Botany Bay Notes 1/17/2009
(Condensed from “A History of Botany Bay” by David W. Knight (2001)

The Prehistoric Presence at Botany Bay

To date, two significant prehistoric sites have been identified within the bounds of the Botany Bay estate — both of these have been erroneously referred to in the past as “preceramic” [DPNR, 1993; Wilson, 1997]. Each of these sites lie within a zone referred to as the “Botany Bay Archaeological District,” the boundaries of which are delineated in the National Registry nomination for this area.

The first of these two sites is believed to be a village or ceremonial center, occupied on at least two occasions: once between 700 and 900 AD; and again between 1300 and 1500 AD. Within this site archaeological investigations have revealed a number of hand–carved coral slabs that may have been associated with a type of ball game played during the Chicoid, or Classic Taíno period. Fragments of a stone collar, believed to have been utilized in this game, were found on a nearby beach supporting the presence of a “ball court”. There remains, however, some question as to the proper interpretation of the coral slabs. A noted “authority” suggests that they may have been grave markers, as one of the slabs was discovered in association with a burial [DCCA, 1976; DPNR, 1993; Wilson, 1997].

Test pits within the bounds of this site have also yielded abundant fragments of Chicoid era pottery, as well as a number of blue–glass beads in the upper levels of the excavations. The presence of ornamental European glass beads has lead to speculation that Botany Bay may represent a site that remained occupied by Taínos after European contact in the late–fifteenth and early–sixteenth centuries [Bullen, 1962; DCCA, 1976; DPNR, 1993; Wilson, 1997]. While this may be the case, a fact that previous researchers have failed to take into consideration is that the land abutting the waterfront at Botany Bay was not only the site of pre–Columbian occupation, but also the location of a colonial–period slave village. Blue beads are nearly always found in association with the villages of the enslaved, as are crude fragments of low fired earthenware (sometimes referred to as “slaveware”), which often closely resemble prehistoric material. Whatever the origins of the artifacts previously excavated from this site, it would be only prudent to keep in mind that the entire Botany Bay property is a place where considerable mixing of cultural remains will undoubtedly be encountered; therefore, proper associations might blur without careful analysis.

During the course of the research for this report, it was revealed that the village of the enslaved laborers on the Botany Bay plantation, which encompassed some ten acres and included the area where the presumed pre–Columbian remains were excavated, was at one point in the early nineteenth century occupied by as many as ninety–one enslaved individuals. Further, the archival record shows that between 1803 and 1848, deaths among the slaves on this site outpaced births by more than two to one, with one hundred and five persons dying on the estate during that forty–five year time period. Thus it is safe to conclude, that in addition to whatever number of prehistoric burials may lie beneath the surface in this area, there is also the potential for more than one hundred grave sites of persons of African descent. Only through careful study and rigidly controlled archaeological investigation, carried out by informed professionals, will the true nature of the remains found within the Botany Bay Archaeological District be brought to light.

The Botany Bay Plantation

Early European Settlement at Botany Bay

It was not until just prior to the turn of the eighteenth century that St. Thomas’ hinterlands began to be parceled out and the full extent of the island’s arable grounds converted for agriculture. Expanded export production and an increasing population required additional lands for the raising of livestock and the growing of produce, and to this end, the colonists set out in earnest to carve new properties from the dense subtropical forests that still covered much of the landscape. As development progressed, it was not long before attentions turned to St. Thomas’ still wild and remote far West End Quarter, an area that by 1703 remained one of the colony’s last unsettled frontiers [JH, 1693–1702; GR, 1671–1703].

The West End Plantation

Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, the Danish West Indies went through a period of land consolidation, as wealthy and successful property owners attempted to maximize the profitability of their holdings by acquiring less successful, or undercapitalized properties, and merging them into their broader holdings. This recurrent pattern of property development resulted in the gradual emergence of the colony’s large and diversified agro–industrial estates, the boundaries and names of which we still utilize today as our primary geographical context (Estate Bordeaux, Estate Tutu, Estate Fortuna, Estate Botany Bay, etc.). The dismantling and eventual abandonment of the small independent land holdings that lay within the bounds of the newly unified estates, completed the colony’s conversion from an economic system dependent on a diversity of tropical products (sugar, cotton, tobacco, cassava, indigo) grown on numerous low– output, small–scale planting grounds, to one firmly based upon the production of vast sugar plantations with well developed centralized residential and industrial complexes. On average, it can be assumed that within the bounds of any present St. Thomas estate there exist the remains of at least three smaller early–period land grants. However, in the case of the present study, it can be stated with a degree of certainty that elements of as many as six early land grants make up the present Botany Bay estate.

Consolidation on St. Thomas’ Far West End

The gradual merging of the properties that would one day become Estate Botany Bay, took place in four discrete stages, during three separate periods of proprietorship. The first consolidation occurred in 1718, when John Hendrich Sieben acquired three neighboring 1000’ (Danish feet) wide properties, (A) Jaspers, (B) Wackling, and (C) Lacron, and merged them into a single unified plantation.

BotanyBayEstates-2-1

After purchasing the Jaspers, Wackling, and Lacron parcels, John Hendrich Sieben moved quickly to develop his new holdings. By March of 1718, Sieben had merged the Jaspers and Wackling properties into a single plantation, described in the tax rolls for that year as “a sugar plantation in good order,” worked by thirty–one enslaved laborers, with an additional five male slaves listed as “maron.” Also noted in that year was the fact that Sieben, “mills his own sugar,” so it can be assumed that at least a sugar mill — if not a complete works — had been constructed on the property by that date. As for the Lacron parcel, it was recorded as a “cotton plantation” worked by two male and two female slaves up until 1723, at which time the tax rolls began to record all of the Sieben slaves under the heading of the Jaspers/Wackling property [STLL, 1718–23].

