Genealogist Maps Out Petrus Family Tree at SJHS Meeting


Zion Hill home, above left, and Mary’s Point, below , where the Petrus family was enslaved.

It’s no secret that many familiar St. Johnian families’ genealogies are intertwined. The connections of members of the Wesselhoft, Harley, Smith, Matthias and other well-known families to the Petrus family were spelled out at the Tuesday evening, January 14, St. John Historical Society meeting at the Bethany Moravian Church.

Genealogist Leayle Robinson, himself a member of the Petrus family, shared his extensive research on the family’s lineage in his presentation on the Petrus family tree. Robinson traced several present-day notable St. Johnians directly back to Eleanora and Pero Petrus, born in 1813 on St. John and in 1811 on Tortola, respectively.

Robinson stressed that he followed only the couple’s direct lineage for his book, “From Mary’s Point to John’s Folly – The Petrus Family Tree.” Both Eleanora and Pero were born into slavery, with Eleanora being enslaved at Annaberg, and Robinson was unable to find record of either of their parents or siblings.

“I want to go beyond them,” said Robinson. “Maybe it could take me back to Africa somewhere.”

Using oral history, obituaries, cemeteries, and church, census, and land records, Robinson pieced together the Petrus family tree for his book. Despite being tripped up by difficulties like Eleanora and Pero’s daughter, Maria Sophina, showing up in records as both Maria Harley and Sophina Daniel — different last names reflect her first and second husbands — Robinson has established quite a thorough record of the Petrus family.

Maria Sophina extended the Petrus family’s bounds when she moved from Annaberg, where all of Eleanora and Pero’s children were born, to the East End, while Eleanora and Pero’s daughter Lydia moved to John’s Folly, to a home built in 1883 on Zion Hill, whose ruins still stand today.

Maria Sophina is also notable because it is from her direct lineage that three St. John administrators were born — Roy Sewer, Julien Harley Sr., and Leona Smith.

Robinson’s presentation for the SJHS drew a sizeable audience, many of whom belong to the Petrus family. As he discussed present-day descendants, the many Petrus family relatives in the audience murmured in agreement at seeing photos of their family members on the big screen.

In addition to three St. John administrators, direct descendants of Eleanora and Pero Petrus’ union include educator Melville Samuel; Judge Ishmael Meyers; former VITEMA St. John Deputy Director Alvis Christian; Air Force, Army, and Navy veteran Pastor Ray Joseph; former senator and Subway restaurant owner Allie Petrus; retired JESS cook Eirleen Dalmida January; businessman and taxi driver Kenneth Marsh Sr.; retired National Park Service employee Edmund Roberts; retired U.S. Postal Service worker Alston Smith; Ernest Matthias of the V.I. Fire Service; and many, many others.

Robinson also highlighted members of the family who lived past 95, of which there were many. The oldest recorded descendant of Eleanora and Pero Petrus, Peggy Margaret Roberts Jackson, died at 106. She was the couple’s granddaughter.

Although Robinson has gathered a vast amount of information on Eleanora and Pero Petrus and their direct descendants, he hopes to find out more.

“It’s a struggle for me,” he said of the fact that no parents or siblings of Eleanora or Pero were found. “I’m going to continue. I’ll go back again and I’ll try.”