Recalling the Life of an East End Girl


East End Homegoing: Sons, grandsons and nephews of Genevieve “Miss Jennie” Marsh, lower her casket into a grave in the family cemetery in Hansen Bay on Oct. 11, her 95th birthday.



EAST END — When Genevieve Marsh left this world on October 1, a part of St. John went with her. As she was laid to rest on October 11 — her 95th birthday — she returned to the place where it all began.

Mrs. Marsh was born Eunice Genevieve Roberts on East End on Oct. 11, 1919, in a world where a girl could live the outdoor life. East End was a community of traders, fishermen and mariners, cut off from the rest of St. John because there was no road to Coral Bay, according to the late historian Guy H. Benjamin.

The writer of her eulogy described her father, Alphonso Roberts, as a master carpenter who built a boat for his daughter. From then, “Miss Jennie” began an enduring love of the sea.

“My mother was a strong and brave lady,” said Ezio Marsh, a veteran Caneel Bay hospitality worker and local artist. “She told me how she used to sail a small sail boat that her father built for her. She sailed from East End to Coral Bay.”

The early years also left time for the young St. Johnian to tend the family’s goats, other animals, and to grow things from the land. Like her love of the sea, they became for Genevieve, lifetime devotions.

Many years later “Miss Jennie,” as she was known to some, would recount the days when she’d make that same trip with any number of her 11 children as they grew up and went to school.

Traveling on Horseback and by Boat
The 11 children came with help in the form of another way to get to and from Coral Bay. William Marsh knew how to travel the overland donkey trail on horseback. Will and Jennie met, got married, and raised a family.

In between there was a time when Jennie also travelled to St. Thomas to get an education. She told friends about her days at the Charlotte Amalie High School when other young men noticed, including Conrad Warren Smith who carried her books.

As time went by C. Warren Smith went on to Howard University Medical School and returned to St. Thomas as a pediatrician and later served as Commissioner of Health.

There was also a story, though unconfirmed, from a Frenchtown seamstress, Elizabeth Quetel, who she and Jennie Roberts made friends while they worked as shop clerks in Charlotte Amalie.

Quetel shared that memory with a visitor in February 2014 when she came to St. John as a cultural demonstrator at the Annaberg Fair.
Years later, and back home on St. John, Miss Jennie found time to tend sheep, slaughter goats for food, fish and garden. She also got handy with a shotgun, something Ezio said helped out one day when a wild boar killed a family goat.

“She told me she wasn’t afraid and she waited ’till the boar came closer to shoot him,” her son said.

As the years rolled on, Miss Jennie tried her hand at business, operating a cook shop. Before opening a cook shop of her own, she gained skills as a cook for the public school system.

Upon the death of her husband Will, she opened the Meadowview Bar and Restaurant, and later a small grocery. The cook shop stayed open until the early 1990s.

Return to East End
With the children grown up and the pace of life winding down, Jennie Marsh could be seen in East End on the weekends, and sometimes in a little cottage on Centerline Road near Vie’s Snack Shack. Her sister Louise and her children lived in the area.

In those days her niece Lucinda Anthony would send Aunt Jennie a freshly-baked birthday cake. Lucinda, who followed her aunt into the public school system, became well known for making fruit tarts in her lifetime.

Her niece, Laurel Sewer, was a frequent fishing buddy, the two rowing out into the bay in a dinghy. Other days Miss Jennie would pass a Sunday afternoon playing dominoes under a tamarind tree with her cousin Matey Sewer.

On other days Miss Jennie could be found along the shore with a hand line and a bucket of fish.

Sewer said he first met Jennie Marsh in 1950, after he was struck by one of St. Thomas’ only trucks at the age of seven. Sewer’s father, Harry, sent the convalescing boy to East End to live with his grandmother.

Miss Jennie, he said, was his grandmother’s best friend.

“My life with Genevieve was good,” Sewer said. In season, sacks of peach mangoes would appear at his doorstep. The likely source of origin — one of Miss Jennie’s trees.

Frank, No-Nonsense Style
Other family members recalled her frank, no-nonsense style. On the day of her funeral retired Coral Bay firefighter Michael McKetnie said in the course of a day the two could drink together, cuss together, fall out and meet up the next day, no hard feelings.

“That was my girl,” he said.

As she grew into her late eighties, Miss Jennie gave up driving. Some of her children would treat her to an occasional island tour, something friends said she enjoyed until her final day.

She also still loved the outdoors, sitting on the wraparound porch at her home on the shore of Coral Bay, “Robertsville”, looking out on her garden.