By Jacqueline Armony and Lindon Williams
The Southeast Peninsula is perhaps the last major economic frontier on St. Kitts. The heritage resources of this area are both natural and cultural. The natural environment is particularly significant because the special geography of the area allowed for a different development from the rest of the island.
Archaeologists have concluded that the peninsula was used for Pre-Columbian settlements from as early as 5000 years ago. At least seven Pre-Columbian sites have been identified on the Southeast Peninsula. Some of these sites, including the archaic ones at Ballast Bay and The Great Salt Pond are amongst the oldest known in the Antilles and as such are of regional significance. The earliest settlers may have been mainly gatherers who left evidence that a large proportion of their protein intake came from the sea. The fish bones and coral artefacts continue to testify to the exploitation of the reefs. Terrestrial animals were also consumed, and some may even have been domesticated.
The archaeological evidence continues to testify to the exploitation of various bird species. The exploitation of the marine and terrestrial fauna continues. In the 1999 report on “birdlife of the coastal zone of St. Kitts: preliminary summary of field research with conservation recommendations.” John Wilson notes the practice of collecting eggs as a traditional activity which has subsided or stopped. Even though it is no longer legal to take turtles out of season and outright illegal to take the eggs, the exploitation continues.
The reefs around the peninsula still provide significant fish catch for the residents of both St. Kitts and Nevis. Hunting of monkeys, and for a time the white tailed deer introduced from Florida, was popular in the last half of the twentieth century.
According to Mr. Campbell Evelyn the hunters would set fires to the grass in order to force the monkeys into the trees where they could be easily caught.
The earliest European land uses of the peninsula include the collection of salt from the ponds and corals from the reefs for the production of lime. In 1657 the French historian, Du Tertre, reported that from the beginning the English and French settlers agreed to share access to the salt ponds. Salt mining was one activity that continued into the twentieth century.
In the beginning it was used mainly as a food preservative, but by the twentieth century most of the salt produced on the peninsula was exported to Trinidad for use in the petroleum industry. The ponds were truly commercial by this time and the natural process of salt accumulation was assisted by the excavation of a canal from White House Bay which allowed more sea water to enter the ponds. Remnants of the salt works are still evident.
The foundations of many of the buildings that constituted the village of the salt workers are also still evident in the White House Bay area. It is believed that this village had as many as 500 residents at one time, and a thriving entertainment centre that attracted boatloads of party-goers from Basseterre on weekends.
The seventeenth century saw the peninsula, especially the area around Nag’s Head and Priddie’s Plateau being used as a haven for runaway slaves. Some eighteenth century maps identify the area around Nag’s Head as Maron’s Quarters. A few even identify what we now know as Major’s Bay as Maron’s Bay. The evidence suggests that this haven was not available after the first half of the eighteenth century when the English carved up the peninsula into plantations.
During the seventeenth century the peninsula was also used as a launching site for invaders. The most famous incident was the landing of Sir Timothy Thornhill’s forces at Friar’s Bay in 1690. Other recorded incidents include the landing of Kalinago (Carib) parties from time to time in the seventh century.
From the eighteenth century the military role of the peninsula included batteries on Cockleshell Bluff and Scotch Bonnet which were armed with small cannons that helped to force ships passing through the Narrows closer to the larger cannons on the Nevis side.
The Bays on the Caribbean side of the peninsula were used as safe anchorage from the seventeenth century. A 1664 French map indicates anchorage in the area of the peninsula identified as ‘Grande Ance’. By the mid eighteenth century the maps were identifying specific bays such as Whitehouse Bay and Ballast Bay as anchorages. Smugglers and pirates took advantage of the relative isolation of
the peninsula and the security of its bays to conduct their business.
Pre-Columbian settlers engaged in the cultivation of crops, especially manioc. The number of ceramic sites on the peninsula indicates that the soil was relatively fertile. In 1958 Merrill used the 1660 map of St. Kitts by Andrew Norwood as the source of the data for his map of mid-seventeenth century agricultural settlement patterns of the island. He indicates agricultural activity at Friar’s bay, around the Great Salt Pond and even on Priddie’s Plateau. Crops at that time were most likely tobacco, indigo, and possibly some cotton. Sugar was probably introduced to the peninsula in the early eighteenth century after the English took possession of the entire island. It is clear that agricultural activities were increased on the peninsula during that century. The Bowen map indicates plantation activities around the salt ponds, on Priddie’s Plateau and at Friar’s Bay.
In 1763 Baker produced the most accurate of the eighteenth century maps of St. Kitts. It illustrates an intricate road network on the peninsula with plantations throughout its length. The southern portion of the peninsula was divided amongst prominent officials like Lieutenant General Fleming, Lord Romney and the Honourable Ralph Payne. At this time Fleming’s windmill was the only one on
the peninsula. This structure and its associated buildings are now significant landmarks as the oldest standing structures on the peninsula. The main change 75 years later when McMahon produced his map was that the two largest plantations around the Great salt pond were amalgamated. Another significant feature of McMahon’s map is the identification of two slave villages. While the structures associated with those villages are no longer evident, archaeology should identify artefacts from them along with their burial mounds.
By the early twentieth century the Salt Pond Estate was second in size only to Wingfield Estate on St.Kitts. Crop cultivation on the peninsula would continue a decline during the century. However, therearing of animals was increased to the point where Dr. Wilkins permitted Mr. Campbell Evelyn to introduce Guinea grass on the Salt Pond Estate in the 1940’s.
