learn how to read.  In 1734, the Moravian missionaries arrive on St. Croix.

-1755:  King Frederik V’s Reglement allows for the preaching of God’s word by Lutheran missionaries to the slave population and for a related Christian education to facilitate the teaching of God’s word.

-1787:  Danes establish public schools—two in Christiansted, one in Frederiksted, and one in Charlotte Amalie—to educate the islands’ free black and enslaved populations.  Denmark, thereby, becomes the first nation in the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to officially educate its New World population. The public education, available at a small fee, focused on reading and memorization.  Extra instruction in writing and mathematics could be obtained at an additional cost. The Danes (their official religion be the Lutheran faith), recognizing that the Moravian had been more successful in educating the slave population through the Moravian Missions, utilized Moravian instructors in the four (4) Danish public schools.  (Moravian instructors would remain the educators of choice in the Danish West Indies school system until 1872.)

-1793:  Danes admit that the Moravian missionaries are more successful at educating slaves than the Lutheran missionaries.

-1796:  Governor Ernst von Walterstorff declares Lutheran missionaries attempt at educating slaves in the DWI a failure.

-November 1834:  Copenhagen endorses the idea of a public school system for slaves in the Danish West Indies.

-1834 – 1838: Planters gradually accept the idea of education for slaves.

-1838:  Construction on the first von Scholten schools begins—though the School Ordinance becomes official in 1839.

-1839:  Public support for slave schools is established, the rationale being that with emancipation on the horizon, an educated slave population would make for a more peaceful and orderly transition into freedom.

-1839:  Peter von Scholten’s School Ordinance becomes official.

-By 1841—Some planters begin privately constructing schools on their plantations.  (Some planters had done so even earlier on humanitarian and religious justifications.)

-May 16, 1841:  First of 17 von Scholten schools opens at Estate La Grande Princesse, the site where almost 100 years earlier (in the 1740s) the first Moravian missionary on St. Croix had been buried. Römer, a Moravian missionary, was named director of the school at La Grande Princesse. The 1839 School Ordinance provided for the establishment of 17 free public schools for slave children in the DWI:  8 on St. Croix; 5 on St. Thomas; and 4 on St. John.  Children 9 years and under were to be educated for three hours in the morning each day, Monday to Friday.  Children aged 10 to 12 were to be educated one day per week, on Saturday mornings.

-1841 – 1846:  School attendance problematic because overseers are not cooperative.

-1844:  Records indicate that not one child from several plantations attended school.

-1846:  Ordinance institutionalizing public school education for slaves in the Danish West Indies. The initiative was regarded as an “experiment.” A major component of the 1846 School Ordinance is that overseers could be fined for preventing school-age children from attending school.




-1838:  Governor Peter von Scholten’s Labor Ordinance.

From the 1830s, and into the 1840s, ameliorative policies had been implemented under Governor Peter von Scholten:

  1. a) The workday’s length was regulated;
  2. b) Discretionary punishment by masters reduced;
  3. c) Public auctions banned as dehumanizing;
  4. d) Plantation journals and inspection thereof mandatory;


  1. a) Saturday becomes free day (Market Day);
  2. b) Sunday free for religion and secular instruction;
  3. c) Slaves earn 4 Rigsdaller per day for working on a free day;
  4. d) Improvements in slave housing.


-1840:  170 plantations and cattle farms on St. Croix.


-1841:  There are 151 plantations in operation on St. Croix.


-1843:  Saturday becomes a free day for the enslaved of the Danish West Indies (thereby joining Sunday, which since the mid-1700s had, by custom and religious lobby, come to be accepted as a free day.  With Saturday becoming a free day, the slaves’ Market Day switched from Sunday to Saturday, thereby affording slaves the opportunity to devote Sunday’s to religious instruction.  (By the mid-1700s, the vegetable and fish markets in the three towns of the Danish West Indies had been established.)


-1845:  A total of 37 slaves from St. John escape to neighboring Tortola, where emancipation had occurred in 1834/38.


-July 28, 1847:  “Free Birth Proclamation.”  Royal proclamation conferring freedom on all slaves born after July 28, 1847, with emancipation for everyone else to occur in 12 years. (Peter von Scholten thought that such a plan–granting freedom to newborns but not to their parents—would be problematic.  He was 100 percent correct, as evidenced by the slave rebellion that occurred less than one year later).



The Unfolding of the July 3, 1848 Emancipation


-Night of Sunday, July 2, 1848: Beginning at nightfall, conch shells (tuttues) blowing on the various estates; signal-fires set.

-Morning of July 3, 1848:  Approximately 8,000 slaves gather at Fort Frederik, demanding immediate freedom. Danish West Indies slaves had been told, via the July 28, 1847 “Free Birth Proclamation,” that slavery would end in 1859.  (The enslaved population in the DWI had been long aware of emancipation in the British West Indies [1834/1838] and had recently become aware of the April 27, 1848 emancipation in the French West Indies.  Based on court testimony in the immediate aftermath of the July 3, 1848 emancipation, rumors were circulating that Denmark, too, had emancipated its slaves but that the DWI planters were withholding the information). There were no betrayers of the July 3, 1848 emancipation rebellion.  Almost 20,000 slaves were aware of the plan.

-4:00 p.m., Monday, July 3, 1848:  Governor Peter von Scholten, who had arrived from St. Thomas in the early hours of July 3, arrives at Fort Frederik and, immediately upon alighting from his carriage, approximately 16 hours after the first blowing of conch shells, declares all unfree, free.

-Monday, July 3, 1848:  Major Gyllich, commander of the Fire Corps, defrayed attack upon his person by large group of newly emancipated people by throwing his sword to the ground and announcing that he was friend, not foe.

-Tuesday, July 4, 1848:  Major Gyllich accompanies Buddoe as he restores calm on several mid-island estates.

-Early hours of Tuesday, July 4, 1848:  Group of newly emancipated people shot just outside the town of Christiansted.  Looting and destruction (except on the island’s eastern plantations) ensue over the next three days.

-Tuesday, July 4, 1848:  Town of Frederiksted put under state of emergency.  Court Martial invoked.  If freedmen re-enter Frederiksted in groups of more than 10 persons, they would be fired upon by cannon from the fort and the frigate in the town’s harbor.

-Thursday, July 6, 1848:  Governor Peter von Scholten suffers what would be described by today’s medical terminology as a nervous breakdown. The Lt. Gov. of St. Thomas, Frederik Oxholm, assumes command of the civil government.

-Thursday, July 6, 1848:  Entire island of St. Croix under State of Emergency.  Mass-arrests conducted.

-Friday, July 7, 1848:  Court Martial proceedings begin.

-Court Martial convened over next five weeks, examining more than 100 prisoners.  (Fort Frederik was overcrowded on account of the number of prisoners plus the whites who had taken refuge there.  Other prisoners were detained on board the Ørnen and various cargo ships in Frederiksted’s harbor).

-Within a week of the convening of the Court Martial, eight (8) persons are executed for charges ranging from felonious wounding and arson to riotous assembly:

  1. a) Decatur of Estate Bethlehem for rioting and theft. (Executed on July 11, 1848)
  2. b) Friday of Estate Castle.  (Executed on July 11, 1848)
  3. c) Augustus of Estate Concordia for felonious wounding.  (Executed on July 11, 1848)
  4. d) Adam of Rosehill for arson (setting fire to the cane field).  (Executed on July 11, 1848)
  5. e) John Simmons of Estate Mt. Pleasant
  6. f) James Heyliger




-Saturday, July 8, 1848:  Lt. Gov. of St. Thomas Frederik Oxholm arrives on St. Croix. The governor of Puerto Rico sends 530 troops.



Leaders of the Rebellion Emerge During the Court Martial Proceedings

-Peter von Scholten reports that he observed Buddoe [John Gutliff, General Budhoe, Moses Gotlieb, Gotlieb Bordeaux] in a leadership role, to wit:  he prevented looting; smashed with his sword a demi-john of liquor (presumably that being carried by a rioter/looter).

-Augustus of Estate Concordia.  Carrying sword.  Blood of a duck killed with same sword smeared onto the front of his shirt.  Told newly emancipated to organize in a line.  Later on Monday, July 3, said that he would decapitate anyone who refused to declare himself/herself free. Took up the whipping post from the Frederiksted Market Square and threw it into the sea.

-Moses of Estate Butler’s Bay.

-July 9, 1848:  Friday of Estate Castle says Martin King [of Bog of Allen] to be blamed for everything. (But Friday later says “Bordeaux was the head of everything.”)

-Four men executed on July 11, 1848, name Buddoe and Martin King as leaders. Decatur and Adam later name Buddoe as leader.


-Buddoe was supposedly “deported” at his own request [never to be heard from/of again].  According to some historians, Buddoe was deported to Trinidad.  Trinidad historians, however, insist that there is no record of Buddoe ever setting foot on Trinidad soil.  A Virgin Islands historian claims to have unearthed evidence of Buddoe in New York whence he maintained contact with his mother and sister. According to local oral tradition, Buddoe, in order to appease the newly emancipated population, was dressed in military regalia as if being sailed off to Denmark to be honored for his leadership role in preventing post-emancipation destruction.  Once the vessel sailed into the high seas, however, it is said that he was ball-and-chained and thrown overboard to a watery death.



Alleged Strategy Underlying the Rebellion

July 3, 1848 was supposed to be a Monday strike to force emancipation.  Sunday-night ringing of plantation bells and blowing of the conch shells were supposed to signal the Monday strike. Slaved aspired towards a free peasantry and a monocrop economy run by freedmen.


A song chronicling the great historic event emerged:


Clear dih road! Ah yoh, clear dih road!

Clear dih road; leh dih slave dem pass….

We ah goh foh ah we freedom!


The date of composition and the name of the composer have been lost to history.


-August 18, 1848:  Peter Hansen appointed governor-general of the Danish West Indies.  His immediate priority was to restore and maintain peace and order; establish labor laws; and to prepare a special report on the rebellion. Dispatched from Denmark, Hansen arrived on St. Croix on November 26, 1848 and assumed command the following day.


-January 26, 1849:  The Labor Contract of 1849. 

-Upon emancipation on July 3, 1848, some newly freed persons immediately left the plantations to which they were once bound and moved into the Free Gut neighborhoods of Frederiksted and Christiansted, in effect refusing to work on plantations, even for wages. Such persons eked out a living as cooks, washer-women, fishermen, tailors, seamstresses, etc. Artisans and skilled laborers such as cabinet-makers, blacksmiths, masons, carpenters, milliners, cobblers, and goldsmiths applied for burger briefs (business licenses) and established themselves, to the best of their abilities, as tradesmen, serving primarily the black community. But burgher briefs were expensive, and the loans that facilitated them oftentimes came with high interest rates. For the vast majority of the former slave population (referred to after emancipation as “laborers”), life continued as sugarcane laborers on the very same plantations to which they were once bound as slaves.

-Prior to Governor Hansen’s arrival, the Committee of Planters had, on July 29, 1848, less than 30 days after emancipation, issued an order stipulating that the former slaves should seek employment somewhere—either on their respective plantations or in the towns.  For those opting to remain on their plantations, contracts were drawn up specifying type of work, quantity of work, and wages to be paid for the contracted-for work.  Laborers who refused to work were to be reported to the Committee of Planters, which would take measures to punish such workers for vagrancy. Since the former slaves had no land upon which to settle to begin their lives anew, it was the consensus of the planter class that laborers would be forced to work on the plantations since very few would have the financial wherewithal to start a business. The order made no provisions for sick and elderly former slaves. Then, to add insult to injury, the order required that laborers, once hired, remain—for life—on the plantation of employment. The laborers, rightfully, regarded the order as tantamount to slavery and rejected it out-of-hand.

-On January 26, 1849, Governor Hansen proposed the Labor Contract that would 30 years later result in the 1878 Fireburn:

  1. a) Laborers were to sign one-year contracts, binding them to a plantation from October 1 to September 30, with the option to terminate—by either laborer or planter—occurring on August 1.  Any contract not terminated by August 1 would be automatically renewed for another year. The rationale supporting the provision was to stabilize the work force.  While, in theory, laborers were free to seek new employment contracts each year, planters had unspoken agreements amongst each other not to hire each other’s laborers, a policy which in effect bound laborers to their plantations for life.  (Laborers desiring to leave the DWI for employment opportunities elsewhere were obliged to purchase passports, which cost 32 cents, thereby being beyond the reach of many laborers. And to further frustrate free travel, laborers wishing to leave the Danish islands in order to seek opportunities elsewhere were required to have money in their possession to demonstrate to the Danish authorities a wherewithal for self-support outside the Danish colony [presumably so that Danish subjects would not become a burden on other nations, thereby putting the Danish colony at risk of earning an unfavorable reputation vis-à-vis other nations].  The amount travelers were required to have in their possession was not a fixed amount and oftentimes was determined at the discretion of the Danish authority issuing the passports—a situation which caused much uncertainty for laborers.  The arbitrary passports policy would ultimately serve as one of the primary catalysts for the October 1, 1878 Fireburn).
  2. b) The signing of a labor contract bound not only the laborer to the plantation, but also his wife and all his children between the ages of 5 and 15—as well as other dependents and elderly relatives. In the case of a female signatory, all her children under the age of 15, as well as any other person dependent upon her, were bound to the plantation.
  3. c) Per the 1849 Labor Contract, laborers were classified into three categories:  First-class workers earned 15 cents per day/75 cents per week/3 dollars per month/36 dollars per year; Second-class laborers were compensated 10 cents per day/50 cents per week/2 dollars per month/24 dollars per year; Third-class employees were paid 5 cents per day/25 cents per week/1 dollar per month/12 dollars per year. Specialized plantation workers such as sugar boilers, blacksmiths, coopers, and wheelwrights were paid 20 cents per day, but with a 5-cents-per-day deduction for food and provisions.
  4. d) Plantation laborers were allowed to maintain their 30 ft. by 30 ft. provision plots (also called “Negro grounds”) from which they could derive their sustenance, but traditional food rations of salted meat/fish and cornmeal/cassava flour ended with emancipation. Laborers who desired those items had to purchase them.
  5. e) The workday extended from dawn to dusk, Monday to Friday.
  6. f) All disputes between laborer and planter were to be resolved by a magistrate.
  7. g) Plantation workers lived in the plantation villages, which were historically substandard and were not improved post-emancipation.


In essence, then, little had changed after emancipation; chattel slavery had evolved into economic slavery. And a mere six months after the enactment of the 1849 Labor Contract, on July 2, 1849, one day short of the one-year anniversary of emancipation, laborers on 77 of St. Croix’s plantations participated in a job action—a strike—until the island’s police and gendarmerie forced the strikers back to work.


In 1850, John Candler and George Alexander, representing the Anti-Slavery Society, visited the Danish West Indies in order to assess the colony’s post-emancipation conditions. Welcomed to the islands and given free rein to assess, both men traveled extensively around St. Croix, visiting various plantations before arriving at the conclusion that the Labor Contract of 1849 had served to neutralize emancipation, rendering the great event in name only.


-1853:  Plantation owners, as compensation for the loss of their slaves as a result of the July 3, 1848 emancipation, were paid reparations in the amount of $50 per slave, regardless of age or sex.
















The History of the Cuisine of St. Croix

What Don’t Kill Will Fatten”:  The History of Crucian Cuisine




Ingredient for ingredient, flavor for flavor, authentic Crucian cuisine, the centuries-old culinary tradition of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, though little-known beyond the shores that give it rise, ranks among the world’s finest cuisines.  And it is not uncommon for a visiting food guru or some Joe-Schmoe “foodie” to, upon tasting for the first time a bowl of proper Crucian kallaloo made with “papa-lolo,” “bata-bata,” “whitey Mary,” “bowah,” “pusley,” and scalded tania leaves (along with, of course, okra, eggplant, picked “pot-fish” [fish caught in fish pots], conch, purged land crabs, salted beef and pigtails, ham, and hot peppers); or boiled red snapper and fungi, the sauce flavored just so with the freshly squeezed juice of local limes, sprigs of thyme, and scotch bonnet peppers; or a plate of conch in traditional butter sauce, served with boiled sweet potatoes and green figs, the conch pounded then slow-cooked, not pressure-cooked as is the custom these days; or smoked-herring gundi, “salt-fish” [salted cod] gundi, or a luxurious seafood salad consisting, amongst other things, of whelks, lobster, octopus, and cuttlefish; or a seven-layer Crucian Vienna cake generously moistened with white wine; or a pâté not made to a johnny cake’s consistency but, instead, to a light, flakey, pastry texture, to declare those delicacies the absolute best the world over.


