Miss Peggy Returns To St. John
In 1796 Miss Peggy Vriehuis completed her education in Beth-lehem, Pennsylvania and Miss Mintje, her faithful servant, sailed north from St. John to pick her up and bring her home.
Miss Peggy and Mintje then sailed into one of the greatest adventures of their lives. I’m going to let Miss Peggy relate her adventures to you in her own words from the life narrative she wrote.
“In the Spring of the year 1796, in the month of May, we left the Delaware Bay and sailed for St. Cruze, but my kind father had sent on my faithful servant [Mintje] a month before the time arrived for my return, that she might be with me during the voyage,” wrote Miss Peggy. “We had beautiful weather, but on account of long calms the voyage was a long one — a full three weeks. We had a very kind, fatherly and gentlemanly captain, a fine vessel with good accommodations.”
“Myself and servant were the only passengers,” Miss Peggy continued. “The captain began to feel uneasy as we approached the island, as the seas were infested at that period, (during the French Revolution), with French privateers. He had for some days been applying his spy glass to his eye on the watch for their appearance.”
“Three days before we made land we were startled by an exclamation from the captain, ‘There is a privateer in sight,’” she continued. “In a moment every eye was turned toward the spot and all hands were employed in trimming the sails to try to out sail her; but the captain soon perceived she was a fast sailor and would soon overtake us. However, we sailed away and gave little heed to their firing, for they began to fire at us as soon as they spied us.”
“Our vessel was a fine brig — a merchantman — carrying Ameri-can colors; a neutral vessel,” Miss Peggy continued. “Having no weapons or hands sufficient to engage them, the captain, to save his vessel and papers, gave up the chase. They were so near their shots fell close alongside of our vessel.”
“In a few moments they were lying alongside of our vessel; their men jumped on board dragging their grappling irons with them, and soon secured us by fastening the two vessels together,” she continued. “The captain and mate with an interpreter entered the cabin where they found two defenseless women, the only passengers on board. There we were without any human protector, but God was a very present help; not a hair of our heads did they dare touch, neither had they the power to make us afraid.”
“They were perfectly civil and treated me with respect,” Miss Peggy continued. “The captain restrained his men and would not let them search my trunks or baggage. And now at this distance of time, when I reflect on the dangerous situation in which I was placed, and recollect with what courage and self possession I passed through this exciting scene, I must exclaim: truly God was a very present help.”
“After having searched everything in the cabin and the other parts of the vessel, they found they could find no plea for detaining captain or vessel,” she continued. “They let us go, and happy were we to escape from so eminent a danger.”
Old Tyme St. John Welcome
Miss Peggy continues to write of her arrival in Cruz Bay. We must remember that at this time, Cruz Bay was the site of plantation warehouses and the Fort. The centers of community life were the plantations and farms on the island.
Here’s how Peggy describes her landing on St. John.
“The vessel anchored at Cruz Bay, the principal harbor, where the fort is located and the government officers reside,” Miss Peggy wrote. “I found that my expected arrival had created quite an excitement. The beach was lined with spectators, both white and black.”
“There among the crowd stood my father and mother, who through the goodness of God had been permitted once more to embrace their long absent daughter,” she continued. “There were no convenient wharves to accommodate and make the landing of passengers easy and safe, as the vessel lay at some distance from shore. The long boat was lowered, the passengers were soon seated and we rowed to the shore; but here we encountered another difficulty.”
“The waves washed the beach a yard or so beyond the boat: boards had to be placed in a temporary bridge to prevent the disagreeable necessity of getting wet,” Miss Peggy continued. “A gentleman advanced and offering his hand, assisted my landing and led me to my mother. Oh, what a moment; words cannot convey the feeling that took possession of our hearts.”
“Suffice it to say that everybody appeared to participate in the joy and happiness of my dear parents,” she continued.
“My father was a most estimable man and beloved by all who knew him. Oh often I bless his dear memory, as instrument of good to me under the guidance of God.”
“The gentleman who led me to my mother was a stranger to me at the time but a few months later became my husband," Miss Peggy concluded.
Please note the plot map of Cruz Bay accompanying this article. Judging from the names, it would appear that the time the map represents is circa 1800. It’s an interesting snapshot of Cruz Bay when it was a plantation depot and before it was a settlement of families.
One of the lots belongs to Miss Peggy’s future husband, Isaac Knevels; one belongs to her father, D’Jurco Vriehuis; and if you look closely, near the back row of warehouses, two of the lots belong to free coloreds.
I can’t thank Marillyn Newville enough for letting me share her family stories with our readers which give us this unique picture of life on St. John.