It is clear that in the overall historical development of the island of St. Kitts, the Southeast Peninsula played an important role. The geographical and natural resource base allowed the area to be used by all the people who settled and inhabited this island over the centuries. The evidence of human activities is sculpted into the landscape, above and below ground. With this in mind therefore, the natural and cultural heritage of the Southeast Peninsula must be taken into consideration and respected in any future development plans.
This paper focuses on the cultural resources of the Peninsula, but at no time must the understanding of its natural endowments be disregarded. The St. Christopher Heritage Society (SCHS) understands the connections between the natural, historical and cultural resources of the country especially in the light of its small size and the fact that no part of the island is untouched by human activity.
To understand Heritage then, in the context of St. Kitts, one must relate all these elements to each other. To talk about and act to conserve our Heritage one must appreciate this relationship at all times.
The authors make the following recommendations, which have received the endorsement of the St.Christopher Heritage Society:
The absolute need to safeguard the integrity of the natural resources and landscape of the Southeast Peninsula and by extension the rest of the country through the protection of the reefs, beaches, sand dunes and natural vegetation of the peninsula. This is necessary to protect the marine resources of the island including the beaches that are a vital component of the tourism industry.
It is necessary to recognize the important function that the island’s saline ponds perform and the salt ponds on the peninsula along with those at Conaree and Frigate Bay, must be protected as they represent important ecosystems and collection points for silt runoff from the surrounding hills thereby protecting the offshore reef and grass beds that are so vital to fisheries of both St. Kitts and Nevis.
The ponds also serve as major wildlife reserves. The loss of these natural resources would harmfully impact the marine resources of the country and the value of the terrestrial resources on the Southeast Peninsula. This part of the island has always been recognized for its tourism potential and destroying the natural resource base will adversely impact the economy of the whole country.
Development must therefore be sensitive to the fragility of the ecology of the area and mitigate any enduring impact. The interpretation of the vegetation and wildlife should be an integral part of a developers’ design package and presenting it can serve as an important attraction for visitors.
Existing historical structures and archaeological sites must be incorporated into any development design and plan. Examples of this are the ruins at Nags Head, the mill structure from the original Fleming Estate and the surrounding historic estate foundations. Integrating the natural and cultural heritage into the concept for the development would provide a unique context for any tourism development of the Southeast Peninsula.
Developments should take into consideration the natural and cultural resources of any particular site and interpret where possible the heritage of the particular location e.g. Nags Head (slave hide out and nesting site for many sea birds especially the Brown Pelican, the national bird); Salt Ponds (salt industry); the defence structures (batteries); the remains of the sugar mill and plantation economy.
It is important that a professional maritime survey be conducted before any dredging or other interventions are to occur especially at the entrance to proposed marinas. Dr. Simon Spooner who was responsible for conducting an initial survey at White House Bay might be contracted to return to continue his survey.
The maritime heritage needs to be understood and interpreted – e.g. careenage at Ballast Bay for cleaning of ships; the wreck and canon at White House Bay.
The natural vegetation of the area must be used as much as possible in landscaping the development instead of using imported species. This would reduce the need for water for irrigation and the devastating impact of invasive species as witnessed on Nevis.
Care must be taken in the disposal of solid and liquid waste in the light of the nature of the geology of the area. The technology used must ensure minimal leaching and impact on the vital marine resources of the area. Recycling of grey water for irrigation purposes should be a consideration.
A proper drainage system must be installed for any development on the peninsula which ensures that fresh water and silt from runoff is not poured into the sea.
During excavation and other activities associated with any proposed development, every care must be taken in earth moving and dredging activities as it is known that the Southeast Peninsula has not been fully studied with regards its archaeology both on land and sea. We are aware that there are probably unknown terrestrial and marine sites on the Peninsula and it is likely that human remains and artefacts will be exposed. Any such discoveries made either on land or at sea must be reported to the Ministry of Sustainable Development (MSD) and the St. Christopher Heritage Society/St. Christopher National Trust (SCNT).
As in other development activities on St. Kitts (e.g. the laying of foundations for the erection of communication towers at Brimstone Hill) the appropriate expertise must be acquired by the developers to do the necessary archaeological investigations prior to the continuation of the excavation work. Any information compiled during the investigation must be submitted to the MSD and the SCHS/SCNT so that decisions might be made regarding the continuance of work on the site.
We insist that the MSD and the SCHS/SCNT be made aware of and be involved in some way in any such investigations. Any artefacts collected during such investigations are the property of the State as indicated in the NCEP Act. The Government will determine how they are preserved, stored and/or disposed of.
Jacqueline Armony was a secondary school teacher for 24 years before becoming, in 1995, the Executive Director of the St. Christopher Heritage Society,
non-governmental organisation of which she is a founding member and first President. She is an advocate for the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of her country St. Kitts & Nevis and the Caribbean. Born in Trinidad of a Kittitian mother, she calls St. Kitts home. Now semi-retired, Jacqueline works on occasion as a Heritage and Museum consultant.
Lindon Williams has been teaching Caribbean History, Geography and Social Studies at the secondary level for over 23 years. He is especially interested in the research and documentation of local history, and the conservation of the local heritage and environment.