The Meaning Behind St. John’s 4th of July Festivities

Freedom statue in Cruz Bay park - Image credit: Steve Simonsen

Freedom statue in Cruz Bay park – Image credit: Steve Simonsen

Fourth of July is a major holiday in the United States, and it caps off more than a month of festivities here on St. John. But the reason the day is celebrated here on St. John is much different than why it is celebrated up in the States.

David Whitney Knight Sr. is one of the island’s historians. He often shares tidbits and images about the island’s history over on his Facebook page. In July 2018, he shared why the island’s Fourth of July festival is so important to the island and its history. We decided to share it again this year.

From Mr. Knight:

This is why Cruz Bay’s July 4th Festival is so significant to the history and people of St. John.

Emancipation was first proclaimed on St. John at Cruz Bay on July 4, 1848

Early on Tuesday morning July 4, the government schooner Vigilant sailed into St. Thomas harbor carrying news of the pronouncement of Emancipation on St. Croix. Later that afternoon the owner of the Lamesure plantation on St. John, Captain Ingjald Mourier, arrived at Cruz Bay bringing word of the decree. After hastily informing the Police Master, Judge Carl Hanshell, of the news, Mourier and Hanshell set out on horseback to inform the people in the countryside. Just after sunset, enslaved individuals on the Cruz Bay Quarter estates of Adrian and Rustenburg were the first to learn of their newly achieved freedom.

According to the last pre-Emancipation census carried out in the Danish West Indies, the town of Cruz Bay had fifteen occupied households with a total population of 117 inhabitants: ninety-four free persons, and twenty-three unfree.

The enslaved Inhabitants of Cruz Bay at the time of Emancipation were:

Jacob, born St. John, 19 years old, Moravian, unmarried, a sailor.

Hanna, born Africa, 30 years old, Moravian, unmarried, a servant.

Juliana, born St. John, 11 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

Anna Dorothea, born St. John, 24 years old, Moravian, living with John Henley.

Nicolas, born St. Thomas, 20 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

Maria Clarissa, born Africa, 50 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

Catharina, born St. John, 30 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

Mary Ann, born St. Barths, 36 years old, Moravian, unmarried, a servant.

Philippus, born St. Thomas, 60 years old, Moravian, married, a carpenter.

Mary, born Africa, 40 years old, Moravian, widow, a servant.

Patience, born Africa, 50 years old, Moravian, unmarried, a servant.

Caritas Gotlief, born St. John, 35 years old, Moravian, widow, a washer.

John Providence, born St. John, 15 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

William Steven, born St. John, 8 years old, Moravian, a servant.

Margaret, born Spanish Town, 55 years old, Moravian, unmarried, a servant.

Isabella, born St. John, 14 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

Rosina, born St. John, 19 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

John Frederik, born St. John, 20 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a sailor.

Charles, born Africa, 48 years old, Moravian, unmarried, a servant.

James, born Africa, 50 years old, Moravian, unmarried, a servant.

Henry, born St. John, 20 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

Abraham, born St. John, 15 years old, Lutheran, unmarried, a servant.

Edmund Waldemar, born St. John, 1 year old, Moravian.

For those of you who are on island today, an Emancipation Program will take place at 1 p.m. in the parking lot at the Village (customs parking lot).

J’ouvert kicks off the festivities tomorrow morning and will begin at sunrise. The annual parade starts at 11 a.m. and the fireworks will light up Cruz Bay at 9 p.m.

3 comments for “The Meaning Behind St. John’s 4th of July Festivities

  1. Kathy from Wisconsin
    July 3, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Jenn, thank you for this posting. It bears repeating EVERY year. The list of names, especially, is alternately inspiring and heartbreaking. And the descendants of these brave people walk the streets and paths of St John today.

    Here is a quote I ran across the other day that I thought perfectly describes St John, in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes and at all other times as well. It comes from a newspaper column written by Eric Frydenlund, a Wisconsin writer: “Rugged individualism might get you through the night, but community gets you through the days that follow.”

    Happy Independence Day, in ALL the meanings of that word.

  2. PA Girl
    July 3, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    I strongly encourage everyone to read Night of the Silent Drums for more background on STJ’s history. It’s an excellent book.

  3. Tom
    July 5, 2019 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for the heads up! Wish it was available on kindle, but thankfully there are many copies available on Amazon.

    I also recommend Herman Wouk’s “Don’t Stop the Carnival” for light hearted view of island life from a 1950s tourists perspective. A fun read, just don’t get too bent out of shape with it’s 1950s world view.

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