Celebrating Black History Month

The Legislator: Julius Ebenezer Sprauve Sr.

Pastel portrait of Julius E. Sprauve Sr. by St. John artist Livy Hitchcock of Bajo El Sol Gallery.

Most St. John residents recognize the name Julius E. Sprauve, but how many know Julius Sprauve’s numerous accomplishments, including bringing banking and electricity to the island?

Julius Sprauve, for whom Cruz Bay’s public school was named in 1957, was born to Rupert and Moriah Frederick Sprauve on March 26, 1892.

His father died when he was just 12, forcing him to learn how to be self-sufficient, according to his son, Elroy Sprauve, a local historian.

“He lost his father at an early age, so he had to really take on a great deal of responsibility for supporting himself and some of his siblings,” said Elroy Sprauve. “He always believed in being self-supportive. He was a very honorable, hard-working person.”

Caring Sense for St. John
Julius Sprauve’s love of St. John was evident from a young age, according to Elroy Sprauve.

“At an early age he developed a very caring sense for the island and its people,” he said. “He became aware of the problems, and when he got a chance to become the island representative in 1937, he saw it as a way of helping.”

Julius Sprauve became the first senator from St. John, according to the third edition of the book “Profiles of Outstanding Virgin Islanders” by Ruth Moolenaar.

“Prior to 1936, voting privileges were granted to those with specified financial assets and property holdings,” states the book. “Through the provisions of the Organic Act, universal franchise was extended to all registered voters. Immediately after this political development, Julius Sprauve made his first bid for a seat in the Municipal Council.”

“Successful in his attempt, he became the first popularly elected senator from St. John,” according to the book.

Electricity, Banking on St. John
During his time as a senator, Julius Sprauve had several major accomplishments, explained his cousin, Gaylord Sprauve.

“I recall very well, on the night that St. John had its first electric power turned on, there was a ceremony where FirstBank is now,” said Gaylord Sprauve. “This is part of the work Julius was involved in — getting electricity on St. John. He was there at the ‘throwing the switch’ ceremony.”

Julius Sprauve also brought banking to the island of St. John, according to “Profiles of Outstanding Virgin Islanders.”

“Prior to 1958, when there were no banks on the island, persons had to travel from St. John to St. Thomas for banking purposes,” states the book. “Working with the St. John Administrator, George Simmonds, he helped persuade the West Indies Bank and Trust Company to establish a branch on St. John. In 1962, the Chase Manhattan Bank acquired the West Indies banking agency and it was Senator Sprauve who provided rental space at a moderate price, as a way to get the bank established.”

Affordable Land
Julius Sprauve also established a homestead plan, providing affordable land for St. Johnians, according to “Profiles of Outstanding Virgin Islanders.”

“In 1940, the councilman introduced a resolution to authorize the governor to negotiate with owners of two large estates on St. John, Enighed and Contant, and to establish a school for ‘wayward juveniles,’” states the book. “The estates were bought and developed into homestead plots and the idea of the school was tabled as there was a similar school at Leinster Bay Estate. The homestead plan provided many St. Johnians with their first opportunity to own land as house plots were sold at extremely low prices.”

Although Julius Sprauve was extremely influential as a senator, he did not have the personality of a politician, according to his son, Elroy Sprauve.

“He was someone who showed you what it meant to be caring in the truest sense,” said Elroy Sprauve. “I never saw him as a politician.”

Coral Bay Shop
Julius Sprauve had interests outside the legislature as well, explained Gaylord Sprauve.

“He spent a good bit of his time in the Coral Bay area, because he had a small shop there,” said Gaylord Sprauve. “He made the journey by mule — he had a couple of them, because in those days there were no vehicles on St. John. He had to take that long trip to take care of his business in Coral Bay.”

Gaylord Sprauve and his family would often stop in Coral Bay to visit Julius Sprauve on their way home.

“We lived on the East End, and we’d take trips when everybody had to find a ride, whether it was a mule, donkey or horse,” said Gaylord Sprauve. “On the way to the East End we’d stop by Julius’ place in Coral Bay.”

Gaylord Sprauve also recalled the times he spent with Julius Sprauve’s sons.

“We were rather close to several of his children,” said Gaylord Sprauve. “We grew up as if we were brothers. We’d look forward to visiting with them.”

Unbeatable Legislator
Sometimes, their visits included scavenging for gravel and sand to help Julius Sprauve with a construction project.

“We’d use rowboats and go to the different bays to collect gravel or sand,” said Gaylord Sprauve. “For us, it was fun.”
Gaylord Sprauve remembers his cousin as a quiet man who could not be replaced in the senate, he explained.

“Julius was a very quiet guy, and he was unbeatable in the senate,” said Gaylord Sprauve. “A couple people tried to replace him, but they were not successful. He meant everything to the island of St. John.”

Elroy Sprauve remembers the nightly prayers that his father compelled him to say.

“He always insisted that he had to hear us say our prayers at night,” said Elroy Sprauve. “Once we said a prayer, we weren’t allowed to talk. We’d be whispering, and we’d always joke and say, ‘we hope he can’t hear us right now.’”

Biggest Contribution
The greatest contribution this island icon made to St. John was his sense of caring, explained Elroy Sprauve.

“He would always go out of his way to help anyone, whether he knew the person or not,” said Elroy Sprauve. “He was someone who really exemplified what it is to care and to share. To me, this was his biggest contribution to St. John.”