The University of Copenhagen students who come annually to St. John to work with V.I. National Park Archaeologist Ken Wild often help piece together stories of those who lived at the island’s historic estates.
This year’s intern duo, however, seems to have raised more questions than answers in their study of Estate Haulover.
Interns Stig Rasmussen and Signe Flygare, who are both studying for masters degrees in history, spent the time leading up to their trip to St. John studying records and other documents in the Danish State Archives.
What they have found on the ground in Haulover, however, does not match what they expected to find based on the information they’d gathered, explained Rasmussen.
“It doesn’t fit what we have in the archives,” he said. “In 1815, Haulover was recorded to have 40 slaves and was one of the biggest plantations on the East End.”
The artifacts the team found provide conflicting information: it seems the estate was abandoned in the 18th century, according to VINP Archaeologist Wild.
University of Copenhagen students Stig Rasmussen, left, and Signe Flygare, center, have been on island for the past month helping V.I. National Park Archaeologist Ken Wild, right, study the ruins of a plantation at Haulover on the island’s East End. The two returned to Denmark on Sunday, April 18, to further delve into the estate’s history by examining documents and records in the Danish State Archives.
Flygare, who focused her studies on Haulover in the 18th century, found that the estate was actually made up of many smaller estates, which were conglomerated in 1773. Artifacts found by Wild and the interns, including the remains of small shellfish which those living at the plantation ate, suggest the plantation was incredibly poor.
“These guys were hungry,” said Wild. “They were desperate.”
“If the plantation owners were so poor, what was life like for those who were enslaved there?” added Flygare. “We want to get their personal stories.”
Rasmussem and Flygare returned to Denmark on Sunday, April 18, and will now delve back into the Danish State Archives to try to piece together those stories.
“We’ll look at auction protocols to find descriptions of the estate, including things like how many buildings it had and whether the owner had a boat,” said Flygare.
Despite the mystery of why Haulover’s ruins don’t match what was found in the archives, Flygare said she enjoyed coming to St. John to investigate Denmark’s history in the Caribbean firsthand.
“It’s an adventure,” she said. “You get to find things that nobody’s found before. I liked getting my hands dirty.”
Rasmussen, who hopes to eventually work as a professor, or in some other capacity sharing knowledge with others, jumped at the chance to get out of the classroom and come to St. John.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to try something different,” he said.
“Aside from the mosquitoes, no-see-ums, bees, catch ‘n keep and the humidity, I’ve just really enjoyed it,” added Flygare with a smile. “I’ve learned so much.”
The relationship between the University of Copenhagen and the VINP is mutually beneficial, explained Wild. The VINP archaeologist can now use information gathered by the interns to determine the time periods that other island plantations were active.
The investigation of Haulover was seen as somewhat of an emergency, as a hiking trail recently opened up that goes right through the plantation ruins, explained Wild.
“If we lost these artifacts, they’d be gone forever,” he said. “It’s been a real eye opener to find these plantations.”