This introduction features more than 30 historic maps of St. Croix. These maps help trace the European and African presence on St. Croix as it changed over a period of centuries, particularly through the sugar industry. However, the prevalence of cotton cultivation on the east end and other areas also contributed to the economy, culture, and environmental changes. Each map reflects specific priorities, such as documenting the geography, settlement, and activities pursued on St. Croix. Names included reflect the importance of place names and landowners. Structures added to the maps reflect the importance of investment, productive capacity, and settlement resources. Corroboration of names and places through other archival sources would provide a fuller picture of how sugar cultivation, other agriculture, and human habitation changed St. Croix in many ways. While some documentation exists of the plantation-era inhabitants, much remains to be learned from the material remains they left behind.
These pages present maps in their entirety that appear in small portions throughout this website along with several maps only found on these pages. Since presenting the highest resolution images here would drastically slow loading speeds, links to archival copies provide access to the crispest images available. A single map from the French period serves as a reminder of European presence on St. Croix long before the Danes assumed ownership in 1733. Many of the maps created during the Danish period focus on sugar cultivation and land ownership. Maps created during the United States period focus on topographic features and structures. Given the desire to trace the growth of the sugar industry, the maps appear in chronological order from oldest to newest on four separate pages. With research to date the variations of the Beck maps in progress, the exact dates for the data represented on some of these maps remains loosely defined. Maps included on these pages that are not used elsewhere on this website provide a broader view of the mapping history of St. Croix.
During the Danish period, information included in the maps evolved while maintaining a specific focus. From the first manuscript as the initial survey neared completion, focus on settlement underlined the colonial nature of the Danish governance of St. Croix. Following that, the printed Beck maps focused on the productive capacity of the sugar industry with the inclusion of icons for windmills and animal mills along with streams and roads. Annotations on Beck’s printed maps along with manuscript maps based these maps underlined the emphasis on sugar production by adding windmill and animal mill icons. Plantations joining estates together with map coloring and the inclusion of landowner names to identify the individuals controlling individual parcels underlined the importance of individual ownership. The Oxholm map published in 1799 expands the attention provided to sugar and cotton production along with estate boundaries and names, adding clear indication of topography. This map also includes a table listing the inhabitants broken down by various demographics, land under cultivation, and number of mills, curiously not matching the number depicted on the map. Subsequent maps built on Oxholm’s map to refine topographic features, bathymetric measurements, and identify structures with associated place names.
In addition to the content of the maps, the variations in surviving copies of several of the maps provides insights into printing techniques and the modification of printing plates. In particular, the maps of Beck, Oxholm, and Parsons reveal revisions in the actual printing plates to create successive versions of their maps. Survival of numerous copies of many of these maps allow explorations of vagaries in printing outcomes in a time where artistry invested in various steps of the printing process, including the creation of the print itself.
Names matter. An interesting facet of this research connects place names with many of the early landowners in the Danish period. By the time of Oxholm’s map, with the data collected by 1794, many estate and coastal place names were already in use. One resource to learn more about place names in the Virgin Islands comes from early in the United States period. James McGuire’s Geographic Dictionary of the Virgin Islands of the United States from 1925 provides background information for many locations and is accessible through Google Books.
For those interested in learning more specifically about the Beck maps, please view the video presentation by Dr. Cleveland.
Thanks to our 2023 sponsor of this page: A Better Copy in Christiansted. Pam is super helpful in finding map resources about St. Croix.