Sieben, who along his wife, Anna Maria Ronnels, lived in the town of Charlotte Amalie, relied on hired masterknegts and white indentured servants to run his West End land holdings. Over the course of Sieben’s eighteen–year proprietorship, his properties appear to have prospered. By the time of his death, on May 16, 1734, his West End plantation had become an active and well developed holding, with forty–seven enslaved workers overseen by a single free masterknegt [STLL, 1718–24].

After Sieben’s death, his widow gained ownership of their West End properties. But, in 1738, when Anna Maria remarried to the former Commandant of the island of St. Eustatius, Johannes Lindesay, all of the Sieben properties began to be listed in his name as his wife’s guardian [STLL, 1728]

A merchant and planter of the Dutch Reform faith, Johannes Lindesay, first appears in a lists of inhabitants of the island of St. Eustatius in 1705 [Simmonds, ND]. Over time, Lindesay rose to prominence, and in December of 1722 he was appointed interim Commander of the island. In the years that Lindesay served as Commandant, the bustling Dutch entrepot of St. Eustatius was doing a thriving business in illicit goods, most notably duty free slaves landed for transshipment under Spanish contracts. It was well known in this era that high officials of the island would turn a blind eye to such activities for a cut of the profits, and it can be assumed that Lindesay was no stranger to this practice. In July of 1728, after a deal he brokered resulted in the loss of 40,000 Pesos of Dutch West Indies Company goods, Lindesay fell from grace and was imprisoned; his land and property sold at public auction. But, Lindesay, along with his sons, Johannes and Joseph, managed to escape to St. Kitts, and after a prolonged stopover on Montserrat, where they applied for citizenship in 1730, father and sons moved on to seek new opportunities in the Danish West Indies [Lewisohn, 1987; Attema, 1976].

The conditions Lindesay encountered upon his arrival on St. Thomas were unsettling. Continual unrest among the enslaved population, periods of drought, wind storms, and poor harvests, along with soil depletion and dwindling natural resources, were compelling many St. Thomas property owners to quit their lands and take up new plantations on the large and still sparsely populated island of St. Croix, which had been purchased by Denmark in 1733 [Knox, 1852, Westergaard, 1917; Dookhan, 1994]. Within a year of gaining legal possession of the Sieben land holdings, it was recorded in the tax rolls that Lindesay, along with his household and some twenty–nine slaves, had left St. Thomas for St. Croix, leaving his West End plantations uncultivated and apparently unoccupied [STLL, 1738–45].

It is not clear from the available record just what, if anything transpired on Lindesay’s holdings for the six years following 1739. What is clear, however, is that in 1745 the next expansion of the now substantial Lindesay property took place when Johannes Lindesay Jr. acquired the 2000’ wide X 3000’ long (Busch) parcel, which bounded his father’s property on its western barricade (see Table I) [STLL, 1739–45].

The Balthazar Caspar Busch Plantation, 1703 – 1745

In 1703, Balthazar Caspar Busch put six of his slaves to the task of clearing a small planting ground above a remote cove on the far western end of St. Thomas: a place that for years to come would be known as Caspar Busch’s Bay [STLL, 1700–04].

By 1719, the 2000’ X 3000’ Busch property had grown to be a well established sugar plantation, complete with a residence for the overseer, shelters for twenty or more enslaved laborers, and a sugar factory, known in the era as a “works” [STLL, 1703–19]. Although the Busch works is likely to have been modest, even a rudimentary sugar factory of this era would have been a rather sophisticated affair, minimally comprised of a level circular platform, upon which a animal driven crushing machine for the extraction of sugarcane juice was mounted, and a stout fire resistant boiling house with no less than three kettles. Additionally, a secure storehouse, a shed for the drying of spent cane stalks (magass), which were burned as fuel for the boiling process, pens for the beasts of burden, a bake–oven, and a barricaded field system, planted in sugarcane and enough provision crops the sustain the plantation’s occupants, would all have been necessary elements of the operation.

Balthazar Busch lived in the town of Charlotte Amalie with his wife, Susanne Florie, and their children, Balthazar Caspar Jr., Anna Margaretha, and Judith [Gullach–Jensen, 1916; Ryberg, 1945]. A merchant and goldsmith by trade, Busch also served as a Lieutenant in the local citizen’s militia. During the course of his ownership Busch relied exclusively on his hired masterknegts (overseers), Niles Wissenberg and Rasmus Erichsen, to handle the day to day operation of his plantation. There is no indication that Busch ever spent any appreciable amount of time in residence on the property [STLL, 1703–21].

As for Busch personally, little documentation has survived to tell us of his true character; but, what little can be gleaned from the archival record paints the picture of an individual possessed of a dark and volatile nature. Judicial records for the colony contain a prolonged investigation into a violent dispute that took place in January of 1719 between Busch and the owner of a neighboring plantation, William Berents. During the course of the altercation, knives were drawn and threats exchanged until soldiers were called from the fort to quell the disturbance. In an effort to separate the two men until tempers cooled, Busch was ordered under house arrest, while Berents was hauled off to the fort and imprisoned. This, however, was not the end of the quarrel. A short time later, Berents overcame a guard and fled, only to be quickly recaptured outside the Busch residence, where he had gone with the express intention of cutting off Busch’s right ear [LD, 1715–19].

Another incident with far more ominous overtones occurred later in the same year. Further supporting documentation has proved elusive, but in a brief report of Busch’s death on September 1, 1719, it was stated, “Caspar Busch committed the awful murders and cut his own throat” [Ryberg, 1945].

After Busch’s suicide ownership of his West End plantation fell to his widow, under whose proprietorship the property continued to be actively developed. By 1721, the Busch plantation reached its maximum population of thirty–nine enslaved laborers. But, Madam Busch seems to have had problems controlling her labor force. According to the tax rolls, nine slaves from the plantation (4 men and 5 women), were reported to have gone marons (runaway) during this period [STLL, 1719–21].

