St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research: And I get to take part in it!

In just a few days, I will be taking part in an archaeological excavation with the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (S.E.C.A.R)  team in the Caribbean! Here is some background information about the excavation and what is currently happening over there!

Where Are We Excavating?

Locations of the Lazaretto Leper Colony , Pleasures Estate Plantation, Battery St. Louis and the Godet Property on St. Eustatius. 3-Dimensional model created in ArcView® GIS.

Archaeological investigations of Colonial Period slave sites in the Americas and Africa have been thorough in answering wide-ranging questions regarding slave life and culture. However, this research has primarily focused on sites in the British, Spanish, French and Danish colonies. No slave occupation sites in the Dutch Caribbean Colonies have been excavated until now.

One sugar plantation on the island of St. Eustatius in the Netherlands Antilles is currently being investigated by the S.E.C.A.R. The plantation is known as the Pleasures Estate and is located on the west side of the Quill volcano, facing the town of Oranjestad. It originally contained over 25 hectares (62 acres) and was probably occupied between 1742 and 1977 when the main home on the property burned down. Each plantation has substantial standing ruins including both sugar works and a main house.

Pleasures was first recorded in a general archaeological assessment of the island begun by Norman Barka in 1981 and finished by John Eastman in 1996 (Barka 1985; Eastman 1996).
Battery St. Louis on the Atlantic side and near English Quarter Plantation was also investigated during 2000-2001. I.O.A. students mapped and conducted surface collections at the military site. It is imperative that the battery sites be assessed and protected as the cliff-top placement allows the normally devastating affects of goat and cow hooves to be much more detrimental. Without the current research much data would be lost at these sites.

The S.E.C.A.R. is working with the Historic Core Restoration team on two sites in Oranjestad. The first is known as the Godet Property and was the former residence of government officials. The second site is the Duinkerk Property named after its current residents.

In addition to the field research, we are completing comprehensive investigation of the St. Eustatius archives kept in the Algemeen Rijksarchief (Royal Dutch Archives) in The Hague, Netherlands. This involves reviewing all the letters, wills, deeds and probate records kept in these archives for descriptions of slaves on St. Eustatius. This data is being assembled into a comprehensive database to determine the slave population on St. Eustatius and possibly how some of these individuals may have participated in the island economy.

And here’s a bit of information about the history of the island:

Why was Statia known as “The Golden Rock”?

Copper engraving of St. Eustatius by K. F. Bendorp as it appeared in 1780. The flags of several different nations can be seen on the ships anchored in the harbor. The Quill volcano rises in the background on the right.

Archaeological resources on this forgotten island in the Caribbean Sea are of great importance to our world heritage. Located in the West Indies, St. Eustatius is part of the Netherlands Antilles which also includes St. Maarten, Saba, Curaçao, and Bonaire. The extreme historical significance of this island has been lost to most people due to the vagaries of time.

However, during the 17th and 18th centuries St. Eustatius was known in most every European and American household due to the massive international trade that transpired on this island. After 1750, over 3,500 ships a year from Europe, Africa and the Americas landed here earning the island’s nickname–The Golden Rock. Almost 20,000 merchants, slaves and plantation owners were crowded on this little speck measuring only 8 kilometres by 4 kilometres (Attema 1976). Merchants from the Netherlands, France, Britain, the American Colonies, Spain and Denmark all mixed in a peaceful international emporium for free trade not to be found anywhere else in the Caribbean. To facilitate this trade, over 600 warehouses were built along the shore below Oranjestad, its main city. The island was so important that it changed hands among the Dutch, English and French 22 times over two centuries, until the Dutch permanently wrested control in the early 19th century.

The sovereignty of the United States was first recognised here when on November 16, 1776 a salute was fired from Fort Oranje in reply to a salute by the brigantine Andrew Doria. The merchants on St. Eustatius provided much of the arms, gunpowder and ammunition used by the rebels in the American Revolution and as a result experienced the full wrath of the English Navy and Marines under Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney in 1781. The largest booty captured anywhere during the Colonial Period was the result: a fleet loaded with over £5,000,000 was sent back to England. Some even believe that Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was likely based on stories he heard about St. Eustatius (Ayisi 1992). With trade activity on this scale, one can well imagine the significance of the archaeological remains to be found on the Golden Rock.

The sleepy island remained quiet and largely forgotten until the latter half of the twentieth century when historians, anthropologists and archaeologists have attempted to reconstruct the lives of the merchants and plantation owners that once lived here. Pulitzer prize winning historian, Barbara Tuchman, made the island the focus of her book The First Salute, while Ronald Hurst wrote The Golden Rock, an essential guide to the history of the island during the American Revolution.

Drs. Norman Barka from The College of William and Mary in Virginia and Edward Dethlefsen of Harvard University came to the island in 1979 to explore the potential of archaeological excavations. They discovered that archaeological resources were incredible. Over the next twenty-years Barka and his students produced a substantial body of archaeological work related to many aspects of the island’s colonial history.

Europeans were not the first people to inhabit St. Eustatius. Prior to the Dutch arrival in the 17th Century, Native Americans of the Saladoid culture thrived on St. Eustatius between 2150 B.P. (300 B.C..) and 1150 B.P.(800 A.D.). The Dutch archaeologist J.P.B. Josselin de Jong investigated Saladoid sites on St. Eustatius during the 1920s. Further work was conducted during the 1980s by Aad Versteeg of Leiden University.

Altogether there are over 200 archaeological sites on this small island. Very few land masses in the world have this concentration of archaeological and historical material.

So as you can see, it’s pretty exciting!!! OR to some…it’s probably the most boring thing they’ve ever heard! More to come about the adventure in the Caribbean! And will post pictures as soon as I can get them!


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