Historical Bits & Pieces by Chuck Pishko

Chuck Pishko

Creole To Count 

You’ll recall in my last column on April 16, I discussed Count Henrik Castenschiold, who owned Lameshur Plantation in the early 1900s.

Today, I will tell you how this royal line was established here in the Danish West Indies through family connections, good works, perceptive writing, and good business sense.  

The founder of the royal Castenschiold line, Johan Lorentz Carstens, was born in St. Thomas on May 18, 1705. He was the son of a Dane, Jorgen Carstens, who had come out to the colony and diligently and rapidly worked his way up from a petty company official to a respected planter.

Did I tell you that Jorgen’s uncle was the governor and his wife was an heiress with a plantation and a townhouse? Johan, his only surviving son, inherited all. He married Jacoba von Holten, the daughter of the most prominent and wealthiest family on the island who came to the marriage with another plantation. Needless to say, he became an important figure in plantation and business affairs on the island.  

Also, and more importantly, he was deeply religious and a humanitarian. He was the leading proponent of the Moravian Brethren’s work with the enslaved Africans. Carstens gave the early Moravians shelter and jobs and purchased their first plantation called New Herrnhutt, which today is still the center of Moravian operations in the Virgin Islands.  
Also, at great personal risk, he became the godfather of Domingo Gesoe, an enslaved African, who became a leading Moravian and the manager of Carstens’ estates.

Although Carstens’ businesses here prospered, his wife’s health required their relocation to Denmark in 1739. He expanded his business and commercial activities there. He also began to write an account of the islands. King Christian VI carefully scrutinized this account and used it and Carstens’ advice as a basis for expansion of royal business on St. Croix.  
For his efforts, Carstens was made a nobleman and given the aristocratic name of “Castenschiold.”



Johan Carstens, top, and mansion, bottom.

The name was carried forward by his descendants including Count Henrik Grevenkop-Castenschiold who was the prominent twentieth century St. John planter we discussed in our last column. Johan acquired Estate Knabstrup and the mansion picuture above.

Unfortunately, he died at 47 of smallpox. Even in death, he continued to amaze me.  

Isidor Paiewonsky writes in his “Eyewitness Accounts” that Danish historians recorded the following incident. An old reliable farm hand, Hans Nielsen, reported that at the hour of Carstens’ passing, he saw a black carriage drawn by four black horses pull up to the mansion. He saw an elegantly dressed gentleman leave the house and enter the coach. The black coachman galloped the horses and the carriage disappeared into the night. He was convinced that the West Indian slaves had come for their master to take him away in elegant style.  

Both Carstens’ narrative, “St. Thomas in Early Danish Time,” and supporting Moravian accounts, “A Caribbean Mis-sion,” by Oldendorp are available in English in the library along with Paiewonsky’s “Eye-witness Accounts.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t remember the tenth anniversary of the passing of Steve Edwards on May 3. Edwards was a founder of the St. John Historical Society and an inveterate explorer and researcher of St. John’s ruins and historical sites.

The reports on his work are an essential and unique part of recorded St. John history. We join his wife Nancy, daughter Kiki and grandson Stevie in remembering him.