Historical Bits & Pieces by Chuck Pishko


Chuck Pishko

Little Miss Peggy Vriehus of St. John’s W.I.

The Moravian Church is currently celebrating 550 years of serving God. The Church here in the Virgin Islands is joining in this celebration as well as celebrating its 275 years of service to the islands. 

A series of musical concerts and historical exhibits will highlight the year. The first concert performed at New Herrnhutt on St. Thomas was a professional spiritual uplifting experience steeped in tradition — well worth attending. 

Here on St. John, the Mora-vians had special friends, Nicholas and Henry Tonis, who assisted them in their heroic efforts to better the conditions of the enslaved Africans and to bring them the Gospel. They provided the Moravians with a safe place to worship on their plantation L’Esperance. 


Bethany Moravian Church and Settlement on left and the Dutch Reformed Church on the right. Lithograph from C.G.A. Oldendorp’s “Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Brueder auf den caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan,” published in 1770.


In 1770, Christian Oldendorp wrote “History of The Mission of The Evangelical Brethren on the Caribbean Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John,” which was translated by A. Highfield and V. Barac and published in English entitled, “A Caribbean Mission.” 

This is a very important first-person account on island history. This journal reported that Moravian missionary Friedrich Martin stayed at the Tonis plantation and in 1745 performed the first Moravian baptisms there. 

“On February 14, Martin baptized the first two Negroes on that island, namely the Negro Clas of the Jan de Wint plantation and the Negro woman Nora of the Tonis plantation. This ceremony was attended by a deputy from the government, various other gentlemen, and three hundred Negroes. Before the baptism of the Negroes, Abraham (a black convert) delivered a talk on the death and suffering of our Lord and on the mercy available for us through those acts. It was so emphatic and moving that both the white and black listeners shed many tears in response. The Whites admitted that never in their lives had they heard preaching that was so emphatic and convincing…” (Oldendorp, p432)
Tonis’ granddaughter, Marg-aret C. Vriehus is the “Little Miss Peggy” in the title. We are fortunate that Miss Peggy wrote a narrative of her life and that her loving family has preserved it and passed it on to the current generations. Mrs. Marillyn New-ville of Clearwater, Florida, Peggy’s great-great-great granddaughter, is very proud of her illustrious island heritage and visits here often. 

The Vriehus/Tonis family was so impressed with the Mora-vians’ teaching skills that he sent his only daughter at eight years of age, to Bethlehem, Pennsyl-vania in 1787. Her narrative reads, “about this time, the United Brethren of Moravian missionaries informed my Father that their society at Bethlehem in Pennsylvania had lately established a school for girls with competent teachers.” (Narrative, p2) 

In a book on the Girls’ School entitled “A Century of Moravian Sisters” by Elizabeth Lehman Myers published in 1918,  M.C. Vriehus and her nurse Mintje’s presence and adventures are recalled: 

“Little Miss Peggy Vriehus of St. John’s W.I. aged eight years, was sent to the Bethlehem school in charge of a faithful negress who remained for months until the little lady was accustomed to the new residence beyond all danger of home sickness. ‘Nurse Mintje’ was given her own room in the building, and here seated on a high backed chair, she spent most of her time, her fingers busily occupied with strange new materials, in the making of woolen garments for Miss Peggy; garments that must have been hard to fashion for fingers accustomed to fine cambric  and linen.  

“This room was known for a long time as ‘Mintje’s room,’ although the negress was here only four months. She made a great impression with her broad, black face under the gay turban of printed cotton, its tropical suggestions such a contrast to the austere chastity of the snow-white cap the sisters wore.” (Myers, p. 145)

Miss Peggy writes about her early impressions of the school. 

“There were but few scholars when I entered the school, but the school increased rapidly and gave universal satisfaction to the parents and friends of the scholars. But to return to the faithful attendant; she went back to Philadelphia and my guardian procured a berth in a vessel for St. Thomas. She arrived in safety and related to her master and mistress all the various adventures she had gone through, and how she left me happy among my playmates. She faithfully fulfilled her duty.” (Narrative, p3)

The L’Esperance Estate is easily visited today. It’s a quarter mile off the south side of Centerline Road on a dirt road, two-tenths of a mile east of the Catherineberg Road.