Situated on the north-west sunset coast of St. Croix, Mill Point lies with its deep-rooted history adjacent to the neighboring Butler Bay Great House, circa 1720. The tantalizing aroma of nearby papaya trees wafts through the summery sea air as the sun rays glimmer like precious jewels on the calm Caribbean Sea. Nearby, a domestic horse grazes calmly on tall, lush grass among the well-preserved ruins of a former sugar factory. Ancient baobab trees, brought to the island during the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade still stand, having borne witness to the many eventful occurrences taking place on this former plantation.
In the early 1800’s, in its prime, The Butler Bay Plantation was considered one of the largest sugar cane plantations and rum distilleries in the former Danish West Indies. Today, the nineteen acre Butler Bay property showcases memories of an eventful life during the Golden Era of the Virgin Islands.
We all have a place that we hold special to our hearts and this magnificent property has been just that to many a person with its rich and colorful history. So slowly inhale the sights and smells and take a step back in time.
Welcome to Butler Bay
Our story begins in November of 1493, St. Croix’s first recorded history. Christopher Columbus had set sail on his second voyage to the New World and anchored in a serene natural bay on the north coast of the island, known today as Salt River. Confronted by hostile arrows from the local Carib Tribe, Columbus and his crew immediately continued their exploration after naming the island Santa Cruz (The Holy Cross). Columbus’ expedition carried on through the island chain, which he later named The Virgins, as a mark of respect for St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.
Despite Columbus’ claim of Santa Cruz for Spain, the Spanish made little effort to migrate and instead focused their efforts elsewhere in the Caribbean, where soil was more fertile. However, within less than a century, both English and Danish settlers began to take advantage of the agricultural potential of the island.
By 1733, the Danes began to realize the incredible amount of potential to be had in the West Indies and purchased St. Croix from France. Denmark immediately sent settlers from the Danish West India Company to the island to form a new colony and under the leadership of Frederik Moth, built the cities of Christiansted and sixteen years later, Frederiksted.
By 1757, the island had 241 sugar and cotton plantations, primarily operated by slaves brought in under the Second Atlantic System of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Butler Bay grew sugar and distilled rum. In 1747, the Government gave Butler Bay to Edward Pay to encourage agriculture in the north-western part of the island.
It was around the same time that St. Croix was granted its own government, completely separate from St. Thomas and St. John. Along with this separation came new laws and stricter regulations concerning the slaves that were working at the plantations. By 1754, the three islands became a royal colony and thus began a long period of steady growth. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the three islands at the time, lost its position as home to the government and was handed over to St. Croix, being that it was the most productive and affluent of all three islands.
The years following the islands’ colonial formation was a time of incredible growth. St. Croix had many plantations, filled with sugar cane, tall coconut trees, and fruit trees. Roads were long and straight. Poet Philip Freneau, who made his home part-time at the Butler Bay residence during the revolutionary era (1776 – 1778), described St. Croix as “inexpressibly beautiful” and regarded it as “a tropical paradise in which man could reestablish contact with luxuriant nature”. (Freneau, 1776).
For quite some time, St. Croix was one of the richest islands in the West Indies, mainly due to sugar cultivation and rum production, as well as slave trade. It was the exporter of five commodities – sugar, rum, cotton, molasses and hard woods. However, this prosperous time of sugar cane began to diminish soon thereafter. As news of the uprising for freedom by slaves and the murder of whites in neighboring islands reached St. Croix, concerns for the future of the economy on the island began to rise.
By the first of July, the topic of emancipation had been widely discussed. The excitement grew and the rum flowed late into the night as the slaves began celebrating. By July 3, the slaves were making their way towards Frederiksted and began to gather here outside the fort and place demands for their freedom. Throughout the day, letters were sent back and forth between the policemen on-site and Government House (located in Christiansted). Reinforcing their insistence, three government buildings were destroyed through fires by the workers that day – leaving historians today with a big gap in records between 1800 and 1848. Further threats of burning the city were made until finally, at 4 p.m., slaves were declared free.
In 1867, the United States sought to purchase the Virgin Islands from Denmark, but several natural disasters, as well as domestic and international political conflicts, postponed the transfer for a further fifty years. Finally, on March 31, 1917 the U.S. sealed the deal with Denmark and bought the Virgin Islands for $25 million in gold, creating the U.S. territory that we have and love today. The U.S. Virgin Islands began to see the beginning of new, prosperous times and by the mid-1900s, the Virgin Islands were home to many hotels, restaurants and shops, catering to the sun-seeking tourist.
Beyond the serenity and seclusion of the Mill Point property we know today, the vast ocean lends itself to world-renowned diving and opportunities for exploration at the Monks Bath’s. Lush and fertile, the rainforest positioned to the north-east of Butler Bay offers some of the best horseback riding and hiking trails in the Virgin Islands. Nearby, the small town of Frederiksted is home to boutique café’s, historical art museums, farmer’s markets, and quaint gift shops.
Today, the stunning property of Mill Point rests on nine acres of pastoral land with a six-bedroom home enveloping the historical sugar mill. Significant remains of the 1747 sugar factory, animal pens, cook house, ancient well, and restored manager’s cottage lie on the immaculately manicured grounds, illustrating a picture of a life long ago.