Crucian cuisine is the result of the native soil and the Afro-Crucian natives’ toil. Except for the ubiquity of cassava on the traditional table, very little of St. Croix’s culinary tradition can be definitively and distinguishingly attributed to the island’s pre-Columbian peoples. The enslaved West Africans who were brought to the island, beginning in the mid-1600s under the French and continuing into the 18th and 19th centuries under the Danes, however, are the people who laid the cornerstones and then constructed—ingredient by ingredient, dish by dish—what is today called “Crucian food.”


Though the French—from 1650 to 1695—brought enslaved Africans to St. Croix to toil upon the approximately 90 indigo, cotton, sugar, and tobacco plantations, most of which were situated along the island’s coastline, very little is known about French slavery on St. Croix, let alone the cooking- traditions of the period.  What is well-documented, however, is that for the first decades of the Danish era—from the 1730s to the 1750s—whenever Africans were brought to St. Croix, they were provided with no food, clothing, or shelter. The slaves—men, women, and children—had to fend for themselves or starve to death, all the while toiling for their masters’ bounty.


“Empty sack can’t stan’ up.”


To eat, the already-exhausted slaves had to turn to the wild flora and fauna of their new tropical homeland:  The African transplants had to rely upon land and sea to survive. And since, from the earliest years of colonization, the enslaved population outnumbered that of the Europeans, and since the European colonists tended to aspire towards European tastes and traditions, therefore preparing and consuming European foods (even if adjusted to accommodate the abundance of local ingredients and the paucity of European ones), it was the predominant Afro-Crucian cuisine that would come to distinguishingly define “Crucian food.”


The earliest Afro-Crucians, who were strategically extracted from various West African cultures so as to reduce the likelihood of organized insurrection, and who, from the moment of acquisition on the African continent were systematically cut from their African identities, had to look within themselves to collectively create a new food tradition—from scratch. Thus, Crucian cuisine was born.


Some foods, such as kallaloo, are clearly of direct, unadulterated African origin—as evidenced by the fact that the word “kallaloo” (or some variant thereof, such as “kalelu,” “calalu,” or “calelu”) is still used in some parts of West Africa and throughout much of the Afro-Caribbean to describe an okra-and-meat/fish-based, stew-like soup (perhaps most akin to Louisiana’s gumbo or Curaçao’s “yambo”).


Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, in his 1777 treatise titled History of the Mission of the Evangelical Brethren on the Caribbean Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, provides a detailed description of kallaloo: “The Negroes call everything calelu [he also spells it “kalelu”] which they cook into a green vegetable stew from leaves and other ingredients.  However, a really complete calelu, which the Whites and particularly the Creoles [in this case the word “creole” refers to island-born Whites] also like to eat, consists of okra, various kinds of leaves, salted meat, poverjack, which is a kind of stock-fish [presumably “wenchman”], kuckelus, a variety of sea snail [presumably “conch”], various fishes, tomato berries, Spanish pepper, butter, and salt. Along with the dish are eaten big soft dumplings made from cornmeal flour.” And describing kallaloo’s already-prominent place in local cuisine prior to his arrival on St. Croix in 1767, Oldendorp, presumably from written records and/or oral accounts describing mission-life on St. Croix in 1740, writes of the dish as he details the pioneering efforts of missionaries Friedrich Martin, Christian Gottlieb Israel, and Georg Weber: “They set up their cooking facilities in the regular Negro fashion.  A dish called kalelu, or green cabbage, prepared from plant leaves and land crabs, which fortunately were plentifully available there, served as their daily fare in those days.”  In essence, then, within a mere seven years after the Danish purchase of St. Croix from the French in 1733 for 750,000 livres, kallaloo had already emerged as so popular a dish amongst the local enslaved African population that it was already being consumed on a daily basis by European missionaries to the island.


But other local fare emerged on St. Croix from the ground up, whether as the result of a synthesis of West African culinary traditions; as the result of African and European confluence; or as the result of later cultural influences by major groups of immigrants.



“Eat alone, hungry alone.”



For the first hundred years of Danish slavery on St. Croix—from the 1730s to the 1830s, until the implementation of Peter von Scholten’s regulations—the workday of a plantation slave began at 4:00 a.m., when the bomba (foreman) would ring the plantation bell or blow a conch shell.  Depending on the master, slaves would work until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., at which point they were allowed a 30-minute break to eat breakfast, which they would bring with them from their slave quarters.  After breakfast, work would resume until midday, at which point slaves were allowed one-and-a-half hours for lunch.  Slaves with families typically would return to their quarters to eat, while single slaves tended to have their meal in the fields. After lunch, the slaves would work non-stop until sundown, at which point they were required to cut fodder for the plantation’s animals before returning to their homes to prepare dinner, eat, then ready themselves for the following day’s labor.


By the 1740s, Sunday (in addition to feast days of the Lutheran Church and royal birthdays), by consuetude, had become established as the day of rest for St. Croix’s enslaved population.  And it was on that day that slaves had to attend to most of their private and personal matters:  attending church services; cultivating their provision plots; buying and selling at the towns’ markets; washing and mending their clothing; entertaining themselves and each other; keeping house; visiting relatives; and, of course, cooking.  But despite having very little free time, the slaves of St. Croix managed to produce a traditional cuisine that rivals any in the world.


 Wine glasses


“Wind chops and air pie…”


The Origins of Crucian Food


Of all the factors that contributed to the emergence of a distinctive, authentic, Crucian cuisine, provision plots; weekly rations of imported salted meat and fish, and cornmeal or cassava flour; the public markets; the interaction between free and enslaved urban negroes with the international white population; the island’s natural bounty; ironically, need and hardship; and the Caribbean’s tropical heat figure most significantly. And as a result, Crucian food is at once very African and very cosmopolitan:  It is in many ways a microcosm of world cuisines. And, as such, Crucian food appeals to the palates of the world. “A Crucian cook,” it is said, “can feed the world from one pot.”


Provision Plots

By the 1740s, it had become the practice for plantation owners to devote a portion of their estates to “provision plots”:  small subdivisions of land—typically about 30 feet by 30 feet—per slave family and single adult slave where they could grow their own mainstay crops such as okra, sweet potatoes, yams, cassavas, hot peppers, corn, bananas, etc. (And even today, when Crucians, as well as people throughout the Caribbean region, refer to “provisions” as a food group, they are referring to “ground foods” such as cassavas and yams and foods such as bananas that they would customarily grow on their provision plots.) On those plots, slaves, during their free time, would cultivate the food that sustained them.  And it is upon those foundational ingredients that Crucian cuisine is firmly anchored.


Weekly Food-Rations

Beasts of burden must be fed if they are to perform at their optimum. Thus, one of the duties of the plantation slave was to provide food for the estate’s animals—before the slaves could provide food for themselves.  Likewise, though not required by law, it became general practice for slave owners to provide food-rations to their slaves.  King Frederik V’s Reglement of 1755, though never made official, specified that each slave 10 years and older was entitled to a weekly ration of two pounds of salted beef [and/or pork] or three pounds of salted fish, and two-and-a-half quarts of cassava flour or cornmeal (or three cassavas, each at least 2.5 pounds).  Children under 10 were entitled to half those amounts.


Because of lack of refrigeration, coupled with the tropical heat, preserving meats with salt was essential. Salted beef and pigtails, as well as salted cod and smoked herring, were provided by slave owners; and those items became, and remain, the cornerstones of the protein component of traditional Crucian cuisine.


Corn and cassava, once converted into flour, are easy to store and enjoy an indefinite shelf-life, even in tropical conditions.  So those ingredients figured significantly in the islanders’ daily fare.  And while cassava flour is no longer a staple in the Crucian kitchen, cassava root and cornmeal certainly are.  Cornmeal, the primary ingredient in the ever-popular fungi (also spelled “fungee”), a close relative of Italy’s “polenta” and Nigerian “foo-foo,” has always served—much like rice in China or pasta in Italy—as a relatively inexpensive way of providing a full stomach. When Queen Mathilde (1857-1935) of Fireburn fame died on October 10, 1935 at age 78 at the Frederiksted Hospital, her death certificate lists her official cause of death as pellagra, a disease that oftentimes visits upon people who rely upon corn as their primary food source.


The Public Markets

The island’s public markets in Christiansted and Frederiksted were by the 1750s well-established. But under Danish law, a slave was the property of his owner and could therefore own nothing.  Thus, no slave could, in his own right, sell produce—not even that grown on his provision plot—in the public markets or even from his home.



“When people no like yoh, dem ah gih yoh basket foh carry water.”



The King Frederik V Reglement of 1755, the provisions of which could be wholly or partially implemented at the discretion of the governor, specified that slaves could only sell their masters’ goods in the public markets or as itinerant vendors (called “hucksters”).  And to administer the proscription, two “inspectors” were posted at each public market to verify that each slave-vendor was authorized by his master to sell the goods he or she was offering for sale. But as was to be expected, the slaves routinely found ways to circumvent the policy in order to sell their own produce and earn money.  And eventually, over time, the prohibition was relaxed, Sundays—primarily because it was the customary day of rest for the enslaved—becoming the market day for the island’s enslaved population. “Sunday Market” would remain a fixture in the island’s mercantile culture until 1843 when the market day for the enslaved population was switched to Saturday at the urging of the local clergy who complained that their converts would routinely opt to go to market rather than attend church services.


But whether held on Sunday or Saturday, and whether under the watchful eyes of “inspectors” or not, the public markets served as a crossroads for foodstuffs, socializing, and the inevitable exchange of culinary techniques, ideas, secrets, and traditions. The markets opened at sunrise and remained open until 8:00 p.m., vendors using candles to illuminate their selling-areas when darkness fell.


Danish West Indies scholar Neville A.T. Hall, in his seminal treatise Slave Society in the Danish West Indies, describes the offerings typically found at Sunday Market: “Vegetables such as cabbage, green pulses and tomatoes; peas; poultry, pigeons, eggs, yams, potatoes, maize, guinea corn and cassava, known locally as Indian provisions, pumpkins, melons, oranges, wild plums and berries from the hills of St. Croix’s north side; rope tobacco; cassava bread, which many whites, particularly creoles, were especially fond of; fish; firewood and fodder.”


St. Croix’s public markets—vegetable as well as fish—in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries (until ca. 1970) were bustling places, with demand driving supply, and supply driving demand, the end result being a consensus on the ingredients that would come to define Crucian cooking. [Two of the island’s earliest Black-owned storefront businesses, both established in the late 1800s, were provisions stores:  the Bough store on Company Street; and the J.C. Canegata store at the corner of Company Street at “Times Square.”] The public markets and town galleries also served to unite the town and country populations:  Herbs and spices grown in the countryside would season the pots of town folk, and fresh fish and imported goods would be carried home by the countryfolk.  For decades, until the 1950s, Ann Richards Heyliger (1895-1963) would sell fresh herbs and vegetables grown at her Estate Pleasantvale (also called Pleasant Valley) property at the Frederiksted market, so much so that she would rent a room in the long-row that once ran immediately east of the market to store her supplies and produce when transporting them back to the northside at the end of the business days was not practical.  The market was officially named in her honor in 1983. And until the 1940s, Catherine Batiste Messer (1892-1967) would every Friday morning deliver fresh produce from her Estate Annaly property to several re-sellers in Christiansted, the most notable being Ms. Marie Perry, who would sell under a gallery immediately west of present-day Harvey’s restaurant, and “Miss Jessie,” who sold from her spot in the vicinity of present-day “Times Square.”


Today, with the renewed interest in organically grown foods, the Christiansted market is experiencing a renaissance as the island’s organic and “boutique” farmers such as Luca Gasperi  sell their produce directly to discerning customers who are becoming increasingly wary of genetically altered supermarket produce.



“Bring-come, carry-go.”



Interaction Amongst the Island’s Free and Unfree Populations

St. Croix’s free black population, which lived in the “Free Gut” and “Pond Bush” neighborhoods in the town of Frederiksted and the “Free Gut” and “Water Gut” neighborhoods in the town of Christiansted, also played a significant role in the development and evolution of Crucian cuisine.

The towns’ free black populations enjoyed the vibrant exchange of information occasioned when people cohabitate or live in close proximity. In such environments, recipes emerge, become generally accepted, then go on to become components of a traditional cuisine—the way words and proverbs become part of a language.


Likewise, the enslaved urban population lived in the “long-rows” and “big-yards” as support-staff for the towns’ finest residences.  There, slave families lived collectively in village-like micro-neighborhoods that facilitated cultural, and thus, culinary, consensus.  The urban slaves also had easier access to the wealthy kitchens of the towns’ elite, thereby becoming exposed to international cuisine, cooking-methods, and ingredients.


The Danish influence on what would become Crucian cuisine is undeniable:  Salt-fish gundi and smoked-herring gundi are of Danish origin; fish pudding, prepared in a bain-marie and served with a delicate white sauce, is Danish; the traditional hard-candies, namely the peppermint-flavored “lasinja” (lozenge) and peppermint candy, and the Crucian answer to peanut brittle, “dondersla,” are of Danish origin. [Crucian coconut sugar cakes, however, are not; they are made in exactly the same manner throughout the tropical African Diaspora—from Ecuador to Brazil to Panama and Colombia to the Caribbean.] And the guava-based dessert, “red grout [with cream],” is a Crucian adaptation of the classic Danish dessert “rødgrød med fløde” (“red groats [porridge/pudding] with cream”), which is made from a combination of at least three red berries such as redcurrants, blackcurrants, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, etc., and served with heavy cream.




The Island’s Natural Bounty

Long described as “The Garden of West India,” St. Croix, with its gentle terrain, is an island conducive to a wide variety of flora and fauna. When the French, the island’s first major colonizers, established their plantations on the island’s periphery in the middle of the 1600s, the island’s interior, with its primordial forests, was left intact.  And when the Danes purchased the island from the French in 1733, nine years later found them still clearing the island’s lush forests in order to make way for sugarcane plantations. Several rivers, the vestiges of which reappear during the island’s rainy season, were recorded as permanent waterways upon the Danes’ arrival in the 1730s. Blessed by nature as a fertile land, St. Croix was generous to its inhabitants, bringing forth a wide variety of plants and animals that figured significantly in the evolution of Crucian cuisine.



Need and Hardship

Despite the island’s bounty, however, life for the enslaved population was harsh, oftentimes reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence. Governor Philip Gardelin’s slave code of 1733 could best be described as draconian:  A slave had no rights—not even to life itself.  Governor Moth’s 1741 “Articler for Negerne” was simply an elaboration of Gardelin’s Code, and Governor Lindemark, Moth’s successor, went even further in spelling out what slaves could not do and what would be the consequences for doing that which was proscribed.  Only with King Frederik V’s Reglement of 1755 is the notion of slaves’ rights introduced:  rights to a slave dwelling; weekly food rations; access to provision grounds; one free day per week to tend to provision grounds; approximately five yards of coarse fabric to construct garments; a hat every two years; and care when ill and/or elderly. But even then, the regulations were hortatory, not mandatory, since, in reality, the exceedingly harsh Gardelin Code was never repealed or officially superseded—until the slave laws enacted in the 1830s during the Peter von Scholten administration.  Yes, after the 1750s, slaves were permitted to marry—with their masters’ permission. But even within the context of Christian matrimony, the ancient Roman concept of partus sequitur ventrem [Literally, “that which is brought forth follows the womb”] was practiced:  The child of an enslaved woman was automatically a slave owned by its mother’s owner, even if the father was free and married to his enslaved wife.


As the decades of the 1700s went by, custom came to dictate that slaves could earn money during their days off, some accumulating enough to purchase their freedom and that of their loved ones (as well as whatever they could afford at the public markets). And by the 1780s, slave children could receive basic public education in reading and writing, the Danish West Indies thereby becoming the first place in the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to allow for the public education of slaves. (And those basic skills facilitated the reading and writing of cooking-recipes.)  But, relying upon the 1733 Gardelin Code, which remained on the books for a century, some plantation owners would—with legal justification—invoke the harsh provisions of the Code.


It was in that environment, then—one where a slave, technically, did not even own the food he produced on “his” provision plot—that the slaves of St. Croix eked out one of the world’s great, even if relatively unknown, culinary traditions.


