Come Home to St. Croix

St. Croix Landmarks Society Photo Exhibits

Estate Whim

History of Estate Whim Museum

Excerpts from "Preserving the Legacy," continued

1998: Priscilla G. Watkins on behalf of St. Croix Landmarks Society

1809: Isaac Hartman, Sr., became the new owner. It was an amazing trade for all of the people of Whim were uprooted and moved to Lime Tree, and Lime Tree's work crew and manager took their places at Whim. It is from this era onward that we can successfully trace many of the enslaved people and free workers to families in the neighborhood today. The Hartman family of Lime Tree had been in the Caribbean for at least three generations by 1809. Their fortunes had flourished and the large family spared no effort to keep themselves in lavish comfort. Isaac Hartman, Sr. was an absentee owner, living in London, who began borrowing on Whim as soon as he got control of it. But St. Croix reached it peak sugar cane production soon after, as competing plantations were being opened up in Cuba, Brazil, the southern states of the USA and even in Asia. Then, beet sugar was discovered, a final blow. The elder Hartman died in 1814, owing about 10,000 pounds sterling, mostly to his son-in-law in St. Croix. The youngest Hartman, Stedman, aged 30, was managing the estate; he lived with his family at nearby Orange Grove. Three years later, a fever epidemic caused the loss of many lives, and hard times began. The Hartmans lost one estate because of debt and had to sell Orange Grove; the entire family moved into the Great House at Whim. Stedman had three babies under the age of five to worry about when a hurricane in 1819 left many injured, homeless or dead all over the island. The storm flattened Whim and the Hartman fortunes went down with it. Between 1820 and 1839, the title to Whim was in the hands of creditors, although Stedman Hartman managed the property most of those years.

1820: the Tutein brothers; Mr. Black's widow; Baring Brothers & Company. Research is needed on these owners.

1839: sold to Thomas Griffith. Griffith lived just across the King's Highway on his brother's estate, Two Williams, until June, 1847, when he and his wife, Mary Anne, both immigrants from Ireland, moved to Whim with their two children, Helen, 8, and Thomas, 5. Griffith was a brutal master according to police records; most if not all of his slaves had reason to fear, and probably hate him. It is likely he was as cruel to those under his care at Two Williams as well.

Before he became violently ill, on the 28th of February, 1848, his wife suddenly decided to go by carriage to spend some time with her sister in Christiansted (a jolting and dusty 18 mile trip, she was six months pregnant). Griffith dosed himself and got worse. He ordered his slave, Albert Simmonds, to bring his wife back, and get a doctor. By midweek, he had two doctors and more doses, but worsened and died on the 4th of March, in the evening, a Saturday. The doctors declared he had been poisoned and arrested Albert Simmonds, one of many who might wish him dead. His wife was never officially suspected. Without evidence the Governor ordered Simmonds released. The case remained unsolved until nearly 150 years later; in a lecture at Whim two doctors said Griffith indeed had been poisoned. He had died from the dosages of his doctors and self-administered purges, which contained enough mercury to kill him four times again. On the 4th of May, Mary Anne's son Charles was born.

The emancipation rebellion, begun in the evening of July 2, 1848, must have been known to Whim's workers. Surely most, if not all, of them went to the uprising in Frederiksted on July 3rd. Fear sent Mary Ann fleeing with her children to the safety of ships in the harbor. For nearly 24 hours, the rebellion was bloodless. That evening, however, the uprising turned violent when the militia at Christiansted fired upon and killed two men and a woman. Whim was among the many plantations that were looted over three days.

1849: sold at auction to William Knight. Resold to his brother, Henry, a 50 year old widower, who moved into the Great House immediately. Some of the free workers stayed at Whim, mostly the older ones. New workers had to be hired. Henry's son Richard inherited Whim in 1862, and modernized the sugar cane process. He also added a steam mill before dying in 1870.

1870: sold to two Latimer brothers, whose family held onto the estate for the next 62 years. Originally from Ireland, the younger brother, James, 31, a bachelor, moved into the Great House, and his spinster sister Mary Ann arrived to keep house for him. They had to flee when Whim was torched in the Fireburn workers revolt of October 1, 1878. Whim was among the ten hardest hit plantations of the 50 trashed in the rioting. All the crops were destroyed. Mary Ann inherited Whim in 1888, and with the help of her nephew James Smith, ran it until her death in July, 1927. The estate was converted to a cattle ranch in 1924. Smith was considered an odd man, anti-social. When the federal government made an offer to buy the plantation for a homestead plan, Smith and his Canadian wife Anna Jane, accepted $20,000 in exchange for the estate, which now included Campo Rico, Good Hope and Ruan's Bay, 1,416 acres.

1932: the last occupants were homestead project manager Mr. Nielson and his family, from 1932 to 1937. The house was badly neglected and costly to keep up. For a while it served as a Red Cross Center, and also as offices for the Farmers Home Administration staff. Congress abolished the homestead program in 1945.

1946: the responsibility for the unsold parts of the homestead estates, including Whim's Great House and mill were turned over to the municipality of St. Croix.

1954: a portion of Whim leased in perpetuity to St. Croix Museum Inc., the original nonprofit division of the St. Croix Landmarks League "for the cultural benefit of the people of the Virgin Islands." It took seven and a half years to repair and restore the factory and grounds and Great House for viewing. On March 18th, 1962, at 3:00 in the afternoon, Whim held its first party for neighbors in Estate Whim who had tolerated all the noise and mess of restoration. Two days later, the Great House opened for the first time to the public and the rest, as they say, is history.

Our work in recovering the history of this island has only begun. Our task now is gathering mountains of material to uncover the truth of yesterday and find the true histories of the African (and later Asian) women and men who worked the Crucian plantations and made them their own. Their lives live on through ours. Preserving information about their lives will make sure the truth does not die.

Upcoming Programs & Events

No events are currently scheduled.
View our full calendar