In 1722, Madam Susanne Busch sold her plantation to the Governor of the Danish West Indies colony, Erich Bredahl, for 7,500 Pieces of Eight. This transfer of ownership marks an important documentary milestone in our efforts to unravel the history of the Botany Bay property. Although the notary book (Notorial Protocols, 1713–37) in which the sale was recorded is in a state of advanced deterioration, enough of the page containing the Busch transaction can be read to confirm that a dwelling house, sugar mill, and a boiling house, all stood on the property by this date. Also, the document contains a detailed list of the property’s enslaved laborers who were included in the sale. Of them, seventeen names are discernible: (men) Jacob, Jonas, Cupido, Coiphas, Adam, Daniel, Tromp, Adrian, Jacq, and Claes; (women) Mariana, Elizabeth, Franciae, and Agie; (children) Cayan, Abigaelie, and Taviel [NP, 1713–37].

Bredahl too appears to have been plagued by desertion from his new West End holding. By the end of the first year of his ownership, an additional nine laborers (5 men and 4 women) were reported to have fled from the property. It is noteworthy that throughout the forty–one years that the Busch plantation operated as an independent entity, twenty–three reported cases of desertion took place: a figure that represents the highest rate of maronage of any of the West End Quarter plantations. By way of comparison, during the same time period the neighboring Jaspers, Wackling, and Lacron properties experienced eight desertions, while the Tessamacher plantation reported only one [STLL, 1703–45].

There are many factors that may have contributed to the high rate of maronage on the Busch property. Of them, poor living conditions, abusive treatment, and the presence of disease can not be ruled out. But, without a doubt, far fewer individuals would have attempted escape if it were not for the site’s isolated location, the nearby presence of numerous uninhabited off lying cays, and its relative proximity to the Spanish island of Puerto Rico, where escaped slaves were granted freedom if they claimed to embrace Catholicism. The problem of maronage, however, was not limited to St. Thomas’ far West End. By 1745 the loss of slaves to Puerto Rico had become of such grave concern to the Danish authorities that they petitioned for compensation for some three hundred slaves which they claimed had been lost to that island [Westergaard, 1917].

Governor Bredahl held the Busch plantation for a period of eight years. At some point during this time period sugarcane cultivation ceased, and the property’s planting grounds were most likely converted to grazing and the growing of cotton. Although no specific crop was recorded in the tax rolls when Bredahl sold the property to Danish West Indies and Guinea Company Bookkeeper John Horn in 1731, the property was clearly engaged in some form of agricultural endeavor, as it was reported that an overseer and twenty–three enslaved workers were present on the plantation [STLL, 1723–31].

By 1739, John Horn had redeveloped the former Busch property into an active cotton plantation, complete with a “works” where the ginning and baling of the cotton took place. But, after reaching a peak population of thirty–three laborers in 1740 (9 men, 10 women, and 14 children), occupancy and production fell into a downward spiral. When, after John Horn’s death, Jacob Magens took over proprietorship of the plantation in 1743, no more than thirteen slaves were employed on the property; and, in 1745, when it was sold to Johannes Lindesay Jr. and merged with the former Jaspers, Wackling, and Lacron parcels, only eight individuals (4 men, 3 women, and 1 child) were recorded as present on all those now united holdings [STLL, 1731–45].

After the merging of the Busch parcel with the other Lindesay holdings, Johannes Lindesay Jr. appears to have attempted to redevelop his family’s West End plantation. In 1746, Lindesay brought twenty–two slaves from St. Croix, and purchased 2 additional Bussals (newly imported Africans) at auction. By 1748 the Lindesay plantation was reported to be a vast single cotton plantation, with twenty–nine slaves and a cotton works. Tax rolls for this period seem to indicate that the Jaspers/Wackling site had been reestablished as the primary residential and industrial center of the plantation, as all of the property’s slaves were recorded under the heading for this parcel throughout the period [STLL, 1745–51].

For a time, the Lindesay family’s West End holdings seem to have prospered. In 1751, six years after the purchase of the former Busch plantation, brothers Joseph and Johannes Lindesay Jr. signed an obligation to purchase a neighboring 1500’ wide plantation that lay on their southern boundary, and ran 3000’ along St. Thomas’ far southwestern coastline (see Table G & I) [STLL, 1703–54; STA, 1755–57; MB, 1750–54].

The Abraham Tessamacher Plantation, 1703 – 1751

The south shore parcel taken up by Abraham Tessamacher in 1703, was not only among the first properties taken up in this area, but it also remained worked as a singularly functioning plantation for the longest time period of any other independent holding on the far West End. By 1726, under the proprietorship of second owner William Berents, the roughly 100–acre property was already reported in the colony’s tax rolls as a sugar plantation with a mill, utilizing the labors of no less than sixty–two enslaved workers (25 men, 13 women and 24 children) [STLL, 1703–57]. Although the Berents name would remain associated with the bay that fronted his property for years to come, it is evident that he achieved little financial success from the holding. Encumbered by tax leans and a mortgage to the Tessamacher heirs, after reaching peak development in 1726 the fortunes of the Berents’ Bay plantation fell into a steady decline [JP, 1725–36; STLL, 1703–51]. When Berents’ son–in–law Joseph Robinson took over the property in 1736, the number of laborers had declined to forty–four individuals. Although Robinson attempted to reinvigorate the holding by converting the primary crop to cotton and constructing a cotton works, by the time the plantation was sold to Thomas Coch in 1745 the population had dwindled to only six individuals: 1 “free colored” overseer, named Anthony; and, two male and three female slaves [VS, 1736; STLL, 1703–51].

For five more years Coch and the succeeding owner, Johannes van Beverhoudt Glaudizoon Sr., attempted to maintain production on the property. But, in 1750 van Beverhoudt quit the colony and moved with his family to New York, where he died a few years later. One year after van Beverhoudt’s departure from St. Thomas, his estate executors mortgaged the plantation to two brothers from St. Croix, Joseph and Johannes Lindesay, who were already in possession of the unified Busch, Jaspers, Wackling, and Lacron parcels to the north [STLL 1745–54; STA, 1755–58; MB, 1750–54].