Except for the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted, St. Croix was almost entirely subdivided into privately owned plantations.  As such, there were no public or “no-man’s” land for a slave to hunt for game.  Even fruits—except for those gathered from trees growing on the public roadsides—belonged to whoever owned the land upon which the fruit-bearing tree was situated.  Therefore, a slave carrying a sack of fresh fruit could be questioned as to the origin and ownership thereof.  The Caribbean Sea, however, was an entirely different matter.  No one owned the sea; and no one owned its bounty.  A slave en route to his home with fresh fish that he caught in the sea did not have to account to any man.  And what was particularly appealing about fresh fish was that fish were free of charge and required no husbandry.  So besides being an excellent source of protein and other dietary essentials, it is quite understandable why fish, to this day, occupies a place of honor in Crucian culinary tradition.


But besides the vast array of fresh, luxurious-by-today’s-standards seafood that was readily and plentifully available to the local population [It is said that lobster was so plentiful until the 1940s that it would routinely be used as bait.], Crucian cuisine is also built on a foundation of things discarded or undesirable:  pigs’ feet, ears, and snouts for “souse” (there is also a pigtail souse); the cloven hoofs of cattle for “bull foot soup” and the unwanted tail for “stewed oxtail”; animal entrails for “tripe soup”; stewed cattle’s tongue; and pigtails for everything from “red peas soup” to “seasoned rice” to “crab and rice.” Crucian cooks, like their counterparts in the southern United States who turned chitterlings and fried chicken into delicacies, picked up the throwaway portions of butchered animals and skillfully and ingeniously transformed them into world-class food.


While the New World white population was preoccupied with trying to emulate Europe, the New World black population, which had been cut off from Africa and denied any knowledge of her, had to look within its displaced, disconnected self to reconstruct a new culture.  In North America, that reconstructed culture came to define that which is regarded as authentic American culture:  blues, jazz, rock-and-roll, and soul food, for example.  On St Croix, the culture emerged as “scratch-band music” (now being called “quelbe music”); carnival, and Crucian food.


It is also need and hardship that led to boiled green bananas, locally referred to as “green figs,” becoming major players in the cuisine:  A mother with children to feed but nothing with which to feed them, in utter desperation, decides to boil a hand of green bananas, only to discover that the unripe fruit, when boiled, has a texture and flavor somewhat like potatoes or cassava. Today, boiled green figs are a welcomed Crucian delicacy, whether served plain as a side-dish to fish or meat with a sauce, or as guineitos, a recipe adopted from the Puerto Ricans and people from the Dominican Republic, where the boiled greens bananas (a little milk added to the water to maintain the fruit’s creamy color) are sliced into “wheels” and pickled with vinegar, onions, oil, olives, and bell peppers.  In years past, in time of severe need, Crucians would also eat boiled green sugar apples as a vegetable-like side-dish, a custom long-disappeared on St. Croix but still practiced on the British Virgin Island of Tortola.  “Hungry dog eat raw meat.”   



Until the 1840s, most plantation slaves cooked on outdoor fires, presumably on the traditional “three-stone” fires, since slave dwellings, except for those situated on the 16 estates belonging to the Danish crown, had no kitchens. [According to Neville Hall, The Royally Leased Estates—“Kongelige Forpagtede Plantager”—required that lessees of those plantations build slave dwellings thus:  “houses were to be high, airy, wooden floored with masonry walls, shingled or tiled, partitioned in two, with minimum measurement of 18 feet by 12 feet and with a separate kitchen”].  In inclement weather, cooking was done inside the homes, which almost always had earthen floors.


In 1838, when the Peter von Scholten administration called for improved slave housing, some efforts were made to upgrade the typical slave dwelling, which traditionally had been constructed of wattle-and-dab walls with cane-trash roofing and no kitchens. But for the most part, most slave dwellings, and, thereafter, plantation tenement dwellings, remained substandard—even if kitchens became more prevalent as part of the governor’s housing initiative.


With kitchens came a transition from outdoor “three-stone”-cooking to indoor coal pot-cooking.  Local tinsmiths made pots and pans, sometimes from discarded tin cans, and indigent Crucians ate and drank from calabash gourds and simple tin utensils.  By the 1920s, most people—even the poorest of the poor (hence the saying, “Yoh ain’ even got a pot to piss in”)—possessed a cast iron pot for frying fish and johnny cakes; a large-sized pot for cooking kallaloo; a long-handled pot for turning fungi; a rice pot; and two pots designated for the exclusive use in the making and “tossing” of maubi, a low-alcohol-level, homemade beer that is brewed from maubi bark, herbs, and roots and drunk throughout the Caribbean region.


Makeshift Ovens

In the plantation villages and “big-yards” of St. Croix, Crucian cooks, from the middle of the 1800s, would do their baking in makeshift ovens.  The tin pans in which kerosene oil was imported, when emptied, were transformed into ovens that could bake everything from breads to pound cakes to fish pudding.


The kerosene pan was outfitted with a “rack” made of several rows of a sturdy twine or wire threaded horizontally across the width of the tin pan, and a sliding- or drop-door closure made of a sheet of tin.  The makeshift oven would then be placed atop a coal-filled coal pot.  When the appropriate interior heat was attained, the baking-pan containing the item to be baked would be placed atop the rack and the door shut.  Upon completion, the baked item would be removed from the oven, the oven set aside for future use. By the 1940s, Crucians were using kerosene stoves and ovens. Only the elderly held on to their traditional coal pots.  And the popular saying, “Ah come foh ah stick o’ fire,” meaning that a person was stopping by for a very short visit (just enough time to get a stick of fire then run back home with it, still ablaze, in order to ignite his own fire) fell into disuse. By the late 1950s, cooking was generally being done with propane gas ranges.  And it was about that time that the saying, “Cooking with gas…” entered the vernacular, its meaning being that “Things were going well.”


 The Island’s Warm Climate

Refrigerators are a relatively recent invention.  And in the tropical heat, cooking-methods had to be implemented and sometimes invented such that food would be preserved. Until the 1960s, when many Crucians still lived in “big-yards,” “long-rows,” and plantation villages, it was customary for people who had no icebox or refrigerator to preserve fresh cuts of meat by “corning” them—salting then sun-drying. The island’s salt ponds served as a source for large quantities of salt.  At certain times during the year, when portions of the salt ponds would naturally dehydrate, people would harvest the salt for culinary uses. Such methods and practices informed the cuisine.





Key Ingredients and Methods of Crucian Cooking



In the hot tropics, long before iceboxes and refrigerators became household appliances in the island’s finer homes beginning in the early 1900s in the case of the former and by the 1940s in the case of the latter, vinegar was, and remains to this day, the Crucian cook’s first line of defense.  All meats—whether home-slaughtered, obtained from a professional butcher, or FDA-approved and supermarket-bought—prior to being seasoned, are washed in a solution of cool water and vinegar, thereby ridding the meat of surface-bacteria while imparting a refreshing scent to the meat. (Fresh lime juice, especially when preparing fish for cooking, may also be used.)


Vinegar is also a key ingredient in many of the cuisine’s tomato-based sauces. No Crucian cook would make a fried-fish sauce without vinegar, which serves to both flavor and preserve the dish.

And a Crucian potato salad, the traditional complement to souse, will never taste “Crucian” without vinegar (which also serves to preserve the mayonnaise in warm temperatures).


 “Feed um wid a long spoon.”


 Seasoning-Salts (“Dry-Rubs” and “Seasoning-Blends”)

The mortar and pestle is an indispensable component of the Crucian kitchen—so much so that it has been immortalized in Crucian proverb: “There is more in the mortar than the pestle.”


Unlike many Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad, that use paste-like seasoning-bases made from finely chopped or puréed fresh herbs and spices, the seasoning-base of Crucian cuisine is the “pounded-seasoning” or “seasoning-salt” referred to in the U.S. mainland as a “dry-rub,” additional herbs and spices, fresh and/or dried, being added, if desired, to the dish thereafter.


Seasoning-salts are particular to each family; there is no one recipe—the way Indian families have their own curry or garam masala blends. And even within families, the ingredients are added “by hand” rather than per measuring-spoon.  Generally, however, seasoning-salts begin by pounding fresh garlic with coarse salt in a mortar and pestle.  Thereafter, black pepper, paprika, and other dried herbs and spices are added and pounded.


The proportions of the ingredients also change, depending on the intended purpose of the seasoning-salt. For example, the proportion of cloves will traditionally be increased for a seasoning intended for goat meat, while cloves will be eliminated for a seasoning intended for fish.  A seasoning for pork will rely heavily upon garlic and black pepper, whereas the seasoning for lamb would incorporate dried mint leaves and extra rosemary.


Because of the salt-content and the use of primarily dry herbs and spices, Crucian pounded-seasonings, unlike the paste- or purée-like seasonings of the other islands, are not refrigerated and enjoy an indefinite shelf-life if kept in a tightly sealed container and stored in a cool, dark, dry cupboard.


Unlike many European cultures where meats are seasoned mainly with salt and pepper added just before, during, or even after cooking, Crucians tend to pre-season or dry-marinate cuts of meat and fish with sophisticated seasoning-salts for as few as 30 minutes in the case of fish or chicken, and up to 24 or even 48 hours in the case of large game meats such as turkey, duck, guinea fowl, mutton, venison, and boar.


Crucians regard very few commercially available seasoning-salts as being comparable to their homemade counterparts.  But when a high-quality commercially packaged seasoning-salt is identified, it is readily used as a cost-effective, time-saving substitute since purchasing individual containers of the numerous dry herbs and spices required to make the traditional seasoning-salt blends can be financially burdensome to people of modest means.



The Principal Ingredients for Savory Dishes

Crucian cuisine, like most traditional cuisines the world over, is fundamentally simple, centered around a few, key, flavor-imparting ingredients:  salt; thyme and “chibble” (green onions, spring onions, scallions, chives); fish and meat stocks; fat pork (fatback); butter; limes; hot peppers; black pepper; garlic; cooking oil, locally referred to as “sweet oil”; onions; vinegar; and tomatoes (the fresh fruit, the paste, or the sauce).



The Major Sauces and Gravies

There are two everyday sauces:  The classic Crucian butter sauce that is made of fish stock, onions, fresh lime juice, hot scotch bonnet peppers, butter, thyme, and salt to taste (Garlic is optional); and the classic Crucian red sauce, used to complement fried fish, for making stewed fish, or when making stewed salt-fish, the sauce begun by “melting” fat pork (fatback) in a hot skillet, then adding onions, tomatoes (the fresh fruit, sauce, or paste), thyme, fish stock or water, hot peppers, black pepper, and vinegar.  (Green peppers and/or “Puerto Rican peppers” are optional.  And if additional oil is desired, it is obtained from the remaining oil in which the fish was fried, or, in the case of stewed salt-fish, added from the container of vegetable oil or olive oil).


A more sophisticated sauce (in this case called a gravy) is traditionally made to accompany game meats.  Giblets—the heart, liver, kidney, and gizzard (in the case of fowl)—are slow-boiled with what is referred to in the Cajun cuisine of Louisiana as the “the holy trinity”:  onions, celery, and green peppers.  To the stock derived from the organs and vegetables is added the finely diced organs, the pureed vegetables, a flour-and-butter roux, and various herbs and spices.


Evidence of an Established Cuisine


By the 1850s, a little more than a century after the Danes purchased St. Croix from the French, a distinctive Crucian cuisine had already taken shape.  Perhaps the best written record of that cuisine exists in the personal missives of young Danish schoolteacher Johan David Schackinger who, on board the vessel Triton, arrived at the port of Frederiksted, St. Croix, on July 25, 1857, to serve as First Teacher at the Frederiksted Dane School (then called “Citizens and Common School”) on Prince Street. Except for two classrooms on the upper level of the school’s stately edifice, one for boys and one for girls, the rest of the floor served as Schackinger’s residence. His cook was a female mulatto named “Fanny.” (Almost a century later, in the 1930s and ‘40s, Mercedes “Mamita” Harris, mother of Tino Francis, and Jenny Samuel, grandmother of former lieutenant governor of the Virgin Islands Vargrave Richards, cooked at the school.)


From his arrival in the Danish colony until his untimely death in 1863, Schackinger wrote a series of letters to his family back in Denmark, vividly describing his life on St. Croix. Fortunately for Virgin Islands history, the family preserved and then donated the letters to the Danish National Museum.  In 1998, Danish West Indies scholar John H. Mudie, a descendant of one of St. Croix’s old and esteemed colonial families, with the aid of Lotte Alling Garcia, a Dane then living in Puerto Rico, translated the letters, Mudie thereafter publishing them in a book titled St. Croix Alive At Mid 19th Century[:] True Story of a Young Danish Schoolmaster in St. Croix for 6 years (1857-1863).


A few days shy of a year after arriving on the island, in a letter to his parents dated July 1, 1858, sent to Denmark enclosed in a package the contents of which were secured within a hollowed-out calabash, Schackinger describes the exotic items in the parcel to his parents:  a jar of “tamarind jam”; a jar of “guava gel,” which he describes as very savory; some “pigeon peas,” which he says grow everywhere on the island and “in a white sauce they are a common dish for all inhabitants.” Schackinger, apparently very fond of pigeon peas, cautions his parents that they could perhaps only grow in Denmark in a greenhouse, but suggests, nonetheless, that his parents “put some of them in the garden or in a flowerpot and eat the rest.” (He also enclosed in the package some inedible items as curiosities:  “pumpybeads” [presumably “jumbie beads”]; “some bigger grey balls by the name of “nickars” [also locally referred to as “nickal” and “burn-burn”]; and some “red pearls or seeds, the so-called ‘cokricoos’” [possibly “annatto”].)


Schackinger then proceeds to describe the island’s bounty, his spelling, apparently, phonetically derived from his understanding of the native tongue:


A lot of fruits are found here in this country that far exceed the Danish fruits in beauty and in tastiness; of these I shall just mention “pineapple” or “ananas” whose rich taste of course is well known; “alligator-pear” whose flesh looks like marrow and is eaten with salt and pepper, “cashew,” “mangrove,” [presumably “mango”] “guava,” “mammee,” “soursop,” whose flesh is plump, nutritious and quenching, “sugar-apple,” “sweet oranges” or oranges, “shadock,” that grows high and bears a fruit the size of a child’s head, “grenadilla,” which carries yet a bigger fruit, and is considered one of the most delicious in the world both in fragrance and taste, “bell-apple,” which in taste has a similarity to gooseberry, “melon,” “Yuma,” [presumably “yam”] “pannier,” [presumably “tania”] “sweet potatoes,” “pimkin,” [“pumpkin”] “tomato,” “coconut” and the “plantane-tree” or banana tree, which is often planted in long rows like groves called “banana walks.”  A tree whose stem consists of a fleshy layer outside another often reaches a height of 16-20 feet and carries a whole cluster of fruits, “pisang,” which not only are nutritious and tasty when roasted or in a white sauce, but when raw it is a very pleasant food and one of the principal articles of food for the Negroes.


 “Monkey know which tree to climb.”


In letter to his parents dated February 10, 1859, nineteen months after first arriving on St. Croix, Schackinger, now more cognizant of the gastronomical ways of the island, writes thus:


Compared with the way of living in Denmark, the West Indian way is undeniably much more fashionable, but generally also more extravagant. Here we eat much the same sort of meat as home; besides tortoise, guinea fowls and a lot of turkeys, etc.


The ocean has a large abundance of fish, some edible, others poisonous. Of the edible ones I shall only mention “king fish” which makes a wonderful dish, “hog fish,” “grouper,” “pew fish,” “barracuda,” “Spanish mackerel,” “cavallo” [covalli ?], “flying fish,” “seabat,” “sea devil,” “oldwife,” “trunk fish,” “porcupine,” “parrot fish,” and “sprats”; also we find a lot of sharks, besides lobsters and sea and land crabs etc. etc.


Turtle soup, “white bean soup,” “calalu” (the Negroes’ usual meal), different so-called creole soups, among them “guava soup,” “cucumber soup,” are eaten here, and many other kinds that I hardly know the names of; the only thing I know is that nearly all of them are mixed with hot spices, especially with different kinds of pepper that grows here.


“Pigeon peas” are boiled in water with pork and potatoes, onions, thyme, etc. The green “pigeons” are much better than the dried, but unfortunately they cannot be sent home to you.


Further, bread which is nearly always based on wheat is eaten here just like at home; oil is not used for bread, only butter, which anyway when it has been melted by the heat looks like oil.


Although I could live here as a squire, my way of living is simple, because after all I am bored with all these fine and delicious courses that one is treated to here.  When I can get some nice salt herrings and Danish potatoes with melted butter and pepper, then I prefer that to roasted turkey, guinea fowls, etc. Besides, it is my opinion that in the long run it pays to live a simple life and one will feel well.  The most common drink here is “grog” and nearly all kinds of wine.



“When guinea bird wing bruck, he walk wid fowl.”


