The Age of Opulence
Part 3 in a series
Excerpts from "Divers Information on The Romantic History of St. Croix" by Florence Lewisohn, 1963, St. Croix Landmarks Society.
"St. Croix, slow to start, became the richest sugar island in the Caribbean for a time. Under the ownership of Denmark, it reached its peak of wealth and opulence about 1796 when it had 114 windmills and 144 animal or ox mills grinding out the golden juice - which by some West Indian magic turned quickly to gold.
Plantation life is usually thought of in the rosy, romanticized terms of the rich sugar planter lolling at his ease in a luxurious mansion, while myriads of Negros toiled his fields and ground his cane in contented bondage. This picture is almost a myth as history proves - but not quite - for in the heyday of sugar and rum, it did look like this from the surface.
The planters worked hard to establish their estates and to maintain them, for it took a substantial investment and careful supervision to get started. The planters made money when the sugar and rum markets were up, and some did live in splendor equal to the upper classes of Europe. They built impressive mansions, often copied from their favorite European styles, filled with fine furniture, china, silver and all the appurtenances of wealth. They road in elegant carriages drawn by fine horses. Some of the more flamboyant planters vied with each other in giving elaborate balls and other amusements, with the customary emphasis on vintage wines and rich food. There were brilliant official government functions. Children were sent to Denmark, France, England or Holland to school.
The usual plantation consisted of an owner's Greathouse, a manager's house, a workers' "village" and many factory buildings where the sugar and rum were made after the windmill ground the cane. The time of "crop" in the Spring, when the cane was cut was a time of feverish day and night activity; with slaves working in shifts around the clock.
When "crop" was over, the raw or muscavado sugar was off on the high seas for Europe, and the rum-still was going strong to utilize the molasses residue. Rum often meant the difference between profit and loss. After the sugar-making, the plantation settles back again into its months of normalcy, with fields to be tended or replanted, tools and equipment to be repaired at the smithy where huge eight-foot bellows were manned by hand. The wheelwright was busy with wagon repairs, the cooper worked on new hogsheads and rum puncheons for the next crop.
Island visitors are always intrigued with the fanciful names given to the old St. Croix estates. They have a quality of poetry or a hint of hidden meaning in them. There were Humbug, Bulow's Minde, Tipperary, Barren Spot, Judith's Fancy, Upper Love and Lower Love, Work and Rest, Wheel of Fortune, Hard Labor, and Slob. There were Hope and Blessing, Envy and Jealousy, Rust op Twist, Solitude and Sweet Bottom, Jerusalem and Sion Hill, Punch and Jolly Hill, Diamond and Ruby - and The Whim!
Of all these, it is Estate Whim that best tells the visual story of what the "good old days" were like. It is the only restored Greathouse open to the public as a museum.
WHIM GREATHOUSE. Not far from Frederiksted, stands one of St. Croix's really unique structures. It is an exceptional building for St. Croix, designed in neo-classic European style with curved ends and a surrounding "moat" which served as an air shaft for the cellar. Whim recreates the opulent life of the sugar planters with their fine furniture, silver and china brought out from Europe in the late 1700's when the island was at the peak of its prosperity."
Whim Plantation Museum is owned and operated by the St. Croix Landmarks Society. Join one of their tours to learn more about this property and its owner/builder, Christopher MacEvoy, Jr. For more information, call 772-0598.