It can be assumed that some time after the Lindesays’ acquisition of the van Beverhoudt plantation, its buildings were dismantled and the foundations mined for the materials. While planting grounds associated with this property were likely to have been periodically utilized throughout the remainder of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries, the central residential and industrial complex of the parcel appears to have remained abandoned to this day.

The Development of the West End Plantation

With the acquisition of the former Tessamacher property by Joseph and Johannes Lindesay Jr., a vast land holding known in the era as the West End Plantation had come into existence. Ironically, although the Lindesay family had managed to acquire the five adjoining properties that comprised the entire far West End of St. Thomas by 1755, their holdings were all reported in the tax rolls as laying vacant and uncultivated. Despite the fact that the Lindesay family does not appear to have moved toward the further development of their West End holdings, they were clearly the individuals most responsible for the acquisition and merging of all of the major land holdings that today comprise the Botany Bay property. By virtue of this, they thereby have gained the distinction of being the primary creators of the estate (see Tables G & I) [STLL, 1703–54; STA, 1755–57; MB, 1750–54].

Not until 1761, under the proprietorship of a former overseer, Johannes Frederich, were the combined Lindesay acquisitions brought under cultivation as the singularly functioning West End cotton plantation. But, while its 5000’ of reported taxable width made it a substantial land holding, the West End estate was recorded in the tax rolls as occupied by only a single free family of five, and four enslaved laborers (3 men and 1 woman). As evidenced by the property’s meager labor force, very little of the plantation’s arable lands could have been utilized for planting in this period, although it is quite possible that the grazing of livestock — a low–labor–intensive activity that was not required to be reported in the Danish colonial tax records — may well have been the primary activity on the property at this date. It would seem logical that throughout this era the residential and agricultural center of the West End plantation was situated not in the remote far west of the property on Botany Bay, but in the well ventilated upland areas of the estate near its eastern barricade — a location which would have offered both ease of access and security, due its close proximity to the main road and its positioning well within signal shot of neighboring properties [STA, 1757–64].

The unified West End plantation remained relatively underutilized and sparsely occupied throughout most of the remainder of the eighteenth century. During the ownership of Philip F. Hensler, 1764 through 1770, a brief period of unification with two additional properties that lay along the West End plantation’s southeastern barricade resulted in a significant expansion of the estate. This merger, however, was soon followed by a re–partitioning from those parcels, after the death of subsequent owner Johannes Dorph in 1776: an event that led to an undeterminable reconfiguration of the West End estate’s inland boundaries. When the situation again stabilized after the purchase of the property by Nathaniel Alt in 1778, the West End plantation was reported to have a taxable width of 3000’, while its length stretched from the island’s northern to southern sea coasts [STLL, 1686–1754; STA, 1764–78].

Establishment of the Botany Bay Sugar Plantation

It was during the proprietorship of Nathaniel Alt (1778 – 1782) that a slow and steady increase in the number of slaves on the property begins to suggest that some degree of development had begun to occur on the West End plantation. And indeed, soon after the acquisition of the property by Thomas Armstrong in 1783, West End began to be listed in the yearly tax rolls as a “sugar plantation,” and the enslaved population sharply rose from 34 to 57 individuals by 1784. It was most likely during this period that the primary focus of activities on the estate shifted, from the dryer upland pastures and cotton grounds in the east–central section of the property, to the lush lowland valley that extends inland from the narrow coastal plane behind Botany Bay. Not only did this area offer better growing conditions for sugarcane, but its situation made it a prime location for the development of a modern sugar works, with easy access to the bay for importation of the heavy iron mill equipment needed to construct a factory, and for the export of the large barrels of sugar, molasses, and rum that were to be produced there. The conversion of the West End plantation from a simple planting and grazing ground to a well developed agro–industrial sugar estate, was finally completed during the ownership of partners Jasper Rashleigh and Owen Sheridan (1801 – 1805), who christened their newly upgraded property, Botany Bay. This fact is confirmed by a special plantation report filled out by Rashleigh and witnessed by his estate manager, James Bailey, on December 23, 1804, in which it is stated: “The present owners of the estate have put up a new and complete set of works….” [STLL, 1778–54; STA, 1755–1805; PR: 1804/5].

The plantation report of 1804/5 represents another important milestone in our efforts to document the history of the Botany Bay estate, and therefore must be explored in some detail. According to the report, there were a total of forty–nine enslaved laborers on the Botany Bay plantation: twenty–six men and twenty–three women. Of this number, twenty–seven individuals had been born in Africa, and the remaining twenty–two were listed as “Creoles” (born locally). Further, thirty–two of the slaves were said to be “Heathens” and seventeen were “Christians” — although none of the laborers were reported as baptized. Among the estate’s workers there were five “Lawful,” and five “Natural,” couples, as well as one male who claimed to be married to a woman on another estate. Two births and three deaths had occurred on the estate in the preceding year.

As for the composition of the property’s labor force: forty–three persons were noted as “Field Negroes,” two as “House Negroes,” three as “Tradesmen,” and one as an “Invalid.” Of these workers, twenty–five were to be “put in the field daily,” while five served as “Watchmen,” five tended the still and boiling house, three looked after the property’s livestock, and one was in charge of the “Sick–House.”

Along with the rather detailed information regarding the enslaved occupants of the estate, the 1804/5 report also provides certain insights as to the conditions under which they lived. The thirteen dwellings that comprised the laborers village, were all said to be situated on “Low ground,” and it was noted at the bottom of the document that, “…The Negro houses are all situated on a fine healthy Bay near the sea, no swamp or pond near them and sheltered from the North and Northeast wind. The grounds allowed to each negro to plant is about one acre or more if they wish it, and what is allotted to them and [sic] not made use of for any other purpose…”

Regarding the estates grounds, it was recorded that forty acres of the property were under sugarcane cultivation, twenty were fallow, thirty–four were planted in provision crops, one hundred and ninety–six were in pasture or uncultivated, and ten were set aside for the “Negro Houses.” The total land area of the estate was estimated to be “about three hundred acres” (see Appendix V, Primary Documents, 1805 Plantation Report) [PR, 1804/5].