The Role of the Greathouse and Town-Mansions Cooks


While it is irrefutable that traditional dishes such as kallaloo, maufé, and souse are of Afro-Crucian origin, other equally native delicacies, like fish pudding, potato stuffing, Crucian Vienna cake, and pâtés, are arguably the creations of Afro-Crucian cooks charged with the preparation of dishes to satisfy the local European palate. And the cooks so charged were those in service in the kitchens of the island’s many greathouses and wealthy townhouses. Fish pudding, for example, which employs the bain-marie method, is clearly a dish rooted in the European tradition; but its obligatory usage of local blue fish (sago) and pink fish (parrot fish), along with local “pounded seasoning,” hot peppers, and thyme, is unequivocally the “hand” of local cooks.  Similarly, while sweet potatoes were one of the cornerstones of the everyday fare of the enslaved population, white “Irish” potatoes, which do not grow locally, were imported for the island’s European population. And it is those white potatoes that became the obligatory potato for the revered Crucian potato stuffing, which was “Africanized” by local cooks who added sugar, tomato sauce, seasoning-peppers, onions, thyme, hot peppers, and a handful of raisins for flair.  The dish that emerged from that African culinary input would go on to become one of the defining dishes of Crucian cuisine. Likewise, the luxurious Crucian Vienna cake is a delicacy that, because of its cost and manner of preparation—incorporating refined white sugar, copious amounts of butter and eggs, layers precisely sliced with confectionary implements, and imported white wine—was clearly a dessert that emerged from the island’s wealthiest kitchens, not the island’s plantation villages or “big-yards.”  But since the cake is baked nowhere else in the world—not even in Vienna, Austria—it is almost certain that its culinary uniqueness, coupled with its age-old local ubiquity, is the result of Afro-Crucian influences. And while the “empanada” and various other meat-filled pastries are known throughout the world, the Crucian pâté, with its delicate, flakey, pastry outside and peppery meat fillings, is decidedly African-inspired though not African in origin.


The greathouse and wealthy townhouse cooks, with their access to the scarce, eclectic, and expensive ingredients made available to them by their wealthy masters and employers, played an invaluable role in the evolution and elevation of Crucian cuisine.



The Presentation of Crucian Food


What is today classified as “Crucian food” is, for the most part, the everyday food of the enslaved, and thereafter of the emancipated, labor-class of St. Croix.


Unlike many other cultures, where food is served in successive courses, each in a designated dish, Crucians, like most other Caribbean peoples of African descent, put what would normally comprise the various courses of a meal—appetizer, salad, and main course—onto one plate, all at the same time.  Even in the case of soups, traditional Crucian soups are hearty soups (as opposed to consommés, purées, and creams) that are intended to be eaten, not as one course of several, but as an entire meal in and of itself. Thus, when a Crucian soup—be it red peas soup, bull foot soup, or chicken soup (best when made with purged, yard-raised chickens), for example—is served in its big bowl, it is the only dish served, with, perhaps, a dessert served thereafter.


For much of St. Croix’s history, eating was a means to a nutritional end, not an occasion for delightful relaxation.  Food had to be solid and eaten quickly so that it would sustain people as they engaged in backbreaking labor in the island’s sugarcane fields.  Slaves had to eat quickly then return to their work. And even on Sundays and holidays, cooking and eating had to take place in the midst of attending to other personal matters.


The practice of eating meals in separate courses with short breaks between courses was simply unsustainable for labor-class Crucians; it was a simple pleasure that they simply could not afford. Besides, the additional dishes, even if calabash gourds (called “gobi” and pronounced “go-bee” on the island), would have to be washed after meals, thereby adding to the already-colossal workload of the sugarcane workers.


It is within that historical context, then, that even today the one-plate custom endures in local “cook-shops” and in restaurants that cater to a local clientele.  In the island’s many international restaurants, and at private dinner tables hosted by Crucians who have lived and traveled abroad, however, meals are increasingly being served in separate courses, each in a designated dish and with a complementary wine.


One-one guava full up basket.”


The Need for the Preservation of Crucian Culinary Culture


The culinary tradition the Danish schoolteacher describes in his elegantly written letters predates the 2017 Centennial Celebrations by 160 years.  And based on the rich archival record he left behind, much of the cuisine has remained intact, but much has also been lost to time. Thyme was then, and is now, the most prominent herb in Crucian cooking. But the guava soup and cucumber soup once favored by the island-born white population are no longer locally served. Turtle soup, regularly eaten on St. Croix until the 1960s, is today not served on account of protected species laws. But even the once-ubiquitous white sauce that was the complement to pigeon peas has disappeared without a trace. What ingredients were used in that popular, everyday sauce; how it was made; and what was its flavor-profile have faded from the popular memory.  The moral of the story, then, is that even something as fundamental as everyday dishes must be specifically preserved, lest they be forgotten. And special preservation protocol should be established to ensure the perpetuity of the dishes that are unique to Crucian cuisine.


All things considered, a proper Crucian kallaloo is the world’s best kallaloo.  The Crucian Vienna cake, baked only in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is the world’s most delicious cake—if made correctly.  No other cuisine makes a potato stuffing that can rival that of St. Croix. The word “souse” can be found in Webster’s Dictionary, and other cultures have variations of souse, but none can match the taste of properly made Crucian souse such as that made each Tuesday until the late 1960s by Mrs. Hosanna Balfour Gittens of Queen Street, Frederiksted.  Jamaica has “patties” and Latin America has empanadas, but neither can favorably compare to an authentic Crucian pâté, such as that of the late Delita Eastman of Queen Cross Street, Frederiksted (who mastered the art of making pâtés and the traditional candies while under the tutelage of her mother, “Miss Ella”), in texture and flavor. Maufé, bridesmaid to kallaloo and cooked only on St. Croix, is barely known today—even on St. Croix.


While johnny cake-type fried breads are known the world over, whether called “arepas” or “fried dumplings” or “johnny cakes” or “gnocco fritti,” very few people realize that traditional Crucian cooking boasts two, not just one, johnny cakes:  a simple one, made primarily of flour, water, shortening, and salt and is more akin to the Puerto Rican “arepa,” which is eaten as a complement to a meal; and the more complex johnny cake, made with flour, milk, water, eggs, shortening, sugar, a pinch of salt, vanilla essence, and a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon, which is eaten as a substitute for a full meal. Eastern Caribbean-born Agnes Singleton, who used to fry those old-time, “full-belly” Crucian johnny cakes (with the option of sprinkled-on sugar) in the old stone kitchen at the Whim Greathouse until the early 2000s, was the last person making them for public consumption on St. Croix.


The Crucian whelks in butter sauce is unparalleled—head and shoulders above the stewed variety prepared in most other places, where the tomato sauce, garlic, and spices used therein completely dominate the delicate, but intoxicatingly delicious, flavor of the whelk itself. Conch—pounded and slow-cooked, not pressure-cooked—is almost a thing of yore.  But traditional Crucians know that to pressure-cook conch is to kill it a fast death, transforming it from “fruit de mer” (“fruit of the sea”) to “caoutchouc comestible” (“edible rubber”).


Traditional Crucian tarts, such as those once made by the late Maria Nichols Thomas, are correctly made with a light, flakey (almost cookie-like), butter-rich crust, not with the heavy, bread-like shell that immigrants, apparently too falsely proud to learn the old Crucian way, created in a failed attempt to duplicate a native classic.  And while on the delicate topic of tarts, many present-day bakers do not know that the preferred filling for the Crucian tart is not jams or preserves (the guavaberry tart being the exception), which are, for preservation purposes, prepared with high quantities of sugar.  Instead, since tarts are traditionally kept in pie safes and consumed on the day of or within days of their preparation, the fruit-fillings for tarts are prepared with much less sugar than their jarred preserve counterparts, thereby allowing the actual flavor of the fruit to be featured. (Only when fruits are out of season are preserves used—as a last resort.)


Traditional Crucian pastries such as “royal” (a cross between a bread and a spice cake and regarded as a “poor man’s cake”), in years gone by the specialty of the late Florence Pedro, and the ginger-flavored “horseshoe,” are unlikely to be known by islanders born after 1964, the descendants of Evadney Neazer Peterson being amongst the few who still know how to properly make those delicacies. Crucians who attended the Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel at Estate Montpellier would recall “Miss Baby,” godmother of Ralph George, selling royal and horseshoes after Mass each Sunday under the still-standing tamarind tree on the roadside across from the chapel. Laura Moorhead’s cookbook, Krusan Nynyam for Mampoo Kitchen, has what is believed to be the only surviving recipe for “royal,” also called “royal cake.”



“Monkey don’t know how big he asshole bih ‘til he swallow pommecythere seed.”


And today, for a Crucian to get a proper “lasinger” (a corruption of “lozenge”) or a circular peppermint candy with the red peppermint drop centered on top, he must go to St. Thomas (where “lasingers” are called “jawbones”) to get it from Mrs. Lucia Henley, one of the few people in the Virgin Islands who still know how to correctly make the traditional local candies, donderslas included. “Miss Delita” Eastman was one of the great “candy ladies” of St. Croix, her specialties being “lasingers” and “donderslas.” Mrs. Irene Stewart Ferdinand was also a sought-after “candy lady,” her favorite selling-spot being the same tamarind tree at Estate Montpellier, sitting alongside “Miss Baby.”  Frederiksted’s Mrs. Maria Edwards, wife of one-armed Arthur “Cosho” Edwards, was also highly esteemed for her local candies. In Christiansted in the 1930s, “Leoneale” Harvey was revered for her candies, patés, quelbe tarts (the traditional name for the fold-over, half-moon-shaped tarts that are about the shape and size of a pâté), etc., would sit under the gallery of what is today Harvey’s Restaurant, selling her delicacies atop a tray. Today, Laverne Bates of St. Croix makes a traditional dondersla, and she can usually be found selling her products at cultural events.


The Crucian perilee is a whole other matter:  It is, for all practical purposes, lost to Virgin Islands history—unless its recipe was preserved by the descendants of George Moorhead, Jr., (1894-1971), father of Esther Moorhead Urgent, known for his perilees as well as for his hand-shaven fracos; and Cuban-born Sidesair “Cubano” Bastian of Frederiksted, son of Steven Bastian, brother of Sidney Bastian, and father of Marion Bastian. [The perilee is a hard-candy, sometimes studded with anise seeds, with origins in the Spanish Caribbean and brought to St. Croix, it is believed, by Crucians who had traveled to the islands of Cuba and the Dominican Republic as sugarcane laborers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.


A flat sheet of board would be perforated with evenly spaced holes, each about the diameter of a penny. Wax paper would then be rolled into tiny cone-shaped cup-molds and inserted into the holes.  The hot syrup of the candy would then be poured into each wax paper mold and allowed to cool into a hard candy. As a convenience to children, in the olden days, a tiny holding-stick made of the clean-shaven spine of a coconut palm frond would be inserted into the candy in its semi-hardened state.  Mr. Moorhead’s perilee-making used to take place at the end of Queen Street in the Pond Bush neighborhood, across from the Steinmann house. (The Pond Bush neighborhood has been replaced by the Lagoon Street Homes and the Virgin Islands Legislature Complex.) First, Mr. Moorhead sold his perilee candies from a pushcart.  Thereafter, he established a candy store in the Pond Bush neighborhood.]


Before commercial popsicles became readily available from every “corner-shop” with an on-site refrigerator, Crucian children, on their way home from school on a blisteringly hot day, would treat themselves to a “lindy” (called “special” on St. Thomas) or an “ice pop,” the former being a juice-drink frozen in an ice tray and sold as individual cubes, and the latter a fruit juice frozen in a cup along with a popsicle stick.  While Mr. Graham was Christiansted’s “Fraco Man” [In some islands “fracos,” also known as “snow cones,” are topped with condensed milk, but that tradition has never been widely practiced on St. Croix.], Mrs. Maria Edwards [Gibbs] Pinder was that town’s go-to person for lindies and ice pops.  The wives of the locally famous musicians Archie and Wesley Thomas were the go-to’s for both treats in Frederiksted. Today, now that household refrigerators with freezers are commonplace, the lindy- and ice pop-seller is a thing of the past:  Children simply make their own in their household freezers.  Fracos, however, are still sold by street-vendors at public events ranging from horseraces to outside the cemetery gates at funerals. But long gone are the pushcarts transporting large blocks of Hennemann ice that would be manually shaved with hand-held ice-shavers.  Instead, pickup trucks carrying automatic ice-crushers are used by today’s “fraco men”:  Gladstone Browne, who has lived on St. Croix since 1962; Easton “Ras X” Brooks; and Lesley ___________


Up to the 1960s, gooseberry stew (called “stewed cherries” on St. Thomas) was not sold in a cup; instead, the berries were speared onto the spine of a coconut palm frond, a tradition kept alive by Mrs. Lucia Henley on St. Thomas.  And tamarinds were rarely stewed (preserved with sugar) when fully ripe, as is the custom today.  In times past, the half-ripe “flurry” (floury) tamarind, fat with pulp, or “full” green tamarinds, blanched for easy removal of the skins, would be stewed into one of the island’s favorite preserves. And they, too, would be skewered onto the spines of coconut palm fronds.


Crucian “millennials” think that a “tamarind ball” is simply made by shelling ripe tamarinds and rolling them, along with copious amounts of sugar, into golf ball-sized balls.  Little does that generation know that a true tamarind ball, about the size of a “bolongo” marble, is made by painstakingly scraping the pulp away from the fiber and seeds, then rolling only the pulp, with sugar, into balls, a delicacy still, and perhaps only, made by Ms. Angel Ebbesen Wheatley of St. Thomas.


Unless special efforts are made to document—even with mobile phones—the proper way to “toss” maubi and to make soursop tisane, those traditional drinks, too, will be lost or so altered as to render them unrecognizable.


Were it not for Lithia Brady, daughter of Mary Messer, Crucians born after 1969 would not even know what “lime asha” is, let alone that it is one of the world’s great delicacies. When St. Croix-born (of St. Thomas parentage) fashion model Lisa Galiber (1960-2011) tasted lime asha for the first time in 2010, she declared it “absolutely delicious!” and bemoaned not having known of it all her life.


And if old-time Crucian bakers such as the late Vivie Lockhart of Frederiksted and Ione Pemberton of Christiansted knew that many present-day bakers are unwittingly, but sacrilegiously, substituting mint jelly for the traditional greengage (also called “green lime”) jam, one of the obligatory layer-toppings of the Crucian Vienna cake, they would turn over in their graves, hold their bellies, and “bawl foh deh momma dem.”


Today, many Crucians believe that a “benye” (pronounced “beneh” by some Frederiksteders) is simply a fried banana bread with a bread-like consistency. That is because they were born long after “Miss Mabel” [Andrews, née Ford] who lived on the corner of New Street and King Cross Street in Frederiksted, had gone to eternal repose in the Frederiksted Cemetery, a stone’s throw from her home on the ground floor of which she made some of the best benyes known to man.  What young Crucians do not know is that a correctly made benye is made with yeast, not with baking powder, and has a slightly “elastic” texture, with two of the delicacy’s distinguishing flavors being dried orange peel and ground cloves.


“Don’t know beef from bull foot.”

And to mention “croustades” to a new-age Crucian would be tantamount to speaking Greek: “Crous-what?” would likely be the response. That is because they have never heard of Christiansted’s Zelda Prince, who was the “Croustades Queen,” so much so that in 1974 when sisters Grete and Laurel James, daughters of Gustav and Evelyn James, had their double-wedding at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church with a reception thereafter at the Carlton Hotel, the James family insisted—in spite of the hotel’s top-class chef’s representation that he could duplicate the recipe—that Prince’s croustades be delivered to the hotel’s kitchen, where they would be filled with the chef’s own “chicken à la king” and served during the cocktail hour preceding the wedding banquet.


The authentic Crucian black bread, once an island-wide staple, with its characteristic glazed top crust, has completely—and, apparently, irretrievably—disappeared.


Making “greengage” (also called “green lime”) the old-fashioned way—the way it was made by Mrs. Derricks of Queen Street, Frederiksted—was an arduous, labor-intensive, time-consuming endeavor, the entire process taking two weeks. But today, with modern technology, the delicious jam can be made in two hours’ time, the result being comparable to the old-fashioned way.  Yet, the epic associated with the making of “green lime” persists, to the detriment of the preservation of the jam itself and the authenticity of the Crucian Vienna cake for which the jam is a compulsory ingredient.


There are Crucians who cannot distinguish between guavaberry rum and guavaberry liqueur and have never seen a demijohn.


