Park historian Milagro Flores traveled to Spain last summer to conduct research and compile documentation from the Spanish archives relating to the history and cultural resources of Virgin Islands National Park. This research project was possible thanks to support of the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, who have a long standing cooperative relationship with the park. It was fully funded through their “Request for Funding” program. Flores served as the principal investigator for the project, assisted by Doris M. Diaz, an intern (history graduate student) from the Friends of VINP intern program.
After the discovery of the New World by the Europeans in 1492, Spain maintained control over the new possessions until a few decades later when the English and French began to take control of Spain’s Caribbean colonies, including the Danish settlement on the islands of St. John and St. Thomas during 17th century.
While the Danish history of St. John is currently being studied, limited research has been conducted within these Spanish repositories regarding the numerous Spanish expeditions that mapped and recorded every move by the English, French and Danish voyagers in order to keep any founding colonies from becoming a threat to Spanish territories in the New World. The purpose of the research project was to try to find information about the Spanish impact on the history of St. John.
The effort was a success. About 27 primary sources were successfully identified and documentation compiled in accordance with the scope of the project. Among other documents, the park now has copies of:
An agreement between the King of Spain and the King of Denmark, dated July 21, 1767, for the return of fugitive slaves from the islands of Puerto Rico, Saint Croix, Saint Thomas and St. John.
An account from the governor of Puerto Rico claiming fugitive slaves.
A treatise on the management of slaves and on the establishment of a warehouse for fugitive slaves, dated March 3, 1765.
An ordinance, dated 16 April, 1776, about the restitution of fugitive slaves from Spanish territories.
All of these new sources will now help understand and explain the cultural, social, political and military aspects of the history of St. John – by enhancing and expanding the park’s interpretive and educational programs, through continuing support with archeological investigations, and by providing the community and visitors with a better and broader experience of the park.
The research project was successful not only in finding identified accounts relating to the island of St. John, but also confirming the richness of documentation still awaiting research. Compiled documentation confirms that there was extensive negotiation following the 18th and 19th centuries between Denmark and Spain in trying to control the fugitive enslaved between the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
These important discoveries establish a base for Phase II of the same project, approved by the Friends for FY 2011. During this phase, research in the Spanish archives will be completed, and additional research will be undertaken in the British archives concering Fort Shipley at Hassle Island.