Neither Rashleigh nor Sheridan survived to reap the benefits of their efforts to establish Botany Bay as a thriving sugar operation. After Rashleigh’s death in 1805, Sheridan gained sole ownership of the property, but he was only to outlive his former partner for a short time [MBH, 1776–1806; SJLRA, 1797–1807]. When Sheridan died on St. John in 1806, ownership of Botany Bay fell to his close friend and owner of the neighboring Fortuna estate, James Murphy, who likewise died on St. John soon after inheriting the property [DVS, 1805; MBU, 1807–10].

But while Murphy’s proprietorship was brief, his ownership was to result in one final expansion of the Botany Bay plantation. In the process of the prolonged reconciliation of Murphy’s probate, his properties on the western end of St. Thomas were either sold off or apportioned out amongst his many heirs and creditors. Among Murphy’s holdings in the West End Quarter were not only controlling shares in both Fortuna and Botany Bay, but also in a smaller estate that lay between the two known as Catharina’s Hope. As were Murphy’s expressed intentions, after his death a division of the Catharina’s Hope plantation took place. The eastern portion of the property was merged into Estate Fortuna, and its western lands became consolidated into Estate Botany Bay [MBU, 1807–10; MRFF, 1827]. With this last increase in acreage, Botany Bay finally achieved its maximum land area, and the lands comprising the unified Botany Bay and western Catharina’s Hope estates would remain a single undivided entity for well over a century (see Table K) [STA, 1808–1915].


DATE OWNER NOTE
1745 Johannes Lindesay Jr. Consolidates estate #1 with estates #2, 3 and 4
1755 Johannes Lindesay Jr. Consolidated estate now recorded as 5000'
1760 Johannes Frederich  
1764 Philip Frederich Hensler  
1765 Philip Frederich Hensler Hensler's 5000' property comes under common ownership with 3000' property previously owned by Christian Shum
1768 Philip Frederich Hensler  
1770 Johannes Dorph  
1773 Johannes Dorph Dorph properties now recorded as one 6000' estate
1777 Johannes Dorph's Widow Widow sells portion of estate to George Falkner -

this property later is called Far-I-May

AKA: Birch's Land or Catharina's Hope)

1778 Nathaniel Alt  
1783 Thomas Armstrong  
1785 Joseph Wilson  
1801 Rashleigh & Sheridan First noted as: #7 West End Quarter, Botany Bay
1803 Rashleigh & Sheridan  
1805 Owen Sheridan  
1807 James Murphy  
1808 James Murphy's Children  
1810 James Murphy's Children Now noted as 450 acres ( later records say that Murphy purchased a portion of Birch's land AKA: Catharina's Hope)
1816 William Pannet  
1820 William Pannet Punnett also has Bordeaux, Fortuna, Runnels, and Catharina's Hope.
1827 Robert Flemming  
1834 Falkner & Mawdsley  
1835 Jean Marie Lahougue  
1839 Robert G. Milner  
1846 William Hansen  
1853 Rasmus William Rasmussen  
1855 Rasmus William Rasmussen Sugar production ends
1864 Rasmussen heirs Estate abandoned
1876 William White Some agriculture resumes
1892 Jacob Wilson Smith, James Henry Smith

& Daniel Bishop Smith

 
1904 Smiths No agriculture
1914 A. Overgaard  
1915 Carl Gustav Thiele Limited agriculture resumes
1916 Just H. Kruger  
1916 Axel Holst & Seje Malling-Holm  
1938 Malling-Holm Heirs  
1938 Robert F. Smith & Richard Falk  
1955 Warren H. Corning Used as vacation property
2000 Atlantic Land Holdings, LLP Proposed resort development

Table K: Chain of Title to Estate Botany Bay, 1745 - 2000

Upon the death of James Murphy on November 17, 1808, his estates Botany Bay, Fortuna, Catharina’s Hope, and Dorothea, on St. Thomas, and Annaberg, Leinster Bay and Mary’s Point on St. John, all become the property of his heirs. In 1810, after the lengthy process of reconciling Murphy’s large and complex probate was completed, widow Elizabeth Murphy, in her capacity as executrix of her husband’s estate, signed an agreement to sell Botany Bay to her son, Edward C. Murphy, in partnership with his father’s former business associate, William Punnett.

Edward C. Murphy and William Punnett held joint title to Botany Bay until 1814, when Murphy, who had inherited the substantial Leinster Bay plantation on St. John, turned over his half share of Botany Bay to his spinster sister, Phoebe, to aid in her support. Two years later, the tax rolls indicate that Punnett had gained sole control over the estate, a situation that was clarified in a document entered into the record of the high court on St. Thomas in 1816 [SCR, 1816]:

…as these Estates, Botany Bay, Fortuna and Catharina’s Hope although belonging to me William Punnett, are not held by me for my own benefit, I having given the profit of them, so long as they may be kept unsold, for the Maintenance of James William Armstrong, his Wife Elizabeth [Murphy] Armstrong, and her Children – and I William Punnett being, for value received for which I hereby acknowledge; Am justly indebted unto Messrs. Peter Remens & Co. Merchants in New York, in the United States of North America, in the Sum of Thirty Thousand Dollars. And as some payments have been made, and more may yet be made by me William Punnett, to Falkner&Mowdsleys on Account of the aforesaid Debt of 17,567.4.3 Sterling, from other means than from the Crops of these Estates, And whereby I am considerably in Advance for the said Estates… [SCR, 1816]

From 1808 through 1826, Botany Bay was operated in conjunction with the neighboring Fortuna, Catharina’s Hope, Runnals, Gothaab, and (after 1821) Bordeaux plantations, which were all either owned or managed by Punnett. Throughout most of this period Botany Bay maintained an average of seventy acres under sugarcane cultivation and fifteen acres in pasture or provision crops. In 1812 the property’s labor force reached a peak of seventy–eight enslaved laborers, when upon the death of widow Murphy her Dorothea plantation was sold and the laborers on that estate removed to Botany Bay. Punnett also purchased a number of slaves from the bankrupt Ross plantation during the same time period, and placed them to work on both the Botany Bay and Fortuna properties [STA, 1808–26; SCR 1821–22].