Over the years, excellent recipe books on Crucian cuisine have been published, the most notable being Amy Mackay’s Le Awe Cook; Krusan Nynyam from Mampoo Kitchen by Laura Moorhead; and at least three editions of Native Recipes, published by the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service under the informed guidance of Mrs. Olivia Hinds Henry, widow of Oscar E. Henry. But those cookbooks, written back in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s are today not as widely known or read as they were when first published. And no comprehensive cookbook on Crucian foods has been published in the 21st century.  As such, there are cooks, especially non-native ones, who are cooking pseudo-Crucian dishes, their creations oftentimes the result of eyeballing, blind-tasting, and outside influences.  There are cooks, for example, who think Crucian potato stuffing owes its color and sweet flavor to sweet potatoes, and there are others who use instant, powdered potatoes in the name of efficiency but at the expense of authenticity and flavor. Then, to add insult to injury, such cooks typically do not realize that the dish is traditionally baked. Consequently, they serve it like mashed potatoes, but with an ice cream scoop—as if that somehow compensates. Crucian potato stuffing, for the record, is unique to St. Croix. And to Crucians, its ingredients, manner of preparation, flavor, and texture are sacred, any deviation being tantamount to culinary capital sin. Unfortunately, however, there are now two generations of Virgin Islanders who know only the highjacked (and “jacked-up”) “distant cousin” to Crucian potato stuffing.


“Throw-weh sprat foh catch whale.”


 The Role of the Agriculture and Food Fair—and other festivals

Towards the end of the Danish era, beginning in the early 1900s, an annual, island-wide, government-sponsored agriculture fair would take place at Estate Anna’s Hope. By the late

1940s, however, the event had faded into the past.  But when the event was rescued from the obscurity of time in 1971 by the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture at Estate Lower Love, its focus was not only agriculture, but also food.  Eventually, the event officially became the Agriculture and Food Fair. And it is at the Agriculture and Food Fair that it is possible to experience some of St. Croix’s best food, but, unfortunately, also some of its worst. Yes, people who know authentic Crucian food will know which cooks and organizations to seek out:  Gloria Joseph for her red peas soup and kallaloo; “Cino” Christopher for his roasted pork and salt-fish rice; Renita Johannes for her cream cake; the Doward family of Frederiksted for pâtés and seasoned rice; the Moravian Church for crab-and-rice, maufé, and banana fritters; Betty Lynch for her boiled fish with fungi and her seafood salad; the Christian family of Frederiksted for roasted goat and potato stuffing; the Pembertons of Christiansted for souse and potato salad and fried fish with johnny cake; etc. But for the average fair attendee, who does not know the island’s “cooking families,” the entire “Ag Fair” food experience is one of hit-or-miss.


While the three-day event, held during Presidents’ Day weekend and dubbed “the largest agriculture and food fair in the Caribbean,” is an excellent opportunity for vendors, the vast majority of the food offered for sale serves to discredit true Crucian cuisine.  And while in a free enterprise system every qualified food vendor should be able to offer his products for sale, the organizers of the event also have an obligation to preserve and showcase St. Croix culinary heritage in its truest expression.


As such, there has long been expressed a need for the establishment of an “Authentic Crucian Food Pavilion”—whether under a tent or in a designated building—for the showcasing of authentic Crucian cuisine where food vendors would have to pre-qualify before a panel of judges versed in Crucian cooking prior to being allowed to offer specific traditional items for sale.  A vendor may qualify for selling kallaloo in that pavilion, for example, but not pâté or maufé if those two items do not meet the judges’ standards.  Or a vendor’s maubi might meet the standards, while his benye does not. The aim of such a system would be to ensure that, regardless of what is being sold elsewhere on the fairgrounds, patrons of the Authentic Crucian Food Pavilion would be reasonably assured that the food being offered for sale therein meets certain authenticity guarantees.


[Crucians cooks and connoisseurs of local cuisine such as the late Eileen M. Messer (1913-1996), admired for her kallaloo, maufé, and cream cake; Maria Edwards [Gibbs] Pinder, who, despite retiring years ago, remains sought-after by Christiansteders for her butter cookies, kallaloo, and red grout; the late Winifred Stevens Ellis, wife of the late Vernon Ellis and mother of Crucian joiner Vegan Ellis, a specialist of sweetbread, tarts, and red peas soup; Lena Abel Schulterbrandt, daughter of Crucian joiner Arthur Abel and herself an expert judge of correct Crucian cooking; the late Veronica Williams Frorup (1935-2015), who year after year volunteered as a food judge at the Ag Fair; the late Jessica Tutein Mooleanaar (1925-2002), an excellent cook of maufé and maker of roast-fish brine; Denise Hennemann Ellis, an expert in local pastries, especially sweetbread; the late Agnes Agatha Samuel (1936-2014), locally famous for her pound cake and peas-and-rice; Eleanor Sealey, who devoted many of her years to cooking for some of the island’s most discerning families; the late Violet “Aggie” Armstrong Bough (1929-2006), a connoisseur of Crucian culture; the late Felicita James García (1911-2004), who, for years, baked cakes, local breads twice per day in her brick oven (which still stands), and provided catering services to Christiansted’s elite households; Sharon Braffith, staunch Crucian and longtime organizer of the food vendors at the Ag Fair; and Amy Blackwood, descendent of Amy Mackay, the great Crucian cook, are/were excellent arbiters of traditional Crucian cuisine.]


 The Other Major Culinary Events


The Festival Village

St. Croix’s carnival occurs during the Christmas holidays. And one of the primary events is a food fair that takes place in the vegetable markets of Christiansted and Frederiksted. Then, for a period spanning almost two weeks, local cooks sell food from booths in the festival village.  But as is the case with the Agriculture and Food Fair, in order to be assured of authentic Crucian cuisine, one must know the various cooks and seek out their specialties, booth by booth, otherwise one is liable to purchase pseudo-Crucian cuisine.


The Crucian Puerto Rican All Ah We Tramp and Breakfast

But as Crucians say, “When you say, ‘one,’ you have to say, ‘two.’” And that said, one of the absolute best culinary traditions of St. Croix—one where authentic Crucian food is sure to be served—is the annual “Crucian Puerto Rican All Ah We Tramp and Breakfast,” which culminates at the Christian “Shan” Hendricks Market on Company Street in Christiansted immediately after the ‘fo’ deh mahnin’ Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights scratchband serenade, which begins in the parking lot of the Golden Rock Shopping Center and ends at the market.


All the food and drink at that event are served compliments of the various cooks.  And some of the island’s best cooks and cooking-families, as a Christmas gift of food and drink to the people of St. Croix, prepare traditional breakfast dishes—whether salt-fish and dumplings; or smoked-herring gundi with avocado and a slice of buttered bread; or fried fish (especially “jacks”) and johnny cakes; or canned sardines and boiled cassava; or salt-fish gundi with sweet potato; or a bowlful of “cornmeal pop,” for example—and serve their specialties, free of charge, to one and all.


On the morning of the Crucian Breakfast, everyone is on good behavior, similar to the way people conduct themselves at a church picnic or when visiting the native areas of the sister island of St. John.  The event attracts members of the oldest and staunchest Crucian families, as if an annual, all-island family reunion:  Acoy, Cornelius, Johannes, Smith, and Charles of La Vallée; Byron and Hurley of Estate Grove Place; Drummond and Ballantine of Calquohoun and Mon Bijou; Tutein, Encarnación, McGregor, Larsen, and Hansen of Gallows Bay; Farrelly, Henderson, Benjamin, and Bailey of Frederiksted; Frorup, Behagen, Golden, and Whitehead of Christiansted; the “Cane-Ratta” clan, and the “Yamba-Dog” clan.


Surnames such as Hennemann, Pedro (locally pronounced “Pee-dro”), Allick, McInosh, Lucas, Lenhardt, Schraeder, Adams, Jacobs, Prince, Schade, and McBean are always present at the event.


Members of the Brignoni, Cariño, Suárez, Santos, Monell, Camacho, Rodriguez, and Bermudez families are always well-represented.


The Roebucks of Solitude; the Jameses of La Grange; the Clarkes of Wheel of Fortune; the Tranbergs of Nicholas; the Bradys of Caledonia; and the Schusters of Bonne Esperance are always sure to attend in large numbers.


Members of the Heyliger, Messer, Hector, Ritter, Rissing, Hardcastle, Andrews, Johansen, Brannigan, Ovesen, Rivera, Soto, McAlpin, Dowdy, Christensen, Nielsen, Martinez, Iles, Fredericksen, Hørsford, Petersen, Lindquist, Gomez, Stridiron, Coulter, Merwin, Clendinen, O’Bryan, O’Reilly, Ramirez, Lawaetz, Isaac, Ford, Fabio, Bølling, Pretto, Brodhurst, Nelthropp, Hardcastle, Hodge, Canegata, Ruan, Gardine, Skeoch, Ross, Moorhead, Flemming, Dunbavin, Pentheny, Velásquez, Durant, Bauman, Bowman, Hendrickson, Mackay, Grigg, Nico, Knight, Schjang, McFarlane, Bough, Pedersen, de Chabert, Brow, Dyer, Skov, Forbes, Hughes, Neazer, Sarauw, Peterson, Sargeant, Begraff, Schouten, Jeppesen, Steele, Ebbesen, Phaire, Thurland, Peña, Hall, Pitterson, Lang, Todmann, Jensen, Finch, Coff, Lovgren, Nicholson, Simmelkjer, and Sheen customarily attend the breakfast.


Last names such as Harris, Harrison, Sackey, Morales, Lockhart, Nieves, Carrington, Oliver, Gereau, Rogers, Greenidge, Mason, Bishop, Armstrong, Espinosa, Frederiks, Christian, Gaskin, George, Ayala, Emmanuel, Krauser, Samuel, Powliss, Estick, Huggins, Petrus, Bennerson, Schrader, Arnold, García, Bastian, Williams, Todman, Evans, Anduze, Harrigan, Joseph, Cabret, Gibbs, John, Rios, Abel, Jackson, and Matthias are always represented at the great event.


Offering food and tasting food at the breakfast are always members of the Christiansen, Bryan, Motta, Edney, Parris, Miller, Tuitt, Hewitt, Gittens, Pemberton, Rodgers, Aponte, Saldaña, Richards, Henry, Powell, Franklin, Edwards, King, Phillipus, Santiago, Howell, Urgent, Krieger, Davila, Griles, Milligan, Braffith, Quiñones, Doward, Bruce, and Hendricks families.


Abramson, Simmonds, Vickers, Eastman, Dowling, Duval, Simmons, Benjamin, Solomon, Belardo, Brown, Joseph, Gill, Canton, Gerard, Francis, Seales, Ramirez, Sealey, Martin, Roberts, Gonzalez, Krigger, Bess, Marshall, Springer, Chase, Burke, Willocks, Brooks, Kiture, Doute, Barry, Fawkes, Jimenez, Heywood, Dompierre, Correa, Moorehead, García, Felix, Carter, Davis,  Barnes, Leacock, Ellis, Gomez, Lawrence, Thompson, Plaskett, Bentick, Prentice, Johnson, Rohlsen, Figueroa, Stevens, Ortiz, and Lynch are some of the Crucian, Puerto Rican, and Crucian-Puerto Rican families that religiously attend the breakfast.


For those several hours, until about midday, spoken or unspoken differences are set aside; friends embrace; normally guarded bottles of precious, homemade guavaberry rum are opened and generously poured; people who have not seen each other for years greet each other with profound warmth; Crucians inquire as to each other’s family, the way they always did in times past; friends and lovers taste from each other’s plates and sip from each other’s cups.  The air is perfumed with the delicate aromas of “bush” teas:  lemon grass; “balsam” (basil); soursop; mint; hibiscus.  The food is cooked and served with love.  And that love is both palpable and palatable.   Hands down, the event is one of the island’s most beautiful.  To attend it is to experience Old Santa Cruz.


“Cockroach ain’t nebba got no business in fowl coop.”


 (The Typical Crucian Breakfast)

To observe the components of a traditional Crucian breakfast is to observe the culture from which it derives.  Until the arrival of Harvey Aluminum and the Hess Oil Refinery in the mid-1960s, St. Croix was primarily an agrarian society. And to undertake the arduous task of working the land from sunrise to sunset, it was necessary for laborers to begin the day with a solid meal that would sustain them until lunchtime. And because the agricultural workday begins early, it was more practical for that solid meal to be, in effect, leftover dinner.  Salt-fish in butter sauce with boiled green figs for dinner became salt fish in butter sauce with green figs for breakfast.  Thus, the traditional Crucian breakfast—and traditional breakfasts throughout the Caribbean region—was born.  And though St. Croix’s way of life has transitioned from agrarian to industrial and commercial, the traditional breakfast has endured. Until the coming to the island of packaged instant breakfast cereals such as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (established in 1894) in the late 1960s, school-age children traditionally ate “cornmeal pop,” a cornmeal porridge that is the maize-equivalent of grits, cream of wheat, or oats, which, with the exception of grits, were also eaten on the island, but much less frequently than cornmeal pop.


(“Bush” Teas)

Unlike the Spanish Caribbean, where coffee is the morning beverage, on St. Croix, the traditional breakfast drink has always been herbal teas, locally referred to as “bush” teas, with “cocoa tea” (called “hot chocolate’ in the mainland USA) a distant second choice. “Bush” teas are usually made from freshly picked herbs that are steeped, rather than boiled, in hot water. (Just as provision plots served as a garden for the growing of tubers and vegetables, aromatic, culinary,  and medicinal herbs were also grown on the plots. And because of the easy access to the fresh herbs, the use of dried tea leaves, as is the case in many tea-drinking cultures, was never the common practice on St. Croix).


Practically every native herb has medicinal value if used correctly.  But the herbs that are used for making teas tend to have pleasing aromas and taste in addition to their therapeutic qualities.  The petals of the classic, simple, red hibiscus flower, when steeped in hot water and flavored with fresh lime juice and sugar, make a delicious, ruby-red tea, its flavor hinting of berries and spices. The fresh or dried leaves of the soursop tree and the bay leaf (laurel) tree are boiled, not steeped, to produce two of the island’s favorite breakfast teas, though soursop tea is widely believed to be a sedative.  Lemon grass, fresh or dried, is steeped in hot water, the result being a beautiful golden-yellow tea with an emphatic citrus flavor. The plump leaves of “Spanish thyme” make a highly aromatic, flavorful tea.  Then, of course, teas are drawn from fresh mint and basil leaves.



Mango Melee

Established in 1996 and held annually in July at the breathtakingly beautiful St. Croix Botanical Garden, Mango Melee has evolved into one of the most anticipated food events of St. Croix.


The parameters of Crucian food are generally very defined and rigid:  souse must contain onions and celery, but never green peppers; and to the outsider, kallaloo might look like a dish that would likely contain onions, green peppers, and garlic, but to include those ingredients in Crucian kallaloo would be a culinary crime of epic proportions.


One of the attractions of Mango Melee is that it fosters creative cooking:  The event’s mission is to encourage local cooks, native and non-native, to invent new ways to use one of the all-time favorite fruits of the Caribbean—the mango—in drinks, chutneys, sauces, salsas, candies, desserts, and any other way imaginable. As such, the event boasts a cosmopolitan appeal, attracting people from all corners of the island.  And in many ways, it is fitting that the mango would become the ingredient that unites the islands cooks, thereby advancing Crucian cuisine, for cuisine, like everything else, must adapt and evolve if it is to survive.


Unbeknownst to many Caribbean peoples, the mango is not native to the New World, let alone to the Caribbean region.  In fact, the fruit hails from faraway India, where it is featured prominently in that country’s cuisine, whether as the spice “amchoor,” which is dried, unripe mangoes ground into a fine powder that is used as a souring, vinegar-like agent (when a sour flavor, but not a citrus flavor, is desired); or as a key ingredient in chutneys; or to enhance the flavor of fish; or for desserts and drinks, for example.


When Hall in Slave Society in the Danish West Indies lists the items that were commonly sold at St. Croix public markets in the middle of the 1750s, there is no mention of mangoes. But a century later, when young Danish schoolteacher Schackinger in his diary entries and letters to his parents during the 1850s describes the fruits of St. Croix, he lists “mangrove,” probably the result of his misunderstanding of the native tongue.


Pineapples, guavas, mammees, soursop, sugar apples, genips, bell apples, custard apples, hog plums, etc., are all native to the Caribbean and tropical South America and are mentioned as popular local fruits in the 1700s and 1800s. And while there is no known record of when the mango was first introduced to St. Croix, Schackinger’s letters indicate that the fruit had already attained prominence by the middle of the 1800s.


