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. Women’s and gender studies sophomore Cassandra Meador shares her experience at Fort Frederik.
Today we got up before the sun and went to bed hours after the sun went down. We started at 5:00 a.m. to see the sunrise at Point Udall – the eastern-most point of any U.S. territory — and it was well worth it. We even got to do yoga after sunrise, and it was amazingly relaxing! However, driving on the east side of the island was weird because it felt like we were driving in a completely different country. The houses were farther apart and the roads were better paved than the other half of the island. It almost like we were driving in the suburbs of the mainland. It made me feel weird, and I was very happy to get back to the west side.
After breakfast and a nap we travelled to Fort Frederik on the far western end of the island. We learned a lot about both the fort and the history of Emancipation (1848) and Transfer Day (1917, when the island was “transferred” from Denmark to the United States). On the fort we learned that it was built primarily to protect the Royal Danish sugar plantations; most of the time, the cannons were pointed inwards towards the plantations (instead of outward toward the sea), because the primary threat came from possible rioting enslaved people rather than from privateers.
Surprisingly, at some point these cannons had been taken down from the wall, leaving a completely different historic presentation of the fort. I thought it was especially interesting that before that fateful Emancipation day in 1848, the enslaved people were able to steal the fort’s gunpowder so that the authorities had nothing to fire upon the 8,000 enslaved rebels.
At the fort we also talked about the community’s view of the preservation of the sugar plantations. Our wonderful tour guide (Ms. Frandell Gerard) pointed out that these historic plantations are preserved not necessarily because of what the Danish or other Europeans did there, but because they were built by the ancestors of the Crucian people. Those structures and their history are still present today because they were built with African designs and their sweat and blood.
After the tour we had the best smoothies I’ve ever tasted, shopped at the boardwalk, and ate dinner at a local restaurant. After watching the sun disappear across the water, we headed to Sandy Point beach, where the United States Fish and Wildlife Service graciously let us join them in their sea turtle watch. We sat on the beach in the dark for awhile and talked about sea turtles in general (did you know that the average leatherback female turtle can be anywhere from 600 – 1,000 pounds???), when a magnificent sea turtle came in to lay her eggs. We watched her dig a huge hole, and then go into a trance-like state to lay eggs. We actually even got to touch her shell and her skin!! Then we gave her some space and watched her pack the eggs in tight and hide the nest.
As we watched her slowly crawl back into the ocean, I remembered something that Ms. Frandell had said during our tour of the fort: “Be careful, because the walls will come with you,” meaning that if you leaned up against the wall, some of the paint or the drywall would rub off and stick to you. But I think those walls stay with you emotionally as well.
The memories the walls hold, both the brutality and the resistance that took place inside them and in the rest of St. Croix, will stay with me for forever and will be in my heart as I take what I’ve learned here and share it with my own community.