By all indications, during this period Botany Bay was a profitable mid–sized sugar plantation, especially when run in conjunction with other more diversified holdings. But, by July of 1827, as sugar prices slumped, increasing pressures to service the ever mounting debts to the property’s worried creditors, and demands from the growing number of Murphy and Punnett heirs, finally forced William Punnett to relinquish Botany Bay and Fortuna to the Liverpool firm that held the primary mortgage obligations on the properties.

On the same day as Punnett turned over title of Botany Bay to William Ackers, “as attorney for the late firm of Falkner and Mawdsley of Liverpool,” planter Robert Flemming took over proprietorship of the property. To gain possession of the plantation, Flemming made a down payment of “four thousand dollars cash,” and signed a mortgage bond to Ackers for an additional thirty–two thousand dollars, which was to be paid in twelve yearly installments “with lawful interest of 6%” [MRFF, 1827].

For seven years Robert Flemming struggled to maintain production and service his debts on the Botany Bay plantation, but he would not survive to pay off his mortgage obligation to .William Ackers. Upon his death in the spring of 1834, Botany Bay came under the management of the St. Thomas reconciling court, and a lengthy probate was conducted to resolve Flemming’s numerous unpaid accounts. Among the many enlightening documents contained in the Danish West Indies probate court records pertaining to Robert Flemming’s affairs, are promissory notes, account registers for merchandise (both bought, and sold), itemized doctor’s bills, tax receipts, daily reports of the activities of his laborers, and the bill for his funeral — which, including gloves, ribbon, coffin, hams, crackers, coffee, brandy and parson’s fee, came to $57.09 (see Appendix V, Primary Documents, for extracts from the Flemming probate). But, without a doubt, the single most important document prepared over the course of Flemming’s probate hearings, is a detailed appraisal of the Botany Bay plantation, which, along with listings of the property’s crop lands, slaves, and livestock, also provide the first description of the buildings that stood on the estate after the construction of the property’s new sugar factory between 1801 and 1805 (see 1834 inventory) [STPD, 1834].

During the process of Flemming’s probate Botany Bay was put up for public auction. With no bidders forthcoming, the primary mortgage holders of the property were forced to step in and regain title to the estate. On August 17, 1834, Francis Wys, acting as attorney for the firm of Falkner and Mawdsley, repurchased Botany Bay for the sum of one thousand Riksdalers.

Falkner and Mawdsley held title to Botany Bay for a period of nine months before they were able to find another individual willing to take on ownership of the plantation. On May 10, 1835, Jean Marie Lahougue signed an obligation to purchase the estate, along with “lands, buildings, works, slaves, stock and other appurtenances,” for the sum of eight thousand Riksdalers — 25,475 Rd. lower than the evaluation of the property after Flemming’s death less than one year before [STPD, 1834 & 1839].

Like so many of Botany Bay’s proprietors, Lahougue did not survive to pay off his mortgage on the property. Only four years after his purchase Lahougue was dead, and the probate process began all over again. On this occasion, despite the fact that an appraisement of Botany Bay made in May of 1839 set its value at 14,795 Ps., in June of that year the plantation was sold to Robert G. Milner for $2,700. It can be assumed that this sum, less auction fees and outstanding expenses, was turned over to representatives of Falkner and Mawdsley, who after this transaction made no further claims against the estate [STPD, 1839; MBU, 1839].

It is evident from the rapidly declining value of Botany Bay that by the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century the property had lost economic viability as a sugar plantation. In 1812, during the proprietorship of William Punnett, the amount of ground planted in sugarcane reached a pinnacle of seventy–five acres, but from that point onward the amount of acreage under cultivation went into a slow but steady decline. By Flemming’s death in 1834, there were only forty acres of sugarcane left on Botany Bay; and, by Lahougue’s demise, in 1839, this figure had decreased to thirty. The enslaved population on the property also dwindled over this same time period, falling from seventy–eight to fifty–five individuals. It is apparent that the decline in the number of laborers on the estate was primarily due to the high death rate on the property, which between 1812 and 1839 was more than two to one (78 deaths – 25 births; see Appendix II, Charts 1&2). It would seem that throughout the ownership of Jean Marie Lahougue, a concerted effort was made to ameliorate the harsh conditions under which the enslaved workers at Botany Bay lived in order to stem the death toll. Numerous doctor bills from Dr. Hans B. Hornbeck for his attendance to slaves were among the unpaid accounts that were reconciled over the course of Lahougue’s probate. It would also appear that Lahougue attempted to diversify the estate’s revenue base by introducing some small scale animal husbandry. According to the 1839 estate appraisal, 60 sheep had been added to the property’s inventory, while 15 head of horned cattle, 9 mules, 10 asses and 4 horses made up the remainder of the plantation’s livestock ( see Appendix V, Primary Documents, for extracts from the Lahougue probate) [STA, 1812–39; STPD, 1834&1839].

Supplementing our rather detailed image of Botany Bay in this time period, is the first concise topographical map of St. Thomas, drawn from a survey carried out between 1835 and 1839 by Crown’s Physician Hans B. Hornbeck — an individual who, due to his numerous visits to treat the laborers on the estate, was clearly no stranger to the property (see map by H. B. Hornbeck).

