This is one of the seminal historical maps of Charlotte Amalia, on the island of St. Thomas, the capital of the Danish Virgin Islands (today the U.S. Virgin Islands). It is predicated upon a systematic trigonometric survey made by Lieutenant G.B. Lawrence of Britain’s Royal Navy in 1851, with the first edition of the chart being published in 1853. The map was considered to be so proficient that it was reissued in updated editions for decades, with the present issue coming out in 1912, only five years before the Danes sold their share of the Virgin Islands to the United States.
The chart maps the harbour in great detail, featuring copious bathymetric soundings, the marking of lighthouses and hazards, and tracing its complex shorelines, with its several islands and coves.
The town of Charlotte Amalia, centred around the old ‘Christians Fort’ appears in the upper centre of the map, with all of its streets delineated. The ‘References’, on the right side of the chart identifies sites within the town by lettered key, noting public buildings, military facilities, banks, churches and shipping agencies, etc. Highlights include: G. Commercial Hotel; H. Athenaeum; I. Town Hospital; J. Governor’s Residence; P. Custom House and Post Office.
Of special note is N, referring to the St. Thomas Synagogue, built in 1833, for a congregation founded in 1792. It is one of the most important Jewish sites in the West Indies and remains today as the synagogue with the longest history of continuous use in what is now the United States. Additionally, the chart marks the location of the ‘Jews Burial Ground’, just off the main road to the west of town.
The chart also captures many details in the surrounding countryside, including several plantations, such as ‘Contant Estate’, ‘Altona’, and ‘St. Thomas Estate’, along with their ‘Negro Huts’, being former slaves’ quarters, reminders of that ignoble institution which flourished for two centuries on St. Thomas.
At the bottom of the chart is a very attractive profile view of the harbour, with Charlotte Amalia nested at the foot of the hills, with the prominent peak of ‘Fredericksburg’ on its eastward side.
The Danish West India Company established a base on St. Thomas 1657, and Charlotte Amalia soon thrived along its excellent natural harbour. St. Thomas became a key nexus of the global slave trade, leading the island to become one of the wealthiest places in the West Indies. The Danish Virgin Islands became a crown colony in 1754, and in 1764 St. Thomas was made freeport, adding greatly to its economic vitality.
While the Danish Virgin Islands’ economy suffered greatly upon the abolition of slavery in 1848, the colony fared better than many other Caribbean places, as it remained engaged in diverse economic spheres.
While Denmark was not a combatant in World World I, the conflict ravaged its economy leading its government to search for any sources of revenue. Meanwhile, the United States was eager to expand its presence in the Caribbean Basin. In 1917, the Americans purchased the Danish Virgin Islands for $25 million in gold, in arrangement which seemed to satisfy both countries, so creating the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Charlotte Amalia is today a major tourism centre, attracting the wealthy yacht set, as well as being a major cruise ship terminal.
References: Cf. (re: 1885 ed.) OCLC: 474967198.
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