[The Danish East India Company established a colony in Tranquebar, India, in 1620 and therefore would have been exposed to mangoes prior to the Danish colonization of St. Thomas 50 years later, but there is no known evidence of mangoes being brought to the Danish West Indies in those early years. The Danish colony in India endured until 1845, when it was purchased by the British.]


Until the establishment of Mango Melee, Crucians viewed the mango as primarily a fruit to be eaten—in its fresh form—not as a fruit for cooking. (On St. Thomas, the green fruit is stewed and eaten as a dessert or candy, but that custom has never been popular on St. Croix.) Because many of the local cultivars are fibrous, rarely was the fruit used in sweet or savory dishes, mango chutney being an exception.  But today, with less-fibrous varieties becoming increasingly popular, beginning with the importation of “grafted mangoes” in the 1940s by Isaac Gateword James (1893-1978), the culinary versatility of the mango is being realized, thereby expanding Crucian cuisine. Today, fleshy, low-fiber mangos are being used to make tarts and pies, fritters and breads, ice cream and smoothies, daiquiris and cocktails, sauces and salsas, etc.  And within a generation or two, some of the products and recipes presented at Mango Melee with take their rightful places in Crucial culinary tradition.



Taste of St. Croix

The annual, one-night-only food event, Taste of St. Croix, founded in 2000, is one of the largest gastronomical events in all the Caribbean.  The event showcases St. Croix’s diverse, more so than its traditional, cuisine.  Participating local chefs push the boundaries of “Crucian” food, its manner of presentation, its flavor-profile, and popularity.


In addition to attracting thousands of local and visiting guests, the event also attracts international media and has emerged as a beacon for celebrity chefs, wine producers, rum distillers, and beer brewers.  The event normally takes place in April.


The Role of the Crucian “Event-Cook” and “Cook-Shop”


In many respects, the “boots-on-the-ground” guardians of Crucian cuisine are the “event-cooks” and keepers of traditional “cook-shops.”


One of the earliest documented evidences of the event-cook occurs in 1802 when freedman John Messer, captain of the Frederiksted town watch, and his enslaved wife Sarra [Messer] are arrested for conducting cockfights at which food, prepared by Sarra, would be served to guests to mark the occasion. While the record is silent on precisely what foods Sarra offered, it would be safe to assume that her menu catered to the tastes, preferences, and budgets of her slave and freedmen clientele:  Crucian food. It was cooks such as Sarra, therefore, who, by guiding and responding to the tastes of the general public, helped define what that general public would come to collectively agree to be authentic Crucian cuisine. And the influential legacy of the event-cook endures even today as cooks such as Gloria Joseph, Corine Messer, Betty Lynch, Edwin Thomas, Gloria Huggins Canegata, Wanda Bermudez, Cino Christopher, the Pemberton family of Christiansted, the Christian and Doward families of Frederiksted, Janet Brow of Estate Grove Place, the late Bevis and Rita Browne of the former Motown Café (who, in addition to operating their Strand Street, Frederiksted restaurant, would operate a “booth” in the festival village each year), Dawn Bruce, and Gloria Gordon prepare and sell local specialties at events and venues such as the annual festival village, Easter campsites, the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack, and at political fundraisers.


Crucian “cook-shops,” the origins of which are the La Grange, Bethlehem, and Richmond central-factory cooks who, from their homes within the plantation village of each respective central factory, would provide daily lunches for the sugarcane laborers who did not bring their lunches [typically carried in traditional enamel or aluminum “stack-pans” that allowed for each element of the home-cooked meal to be placed into a separate utensil with its own lid, all vertically aligned and held within a frame-handle] from home.  At La Grange, for example, during the 1930s, Eileen Messer (1904-1941) would each day cook one principal dish, serving the “dish of the day” to all her customers who would arrive at her home-based kitchen with their own eating-utensils and bowls into which the food would be deposited. Once served, the customer would find his own eating-spot, such as under a shady tree, to eat his meal.


Before the 1950s, Crucians generally ate at home. While rum-shops date back to the beginning of the colonial era—so much so that Charlotte Amalie was first known as “Tap Hus” (meaning “beer hall)” before being officially named in honor of a Danish queen—restaurants were not a part of the early local landscape.  The few early 20th -century local hotels and boarding houses, such as the Pentheny Hotel in Christiansted and the Coulter Hotel in Frederiksted, by necessity, offered meals to their guests; but it was not until the late 1940s, with the opening of the Club Comanche Hotel and Restaurant in Christiansted that the concept of the restaurant to serve the general public was introduced to the island. But those establishments catered primarily to continental, not local, gastronomical tastes.  Then in the early 1950s, with the blossoming post-World War II Caribbean tourism industry necessitating hotels with standard tourist-type amenities, local hotels such as The Buccaneer, Grape Tree Bay Hotel, and the Carlton Hotel emerged, their eating-facilities again catering to their continental clientele.


But beginning around the mid-1950s, with the proliferation of government employment and the attendant need for those employees, most of whom worked in the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted, to be able to purchase lunch, local “cook-shops” began emerging. Each town boasted a few such one-dish, sit-down-or-take-out eateries offereing red peas soup on Monday; “salt-fish” and dumplings on Tuesday; kallaloo with fungi on Wednesday; chicken soup on Thursday; maufé on Friday, for example. And while some present-day “cook-shops” have augmented their daily offerings, the underlying concept endures:  a simple, no-frills establishment from which an authentic Crucian meal can be purchased at a reasonable price.


“Yoh got to bite and blow.”


 Outside Influences on Crucian Cuisine


Puerto Ricans

The mango was not the only outside influence on Crucian cooking. Beginning in the early 1920s, Puerto Ricans, primarily from the islands of Vieques and Culebra, but also from Fajardo and other parts of the main island, ventured to St. Croix in search of opportunity as sugarcane laborers and merchants. Because the United States had acquired Puerto Rico in 1898 as one of the spoils of the Spanish-American War, Crucians welcomed the Puerto Ricans not only as fellow Caribbean people, but also as fellow Americans.


In the plantation villages, Crucian and Puerto Rican mothers would breastfeed each other’s children; and in the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted, Puerto Rican merchants situated their retail operations alongside their Crucian counterparts, living upstairs of their establishments as was the custom of town merchants since the dawn of civilization.  Whenever a funeral procession bearing a dead Crucian would pass by, they, like the Crucians, would temporarily shut the doors of their business out of respect for the dead and the mourning. As such, Crucians and Puerto Ricans—both in the countryside and in the towns—intermingled intimately, with intermarriages and cultural exchanges occurring within a generation.


Of all the outside cultures, it is Puerto Rican culture that had the most impact on what would come to be called “New Crucian cuisine.”  Today at Christmastime, guests are as likely to be treated to a glass of Crucian guavaberry rum as to a glass of Puerto Rican coquito.  Puerto Rican lechon is regarded island-wide as the ne plus ultra of pork preparation. Crucians taught Puerto Ricans the trick of adding a small amount of cooking oil to a pot of boiling green bananas to prevent the hard-to-remove gum from the green skins from adhering to the side of the pot, while Puerto Ricans taught Crucians that adding a little milk to the water would prevent the boiled bananas from oxidizing into a grayish color.  Many Puerto Ricans would agree that there is no match for Crucian potato stuffing, while many Crucians would agree that no one can cook a pot of seasoned rice like a Puerto Rican. The Puerto Ricans brought kidney beans, but Crucians turned those beans into one of the Caribbean’s great delicacies, red peas soup.  It is not uncommon to see Puerto Rican guineitos next to Crucian potato salad on the same plate. The Crucians gave the Puerto Ricans pounded seasoning, and the Puerto Ricans gave the Crucians sofrito and recaito. The simple Puerto Rican-style johnny cake has, for the most part, supplanted the more complicated Crucian one as the everyday johnny cake of St. Croix. The Puerto Ricans had no equivalent of their now-beloved Crucian kallaloo, and there are Crucians who seek out asopao each Sunday in Estate Profit.  Puerto Rican mofongo is the answer to Crucian fungi.  And Puerto Ricans often agree that there is no cake more delicious than the Crucian Vienna cake.  And to sit at the bar or stand in the line at the “Chicken Shack” is to witness, first-hand, the seamlessness between Crucians and Puerto Ricans.


The Eastern and Southern Caribbean

From the beginning of history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the Caribbean, there was the intra- and inter-island selling of enslaved African and Afro-Caribbean peoples.  As such, no slave society in the New World evolved or endured in isolation. In the early 1860s, a little over a decade after Emancipation in the Danish West Indies, it became evident that the Danes would have to import or encourage the immigration of laborers from the Eastern Caribbean in order to meet shortages realized when former Danish slaves refused to continue working on the sugarcane plantation of St. Croix, even for wages.  Many of those imported laborers came from Barbados, Antiqua, St. Kitts, and Nevis.  But the culinary record is silent on any significant alteration to Crucian cuisine as a result of that influx of people.  Instead, their presence served to reaffirm Crucian food as one rooted in “ground food,” seafood, cornmeal, and ration-meats. Their arrival also served to revive certain foods such as roasted corn on the cob and sorrel drink.


When, beginning in the 1940s, there was again a large influx of Eastern Caribbean people, culminating in the 1960s and early ‘70s as laborers came to work in the island’s aluminum and oil industries, traces of Eastern Caribbean cooking started to appear. “Goat water,” in its most basic form a simple, brothlike stew made of goat meat, the stock therefrom, potatoes, and herbs and spices—especially cloves—is today listed amongst the dishes of new Crucian Cuisine.  Breadfruit and breadnut, both of which had fallen into disfavor on St. Croix by the end of the 1800s, were revived as significant foods in new Crucian cuisine, thanks to the post-1940s’ immigration of people from the Eastern Caribbean. “Sea moss,” a nutritious, eggnog-like beverage made from a special type of seaweed (sometimes referred to as “Irish moss”) and believed to be an aphrodisiac, also hails from the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. Sold sun-dried, the re-hydrated weed is puréed and also used as an all-natural thickening agent for sauces, desserts, and frozen drinks.


Likewise, before the very late 1960s and early 1970s, Crucians knew nothing of the now-prevalent “roti,” which first became popular on St. Croix when there was a significant influx of people from the southernmost Caribbean island of Trinidad who came to St. Croix to work for Hess Oil. Today, in the minds of many Crucians born in the 1990s and later, the roti is a “Crucian food.”


The Dominican Republic

The 1980s saw the coming of waves of people from the Dominican Republic, especially from La Romana and San Pedro de Macoris, regions to which, back in late 1800s and early 1900s, Virgin Islanders as well as people from the Eastern Caribbean islands had migrated in search of opportunities as laborers in the sugarcane industry.  In many ways, therefore, the palate of the Dominicano is very similar to that of a Crucian.  There is clear a connection between the two cuisines:  sauces and gravies are traditionally begun with fatback and flavored with vinegar, limes, and hot peppers; “provisions,” especially cassava, boiled green bananas, yams, and sweet potatoes, are the foundation of the cuisine; there is the traditional usage of salted meats and fish; and pounded seasonings (or dry-rubs) are more commonly used than moist, paste-like ones.  Today, many of the island’s restaurants and “cook-shops” are owned and operated by women from the Dominican Republic.


One of the uniquely “Santo” (short for “from Santo Domingo,” capital of the Dominican Republic) contributions to Crucian cuisine is “Mamajuana” (also “Mama Juana”), an herb-and-rum tonic that is reputed to be aphrodisiac as well as elixir.  The drink’s origin is said to trace back to the pre-Colombian era when the Tainos would make a medicinal concoction consisting of herbs.  With the coming of rum to the region in 1500s, the spirit was added, thereby serving as an extract-base that would draw the medicinal properties of the herbs.  Red wine and honey are also added, giving the drink, which is generally consumed as a room-temperature shot, a Port-like flavor and appearance. Every barkeeper’s “Mamajuana” recipe is unique and secret, the only clue being the herb-filled bottle from which the liquid is directly poured. Today on St. Croix, practically every local bar or “rum shop”—“Santo” or otherwise—has a bottle of Mamajuana under the counter, ready to fill customers’ requests.


New Fruits and Vegetables

With the coming of peoples comes the introduction of new fruits and vegetables, many of which are showcased at the annual Agriculture and Food Fair.  Danish schoolteacher Schackinger mentions bell apple in 1858 as a popular island fruit, but its close relative, the passion fruit (also called “maracuja” in Latin America), did not make its way to St. Croix’s shores until the early 1970s.  The photogenic “star fruit,” also called “carambola,” was unknown on the island until the 1970s. The tania was always popular on St. Croix, as evidenced by its leaves’ presence in kallaloo and the use of the tuber as a key ingredient in red peas soup and chicken soup, but its close relative, the dasheen, did not arrive until the 1950s or ‘60s. The noni fruit, the juice of which became all the rage in the early 2000s as a cure-all, was not traditionally consumed by Crucians.  Instead, it was called “jumbee soursop” and treated as if poisonous.  (The large, glossy leaves of the “painkiller tree” that bears the fruit, however, have always been used medicinally by Crucians.) The beautiful, but not particularly delicious, “egg fruit” is a recent arrival. And there is a Jamaican “ackee” tree in the courtyard of Government House in Christiansted, but the fruit, which when cooked tastes somewhat like eggs, is not grown island-wide.  The sweet “acerola,” also called the “Barbados cherry,” has been prized on the island from time immemorial; but since the 1980s, its bitter-sweet counterpart, the “Suriname cherry,” has been making a local showing.  The “governor’s plum,” which looks like a cross between a wine grape and a damson plum, was introduced to the island in the 1960s but is rarely seen today. And the University of the Virgin Island Cooperative Extension Service is presently conducting extensive research on the delicious (especially when served chilled) and spectacular “dragon fruit,” which looks at once like fish, flower, fowl, and fruit and has a flavor somewhat like that of a kiwi.

With new ingredients come new recipes and the evolution of old ones.  It is, for example, difficult to comprehend St. Croix without the addictively delicious passion fruit flavoring everything from ice cream and sherbets to fruit punch and vinaigrettes.


 “Too much cook spoil dih soup.”


Tradtional Crucian Breads

Unlike in Ethiopian cuisine, where the traditional flat bread “injera” is used to pick up foods from communal plates, or in Italy or France, where bread is provided on the table as a complement to lunch or dinner, on St. Croix, before the coming of supermarkets with their pre-packaged, preservatives-included breads, bread was traditionally eaten same-day fresh, hot, and primarily in the morning. After all, for a cuisine that features starchy foods such as sweet potatoes, yams, cassavas, rice, and fungi, the addition of bread for lunch and dinner would have been redundant.

The baking of local breads seems to have flourished in the towns, where outdoor masonry ovens were standard features of the homes of both the free Blacks in the Free Gut neighborhoods as well as in the backyards of the stately and moderate homes of the white population.

The proliferation of stone ovens led to the emergence of a thriving bread tradition in the towns.  But the plantation workers, who had less access to brick ovens, relied primarily upon the johnny cake (a fried bread) and breads made of cassava flour—“bang-bang,” the specialty of Sarah Christopher of Estate Oxford, traditionally baked in a skillet set atop a coal pot, being one of them—or upon afternoon deliveries of the morning’s town-baked bread. White wheat flour was used in the making of most of the local breads.

According to Eugene “Genix” Thomas, whose mother, Maria Christine Nicholas Thomas (1894-1985), was a well-known baker, the Frederiksted of his youth during the early 1940s boasted 16 to 17 bakers, some operating from home and others with established storefronts, the Westcott sisters of King Street, with whom his mother apprenticed (thereafter serving as their principal baker), and the McFarlanes, next door, being two of the most prominent.  [Thomas, who engaged the services of St. Patrick’s School music teacher George “Putty Flute” Simmonds to build her a masonry oven in the backyard of her King Street, Frederiksted residence—the home itself resembling a cake with its virtuosic display of Crucian gingerbread latticework and woodwork—was also known for seasoning and roasting cuts of meat for town folk who did not have access to a brick oven.  And she, for years, took pride in annually donating her services as the official roaster of the bull for “Bull and Bread Day.”]

The Lammers family, said to be of German, not Danish, extraction, owned a bakery at their Estate Camporico home and made daily deliveries of their loaves to the island’s neighborhood grocers as well as to the doors of customers. And “Busy Bees” on Queen Street, Frederiksted, located a stone’s throw from the vegetable market and owned by two sisters, was also an established bakery.  There, in the 1940s, “Miss Anna,” a Crucian by way of Santo Domingo and great-aunt of Delroy Thomas, was the principal baker for the elderly owners.

