- Paperback: 212 pages
- Publisher: St. John Historical Society; 1 edition (February 1, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0984274006
- ISBN-13: 978-0984274000
- Package Dimensions: 10.6 x 7.6 x 0.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,766,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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St. John: Life in Five Quarters Paperback – February 1, 2010
Historical Society Publishing Comprehensive History Book
By Andrea Milam
St John Tradewinds
Not since St. John Backtime was published in 1985 has there been a book covering St. John history with such broad range as the St. John Historical Society's first book, St. John: Life in Five Quarters. The hardcover book is a compilation of articles, photos and images culled from the society's newsletter, which it has been published for 10 years.
"It's sort of the next step in fulfilling one of our missions of educating everyone about the history of St. John," said society president Robin Swank. "Our goal is to make the book widely available to classrooms, libraries and historians at little to no cost, and also to reach the general populace with probably the first real history book since 'Backtime' was published."
The 216-page book, whose title reflects the five administrative districts, or "quarters," the island is divided into on Danish civil engineer Peter Oxholm's St. John map of 1780, features seven collections of articles on subjects ranging from "Important Places and Events" to "Science and Natural History." "It's sort of a series of vignettes that will cover many subjects, and we have 30 to 40 pages of images from the era of European civilization up through much of the 20th century," said Swank.
The articles include pieces by Danish historians which have been translated; Nancy Gibney, who came to St. John in the mid-1900s; and modern-day historians such as past SJHS president David Knight and Elroy Sprauve. "We have a wide variety of St. John voices," said Swank. The book's images came from private collections, including that of Knight, whose father was a well-known photographer on the island; and from the National Archives in Denmark.
St. John: Life in Five Quarters covers the time period from early European settlement in the early 1800s through the mid-1900s. It's not meant to be a book one reads from cover to cover, but rather a compilation whose bits and pieces can be enjoyed at random, according to Swank. "If you're homebound in the rain, you'd pick out Eleanor Gibney's story on November rain and read about what the weather has been like over time in the islands," said the SJHS president. "Or if you have guests who are going to Lameshur, you'd look at David Knight's article on Lameshur and read about why it's spelled three different ways and how it came to be donated to Frank Stick and made into National Park." "If you're a newcomer to the island, you could read Elroy Sprauve's articles on understanding English Creole, so you get a better understanding for how language has evolved on the island," said Swank.--St John Tradewinds
New publication focuses on St. John history and culture
By GENEVIEVE RYAN
Virgin Islands scholars have a new source to turn to when researching the history and culture of St. John. Compiled and edited by Society members Eleanor Gibney, David Knight, Bruce Schoonover and Robin Swank, the Society's debut book is a compilation of 66 articles, written by a diverse group of authors on subjects ranging from profiles of notable St. Johnians to science and nature, first-hand accounts of important events and depictions of what life on the island was like in days gone by. Authors include everyone from St. Johnian culture bearers to longtime locals to historical figures and Danish scholars.
The time period covered in the book spans from 1675 - the year of the first attempt at a Danish settlement - to present day St. John. Chosen articles were pulled from the Society's archives, and from a variety of other sources including the Danish Archives, the National Archives in College Park, Md., and the National Park Services Archives in North Carolina.
The book's title, "Life in Five Quarters," references the island's five administrative districts in use since 1728 - Cruz Bay Quarter, Maho Bay Quarter, Reef Bay Quarter, Coral Bay Quarter and East End Quarter.
The 216-page soft cover book also boasts an impressive collection of more than 160 images, many of which have been published for the first time. Gracing the book's cover is a watercolor painting featuring a Coral Bay scene by Robert H. Schomburgk. Painted in 1833, Schomburgk dedicated the work to Noble L. Usher, whose home on Usher's Cay can be seen in the work. "Shown on the left hand side of the painting is what's known as the `Customs House' - if you were to come out here today, you would find it looking very much the same," said Bruce Schoonover.
Schoonover says Schomburgk was also an explorer who stayed for a time on Anegada where he was a witness to three shipwrecks just off the island's coast. One of these ships was carrying chained slaves, all of whom perished when the ship went down. Witnessing this event affected Schomburgk deeply, and inspired him to map the reefs surrounding Anegada. He sent his findings to Britain where they were published as official surveys, much to the dismay of those living on the island, as many made a living scavenging the wrecks. Schoonover's contributions to the book include an article on "The Establishment of the Virgin Islands National Park," as well as one on the "Tektite Program," a scientific mission that took place over 60 days in 1969-1970 during which four aquanauts lived in a habitat sunk in 49 feet of water at the bottom of Lameshur Bay. The program was sponsored by General Electric, NASA, the U.S. Navy and the Interior Department.
Contributions from Society Archivist Eleanor Gibney, a well known St. John botanist, include several articles on science and nature based on Gibney's years of research. Historian David Knight's articles include "Free Working Class Land Owners on St. John in the 18th and 19th centuries." Knight says he is quite proud of this work as it focuses on a seldom recognized group. "Most historical works on the time period tend to focus on Danish plantation owners, but there were also many land owners, a struggling middle class made up of trades people, like fisherman," said the historian.
