The Water Island Archaeological Project: Archaeology and History in the Eastern Caribbean
Anderson, David G., Kidd, R. Steven, Yates, Emily M., Antiquity
In 1998 extensive investigations were undertaken on Water Island, US Virgin Islands, by a research team from the Southeast Archeological Center, National Park Service. The US government is relinquishing ownership of the island, an action that would affect cultural resources. Earlier surveys had located a number of sites, including the remains of three 18th- and 19th-century plantations, historic wells, prehistoric shell middens and an extensive World War II fortification complex (Wild & Anderson 1992; Knight 2001; Anderson et al. in preparation).
Water Island, located off St Thomas, encompasses about one square mile, and is characterized by steep rocky slopes, a pronounced central ridgeline and a highly indented coastline with numerous bays and beaches (FIGURE 1). Fresh water comes from rainfall, and in small brackish ponds. Vegetation ranges from dry tropical thorn scrub to mangrove/salt ponds.
Danish use of Water Island dates from the late 17th century, when it was stocked with cattle and goats. Evidence for permanent settlement dates from c. 1710. Early use centred on coral and rock mining and growing vegetables and cotton. Annual records of property ownership and resident population exist starting in the 1720s. From the 1760s to 1803 the primary plantation, at Carolina Point, was owned by free coloured planters, one of whom was the captain of the Free Negro Corps formed to help curb slave unrest. A 1778 map (FIGURE 6) shows a Great House and presumed Slave Village with nine houses in this location.
Over 900 person days were spent documenting the location, condition and contents of each site. The ruins of the Great House and a number of outbuildings and slave quarters were found at Carolina Point (FIGURE 2). The Great House burned c. 1862, and masses of artefactual debris were found underneath brick wall fall. A total of 176 vessels were reconstructed, including 62 plates, 37 bowls, 14 drinking related vessels (mug, teacups, saucers, pitchers), 43 serving dishes (platters, tureens, lids, etc.), 8 storage vessels, and 12 other vessels including inkwells and chamber pots (FIGURE 3). …