The Conversion of Botany Bay from Sugar Plantation to Stock Estate

After purchasing Botany Bay, Robert G. Milner continued the process of shifting the estate’s primary focus away from costly and labor–intensive sugar production, and toward the less labor dependent grazing of livestock and produce farming. Over the course of his ownership the number of acres recorded in the tax rolls as lying in pasture or provision crops once again doubled, from ten to twenty acres, while the amount of land under sugarcane cultivation remained steady at thirty acres [STA, 1839–46].

In 1846, Robert Milner sold Botany Bay to Captain William Hansen. The registration of the transfer of title to the property, filed on June 26, 1846, not only confirms that animal husbandry had become a major activity on Botany Bay by this period, it also provides us with one final inventory of the estate and its enslaved occupants before emancipation from slavery was achieved in 1848:

I the undersigned Robert Gartner Milner do hereby declare to sold and transferred to William Hansen the sugar plantation Botany Bay with plots belonging thereto and a part of the land called “Burksland” belonging to me situated in West End Quarter no. 7 with all the thereto belonging slaves, cattle, works, buildings, viz: 12 men, 20 women, 8 girls 5 boys, 5 Mules, 5 horses, 13 Donkeys, 57 horned cattle, 80 sheep, 1 horse mill, 1 house, 1 kitchen, 1 stall for the horses, 1 for the mules, 1 for the horned cattle and 1 for the sheep. In as much as the aforesaid Capt. William Hansen has satisfied me fully for the agreed purchase Six Thousand Patacons, viz. by one thousand patacons cash, and for the remaining has issued today a mortgage bond with first mortgage in the plantation Botany Bay with belongings payable with 6% interest in 6 like yearly installments, I do hereby deed the aforementioned property with all rights as I has had, which I warrant according to law… [MBU,1846].

In October of 1846, the same year as William Hansen purchased Botany Bay, a census of both free and enslaved individuals residing in St. Thomas’ rural estates was compiled. According to this document there were at that time two free and forty–two enslaved persons living on Botany Bay. Among the laborers there were fifteen men, nineteen women, eight girls and two boys. A total of twenty–eight individuals were field laborers: eighteen men and women belonging to the “big gang,” and ten men, woman, and children, belonging to the “small gang.” As to the remainder, one man was reported to be a cooper, three women and one girl were house servants, nine were listed as incapable, and one woman, Dorothea, was said to be “in town selling milk.” Seventeen of the persons bound to the estate were reported to be of “good” character; eleven were listed as “indifferent”; seven as “so–so”; and seven as “bad.” Regarding the two free persons on the property, one was the estate overseer, twenty–four year old Ernst Stridiron; the other, forty year old William H. O’Ferrell, who gave no occupation but stated that he owned a property in town from which he received rent [STR, 1846].

Active as the Botany Bay plantation may appear to be in the years just prior to emancipation, once freedom was achieved 1848 the property would struggle on for only a short time before social and economic conditions forced an end to sugar production. By the time William Hansen sold the plantation to Rasmus W. Rasmussen in 1853, the amount of pasture land on the estate had increased to sixty acres, while sugarcane cultivation had diminished to ten acres. Only one year after Rasmussen’s purchase, the last raw sugar was produced in the Botany Bay factory; the harvest that year consisted of five acres of cane [STA, 1848–53].

Born in Denmark in 1810, Rasmus W. Rasmussen was also the owner of the neighboring Bordeaux estate, where he lived with his wife, Ann, and their three children, Bertha, Carl and Peter. Throughout his proprietorship Rasmussen operated Botany Bay exclusively as livestock estate. Tax rolls indicate that by 1858 there were fifty eight head of horned cattle, five horses, twenty goats, and ten pigs on the property, and one year later the amount of grazing land reached a peak of ninety–one acres — with the remaining three hundred and fifty–nine acres lying entirely in “bush.” According to the 1855 and 1857 censuses, no more than eight individuals were reported to be living on Botany Bay during this period; and, when another census was compiled in 1860, only two persons, fifty–five year old Octavis, and seventy year old Mary Ann, were residing on the property. Both individuals were noted as “invalids” [STA, 1853–63; STR, 1855, 1857&1860].

In the end, as with so many before him, Rasmussen’s bid to redevelop Botany Bay into a profitable cattle operation was ultimately doomed to failure. By 1862, the tax rolls ceased to record any livestock on the property, and after Rasmussen’s death in 1863, his heirs claimed no land use whatsoever on the estate. For the next fourteen years Botany Bay lay, officially, abandoned, a fact confirmed by the absence of any entry for Botany Bay in the 1870 census. When the Rasmussen family finally sold the estate to William White in 1876, they received only $900 for the property: $500 in cash, and $400 in a “certificate” [STA, 1863–78; STR, 1870; STR, 1870; MBWW, 1878].

William White ran Botany Bay as a general farm. When the next census of the island was compiled in October of 1880, White, a forty–two–year–old bachelor born in Edinburgh, was residing on the estate and listed his occupation as “planter.” Also on the property at that time were four individuals who were noted as “laborers”: Francis Calisto, John Walcott, William Williams, John Batchelor, and Benjamin Garper [STR, 1880].

According to tax records, throughout his ownership (1876 to 1892), White maintained an average of approximately eight acres of Botany Bay either planted or cleared for grazing. He even reported having one acre of sugarcane under cultivation in 1882, and in 1885 declared to have as much as twenty–eight acres in agricultural land use. But, by the time the property was sold to brothers Jacob Wilson, James Henry, and Daniel Bishop Smith in 1892, only six acres of Botany Bay remained either planted or in pasture [STA, 1876–92].

Under the ownership of the Smith brothers yet another attempt was made to revitalize agriculture at Botany Bay. By 1896 the Smith’s reported having thirty–five acres of pasture or crop lands, but this figure only diminished from that date onward. Soon after the turn of the twentieth century all agricultural land use on the property again ceased, and Botany Bay once more lay abandoned; this time, for a period of just over a decade [STA, 1896–1914].

