TU students taking the interdisciplinary class “The Roots of Hamilton: Relics of Resistance in the Black Atlantic World” had the chance to travel to St. Croix. They were able to visit Alexander Hamilton’s boyhood home and see different sites of enslavement and freedom in the Caribbean. History senior John W. Turner shares his experience at the Estate Whim Plantation.
Imagery sometimes speaks for itself, but sometimes you need the context of the image to fully understand it. At the Estate Whim Plantation in St. Croix, the imagery of oppression literally stares down at you as you walk around the complex. Pulling up to the estate you see a relatively small main house, compared to the plantation homes of the deep South, but behind the home you see a watch tower looming over the sugar mill. The tower is a constant reminder, should one ever forget, that slaves once worked on this estate.
When we arrived we sat with an elder of the island and listened to her interwoven story of her life and the life of the estate. The estate had about 150 acres of sugar cane fields at its peak, with slave quarters and the main house all built by slaves. The elder illustrated the resilience of the island and the peoples who occupy it, and she explained how strong bonds of kinship helped mitigate the economic strangulation of enslaved Africans and their descendants. I realized that this sense of one community, regardless of the distance and time passed, is rooted in the slave communities on the plantations. These communities worked together underneath the umbrella of oppression to survive and sustain themselves.
After talking to the elder, we listened to a woman sing about the history of the island and the many different cultures that have inhabited the land. The pride in the history of her people was very powerful. She took pride in the resistance from the past, and then portrayed that courage through her songs. While she sang we had lunch and began to explore the estate. At this point I noticed the difference in this museum and the ones in the mainland U.S. Estate Whim is more than just a museum; it was a cultural center, a community gathering place for elders, and a spot of remembrance. In the courtyard of the original estate, elders gathered and shared a glass of lemonade and talked, communicating about the past and the present. This dynamic of Whim is unique in that a place of pain can become a place of community. But when you think about it, the estate was always a place of community, even when slaves roamed the yard and the grandmas took care of the children from the guard house.
The people are the community, and Estate Whim is the place where their roots began. These roots can be traced at the archive center, which is housed on the estate grounds. It is a magnificent resource for historians and archaeologists alike who have a passion for telling the stories of people who resisted the forces of slavery and white supremacy. While in the archive I found two rebellion narratives from the insurrection of 1848 which gave different accounts of how and why the rebellion occurred. I made copies of these narratives so that I could have them for future research, never knowing what I might write about next.
After leaving Whim Estate we traveled to Dr. Odewale’s archaeological site, Estate Little Princess, where she conducted a comparative study with the Montpelier Plantation in Virginia. After weaving through the forest area and learning about different ways that archaeologists identify former structures, I was kind of overwhelmed.
I have had multiple anthropology courses, completing a minor, and I had never been to an archeological site. As a historian I focus on archives and books, so it was awesome to see different perspectives in action. Overall this was a fantastic day, and I am so excited about what the rest of the trip holds for me and for the group.
I am expanding my beliefs on culture and history, and it is a mind-blowing experience.