When the doors of the National Museum of African-American History & Culture opened at 10 a.m., Sept. 24, in Washington, D.C., the work of two prominent Virgin Islanders will be highlighted in its halls: the first black U.S. Navy bandmaster, Alton Augustus Adams of St. Thomas, and the only known free black silversmith, Peter Bentzon of St. Croix.
Sen. Myron D. Jackson, chair of the committee on culture, historic preservation, youth and recreation, who is in D.C. representing the V.I. Legislature, along with other dignitaries, encourages the public to take note of this historic milestone — a museum opening which has been in the making for the past 100 years.
“It is fitting that the contributions of Virgin Islanders will be honored as part of the recognition of people of African descent to society as a whole,” Jackson said. “Our skilled leaders, musicians, and craftsmen and people from all walks of life have long influenced the rest of the world. All the Virgin Islands should be proud of this significant achievement.”
Two musical instruments – a flute and piccolo – owned by Adams, which were played during the formal Transfer Ceremony of the territory from the Kingdom of Denmark to the United States of America almost 100 years ago, will be on display at the new museum. Adams, an avid composer and journalist, is known for creating the “Virgin Islands March.” His son, Alton Adams Jr., and great-granddaughter, Satrice Adams, were special guests in attendance.
Also on display will be a pair of teaspoons crafted from American coin silver, made by Bentzon, the only known free black silversmith during the time of slavery in America. Bentzon was born in 1783 and lived and worked on St. Croix and in Philadelphia. He was unique in that as a free man he was able to mark his work with his own stamp. The craftsmanship of countless other silversmiths of African descent is lost to history as they worked under the stamps of their enslavers, making it difficult to identify. About three dozen pieces of Bentzon’s have survived to this day.
“Our skilled leaders, musicians, and craftsmen and people from all walks of life have long influenced the rest of the world,” Jackson said. “All the Virgin Islands should be proud of this significant achievement.”
For more information, call, 693-3519.
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