Visiting Christiansted in St. Croix

I’m back from our Caribbean National Parks trip. It would be so easy to just move on but I want to talk about at least one more park in the Virgin Islands, Christiansted National Historic Site, in St. Croix.

After enjoying the trails, beaches and donkeys of St. John, we flew to St. Croix. If you find yourself lucky enough to visit to the Virgin Islands, don’t miss the island of St. Croix.

St. Croix, the largest of the three US Virgin Islands, is the most Danish. A latecomer in the European race for colonies and profits in the New World, Denmark occupied the uninhabited islands of St. Thomas (1671) and St. John (1717). When they needed land more suitable for sugar cultivation, the Danes purchased St. Croix from France in 1733. It became a cosmopolitan town; at one time or another, the white population of Christiansted consisted of Danes, and Norwegians, British, Germans, Dutch, Irish, and a few Sephardic Jews. There is an active synagogue in Christiansted, though we decided to skip the Friday night services.

The major historic building left by the Danes is Fort Christiansvaern. It sits in the middle of town, with its cannons still pointing out to sea, though I doubt if it could take on a hostile navy now. Christiansted National Historic Site was established in 1952 and consists of seven acres and six historic buildings; Government House (1747), Steeple Building (1753), Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse (1749), Custom House (1830), Scale House (1856), and Fort Christiansvaern (1738). The mission is to preserve the historic structure and grounds within its boundaries, and to interpret the Danish economy and way of life here between 1733 and 1917. It needs a lot of help.

We visited the Fort on a Saturday, hoping to get on a scheduled ranger tour but there isn’t enough staff. Instead, Jasmine, a lovely fifth grader, asked if we wanted a tour. “Yes, please,” we said.

She showed us the dungeon for bad slaves. “If you burned cane fields, they put you in solitary confinement.” It was a small black hole. She also made sure that we saw the urinals where human waste went straight out to the sea.

Alexander Hamilton grew up in Christiansted with his divorced mother. The father, much more socially powerful than the mother, had her imprisoned for a while in the fort. At least, she had her own cell. Upstairs, the cannons faced out to sea. They had created a triangle with two other forts if enemies came but the fort was never attacked.

Jasmine had the singsong uptalk of a tween trying to recite important facts. But she did a great job and saved us the trouble of figuring out the rooms from a paper guide that had been photocopied to death. Jasmine is hoping to work for the Park Service and is getting a great start. At the end, we thanked her with a ten-dollar bill. She went off happy.

Most of the other buildings belonging to the site were closed. In the evening, I found a service in the historic Lutheran church. The pastor, a tall rotund man, wore a white robe with a rope holding the garment closed. When I got there, the congregation was up at the pulpit getting the Eucharist, followed by great singing led by an inspired choir.

The president of the congregation made announcements and asked. “Are there any visiting Danes who are worshipping with us tonight?” Three couples stood up. Other visitors? I didn’t stand up because I wasn’t worshipping, just observing. The music got lively and everyone swayed, even the minister and a woman similarly dressed in a white robe. The Danes’ eyes popped out of their heads. They sang, “I shall not be moved.”

The three national parks in St. Croix could use a lot of help. To be continued.


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