Census records for the era confirm these observations, recording that Botany Bay was unoccupied when enumerators visited the site in 1901 and 1911. However, tax records indicate that in 1915 — the last year in which the Danish government compiled such an accounting — property owner Carl Gustav Thiele reported having eight acres of the estate cleared for pasture or other agricultural land use. And indeed, when the first United States Census was carried out in Virgin Islands in January of 1918, twenty–seven year old Conrad Dyas, his common–law wife, mother–in–law, three sons and a cousin, were all living on the Botany Bay property. Dyas reported his situation as “renter,” and gave the type of work he was engaged in as “general farm”. According to a report compiled in the same year by the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Office, at the time of their inspection they found Estate Botany Bay to be “one of the two largest banana plantations on the island of St. Thomas” [STR, 1901&1911; USC, 1920; DR, 1919].

Bibliography

  • Ypie Attema, St. Eustatius; A short history of the island and its monuments (Holland, De Walburg Press, 1976).
  • J. O. Bro–JØrgensen, Vore Gamle Tropekolonier, Dansk Vestindien Indtil 1755, vol.1 (Fremand, Denmark, 1966).
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  • Jens Larsen, Virgin Islands Story, A History of the Lutheran State Church, Other Churches, Slavery, Education, and Culture in the Danish West Indies, now the Virgin Islands (Philadelphia, Muhlenberg Press, 1950).
  • Kay Larsen, Dansk Vestindien, 1666 – 1917 (Copenhagen, C. A. Reitzels Forlag, 1928).
  • Kay Larsen, GuvernØrer Residenter, Kommandanter og Chefer (Copenhagen, Denmark, Arthur Jensen Forlag, 1940).
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  • Emily R. Lundberg, Phase I Cultural Resource Survey, Estate Fortuna (Tallahassee, unpublished report, 1990).
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  • Irving Rouse, The Tainos, Rise and Decline of the People who Greeted Columbus (New Haven&London, Yale University Press, 1992).
  • Hugo Ryberg, A List of the Names of Inhabitants of the Danish West Indies from 1650 – ca. 1825 (Copenhagen, Published by the compiler, 1945).
  • Gôsta Simmons, Glimpses of a West Indian Family History (unpublished manuscript, ND). George Suckling, An Historical Account of The Virgin Islands, in the West Indies (London, Benjamin White, 1780).
  • Douglas H. Ubelaker&J. Lawrence Angel, Analysis of the Hull Bay Skeletons, St. Thomas (Washington, DC, Smithsonian Institution, 1976).
  • David Watts, The West Indies, Pattern of Development, Culture and Environmental Change since 1492 (Cambridge University Press, 1987).
  • Waldemar Westergaard, The Danish West Indies Under Company Rule (New York, The Macmillen Company, 1917).
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  • Samuel M. Wilson, The Caribbean Before European Conquest, A Chronology (New York, El Museo del Barrio&The Monacelli Press, 1997).
Primary Sources
  • [DR] U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Department of Commerce, Descriptive Report of the Western Part of St. Thomas, 1919 (U. S. National Archives II, College Park, Maryland).
  • [DVS] Danish Chancery, East and West Indies Records, 1671 – 1848 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [GR] West Indies and Guinea Company Archives, General Records, 1671 – 1703 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [JH] West Indies and Guinea Company Archives, Journal of Happenings, 1692 – 1714 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [JP] West Indies and Guinea Company Archives, Justice Protocols, 1704 – 1755 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [LD] West Indies and Guinea Company Archives, Letters and Documents, 1674 – 1754 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [MB] West Indies Local Archives till 1755, Mortgage Book, 1750 – 1754 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [MBH] Record Group 55, St. Thomas / St. John Mortgage Registers, Book “H” 1776 – 1806&1806 – 1850 (U. S. National Archives II, College Park, Maryland).
  • [MBU] St. Thomas / St. John Mortgage Register “U” (Office of the Recorder of Deeds, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands).
  • [MBW] St. Thomas / St. John Mortgage Register “WW” (Office of the Recorder of Deeds, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands).
  • [MRFF] St. Croix / St. Thomas / St. John Mortgage Register “FF” (Office of the Recorder of Deeds, St. Croix, Virgin Islands).
  • [NP] West Indies Local Archives till 1755, Notary Book, 1713 – 1737 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [PR] West Indies Local Archives, Plantation Reports, 1797 – 1805 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [SCR] Records of the Royal West Indian Superior Court, Deed and Encumberance books, 1807–1826 (Office of the Recorder of Deeds, St. Croix, Virgin Islands).
  • [SJLRA] West Indies Local Archives, St. John Landfoged, Probate Registrations and Appraisements, 1797 – 1807 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [SRPD] West Indies Local Archives, St. Thomas Byfoged, Probate Case Papers, 1755 – 1916 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
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  • [STLL] West Indies and Guinea Company Archives, St. Thomas Land Lists, 1686 – 1754 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [STR] Central Management Archives, St. Thomas Registers, 1841 – 1911 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [USC] 1917/1918 Census of the Virgin Islands [Released with the 1920 Census of the United States] (U. S. National Archives, Washington, DC).
Maps and Charts
  • Simon de Bon Maison, Nieuwe en aldereerste Afteekening van ’t Eyland St. Thomas, 1718 [published in Amsterdam, by Gerard van Keulen, 1719] (Royal Library, Copenhagen).
  • Hans B. Hornbeck, St. Thomas Dansk Americansk Ø, from a survey undertaken 1835 – 1839 [published in Denmark, 1846] (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
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  • Paul Kusner, Die Insel Sanct Thomas, met den mehresten plantagen, 1767 (Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark).
  • Unattributed map of St. Thomas, circa 1733, West Indies and Guinea Company Archives, Letters and Documents, and Rigsarkivet Map Collection (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • Unattributed Survey Map of the Eastern Portion of the West End Quarter of St. Thomas, 1728, West Indies and Guinea Company Archives, Justice Protokols, 1704–1755 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Maps of St. Thomas, Department of Commerce, 1919&1922 (U. S. National Archives II, College Park, Maryland).

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