First maritime archaeological project to be led by the Society in its over 40 year history
by Cameron Gill
Figure 1 Detail of 1714 map by Buor showing historic Sandy Point Anchorage (bay with depiction of two ships anchored). Courtesy British Library
Ever since its founding on April 10th 1965, originally under the name of the Society for the Restoration of the Brimstone Hill Fortress, the Brimstone Hill Society has played a lead role in archaeological research not only in our twin island federation but in the region as a whole. Amateur archaeologists, such as our stalwart member Campbell Evelyn, have contributed to the impressive collection of artifacts held by the Society. In the case of Campbell, many musket balls and other ordnance displayed in Room Two at the Fort George Museum (St. Kitts’ first museum) are thanks to his explorations of Brimstone Hill.
More scientific archaeological fieldwork has been led by individuals such as Victor Smith, David Rollinson and Professor Gerald Schroedl. Mr. Smith has contributed enormously to our knowledge of structures and features at Brimstone Hill and Charles Fort in Sandy Point. Professor Schroedl and his team from the University of Tennessee broke new ground in the Caribbean (literally and figuratively) by conducting the first major scientific survey of a military site which focused on the Africans who lived, worked on and defended that site. David Rollinson’s documentation of traditional stonemasonry techniques and his continuing contribution to preservation and restoration efforts at the Hill ensure that our people and our visitors can continue to marvel at the amazing structures that make up our World Heritage Site.
Now the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park Society (BHFNPS) is venturing into new ground and new waters archaeologically. The Society has embarked on a long term research project titled “Brimstone, Sea and Sand: The Historic Port of Sandy Point and its Anchorage”. This project will incorporate archaeological and historical research methods to reveal the fascinating but largely forgotten history and importance of one of the first major ports in the Eastern Caribbean. A port so important that up to as late as 1829, just a little over two decades before the last troops were withdrawn from Brimstone Hill Fortress and Charles Fort, official documents showed that the defence of the Sandy Point Anchorage was seen as the most important role of these two impressive fortifications.
As part of this research into the historic port of Sandy Point and its anchorage, the Brimstone Hill Society in collaboration with the Foundation for Marine Archaeology in Curacao (STIMACUR), will from May 2012 initiate an underwater archaeological survey of the historic anchorage at Sandy Point, an area extending from Belle Tete in the north to Lazaretto Point in the south (the latter is the location of Charles Fort). With a length of 2.96 kilometres from Belle Tete to Charles Fort this was one of the largest historic anchorages in the Eastern Caribbean. St. Kitts prominence as one of the wealthiest sugar colonies also made it one of the most strategically important.
The team from STIMACUR will comprise of Raymond Hayes, President of the Board of Directors of STIMACUR and a former archaeology professor at Howard University; Francois van der Hoeven, Secretary of the Board; Dennis Knepper and Mike Napier, both Board Members. Mr. Napier is also the captain of the Freewinds, on board which the team will be based during this year’s survey, which will take place from the 5-14th May. The project will be directed by Cameron Gill of the BHFNPS. As this project seeks to explore, document and interpret our heritage the involvement of local volunteers, particularly from the Sandy Point and the Fig Tree communities shall be sought as much as possible. Mr. Gill is currently in communication with the Charles E. Mills Secondary School and the Sandy Point based youth group SPIRIT (Sandy Pointers Inspiring Real Improvement Throughout) in an attempt to recruit youth participants.
This will be the first time that students in St. Kitts shall have the opportunity to learn hands on maritime archaeological field techniques. This will be available to students of varying skill levels including non-divers and non-swimmers, as the project will also involve wading and shoreline surveys. Students shall be properly supervised at all times. The students will be required to write an essay on their experience and teachers will be encouraged to incorporate material from this project into CXC School Based Assessments (SBA’s). At the end of the project the students shall receive a certificate of participation from both the BHFNPS and STIMACUR. Student involvement will take place on weekends to avoid any conflicts with their school schedule.
The project shall seek:
• A clearer picture of the development of Sandy Point as an important port and strategic anchorage.
• A greater understanding of this port’s contribution to the economic and cultural history of St. Kitts and the neighbouring Dutch island of St. Eustatius.
Figure 2 Google Earth image of historic Sandy Point Anchorage, downloaded 3 April 2012. Red line delineates length of anchorage from Belle Tete to Charles Fort. At 2.96 km or 1.59 nautical miles this was one of the larger anchorages in the Eastern Caribbean.
• A greater understanding of this port’s role and importance to trade, communication and migration within the Atlantic World.
• The port’s influence on British defensive strategy in the Caribbean; for example, the construction, design and armament of Charles Fort and the Brimstone Hill Fortress.
Areas of investigation will include:
a) Submerged cultural remains; for instance, shipwrecks, artifacts and remains of coastal structures such as jetties and parts of Charles Fort now submerged due to erosion and rising sea levels.
b) Coastal sites which contributed to Sandy Point’s historic port function, such as the huge complex of molasses storage tanks at Pump Hill.
For more information on this exciting project which seeks to unveil a fascinating but overlooked chapter of our nation’s development you may feel free to contact Mr. Cameron Gill of the Brimstone Hill Society at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Figure 4 Joseph Woodley, Park Manager, BHFNPS, standing atop concrete structure once used to store molasses at Pump Hill. A huge pipeline once ran from this structure down to a jetty at Pump Bay where they were pumped onto ships waiting to take the molasses to Canada. Photo by Cameron Gill
Cameron Gill is the General Manager, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park Society