Some Folk and other Lore, Part 2
Part 17 in a series
Excerpts from Divers Information on "The Romantic History of St. Croix" by Florence Lewison, 1963, St. Croix Landmarks Society.
INDIGO AND COTTON. These were once two of the island's staple crops, along with cassava and tobacco. The French tried out indigo plantations, as the blue dye was valuable in Europe until the sea route to India opened new sources. There were two species of the plant on St. Croix.
When the Danes bought St. Croix, the first Governor to look it over thought it had a large enough area for 1,000 cotton plantations in addition to an equal number for sugar. This optimistic figure was never reached but the Oxholm map published in 1794 after nearly ten years of surveying showed approximately 40 cotton estates all east or south of Christiansted. Export figures show that an average of 93,000 lbs. of cotton was shipped out for several years around 1780; had gone down to 79,000 lbs. in the early 1790's, and slipped to 11,000 lbs. after the turn of the century. From this time on cotton became less important and these estates converted mostly to cattle farms. The last cotton ginnery in Christiansted didn't close down until the 1920's, however, and the one at Estate Longford closed about the same time.
Today in the spring and summer the wild cotton still can be seen with its pods bursting over the East End hills.
FLORA AND FAUNA. On St. Croix there is a great deal of flora and not too much fauna except for Cruzan dogs, no two of which seem exactly alike. The fauna includes our worst pest, the mongoose. It also includes our delightful small whitetailed deer; a few iguana; various types of small lizards; cave bats, fish bats and insect bats; tree rats and the usual slip rats - and, naturally, the persistent mouse.
The mongoose dealt effectively with the two kinds of harmless snakes which once were here, while it did not eradicate the cane field rats it was brought in to destroy.
Among our birds are seven kinds of heron and egrets, five kinds of pigeons and doves, the grey kingbird (chincery), the pearly-eyed thrasher or thrush,the grass quit, two kinds of hummingbirds, and the lovely little banana quit (yellow-breast or sugar bird). There is also the Ani, or Black Witch, which local legend says can be made to talk. Add the graceful terns, the spectacular dive-bombing Pelicans and the majestic Man o'War birds. In the winter a dozen or so northern birds, mostly warblers, join the human tourists here. A determined bird-watcher can keep busy identifying a surprising variety, and there is a local checklist for sale, which helps.
When it comes to flora, every visitor soon learns the ubiquitous hibiscus, oleander, bougainvilla, cacti and aloes. From there on it takes a reference book to learn St. Croix's myriad plant life found in the cultivated garden.
Consider instead some of the native plant life and tree lore. Apples? We have them as-in: pine, belle, maiden, moss, dog, star, sugar, mamee, golden and sweet. We have also the poisonous Manchineel apple which the Indians used to poison their arrows. These little green beach apples made Capt. John White's men ill when they stopped here in 1587 on their way to Virginia.
We have such wonderful flora as Woman's Tongue, nothing nut, catch-andkeep vine, monkey-don't-climb, clashie melashie, poor man's orchid, powder puff, chucu, man jack, lady of the night, cassava, jump-up-and-kiss-me, silk cotton, cakalaka, diddle doo, sweetsop and soursop, calabash, tamarind and Whitey Mary. The list is endless.
WEST INDIAN CURRENCY. Money in the West Indies was as varried as the many nationalities settling here. The Danish rigsdaler (or rixdaler), the French livre, the Dutch thaler, were all good stable money on their own islands.
Since buying, selling and smuggling among all the islands was lively, it was the Spanish or Mexican dollar, the Piece of Eight, which acted as the common denominator for commerce. This famous silver piece was first minted at Mexico City by the Spanish government in 1607. They were issued by the millions until 1821. The coin was divided into four pesatas and eight reales, and named for the latter. A real was worth 12 . cents, or one bit. Later the United States based its dollar on the Spanish unit; hence our "two bits."
The Mexican monetary system served both the pirate and the commercial world in the Caribbean for hundreds of years until Mexican silver lost its value in 1892. The U.S. dollar had gradually become the leading, stable monetary unit in this hemisphere.
The Danish rigsdaler was rated by the Fifth U.S. Congress in 1799 at 100 cents on the dollar, and when the U.S. bought the islands in 1917, the National Bank of the Danish West Indies kept the right to issue notes until 1934 - these became the only paper legal tender of the U.S. to bear the portrait of a foreign monarch.
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