Archive for Information

An African Village Pt 3

I have contacted persons who knew Miss Sarah in the middle and late 1940s and during the rest of her life. According to Mr. Axel Magras, he
remembers going with his two older sisters, when he was about five years of age, to buy blood pudding from Miss Sarah.

Mr. Magras says he remembers Miss Sarah very well because he was the one who used to go to buy the blood pudding when he was old enough to go alone.

From Mr. Magras I learned about the evolution of the village site at Demerara and how it became known as “Riverside Drive Forty-Five”

Mr. Magras related to me about the changes and how new people came to live at Riverside Drive Forty-Five during the years he was growing up. He knew and interacted with some of the new residents. He mentioned the names of several persons whom I do not know but he also mentioned Magnus, the well known stilt walker as one of the residents of Riverside Drive Forty-Five.

In May of this year, 2013, I personally paid a visit to the site where the village once stood. Nothing is left, of the original nor even of what came later. I saw traces of where the fence had once stood but that is all. Since it is now private property, I did not go inside.

When Axel gets better, I will ask him to try to contact more of his old friends to see what they remember. Until then, we have to hang on to
what we already remember.

Anne-Marie Danet

An African Village Pt 2

Miss Sarah and the African Village part II

The area where the original village was constructed later became known as Demerara. Slowly at first, and then more rapidly, other people moved
to the area.

The original residents of the village passed on. Children grew up and and new people moved in.

The Danes offered education for the younger children and later, under the Americans, compulsory education was instituted for ages up to
fifteen years. “Civilization” was rapidly changing the area. The village evolved. New and stronger dwellings were built to replace the original
ones. The new century, 1900, brought many changes.

The fence surrounding the original village was rebuilt with better and more substantial material and the tall wooden gate was put in place.

By the time I was ten years of age, nothing was left of the original dwellings nor of the original residents. The new residents still tried to survive on their own by fishing, selling the produce they raised and from Miss Sarah’s cooking for sale to the public

As I stated previously, in my article, “An African Village” I always went early to purchase the food from Miss Sarah so we could talk and I could ask all kinds of questions. I wanted to see for myself, what lay beyond the tall wooden gate that was always kept closed.

It was not until I was almost twelve years of age that Miss Sarah allowed me a few peeks so I could see what was behind the tall wooden gate.

The fence extended, in a sort of circle, narrow at the street level and curved out at either side of the gate, all the way to the top of
the elevation or small hill where it again narrowed and closed.

Inside the gate, a short distance from the entrance, there was a large dwelling of maybe three or for rooms. There were several smaller huts on either side of the main dwelling.

At a distance from the dwellings, there was a large henhouse. Further up the elevation was an area where pigs were kept. Around the yard, women were busy cooking, planting, doing laundry and doing other chores.

Up on the side of the hill. men were busy among the fruit trees and other plantings. Several men were tending a coal pit.

(Strange that I cannot remember seeing any children around the yard. I checked with my cousin and she cannot remember seeing any children either. Perhaps they were kept safe in an area behind houses.)

Mis Sarah told me that there were orange trees and lime trees mango, mammey, guava, sugar apple, soursop, papaya, breadfruit and other fruit trees on the hillside. There were also vegetables and herbs and ground provisions planted on the hill inside the fence.

Miss Sarah told me that I was privileged to have been allowed to see inside the gate and that I should not tell anyone what I had seen
because it could be dangerous for the people who lived there. Being a child taught to respect my elders, I gave Miss Sarah my promise.

When I was approaching my thirteenth birthday, I was no longer sent to purchase souse from Miss Sarah. I was no longer allowed to go near the area where Miss Sarah was. I was told that I was growing up and now had other duties.

During my whole life, I never revealed to anyone what I had seen inside the fence with the tall wooden gate. I never talked about the things Miss Sarah had shared with me. These were our secrets.

As time passed I grew up, was married and moved away. I lived in Puerto Rico and then on the Mainland. Miss Sarah and her village were archived in my brain, almost forgotten until I started to search the history of the French people who had settled at the Carenage.

The more I learned, the more I remembered. My childhood was like a moving picture unfolding before my very eyes. I could almost feel and smell the sights of my childhood. That is when I started remembering about Miss Sarah and the African Village.

Anne-Marie Danet

The Original Settlement of St. Christopher

In 1620, Thomas Warner, who had been adventurous at heart since boyhood, joined an expedition under Captain Roger North. Captain North had been hired by a small group of wealthy Englishmen to found a settlement on Guiana, near the Amazon River.

Captain North landed a contingent of his followers on Guiana, and promptly sailed back to England. Among those left on Guiana, was Thomas Warner and a man known as Capt. Painton In 1622, there not being much to do on Guiana, Capt. Painton convinced Thomas Warner that they should sail to St. Christopher, an island in the area. Warner agreed and sailed from Guiana with a group of fifteen other men.

Warner arrived at St. Christopher and went ashore on January 28, 1623. Upon landing, Warner was met by a group of Caribs, including their Chief,
Tegreman and several Frenchmen, castaways, who were living with the Caribs and planting tobacco.

Warner and his group remained on St. Christopher several months and engaged in planting tobacco and living and eating as the others who lived there. Warner’s group built crude shelters and also a fort on the hill in the center of the island. They ate cassava bread, fish, potatoes, plantains and pineapples. They drank nicknobby, a drink made from potatoes.

Their tobacco crops were ripe and ready to harvest when on September 19, 1623, a hurricane destroyed everything included the dwellings and tobacco crops..

Undaunted, Warner and his men rebuilt the dwellings into stronger houses and planted more tobacco. They also finished building the crude fort

The new crop of tobacco ripened and Warner, after putting a man in charge of the small settlement, sailed to England with his harvested tobacco. Once in England, Thomas Warner looked for his old friend, John Jeaffreson. Together they sought funding for a settlement on St. Christopher. A wealthy merchant, Ralph Merifield, agreed to fund the expedition.

The three men worked out an agreement of partnership. The terms, Merifield would provide the funds, Thomas Warner would sail back to St. Christopher with as many volunteers as could be found. Once on St. Christopher, Warner would send word to Merifield and Jeaffreson would sail with a cargo of supplies and another contingent of volunteers.

Thomas Warner left England with sixteen other men, including his thirteen year old son, Edward.

On January 18, 1624, Warner dropped anchor on the Western side of St. Christopher, near Old Road Bay.

On the 19th of September 1624, once again a hurricane destroyed the crops. Warner repaired the damage and planted more tobacco.

Jeaffreson arrived on St. Christopher on March 18, 1625 with a shipload of supplies. Meanwhile, Merifield was so pleased with the result of his investment that he applied for a charter for himself and his two partners, Thomas Warner and John Jeaffreson. Merifield easily obtained a patent from King Charles on September 25, 1625.

The patent stated that “Ralph Merifield, his partners and agents were permitted to traffic at the islands of St. Christopher, Nevis, Barbuda and Montserrat. Thomas Warner and after his death, John Jeaffreson, would have governance of these islands.”

Note that these three men, Ralph Merifield, Thomas Warner and John Jeaffreson, now owned and held title to St. Christopher, Nevis, Barbuda and Montserrat, islands which the Spanish, under Columbus, had claimed for Spain. This title having been granted by the King of England. To be sure, Spain would not be too happy about this.

Also, in 1625, the French, led by Pierre Belain, Sieur D’Esnambuc arrived on St. Christopher.

Anne-Marie Danet

An African Village

I was born with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This allowed me to make acquaintances and friends with many and diverse people.

Among the people I was privileged to have as friends, several women whose ancestors were of African descent. One woman’s grandmother had been born in slavery. She had been a young girl of about twelve years at the time of emancipation. My friend was known as Miss Sarah.

Miss Sarah was tall and of medium build. She was not fat and not exactly thin. She was solid. Her skin color was a rich golden brown, like a dark walnut. Miss Sarah wore long dresses, gathered at the waist and reaching to her ankles. The top of the dress was long-sleeved and reached up with a high collar. A large apron covered the front of her skirt. Her head was covered with a wrap around clothe.

Miss Sarah was a cook who sold cooked food to the public. She also sold fruits in season and ground provisions.

Every Saturday afternoon Miss Sarah could be found sitting just outside a fence with a tall wooden gate which was always kept closed. Miss Sarah was surrounded by her pots of hot of souse, pans of blood pudding and trays of fruits and vegetables.

The French people of the village at the Carenage, Altona and Honduras Estates came to purchase Miss Sarah’s wares, every Saturday afternoon.

My acquaintance with Miss Sarah was during the years when I was between ten and thirteen years, in the middle 1930s. My mother always took me with her when she went to buy souse from Miss Sarah. I was about ten years of age the first time I met Miss Sarah. I liked her right away and she took a liking to me.

I was a child who was being raised by the whole village, including the people of African descent. Every time I met someone new, I was full of questions. I wanted to know all about my new acquaintance. And I was full of questions for Miss Sarah. She answered as best she could.

When I was about eleven years of age, I was usually sent alone to buy the souse from Miss Sarah. I always tried to get there ahead of everyone else so I could be alone with Miss Sarah hoping she would tell me about what lay beyond the tall wooden gate.

It was not until I was twelve years of age that Miss Sarah finally decided she could trust me with her secret. She told me her story.

Miss Sarah told me that her grandmother had been born in slavery. Her grandmother was twelve years of age when all the enslaved people had been emancipated.

A few years after having been given their freedom. a group of persons, an extended family. had struck out on their own, to create a village similar to those that existed in Africa.

The area chosen for the village was forested like a jungle. There was a marsh nearby teeming with prawns, a shrimp-like animal. These were edible. In the marsh, there were also frog-like creatures, (which the people called Crapos) The sea was not too far away and it was teeming
with fish. On the land, there were edible roots and grasses bearing edible seeds.

Over several months, every Saturday Miss Sarah related more of her story, Miss Sarah continues.

The younger men very quickly cut trees and stripped them of branches. The elders showed the younger men how to construct huts from the cut trees and from some that were left standing, and how to create the huts so that they would remain dry when it rained.

There were already on the land, a few trees whose fruit were edible so these were preserved. The women and older children cleaned the area of shrubs and prepared the soil for planting. It was hard work but they wanted to be independent. The group survived and prospered. Children were born and elders passed on. Sarah’s grandmother had grown up and was mated with a man of the village who was not too closely related. Sarah’s mother had been born.

In the early years, up to 1865, there were no other humans in the area. but there were wild hogs and other small land animals which provided food.

Starting in 1865, the French people arrived at the Carenage, on the other side of the area. Slowly, the two groups, Africans and French got acquainted and interacted positively, each group residing in their chosen area.

All this had been related to Miss Sarah by her mother.

I was only a child and did not quite understand the value of the information shared by Miss Sarah. It was many years later that the true value of this story was realized by me. I now share it so that it will not be lost.

There are several people who knew Miss Sarah, including some who lived in the enclosure where the original village once stood. From one of these persons, I was assured that that Miss Sarah’s family name was Brooks. Was it her maiden name? Or was it her married name? That I have yet to find out.

Anne-Marie Danet

Those Famous Laplace Brothers

Some, time ago I read an essay by Geraldo Guirty wherein he states that the French migration from Saint-Barthelemy started in 1848, when two members of the Laplace family, through curiosity, visited St. Thomas. Mr Guirty was writing about the Laplace brothers, Dumay and Toiny, who have been made famous by that bit of misinformation.

The story has been told in many ways, by many writers, each copying from the other, over the years. None of these writers did any research. They just wrote what someone had told them. Or someome else had written.

The facts are that in 1848, Dumay Laplace was only three years of age. His brother, Toiny, was not born until six years later.

These two Laplace men were not even the first persons to migrate to St. Thomas. There were quite a few French from Saint-Barth aleady on the
island when these two brothers arrived.

What a joke has been played on the unsuspecting populace!

In the marriage register of the Roman Catholic Church on St. Thomas, we find that Jacques Vitalis (Dumay) Laplace was born in 1845, he died in 1902… We also find that Jacques Vitalis (Dumay) Laplace was married to Marie Augustine Laplace, (a distant relative) , on June 5th 1889..Dumay was 44 and Marie Augustine was 19 years..Dumay died in 1902 and Marie Augustine later married Jean Baptiste Brin, on April 27, 1903.
,
Antoine (Toiny) Laplace on the other hand, was born in 1854, which is six years after he was supposed to have come visiting as a grown man. At his death in 1915, the burial register states that he migrated to St. Thomas in 1865.

Toiny Laplace married Anne Josephine Laplace, sister of Marie Augustine, in April, 1894. He was 40 and Anne Josephine was only 16 years of age. After Toiny died., Anne-Josephine married Leon Brin on December 28, 1915.

It seems both brothers were widowers when they migrated in 1865.. Dumay already had a son who was an adult when migration took place.

The father of the Laplace brothers was also Jacques Vitalis Laplace. The name of the mother was not listed on the register. They did not migrate to St. Thomas, only Dumay and Toiny migrated.

Jacques Vitalis Laplace III was married, on St. Thomas, to Elisabeth Laplace, on November 25, 1895. He is listed on the marriage register as being 21 years of age. Jacques Vitalis III is listed as being born in 1874 which would mean that his father, Jacques Vitalis II was 29 years old, when his son was born.

Anne-Marie Danet

The Strawcraft of the People of French Heritage (Pt. 1)

Just recently, I read a passage which claims that the ladies of the Carenage were self-taught in the art of strawcraft. This statement is not true It is most likely the personal opinion of the writer.

On Saint-Barthelemy, since the early days of settlement, the ladies practiced the art of braiding straw and sewing the braid into hats.

The straw used was from the red Latania palm. At that time, only hats were made from the straw on Saint-Barthelemy. When the migrant French came to St. Thomas, they also practiced using the straw to weave braids which they sewed into hats.

Back on Saint-Barthelemy, in 1902, the Rev. Father Morvan introduced the Blue Latania palm which he imported from other islands. It is not certain which islands.

Father Morvan encouraged the ladies to start using the Blue Latania, which is more substantial than the Red Latania. And so the new straw was put into use for braiding and sewing into hats.

According to information on the Internet, the Blue Latania palms  are native to Mauritius. The Blue Latania can achieve heights of 40 feet.

Preparing the straw for weaving: First, the “head” or frond was severed from the tree before it opens. When workers in straw received the head of straw, they separated the leaves each from  the  other, while still on the frond. Then the whole head of straw was hung on a line, in the sun, to bleach until white.

Enterprising French immigrants to St. Thomas, brought seedlings and planted them on the Northside, where there are acres of land available for farming.

While the seedlings grew, the residents continued to import the Latania straw from Saint-Barthelemy and continued making hats for themselves and for sale to the tourists.

During the last four years of Navy Rule in the new territory of the Virgin Islands of the United States, from 1927 t0 March, 1931, the wife of the second in command, on St. Thomas, Lieutenant Commander,  Elsworth Van Patten, USN, took a special interest in the French ladies of the Carenage. (The village was not known as Frenchtown until years later). Mrs. Evelyn Hartford Van Patten was fascinated by the weaving of straw into hats. She wanted to learn more and to encourage the ladies to create new forms straw work.

Mrs. Van Patten organized the younger ladies into a sort of social club, which she named, “The French Colony Girls’ Club”. She induced her husband to ask the Navy to build  a club house so there would be a special place for meetings and activities. The ladies even wore a special uniform for their meetings.

When the club house was ready, Mrs. Van Patten furnished it with tables, chairs and benches. She provided books for the adult ladies and for their children. She provided a tea set of fine china so the ladies could have tea parties in the afternoons. This club was almost like a finishing school for the ladies of the Carenage.

Mrs. Van Patten even furnished a Victrola record player and records.  She taught new dance steps to the ladies. Besides the hats, Mrs. Van Patten ecouraged the ladies to sew the braids into bags of many shapes. She taught them to make a bag in which to carry a thermos bottle. This bag had a cover, which together with the bottom part, covered the whole thermos bottle.

Other bags evolved into many shapes and forms. Mrs. Van Patten taught the ladies to weave the straw into place mats and into ladies’ hand bags and clutches. These went over big with the tourists.

It is amazing how Mrs. Evelyn Hartford Van Patten helped transform the straw craft of the French ladies of the Carenage.

Mrs. Van Patten had been in Hawaii before coming to St. Thomas. She had bought some Hawaiian Hula skirts Now she brought one to the clubhouse and encouraged the ladies of the French Colony Girls’ Club” to fashion a hula skirt out of the Latania straw. The result was an immediate success with the tourists, the Virgin Islands Cooperative and years later, with Carnival troupes in the 1950’s.

Anne-Marie Danet

(To be continued in part two)

The Strawcraft of the people of French heritage (Pt. 2)

As I wrote in the first article, the art has been practiced on Saint-Barthelemy for the last couple centuries.

When the French migrants came to St. Thomas, they brought the knowledge of the art with them. The parents had taught the children, who in turn taught their children. The women of the Carenage did not self-teach themselves. They had brought the art with them, when they came to St. Thomas.

It took years for the Latania seedlings planted on the North side to grow to maturity. Meanwhile, the latania straw was imported from Saint-Barthelemy, by the boatload.

In order to brighten the strawwork, some of the leaves were dyed in various colors. The dye was imported from Saint-Barthelemy, by Mrs. Amalia Duzant. She brought it in bulk and sold it to the workers, in small quantities.

Mrs. Duzant was terrified of travelling in the small sailing vessels but she did it because that was part of her livlihood.

Going back to the social aspect of the “French Colony Girls’ Club”, on days when the ladies met, they worked at their craft, learned new uses and methods for several hours and then they relaxed drinking tea or cocoa and
eating home-baked scones.

At Christmastime, parties were organized by Mrs. Van Patten. But first, let us tell of this lady’s caring for the education of the French children.

Mrs. Van Patten filled the shelves of the clubhouse with books. I remember “Black Beauty”; “The Glass Mountain”; and East of the Sun and West of the Moon” Of course there was Pinocchio, Cinderella, Snowwhite and the Seven Dwarfs, The Brave Little Taylor and others.

There were also the books of poetry, which we learned to read with feeling. The book my mother loved best was “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The entire story was written in poetry.

My very first book, was gifted to me by Mrs. Van Petten. It was called, “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” I have treasured that little book, all the days of my life.

Following is a list of some of the original members of
“The French Colony Girls’ Club”:
Florina Magras Olive; Mercelita Bernier; Marie Helene Bernier Danet; Marie Inger Quetel; Francelia and Margaret Greaux; Annicia Cerge Quetel, Pauline, nee Greaux; Margaret Duzant; Anne Sylvanie Simeon; Anne-Rose Bernier Greaux, AKA “Pauline”; Marie Lucina Aubin; Marie Elisabeth Danet AKA Emilienne; Josephine Danet AKA Urise and several others.

Christmastime with the Van Pattens was like a world of wonder to a little French girl. The Van Pattens lived at Villa Olga in a beautiful white cottage, surrounded by flowers and fruit trees.

The entrance to Villa Olga was an arched gate. Each year at Christmas the arch was festooned with holly and lights. All along the path to the home of the Van Pattens, both sides were strung with lights and holly. Lights were hung on date palms and other fruit trees, creating a world of
fantasy.

Each year a huge Christmas tree was imported from Mainland, USA. This tree was brightly decorated with all sorts of ornaments, tinsel, candy canes, and small toys. To me, as a child, it was a fairy world.

When the Navy was leaving St. Thomas, the clubhouse was donated to the Catholic Chapel of St. Anne. The building was not moved immediately and the Virgin Islands Cooperative was allowed to use it as a station where the ladies of the Carenage could deliver their strawwork and get paid.

Miss Aimee Estornel was in charge of the station and the people of the Village loved her. She became Godmother to many a child born in the Carenage, including one of my brothers.

When the new owners of the land demanded that the building be removed, it was relocated on church property, next to St. Anne’s Chapel.

Anne-Marie Danet