Knevels Family Created an Island Heritage
Last time, we left Peggy Vrie-huis happy to be back home on St. John. She was escorted onto the shore of Cruz Bay by Isaac Knevels who had recently returned from studying medicine in America. Isaac and his older brother had been sent to New York under the guardianship of John DeWindt who was returning to New York to concentrate on his mercantile business there.
On February 23, 1798, Peggy was wed to Dr. Isaac A. Knevels, the son of the late Dutch Reformed Dominie Johannes Wernerus Knevels who had headed the church on St. John from 1752 until his death in 1789. His congregation was made up of Dutch settlers many of whom were creolized after living for generations in South America and the Caribbean and often inter-marrying with other races of people here.
Knevels passed knowing the love of his Moravian brethren whom he had supported and fostered in their faith. Dr. Isaac and Peggy lived at L’Esperance for two years with Peggy’s grandmother. They then moved to Susannaberg to be with Isaac’s mother whose only other son had recently died.
Isaac and Peggy took their three oldest boys to America for their education just as Peggy had been sent by her parents. They found five or six families with ten children who also needed to go to America for education including the governor’s two sons. They stayed the summer in Pennsylvania and the winter in New York.
They returned to St. John with a DeWindt family member who was suffering from consumption and eventually cured by the climate change. Conversely, Dr. Isaac Knevels health began to fail from being on St. John.
In 1812 Isaac and Peggy permanently moved their growing family to America because of Isaac’s failing health, their continuing need to educate their children, the decreasing profitability of sugar production, and the opportunities then available in America.
In the 1820’s two of their sons returned to St. John to manage and eventually dispose of some of the family properties which now included eight plantations. Interestingly, two of the Knevels’ holdings on St. John including Fish Bay, remained in the Knevels’ name into the early 20th century!
One son, Henry, became the island administrator. He was also the grandfather of Eliza Johanna Kean nee Knevels who was the mother of Orville Sidney Kean. Orville Kean was one of St. Thomas’ leading citizens in the 19th and early 20th centuries who served as Warden of Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church and was a member of the Colonial Council.
He also served as a trustee of St. Thomas Savings Bank and was a leading Free Mason attaining Overseas Rank Grand Lodge of England.
Orville Kean’s granddaughter, Louisa Kean-Euwema, the family genealogist, helped with this information. Concurrently, Augustus, another son of Margaret “Peggy” Vriehuis, established another illustrious family line in America which includes his great-great granddaughter Marillyn Cramblet Newville without whom this amazing history could not have been told.
Note: The DeWindt family genealogies explain much of the inter-connections between the Dutch families in the Virgin Islands and their connections to America. Henry B. Hoff has studied these families. His research was used extensively by Stephen Edwards, George Tyson, and David Knight in developing St. John history. Hoff’s DeWindt genealogies are available at the Elaine I. Sprauve Library.