Certainly by the early 1900s, but perhaps from several decades earlier, several breads had become established as local classics:  “black bread” (by the loaf), for which the Wescott sisters, and then a generation later, Ivan Christian, who procured his flour from Rasmussen Wholesalers in Christiansted, were locally famous; “dumb bread,” a dense, low-rising, circular bread, nine to twelve inches in diameter and about four inches high;  “johnny cake bread,” a bread made in the shape and size of the “dumb bread,” but of a lighter, fluffier texture; “tittie bread,” about nine inches long, three inches wide, and two-and-a-half inches high, tapered to a rounded-off point on both ends; and the “small johnny cake bread,” a square-shaped bread with rounded corners, about five inches squared and two inches high.

For Christiansteders in the 1930s and ‘40s, Leader’s Bakery on Company Street, owned by the brother of the well-known attorney Amphlet Leader, was a first-rate confectionary, offering not only the island’s favorite types of breads, but also delicate pastries, some local, others international. The bakery employed several people, and each day the store’s impressive three-level showcase would be filled with local delicacies, from black cake and Crucian Vienna cake to horseshoes and royal.

By the 1960s Ivan Christian (1902-1979), born on St. Thomas to Benjamin Christian and Sophia Haynes, was St. Croix’s premiere baker. According to Evelyn Messer James, Christian learned the trade of baking from her paternal grandmother, Andrina Prince Messer (1865-1941), who had an outdoor masonry oven at her Hospital Street residence, a property in Free Gut acquired by her grandfather Anthony Prince (1790-1856). Christian went on to become Frederiksted’s premier baker, his black bread being sought-after island-wide.

On November 1, 1915, when the people of St. Croix, led by David Hamilton Jackson (1884-1946), celebrated the right of freedom of the press with the publication of The Herald, the simple, complimentary meal that fed the celebrants at the Estate Grove Place gathering consisted of the roasted carcass of a bull and locally made bread. (In later years, the Lawaetz family of Estate Little La Grange would donate a bull for the event.)  And since then, for over 100 years now, the annually commemorated event is called “Bull and Bread Day.” (The gathering-place of the event was, and remains, the huge baobab tree [called “guinea-aman” or “guinea-taman” on St. Croix, but “monkey bread” in some of the Eastern Caribbean islands], not far from the Grove Place bandstand. The locally famous tree, which still stands, is native to Africa, and St. Croix boasts more of them than anywhere else on Earth except Africa).

Today, St. Croix is home to several bread shop and bakeries that produce some of the island’s most beloved breads.


“Ebry stinkin’ cheese got he bread.”


Traditional Crucian Drinks

Traditionally, when peoplenk “Crucian drinks,” they think guavaberry rum and guavaberry liqueur; maubi; soursop tisane; tamarind drink; old-fashioned limeade, flavored with a dash of angostura bitters and sweetened with brown sugar or molasses, not with refined white sugar; gin and coconut water; rum punch; sorrel; “Miss Blyden,” which is a highly spiced sorrel drink that is traditionally drunk during the Christmas holidays; the now-defunct Brow and Old Colony sodas; etc. And these days, added to the mix are pure sugarcane juice from “Smithy,” located across from the Superior Court at Kingshill; peanut punch, sold even along the local roadsides; coquito; passion fruit drink; and sea moss. [The notorious “Beulah’s Fantail,” one of its secret ingredients allegedly being a dash of the hallucinogen—and poison—belladonna, was the concoction of a transplanted American who kept a bar Clover Crest Hotel during the 1960s. Unfortunately (or, perhaps fortunately), Beulah took the recipe, which was locally famous for being both delicious and exceedingly intoxicating, to her grave].

Crucians tend to drink many of these local beverages as the accompaniment to local foods, but unwisely so. While those drinks are delicious in their own right, they are horrible compliments to food.  The practice of “washing down a bowl of kallaloo with a Brow,” or “dousing” a delectable plate of boiled fish and fungi with a tall glass of passion fruit drink is gastronomically absurd.  Yet, the practice continues.  And it continues because it is what many Crucians have always done. And there is a very good and noble reason why they have always done it.

The average Crucian being of modest means but wanting something more “special” than water to offer to guests, would prepare a delicious traditional meal and then offer a delicious traditional beverage as the complement, regardless of culinary compatibility. The average Crucian did not have imported wines to accompany the fine local cuisine.  So, the custom of pairing the local cuisine with the local drinks emerged and, unfortunately, endured.

But the Crucian with discerning taste knows that the absolute best complement to a precious kallaloo or an exquisite maufé is a dry white wine, not a Sprite or a glass of maubi.  A generously seasoned roasted goat or cut of local venison would best be paired with Italian Amarone, regarded as the world’s most luxurious red wine, not a glass of sorrel or a “damson.”

Descriptions of the dinner tables of the fabulously wealthy Caribbean plantation owners of the 18th century always included bottles of Madeira, the great fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira, situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa. Until the coming of air travel and refrigerated shipping, Madeira was, in fact, the wine of the New World, for unlike most other wines (the exceptions being the other fortified wines, namely Sherry, Port, and Marsala), which would spoil when subjected to the long voyages across the Atlantic in the swelteringly hot holds of ships, Madeira was specifically formulated to thrive in such conditions. So, when Danish schoolteacher Schackinger writes in his February 10, 1859 letter that “The most common drink here is ‘grog’ and nearly all kinds of wine,” he is undoubtedly referring the various styles of Madeira—Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malvasia (also known as “Malmsey”)—for only Madeira would have been able to withstand, unscathed, the tropical conditions of St. Croix.

Today, there are numerous purveyors of fine wines on St. Croix, selling the best wines from Europe, South America, South Africa, and California.  And it would behoove Crucians to begin pairing their world-class cuisine with world-class wines.

“When dih rum deh een, dih wit deh out.”  


Crucian Desserts

The Italians have “tiramisu,” the Danes have “rødgrød med fløde,” the French have “crème brûlée,” and Crucians have Armstrong’s Ice Cream.

The traditional Crucian desserts are the Crucian Vienna cake, black cake, sweetbread, and bread pudding; coconut, guava, pineapple, and guavaberry tarts; red grout with cream (the Crucian adaptation of the Danish rødgrød med fløde); and the locally made Armstrong Ice Cream.

Founded in the year 1900 by Minerva Petersen, ancestor of the Armstrong family of the town of Frederiksted, Armstrong Ice Cream is a testament to Crucians’ veneration of their culinary culture.  For over a century, generations of Crucians have celebrated everything from birthdays to holidays to Sundays with the local treat.  And through its various evolutions over the decades, from pushcart to bicycle-drawn cart to the selling from a car’s trunk to a proper ice cream van to a storefront, the Armstrong family has held firmly to offering local flavors in addition to the mainstream standards of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.  Local fruits such as soursop, gooseberry, and September plums are used to create ice creams with a uniquely St. Croix flavor. For Thanksgiving, a pumpkin ice cream is served.  And for the Christmas holidays, people queue-up, as if for premier night of a newly released Hollywood movie, to get the guavaberry ice cream. Armstrong Ice Cream is so iconic that its location on Queen Mary Highway at Estate Whim has become a “must-do” tourist experience.


“What sweeten goat mouth poison he tail.”



A Classic Crucian Dinner Menu


Aperitif:  Tamarind Liqueur, dry

Appetizer:  Smoked-Herring Gundi, served with chilled Sercial Madeira

Soup:  Guava Soup, paired with Verdelho Madeira

Salad:  Cucumber Salad, complemented by Bual Madeira

Game Course:   Stewed Guinea Fowl with Gooseberry Gravy and Sweet Potatoes,

                          offered with Malvasia Madeira

 Dessert Course:  Pound Cake with Rum and Lime Glaze, matched with Malvasia            


After-Dinner Drink:  Tamarind Liqueur, sweet



“Ih gah mo’ in dih mortar than dih pestle.”




The Future of Authentic Crucian Cuisine

To observe the St. Croix section of a Virgin Islands telephone directory is to observe that the quantity of indigenous Crucian surnames is diminishing with the passage of each decade.  And as a consequence, the guardians and arbiters of Crucian cooking are diminishing. Authentic Crucian cuisine in its finest expression is in danger of extinction—unless there is a concerted effort to reclaim it, preserve it, then promote it.  Crucians should look to the example established by Jamaica in the promoting of that island’s food (à la “jerk”) and music (à la reggae).


Already extinct: 

The white sauce once popular in the mid-1800s; guava soup; stewed guinea fowl; pigeon soup; cucumber soup; black bread; bread made with cassava flour, including “bang-bang”; royal; bayside roasted fish on galvanized “tinnin’” with brine; stewed cocoplums; the horseshoe cookie; and the perilee.


 In immediate danger of extinction:

Maufé; fish pudding; kallaloo made with the local, authentic herbs; a correctly made pâté; tarts made with a proper piecrust and low-added-sugar tart fillings; Crucian “belly-full” johnny cake; benye made with yeast, not baking powder; a correctly made potato stuffing; “lasingja” (lozenge); pounded, slow-cooked conch in butter sauce; seedless tamarind balls and stewed “flurry” and green tamarinds; greengage (also called “green lime”) jam; lime asha; smoked-herring gundi; crab-and-rice made with picked crabmeat; a correctly made Crucian Vienna cake; sauces and gravies commenced with melted fatback; chicken soup made with purged “yard birds.”



-Good Crucian cooks need to acknowledge that they did not invent any of the traditional recipes.  And just as those recipes were handed down to them, one generation to the next, it is the responsibility of the present generation of cooks to pass on the authentic traditional recipes and methods to the upcoming generation.  Yes, some families have culinary “secrets” and special techniques for achieving superior results, and that knowledge may be regarded as “proprietorial,” but at least the basic recipes and methods should be shared. It is the obligation and responsibility of every Crucian cook to preserve the cuisine.

-The Virgin Islands Department of Education, the local historic preservation organizations and societies, and notable Crucian cooks should publish cookbooks (with accompanying videos/YouTube posts so as to make the publications user-friendly for today’s “visual” society) on traditional and new Crucian cuisine.

-In lieu of publishing cookbooks, individual Crucian cooks should—even if with simple mobile phones—allow themselves to be videotaped and audio-recorded while cooking traditional recipes, thereafter sharing those tapes and recordings with their family members and friends and posting them on video-posting internet sites such as YouTube.

-The traditional herbal ingredients of kallaloo, the oldest of all Crucian recipes, should be videotaped in their natural-growing habitats so that generations to follow will know how to visually identify the herbs.  Admittedly, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens, etc., are acceptable substitutes, but the authentic kallaloo should always be preserved.


“Picknee sah yeht  mahma; mahma nuh sah yeht picknee.”



Cooking is a dynamic artform; and it should be allowed to evolve for the better. (Today, for example, with the average person being able to afford butter, milk, and eggs, the traditional “royal,” with its spartan ingredients, is rarely baked. Its recipe, however, should be archived as a testament to the culinary ingenuity and creativity of the Crucians of a less fortunate era.)

Modern appliances such as blenders, food processors, vegetable peelers, refrigerators, and electric cake mixers, etc., have all served to simplify and make cooking less labor-intensive.  Health-impacting factors such as the quantity of salt, sugar, and fat have transformed the way people cook today versus a century ago; but through it all, every effort should be made to maintain or improve flavor and appearance.

Within 120 years after the Danes first settled St. Croix, Crucian cuisine had already surpassed that of Denmark in complexity, variety, and luxuriousness, as evidenced by the correspondence of Danish schoolmaster Schackinger. Since the 1960s, however, despite access to modern technology and increased standards of living, there has been a qualitative and quantitative decline in Crucian cuisine.

The cuisine evolved and achieved its zenith during the era of slavery and post-Emancipation when women, the traditional practitioners and custodians of Crucian cooking, toiled in the sugarcane fields. Any attempt, therefore, to attribute the decline in the cuisine to the family and professional demands on the modern working woman is simply not tenable:  If slaves, with their restricted lives, busy schedules, and manual cooking-methods, could find time to create a world-class cuisine, then present-day professional Crucians—women and men—with their unfettered access to modern conveniences, should be able to at least maintain it.

The post-1960s decline in the cuisine, then, seems to be more attributable to lack of interest more so than to lack of time. Crucians need to claim their culinary heritage, recognizing that it ranks amongst the world’s best. Perhaps then they, and the powers that be, will take the simple and appropriate steps to ensure the preservation of their ancestors’ contribution to the culinary heritage of humanity.

“Wheel ben’, ‘tory en’.”



History of Kallaloo

When Crucians think of Christmastime, one of the things at the forefront of their thoughts is food. And when Crucians think of food, they usually think of kallaloo. That is because of all the foods eaten on St. Croix, kallaloo is arguably the most revered—so much so that many a cook has built his or her reputation upon the ability to cook “a good pot of kallaloo.” And the dish is so much a part of Crucians that unlike most fine things, such as Italian wines and German beer, or Persian caviar and French truffles, most Crucians never have to “acquire” a taste for kallaloo; instead, they emerge from their mothers’ wombs loving it. It has been that way for as long as anyone can remember. But despite the long-standing, local affinity for the “territorial dish,” most islanders—even those of the older generation—do not know the historical origins of this ancestral delicacy.

In 1767 Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, in his capacity of inspector for the Moravian Church, journeyed to the Danish West Indies to report on the Moravian missions, which had been established in the islands 35 years earlier, beginning in 1732. He remained in the islands for a year and a half. But today, Oldendorp’s findings, first published in Germany in 1777 under the title Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Brueder auf den Caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (History of the Mission of the Evangelical Brethren on the Caribbean Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John), serve as much more than a church history, for Oldendorp’s two-volume work not only presents a detailed account of the establishment and development of the Moravian missions, but also details, with Pliny The Elder (23-79 A.D.)-type scope of interest, everything from local flora and fauna to pirates to the cultivation of sugarcane to detailed accounts of the lives of slaves in the Danish West Indies. And it is Oldendorp’s keen ability to observe and report that provides us today with one of the earliest written descriptions of kallaloo:  “The Negroes call everything calelu [he also spells it “kalelu”] which they cook into a green vegetable stew from leaves and other ingredients. However, a really complete calelu, which the Whites and particularly the Creoles [in this case, the word refers to island-born whites] also like to eat, consists of okra, various kinds of leaves, salted meat, poverjack, which is a kind of stock-fish [presumably “wenchman”], kuckelus, a variety of seasnail [perhaps “conch”], various fishes, tomato berries, Spanish pepper, butter, and salt. Along with the dish are eaten big soft dumplings made from corn meal flour.”  Oldendorp also reports—presumably from previously written records and/or oral accounts regarding mission life on St. Croix in October of 1740—of kalelu as an already-cross-cultural, local dish. Referring to the pioneering efforts of missionaries Friedrich Martin, Christian Gottlieb Israel, and Georg Weber, Oldendorp writes, “They set up their cooking facilities in the regular Negro fashion. A dish called kalelu, or green cabbage, prepared from plant leaves and land crabs, which fortunately were plentifully available there, served as their daily fare in those days.” In essence, then, within a mere seven years after the Danish purchase of St. Croix from the French in 1733 for 750,000 livres, kallaloo had already become such a prominent dish amongst the local, enslaved African population that it was even being consumed by European missionaries to the islands on a daily basis.

But where did the name “kallaloo” come from? And how was consensus as to its ingredients, consistency, and taste achieved? The most probable answers are that the name of the dish is West African in origin, and its recipe probably derived from a synthesis of West African ingredients and culinary techniques.


Though the French, who immediately preceded the Danes in their colonization of St. Croix, also brought enslaved Africans to the island, very little documentation has survived from the French era (1650-1733) on the island. And very little is reported in the surviving documents regarding what the enslaved populations ate, let alone what those dishes were called. What is known, however, is that by 1695, the French colonists on the island were given instructions from the crown to pack up their belongings—including their slaves—burn the island to the ground, and depart for Sainte Domingue (present-day Haiti) since it was generally regarded that the colonial efforts on Saint[e] Croix were not sufficiently profitable. (The French rationale for burning the island—and breaking down their buildings—was to make the island, which they still legally owned despite their official decision to abandon it, less appealing to squatters and pirates.)