Works written by Knight's mother, Anna W. Knight, and son, David Knight Jr., are also featured in the book.
Other contributors include cultural historian Elroy Sprauve and Andromeada Childs, the daughter of nurse Myrah Keating Smith for whom the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center is named.--Virgin Islands Daily News
The St. John Historical Society's labor of love, St. John: Life in Five Quarters, is out. The 216-page book includes 66 articles about St. John.
"The book is very broad and inclusive of a wonderful mix of voices and perspectives," historian and Historical Society member David Knight said.
In addition to Knight, it's written, compiled and edited mainly by Historical Society members Eleanor Gibney, Robin Swank, and Bruce Schoonover. It includes profiles of notable people and places, detailed estate histories, articles on science and nature, accounts of important events, and first-hand descriptions of life on St. John long ago. Several of the articles are summaries of information gleaned on various Historical Society outings.
The title is a reference to St. John's five administrative districts, known as quarters, Cruz Bay Quarter, Maho Bay Quarter, Reef Bay Quarter, Coral Bay Quarter, and East End Quarter. Quarter divisions were first noted in the island's earliest Danish-colonial tax records compiled in 1728 and are still in use today. It's the first book about St. John history since Ruth Low and Rafael Valls published St. John Backtime in 1985. Both Low and Valls are now deceased.
The book is filed with 160 images, most appearing in print for the first time. The cover is an 1833 hand-painted watercolor of Coral Bay by Robert H. Schomburgk. Schomburgk dedicated a print of his Coral Bay painting to Noble L. Usher, whose home on the point known as Usher's Cay is featured in the picture.
"The images are important for understanding the island," Gibney said.
There's even a section on old postcards and includes one of what was then called Caneel Bay Plantation, now Resort, circa 1948.--St. John Source
About the Author
In February 1974, the first organizational meeting of the tentatively named St. John Historical Society was held at National Park Headquarters at The Creek in Cruz Bay. At that meeting the goals and objectives of the new Society were laid out and they have remained basically unchanged to the present day. The founding group proposed to take field trips to, and encourage the preservation of, historical sites, sponsor publications of historical materials, compile local family records and tape oral histories, document St. John burial sites, encourage the preservation of artifacts, and assist with the new island museum being established at the Battery.
The early days of the Society were like many organizations, remembers founding-member Jane Bowry. We evolved without a plan. There were many of us who were anxious to know more about this paradise we were privileged to call home. The whole concept really came together when a little boy presented a Danish coin to Doris Jadan, and the need for a historical museum became evident. By April 1974 there was a slate of officers, a first membership meeting had been held, and annual dues of $2 had been collected.
Lately it has been time to revisit many historical sites on the island with a new generation of knowledgeable St. Johnians and our energetic membership. We now document and share the information we learn on our hikes, lectures and field trips through our Newsletter and on our website, bringing St. John history to an everwidening audience. The Society continues to embrace its commitment to be a strong advocate for preservation and the recording and dissemination of the history of this unique and wonderful place. Looking forward, it seems a certainty that the SJHS will be there to provide many more years of dedicated service to the St. John community.
On behalf of the Society s Board of Directors we thank all of our members and friends, both past and present, for their support and contributions to our efforts. It is to all of you, that this volume is respectfully dedicated.
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Selected Readings from the Archives of the St John Historical Society
This recent publication by the St John Historical Society kept me
company for several days recently. Since I often carried it with
me, friends saw me with it and would comment, "I really liked that
book! Are you enjoying it?" It makes me happy to know that it's out
there because reading St John Life in Five Quarters is a valuable
It was a great idea to compile these articles and interviews, many
previously in print, into one volume. We are taken from the earliest
days of the Danes' struggle to colonize "St Jan" through more recent
adventures of early twentieth-century settlers, and into the present
with tales of treks to explore our island's historical ruins. Maps,
photos and old postcards, many of which have not been previously
published, are well placed throughout the text, including Peter
Oxholm's 1780 manuscript map and the front and back cover photos.
Accompanying tales of earlier times are articles about native flora
and local customs. A description of the charcoal-making process is
pleasingly combined with the writer's memories of her own parents'
use of coal pots for cooking, evoked by the smell of smoke coming
from Annaberg as she drives by. And one elder's depiction of his
carefree life as a child arouses nostalgia for a simpler time when sea,
sun and sand, combined with a caring extended family, provided a
safe haven for all.
The book concludes with a piece written by David Knight Jr when
he was just fifteen. He describes a trek he and his father made to
one of, what he calls, St John's "forgotten places". He describes his
reaction to coming across more articles of clothing, no doubt recently
discarded by illegal immigrants, than relics of early dwellings. This
somehow tied it all together for me - the ongoing history of the island
of St John.