Sept. 23, 2006 — A newly cut trail through native guinea grass leads to a secluded surprise mid island: a 300-year-old plantation believed to have housed St. Croix's first rum factory.
"I was shocked as the factory revealed itself," said local businessman Ferdinand Abraham, who recently purchased the one and a half acre property. He bought the Clifton Hill plantation to use as a nursery, but as he began to clear overgrown vegetation he uncovered grave sites, rusted hulks of rum boilers, crushing wheels, and a water windmill.
"It is too valuable" for a nursery, Abraham said, adding that he has always had high reverence for his family and ancestors and "felt the spirit" of the area. He began his own research of the plantation and contacted activist Shelley Moorhead for consultation.
Officials are considering the site and others throughout the islands for an excavation project called "Voices From The Grave." The Department of Planning and Natural Resources' Historic Preservation Division will determine which ancient burial grounds to include.
The plantation has caught the interest of anthropologists, archaeologists, historians and community activists like Moorhead seeking to uncover the secrets that lie within the ruins.
"The excavation will contribute a very important piece of the puzzle that forms the history" of the Virgin Islands, Moorhead said. His African Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance (ACRRA) has joined with the University of Copenhagen to investigate its history. The group invited the public to view the property and learn more about its past at a press conference Thursday.
ACRRA preservation officer Kendall "Sego" Petersen gave background information to the small group of attendees. The factory lies in an area formerly called Kings Quarters, which originally consisted of 250 acres. Much of this fertile land produced sugarcane. The factory, which at one time utilized about 380 enslaved Africans, turned the cane into molasses, which was used to make rum. According to archival records, Petersen said, the factory operated from the early 1700s until 1948. It eventually moved from slave labor to steam power.
Assisting with the project is a specialist in the recovery of information from ancient bones, Pia Bennike, an associate professor from the University of Copenhagen. Moorhead said talks are underway with the Danish government to establish a Danish West Indies Cultural Institute on the site. The institute would focus on the promotion and translation of Danish culture and its shared legacy with the people of the Virgin Islands.
Moorhead formed the ACRRA in September 2004. In April 2005 he led a delegation of officials to Denmark, pursuing his quest to open discussions on slavery reparations. Accompanying Moorhead was Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen and former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Terrance A. Todman, as well as other officials. The group returned with a memorandum of understanding to pursue reparations signed by Danish Institute for Human Rights Executive Director Morten Kjaerum.
According to the memorandum, reparations comprise of education, restoration and reconciliation. A joint task force was established to examine initiatives which may include historical research, conferences, lecture series and cultural and other exchanges.
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