It is well established that Denmark concentrated most of its slave-trading efforts on the African continent in the region that is today called Ghana. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that a significant percentage of enslaved Africans transported to the Danish West Indies on Danish slaving vessels came from present-day Ghana or nearby regions, where language-groups would have been interconnected. But it is also equally well established that slaves from all over West and Central West Africa were brought to the slave-trading posts all along the coast of West Africa and sold to the various nations involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Regions such as present-day Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, Congo, and Ivory Coast, for example, all served as major sources for enslaved Africans. And quite intriguingly, “papa lolo,” also known as “kallaloo bush”—the premiere herbal ingredient in Crucian kallaloo—is also called by that name in the outdoor produce markets of Ghana. Perhaps most interestingly, however, is the fact that the word “kallaloo,” spelled variably, is used in other Caribbean islands to describe okra-and-herb-based dishes, oftentimes flavored with land crabs and/or fish, conch, and salted meats, giving rise to the theory that the name of the dish and its manner of preparation derived from the coastal regions of West Africa before the peoples of those regions were dispersed throughout the New World during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Even in the cases where the word “kallaloo” or a form thereof is not used to describe a similar dish [a similar dish of Antigua is called “pepper pot”; an okra-and-pork dish popularly eaten in Curacao is called “yambo”; in Bahia, Brazil, “caruru,” a dish made primarily of okra and cashew nuts, is eaten as a ritual meal for the children’s feast, “Ibejis,” within Yoruba Candomble; and the world-famous “gumbo” of New Orleans is often regarded as mainland America’s “cousin” of kallaloo], it is clear that a fundamental connection exists between those dishes and the kallaloos of the Caribbean.

Already identified as the foremost local dish by the mid-1700s, kallaloo maintained its popularity into the 1800s. In 1828, when a Lt. Brady of the British Royal Navy came to St. Croix to visit his brother, who was manager of Estate Mannings Bay, the lieutenant observed the lifestyle of the black people on St. Croix, thereafter committing his observations to paper in the form of a pamphlet which apparently served as the basis for an 1829 publication titled, “Observations on the State of Negro Slavery in the Island of Santa Cruz, the Principal of the Danish West India Colonies, with Miscellaneous Remarks upon Subjects Relating to the West India Question and a Notice of Santa Cruz.” In that publication, Brady describes kallaloo as follows: “The common and favourite mess [dish] with negroes is a soup called calalue, which is composed of pork or fish, pigeon peas, ochras, yams, capsicum, and other vegetables boiled in water, with a pudding of corn-meal; this is commonly their supper.” Though Brady’s list of ingredients varies somewhat from the generally accepted recipe, his observation regarding the popularity of the dish in the early decades of the 1800s is invaluable.

Kallaloo maintained its position as the premiere local dish into the middle of the 1800s, as evidenced by the writings of young Danish schoolmaster Johan David Schackinger, who arrived on St. Croix on July 25, 1857 to serve as First Teacher at the Danish School in Frederiksted. In a series of letters addressed to his parents back in Denmark between July of 1857 and 1863, when he suffered an untimely death, young Schackinger describes, in charming detail, his life in the tropics—from the island’s people to its vegetation, entertainment, and cuisine. In a letter dated February 10, 1859, the schoolteacher mentions some of the then-popular soups:  turtle soup, white bean soup, guava soup, cucumber soup, and “‘calalu’ (the Negroes’ usual meal).” It is interesting to note that of all the aforementioned soups, kallaloo is the only one not to have been relegated to a footnote on the local menu.

Kallaloo was also popular in St. Thomas and St. John. In the 25-year period between 1882 and 1907, Danish lawyer N. A. Kjaer lived on St. Thomas, where he served in various public capacities, the most prominent being Police Assistant and Royal Accountant. After returning to Denmark, he wrote his memoirs, which were later expanded and published in Copenhagen1934. In his writings he describes the social unrest in Charlotte Amalie surrounding the September 1892 Coal Workers’ Strike, led by Clothilde Simonet:  “On one of the days,” writes Kjaer, “unrest broke out at the French shipyard. Before I went to the shipyard with a smaller force of police, I asked my wife for something to eat but the food wasn’t finished. When she offered me a West Indian dish called ‘calalu,’ I first declined it with contempt but as there was nothing else, I had to swallow the bitter pill. But when I had tasted the Calalu, a kind of cabbage mixed with fish and spices, I found it to be excellent and from that day I would eat Calalu and other West Indian dishes. Did nothing else come of those September days, then I at least learnt to eat West Indian food which was more agreeable to me than the heavy Danish dishes, ill-suited for the climate as they are.”     

In the late 1940s, just about a half-century after Kjaer’s introduction to kallaloo during turbulent times in St. Thomas, celebrated New York fashion designer Elizabeth Hawes decided to spend some time on St. Croix during those tumultuous years on Seventh Avenue when fashion was at war with itself:  couture versus ready-to-wear. In her book But Say It Politely, published in Boston in 1951, Hawes created a local and national sensation when she—without restraint—discussed race relations on St. Croix; poked fun at the island’s white, racist, self-proclaimed elitist families; and expressed her concerns about how tourism would affect the long-term authenticity of St. Croix.

Hawes, too, took a liking to kallaloo, though by her time it had become a once-a-week dish more than a daily meal. Hawes took up residence in Christiansted, employing a local cook by the name of Astrid.  “I decided to invite the Hollinses to eat fungi and calalu,” Hawes writes, “the chief Crucian dish.” “The dish,” she continues, “consists of some kind of salt pork, okras, eggplant, crabs, fried fish, hot pepper, and four kinds of weeds, the chief being calalu. This is all thrown into boiling water at various times depending on how long it has to cook, and finishes up as a sort of thick stew which is eaten with fungi—corn meal flour boiled in just enough stock to come out a solid ball. The dish is not only delicious but it’s a whole and balanced meal.”

From time immemorial, kallaloo was served locally with fungi. And one of the earliest recorded descriptions of fungi comes from the writings of Reimert Haagensen, a young Danish plantation owner who came to St. Croix in 1739, just six years after the island was purchased from the French. After achieving rapid success in the islands, Haagensen returned to Denmark sometime around 1751. In his book Description of the Island of St. Croix in America in the West Indies, published in Denmark in 1758, he describes the making of fungi: “This corn is ground, as the slaves do it, between stones, in such a way that the grain, which is itself dry, is quickly ground and turned to flour. The latter they boil with water and salt, which to the slaves is a delicacy, since, in addition to alleviating hunger, it is highly nourishing.”

Another early record of kallaloo’s chief accompaniment, fungi, comes from Johan Lorentz Schmidt, who lived on St. Croix during the 1770s and 1780s, working as a surgeon on the Schimmelmann family estates of La Grange and La Grande Princesse. In 1788 his manuscript detailing his experiences in the Caribbean, titled Various Remarks Collected on and about the Island of St. Croix in America, was published in Copenhagen. He writes: “From daybreak, and often before, the Negroes work until eight or nine o’clock, when they have about half an hour free for breakfast. All of them sit down and eat whatever they have. Usually they have ‘fun[g]ie’ with them, which is made of corn meal pressed into large clumps or balls.”

Though today regarded by many as a delicacy to be eaten only on special occasions, kallaloo was in former days an everyday meal because its key ingredients were readily available, free, from nature. Kallaloo bush, or “papa-lolo,” was commonly found in cane fields, locally called “cane pieces.” And except for tania leaves, which were grown in provision gardens, the other herbal ingredients, namely “man bower,” “woman bata-bata,” “whitey Mary,” and “pusley,” were “yard-bushes”—those herbs that tended to catch root in the towns’ “big yards” and alongside “long-rows,” and village houses back in the days when Crucians were still sweeping their yards clean (sometimes until the compacted dirt would attain a glossy appearance). And interestingly, the brooms used to sweep those yards were made by lashing the discarded “papa-lolo” twigs—after all the precious leaves had been picked off for use in the pot—to a “tan-tan” stick. Those clean-swept yards, swept with traditional “kallaloo brooms,” served as fertile ground for the other kallaloo herbs. And so the cycle continued, generation after generation:  kallaloo brooms made way for yard-herbs, which in turned combined with “papa-lolo” to make the kallaloo dish.

By 1966, the sugar cane industry of St. Croix—after serving as a way of life from around 1736—had come to an end. Many Crucians moved off the plantation villages and out of long-rows, finding lodging in public housing. Likewise, they left their agrarian ways and found employment with the Virgin Islands Government and in the tourism and manufacturing industries. In essence, then, the way of life that kallaloo had sustained and the way of life that had sustained kallaloo was altered. The Crucian desire for the dish, however, never waned. So, when the average household could no longer prepare kallaloo on a weekly basis, Crucians turned to local restaurants and cook-shops to fill the need, each establishment preparing its kallaloo on a designated day:  Birdland on Mondays, Steen’s on Tuesdays, Andrews’ Bar on Wednesdays, Mary Pennyfeather of Thursdays, and Brady’s on Fridays, for example. Even Crucians who had left the island to live abroad never gave up on kallaloo, even when they had to substitute spinach and collared greens for the traditional herbal ingredients. Some families would go as far as to clandestinely send the herbal ingredients via airmail so that mainland relatives could make “kren-kren,” which is kallaloo made with dried herbal ingredients, thereby taking on a brownish, rather than greenish, appearance. And in the late 1980s, mainland-transplanted Crucians were thrilled with the coming of Express Mail and Federal Express, which allow for frozen kallaloo to be shipped from St. Croix with guaranteed, next-day delivery all across America.

Not even the “Stay off the Swine” campaign of the early 1970s could dissuade Crucians from eating kallaloo:  The no-meat disciples simply turned to a seafood-only version of the classic dish, which is accepted today as sufficiently authentic—except, of course, by the traditionalists.

The problem for the traditionalists is that the age-old, noble kallaloo tradition is quickly fading. It is not uncommon today, for example, to hear of Crucian children who are not “into” or “don’t eat” kallaloo. And even though great Crucian cooks have preserved the recipes for future generations in their cookbooks such as Amy Mackay’s Le Awe Cook (1980) and Laura L. Moorhead’s Krusan Nynyam—from Mampoo Kitchen (1977), many of today’s young cooks—people in their 50s and younger—could not identify the key herbal ingredients of kallaloo in an open field if their very lives depended on it. And those herbal ingredients are critical for achieving the authentic kallaloo flavor.   


But as with so many Crucian traditions, Crucians tend to bemoan the disappearance of cultural icons such as kallaloo when they are already lost or are on the verge thereof: old-time masquerading, an authentic pâté, donkey races, Lloyd “Dove” Braffith, and furniture-making, for example. And administration after administration, a “Department of Culture,” which should be charged with preserving and promoting culture, is often discussed during election time but quickly is relegated to nostalgic rhetoric shortly after all the votes have been tallied. Likewise, on cultural holidays, it is not uncommon for leaders to make reference to the proverbial ancestral shoulders upon which today’s Crucians stand. Those leaders, however, should remember that if it were not for the nourishment imparted by kallaloo, those ancestors would not have had the strength to bear today’s Crucian culture upon their broad shoulders.

Of critical importance to the preservation of kallaloo is the new generation’s ability to identify—in the wild—the traditional herbal ingredients: “papa-lolo” (kallaloo bush), “man bower,” “woman bata-bata,” “pusley,” “whitey Mary,” and tania leaves (scalded before adding to the pot in order to avoid the itching of the mouth). Today, with mobile video-recording devices and the internet, images of the herbs can easily be documented and shared. And until a Department of Culture is established, and/or until the Department of Education adopts a cultural curriculum, old-time Crucians should adopt an “each-one-teach-one” approach, lest this great tradition, one that came across the Atlantic in the holds of slaving vessels to sustain and nourish Crucians through four centuries, will be lost in a generation.




Crucian Vienna Cake

The precise history of the Crucian Vienna cake is unknown: who first served it; when the guavaberry preserve and green lime (also called “greengage”) jam became obligatory ingredients; and who determined that the cake “must” be comprised of between five and seven layers, for example, have been lost to history. What is considered fact, however—perhaps gleaned from the cake’s name and composition—is that it was inspired by the world-famous layer cakes of Vienna, Austria, and is particular to St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. Versions of the cake are made on the sister-islands of St. Thomas and St. John, but nowhere else in the Caribbean or in the European countries that colonized the island. And even within the Virgin Islands, it is well-established—even if only anecdotally—that the most authentic interpretation of the cake occurs in the kitchens of the oldest families of St. Croix. What is also for certain is that to taste the cake is to immediately acknowledge its rightful place amongst the great culinary luxuries of the world.

The word “Crucian” is used to describe that which is of St. Croix—its people, its food, and its music, for example. And while there is little or no official historical connection between the Austrian capital of Vienna and the island of St. Croix, Europe’s fascination with the island is evidenced by the fact that prior to its acquisition by the United States in 1917, six different European flags had flown over the tiny Caribbean island, beginning with Spain in 1493. And it is that confluence of European and Afro-Caribbean cultures that gave rise to the Crucian Vienna cake.

The traditional cakes of Vienna are baked in layers with fruit or frosting between the layers. And the most famous Vienna-style cake is the “sachertorte,” first baked for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in 1832 by sixteen-year-old Franz Sacher when he, in his second year of apprenticeship, was assigned the task of creating a remarkable dessert for the prince’s special guests when the head chef of the Metternich kitchen had suddenly taken ill. That evening, Sacher prepared a two-layer chocolate cake with an apricot preserve between the layers; and he covered the cake with chocolate icing. Inspired by similar cakes, some of which appear in cookbooks dating back to the early 1700s, one such book being that of Conrad Hagger (1718), and another being Gartler-Hickmann’s Tried and True Viennese Cookbook (1749), the cake was a success with the prince’s guests. And it is said that the prince triumphantly declared, “Let there be no shame on me tonight!”

But it was Franz’s son Eduard, advancing his father’s culinary legacy, who made famous the cake that would come to be called the “sachertorte.” While working as a pastry chef at Demel Bakery and Chocolatier, Eduard perfected his father’s recipe, first serving the cake at Demel, then at the Hotel Sacher, established by Eduard in 1876. Since then, the cake is revered as one of Vienna’s greatest contributions to the art of cuisine—so much so that December 5th is National Sachertorte Day in Austria.

When the United Kingdom’s Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on February 10, 1840, she established two enduring traditions: white wedding gowns and white wedding cakes. In an era where brides were typically married in dresses of bold colors, it was Victoria’s gown of white silk-satin and Honiton lace that would inspire brides across the Christian world, and then beyond, to wear white on their wedding day. Likewise, it was around the time of Queen Victoria’s wedding that refined white sugar became available to the wealthy classes. So, when, as one of the wealthiest persons in the world, Queen Victoria’s nine-foot-wide, 300-pound wedding cake was decorated with what would come to be called “royal icing”—a stiff, snow-white icing made primarily of confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, egg whites, and lemon juice—she inspired the trend of using refined white sugar in pastries.

Exactly when Vienna-style cakes became popular in the Danish West Indies (present-day United States Virgin Islands) is not known. What is known, however, is that by the 1890s, the “Crucian Vienna cake” was already being regarded as a “traditional cake” on the islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas. But to look at the cake, with each of its yellow-cake layers separated by a fruit preserve or jam of a different color, is to know that the earliest the Crucian Vienna cake could have emerged as a new creation was in the 1840s since the light-colored cake would have necessarily incorporated granulated white sugar [as opposed to brown sugar or molasses] in its confection, and because the cake is traditionally decorated with white “royal icing” or the much softer, fluffier, white “boiled icing,” made primarily of a boiling-hot syrup of water-dissolved granulated white sugar, egg whites, and cream of tartar.

The various layers—typically seven—of the Crucian Vienna cake are made of a medium-dense pound cake or some other medium-dense yellow cake which serves as the edible canvas upon which the colorful preserves and jams are “painted.” The top crust of each layer is evenly sliced off, leaving an open-faced layer, which is then moistened and flavored with a dry or semi-sweet white wine [so as not to discolor the yellow cake], such as Bordeaux or an Italian Moscato, before being topped with a thin layer of a fruit preserve or jam. Traditionally, the open face of the bottommost layer is topped with guavaberry preserve. (See “Guavaberry” below). The next layer is topped with “green lime” (also called “greengage”), a tongue-tantalizing, bitter-sweet-sour jam made from the skin of limes. And each subsequent layer is moistened with wine and then topped with a preserve or jam made of some tropical- or temperate-climate fruit—pineapple, guava, apricot, and raspberry being some of the most commonly used—after being placed atop the preceding layer. The open face of what will become the uppermost layer is moistened with wine (but not topped with a preserve) then laid open-face-down onto the previously stacked layers such that the crust of the bottom of the uppermost layer becomes the top surface of the cake onto which the icing is spread. The entire cake is covered with white “royal icing” or “boiled icing” and allowed to “set” for twenty-four hours such that icing can attain the desired consistency and the wine and various preserves and jams can moisten, perfume, and flavor the cake before it is sliced for serving.

The Crucian Vienna cake, a confectionary tribute to the bounty of the tropics, is served on special, celebratory occasions:  birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries.