Leinster Bay

Annaberg Sugar Mill - Virgin Islands National Park

"The story of sugar was not all sweetness.  Sugar and slavery developed hand in hand..."  --Dunn, 1973

European settlement of the island of St. John began in 1717 when a small group of planters arrived, at today's Coral Bay, from the neighboring Danish-owned island of St. Thomas. The following year Denmark claimed the island as its own. Almost immediately, the cultivation of cash crops became the primary industry on the island. One cash crop dominated however, that of sugar cane. Sugar cane was already a hugely profitable industry in the Danish West Indies by the time St. John was settled and so, eager to expand their lucrative business, Danish planters quickly moved in and began to transform the landscape. Uninhabited before 1717, by 1733 there were no less than 109 plantations established across the island. One of the largest of these was built on the far northeast shore of the island, overlooking a beautiful inlet called Leinster Bay…this was the Annaberg Sugar Plantation.

Construction of Annaberg (roughly translated as “Anna’s Hill”) began in 1731, with its land holdings eventually encompassing 518-acres. Work immediately began to clear the forested hillsides and create terraces in the slopes to better facilitate the growing of sugar cane. The primary source of labor was slaves, and would continue to be until abolition in the mid-19th century.  Most of the structures which still exist today were built between 1796-1807, after the estate had been purchased by one James Murphy.  At the time of his death in 1808, Murphy owned 1,300-acres on St. John requiring the labor of 662 slaves.  In the early 19th Century Annaberg Mill was the largest single producer of sugar on St. John, exporting over 100,000 pounds per year.  In addition, the valuable byproducts of molasses and rum were also sold.  Conditions, at least for the workers, were horrific.  Working from dawn until dusk in the intense Caribbean climate, performing tasks that frequently left many maimed or worse, the average life expectancy of an enslaved laborer on a sugar plantation was a mere 7-9 years.  I won't get into the production aspect here as I've explained it in fair detail through the captions of the pictures that follow...read through them though and you'll get a taste of what life was like Annaberg.

"If a Mill-feeder be catch'd by the finger, his whole body is drawn in, and is squees'd to pieces, If a Boyler gets any part into the scalding Sugar, it sticks like Glew, or Birdlime, and 'tis hard to save either Limb or Life"  -- Bridenbaugh, 1972

"the Climate is so hot, and the labor so constant, that the [Black] Servants night and day standing great Boyling Houses, where there are Six Seven large Coppers or Furnaces kept perpetually boyling; and from which with heavy Ladles and Scummers, the Skim off the excrementatious parts of the Canes, till it comes to its perfection and cleanness, while others as Stoakers, Broil, as it were alive, in managing the Fires; and one part is constantly at the Mill, to supply it with Canes, night and day, during the whole Season of making Sugar, which is about six Months of the year."  -- Thomas Tryon, 1700

In 1848, Denmark emancipated the slaves residing within its holdings in the Virgin Islands.  This, combined with crashing sugar prices, was the death of sugar plantations in the region.  By the 1860's, Annaberg was producing barely 5,000-pounds per year.  Cropland was converted to grass for grazing and the estate changed owners no less than four times...including to a former enslaved worker on the estate, one George Francis.  At the turn of the 20th Century little more than ruins remained of the former grand estate.  Though still occupied any kind of production had long since ceased.  The United States acquired the Danish West Indies through purchase in 1917 and, thirty-nine years later in 1956, Virgin Islands National Park was established.  The Annaberg Sugar Mill was also given over to the NPS at that time.

Today the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Mill are easily accessible.  A short uphill walk from the parking area along beautiful Leinster Bay brings you to the beginning of the 1/4-mile interpretive loop which heads through the ruins.  Highlights include the foundations of the old enslaved workers village, along with the largely intact windmill and factory complex.  Annaberg is equal parts beautiful, educational, and humbling.  The peaceful quiet of the present belies the cacophony and frequent horrors of how it existed 200-years ago.  It is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Virgin Islands National Park.  With that said it's my great pleasure to be able to take you on a short walk through the historic Annaberg Sugar Mill.  Captions are taken directly from park literature and signage for accuracy...so I hope you like to read!  Regardless, as always, I hope you ENJOY!! 


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