Back and front cover of David Knight Sr.’s Cruz Bay from Conquest to Exploitation, a Forgotten History. Image courtesy of David Knight Sr.
An event to celebrate the first book detailing the history of Cruz Bay will be held at Bajo el Sol Gallery on Saturday, April 15 starting at 4:00pm.
The date of the event is no accident, according to the book’s author, David W. Knight Sr. “It’s St. John Transfer Day,” said Knight.
While the rest of the Virgin Islands celebrated the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the United States on March 31, 1917, St. John was left out of the picture, according to Knight. Someone blundered by not making plans for a ceremony on St. John. On Transfer Day, the Danish flag was taken down on St. John, but there was no American flag to be found on the island.
Carl Francis, who was St. John’s representative to the Colonial Council, brought the situation to the attention of the US Navy Government, and a flag was provided and sent to St. John on April 13, 1917. It was announced that the formal flag-raising ceremony would take place two days later.
This year’s poster used for the Transfer Day Centennial celebrations depicting white military men raising the flag does not reflect St. John’s unique and proud history, said Knight.
“All four involved in handling the flag on St. John were native St. Johnians and people of color,” said Knight.
On St. John in 1917, the two men who lowered the Daneborg (Danish flag) were John Lindquist, the son of a Danish planter and a Free-Colored mother from St. Croix, and Johannes Petrus, a school teacher and owner of Estate Pastory.
The two men who raised the Stars and Stripes were police officer Edward Moorehead, whose son “Mooie” became a Virgin Islands senator, and Carl Francis, the owner of Annaberg whose father had been born enslaved on that plantation.
Knight has entitled his book Cruz Bay from Conquest to Exploitation, a Forgotten History because “We don’t have a collective cultural memory of the place. The demographics have changed and many of the elders who could have passed it on are gone.”
The front cover of the book is a photo taken in 1938 by David Knight’s father, Dr. George H.H. Knight, who became the island’s dentist. It portrays the passengers on the dock in Cruz Bay, including Knight’s mother, waiting to board The Flamingo, St. John’s first ferry which made regularly scheduled trips to Red Hook, Caneel Bay, Leinster Bay, Coral Bay and Tortola.
The book is the first comprehensive history of Cruz Bay and covers the period from the earliest recorded arrival of Europeans to the early 1950’s. To cover 500 years in 200 pages, Knight said he had to be concise. “It provides a baseline narrative of the history, so people can understand how it evolved, and why and how the history was forgotten.”
Knight said people often say to him, “There’s nothing historical in Cruz Bay,” but he disagrees.
“One important point that people ought to know is that Cruz Bay was laid out by a Danish Crown surveyor Julius von Rohr in 1766. From that period onward, the town developed in the same manner as other towns in the Danish West Indies, with houses, warehouses, and areas that were exclusively Free-Colored neighborhoods. By the time the time of Emancipation in 1848, Cruz Bay had effectively become an Afro-Caribbean town.”
Knight put the earliest map of the town on the back cover of the book, which shows the streets forming a grid that is askew to the shoreline. Julius von Rohr, the surveyor, drew the street plan to accommodate the existing buildings.
It’s too bad von Rohr wasn’t consulted before the buildings were constructed, according to Knight. As von Rohr drew up plans which took into consideration the town’s future growth, he chose Gallows Point as the site for the Danish fort. The governor intervened, however, claiming it was too far away from the existing barracks, and insisted that the fort be built in the inner harbor, where the Battery is located today.
By doing so, the military lost the advantage of being able to observe the surrounding waters and approaches to the bay. It also put the Danish forces in easy cannonball range when the English soldiers landed a ship in Salomon Bay and hauled a cannon up to Lind Point, leading to the surrender of the Danes to the British in 1801.
Knight began researching the book after being awarded a grant from the Historic Preservation Office as part of an initiative to designate the town of Cruz Bay as an historic district, which has now taken place. It took another year of work to complete the research, and Knight said he’s already at work on another book which covers the history from the establishment of the VI National Park until the present.
Cruz Bay from Conquest to Exploitation, a Forgotten History is the seventh publication by Little Nordside Press, Knight’s publishing company.
The event celebrating the book’s publication will be held at the Bajo el Sol Gallery owned by Priscilla Hintz Rivera Knight and David Knight Jr. It is one of a wide array of cultural events sponsored by the gallery since the couple took it over last fall.
David Knight Sr. will be on hand to sign copies of the book, which retails for $35, and the gallery will be serving afternoon tea and champagne. For further information, contact Bajo el Sol at 340-693-7070 or email [email protected].