Merchant N. S. Hjardemaal of Cinnamon Bay, St. John

(By David Knight, with annotation by Eleanor Gibney)

Nicolai Severon Hjardemaal was born in Denmark on September 21, 1774. Before coming to the Danish West Indies in 1800, Hjardemaal lived for many years in the thriving industrial center of Flensburg in Schleswig-Holstein, where he honed his skills in business. After arriving in St. Croix, Hjardemaal married Anne Margaretha Berner, the daughter of a local surgeon. A short time later the couple moved to St. Thomas, where Nicolai joined into a partnership with another Dane, Thomas Anderson, to found the ‘merchant house’ of Hjardemaal & Anderson. The firm quickly rose to prominence in the bustling mercantile community of Charlotte Amalie [Edwards, 1993; Rühmann, 1997; Low & Valls, 1985].

Nicolai Severon Hjardemaal
Nicolai Severon Hjardemaal
(Portrait the property of Gösta Simmons;
copy from St. John Back Time [Low and Valls, 1985]).

St. John tax rolls first record the partnership of Hjardemaal and Anderson as paying taxes on the Cinnamon Bay plantation in 1830, yet it was not until May 4, 1834, that a deed to the property was formally registered in their names [STM, Book Z, 1834]. Between 1830 and 1834, estate records indicate that hired overseers were the only whites in residence on the property, but in the spring of 1834 the Hjardemaal family moved to St. John and took up residency in Cinnamon Bay’s imposing estate house on America Hill. Thomas Anderson eventually returned to Europe, and just before Christmas in 1836 Nicolai Hjardemaal took over sole proprietorship of the Cinnamon Bay Estate [SJA, 1831-34; STM, book Z, 1836].

Nicolai’s wife, Anne, died at Cinnamon Bay in 1836 at the age of fifty-two. Her inscribed sarcophagus stands in a shady grove of genip and bay trees not far from the ruins of the property’s sugar-works. Three of the Hjardemaal children are also buried in this location. Nicolai and three other members of the family are interred in the Danish Cemetery on St. Thomas [Edwards, 1993; Rühmann, 1997; Low & Valls, 1985].

America Hill
“America Hill,” (upper left) Hjardemaal’s
estate house above Cinnamon Bay, as seen rom east of Maho Bay.
(Detail of painting by Fritz Melbye)

The following anonymous and undated account is a verbatim transcript from the book, ‘Letters from the Virgin Islands,’published in London, and printed by John Van Voorst of Paternoster Row, in 1843. In this letter, the writer — a touring Englishman who is clearly a stranger to the Danish West Indies — offers his impressions upon landing for a brief stopover on St. Thomas. Not unlike tourists of today, the author amuses himself by taking in the colorful street scenes of Charlotte Amalie, and visiting shops that line the town’s main thoroughfare. Fortunately for us, one establishment that catches his fancy is the mercantile firm of Hjardemaal & Anderson, as well as its notable proprietor, none other than Nicolai Severon Hjardemaal of Estate Cinnamon Bay on St. John.

LETTER I.
St. Thomas’, Feb. 18__ [c1830]This has been my first essay of the world beyond where it owns the rule of the fourth George; and without misprision of former loyalty, methinks the touch of a foreign soil has imparted a warmth to it that such situations only could have excited. Everything about me wears an exotic aspect. There is the red swallow-tail Danish flag with its white cross, just the inverse of St. George’s, waving over the town-fort; and a slouching warder hardly “timing his footsteps to a march,” to tell me at once that I am an alien here. And, maugre sun, the men’s fair complexions and French cut clothes; those ugly red parasols borne over the children as they pass with their dingy nurses; and a stray white female or two wearing shoes so abhorrent from their pretty feet; all is in unison with the battalia. The lieutenant-governor (his captain-general resides at Ste. Croix), rode by this moment in the chasseur uniform, of which our rifle brigade gives but a green idea. His jacket showed a military figure to advantage, besides being mounted on a spirited jennet from the Spanish Main; and as a tout ensemble, the dark hue of his dress and equipment offered quite a contrast to what I had seen of our officers to windward. There were twenty other matters that the heat of these scorching streets hindered my noticing at leisure: the women of colour in their gay attire; and those little Maltese crosses stuck on the hats of this class in the other sex; and then such diverse kinds of tongues in my ears!

Fancy traveling bar sets
Caves aux liqueres: Fancy traveling bar sets,
generally with crystal bottles in inlaid mahogany boxes,
popular with wealthy Europeans, especially the French, in the 18th century.
I entered, conscious to the tips of my fingers of being English, into the store of Messrs. Haardemael [sic.] and Andersen, provision dealers. This is a place of call for British subjects visiting St. Thomas, and I attempt a description of it. Fancy something between the great grocers’ in Aldersgate Street, and where the bard of Avon has assigned local habitation to his apothecary, and you have the store of Haardemael and Andersen; here is all the business of the one, and all the beggarly account of the other, to the life. The rarest kind of tea and coffee, withSchiedam, Cognac, and vin de Bordeaux, are produced on request, as it were by magic. I cannot discover wherefrom they fetch half of it. Above, Westphalian hams, Bolognas, neats’ tongues, and such like, tempt one in pendulous variety. The boxes are caves aux liqueurs, which with the gilt bottles within, sell at the rate of three Spanish dollars, a very light sum in the West Indies. At a low desk in the back ground sits Mynheer Haardemael, in a dress of striped blue linen, and deeply immersed in the computation of stivers, half stivers and bits. There is a babel of coin in these regions, for me to acquire a knowledge of. In a chamber behind him are desks, and a clerk writing; while several black and white faces are moving about the store, or entering from the range of warehouses, that extends to the water-side behind it.A canvas bag hung at the door had caught my attention, by its bearing a notice which I now turned to read. This stated that the good schooner Von Scholten would sail at mid-day for Ste. Croix; in short it was a letter-bag. One after another, persons whose complexions made in no wise their least distinction, came dropping in correspondence. Pandora’s box had not more imaginary charms; I longed to ransack it and read every address — when luckily a kind of hatch near presented wherewith to feed my curiosity. This was a file of letters, lodged here for each to choose his own from. And who knows but that my pretty cousin’s sweet character maybe traced on one of them? I could find nothing like it however, so fell a guessing what topics several American epistles of varicose folding might embrace. To Ezekiel Job, Philadelphia; doubtless a Quaker’s order for rice and maize: in a sailor’s rambling hand, Mr. Johathan Doan, Boston, Massachusetts; this might advise the sale of his Shooks, and the inclosure be a manifest of the molasses shipped in return. But one dirty little note interested me beyond all the rest, a Mademoiselle Margot Dubois, Basseterre, a la Guadaloupe; like the corporal’s billet, it was just the substitute for what I sought.But the Pelham packet has made her signal for England. Believe me, &c.

References:

  • [SJA] Central Management Archives, West Indies Audit Registers for St. John, 1755 – 1915 (Rigsarkivet, Denmark).
  • [STM] St. Thomas / St. John Mortgage & Deed Registers, NA (Office of the Recorder of Deeds, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands).
  • Anonymous, Letters from the Virgin Islands: (Printed by John Van Voorst, Paternoster Row, London, 1843), Illustrated, P. 286.
  • Stephen Edwards, “Cinnamon Bay Plantation – Great Caneel Bay”, Archeological Monitoring of the North Shore Road, Phase I: 1986-89 (Virgin Islands National Park / St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. Department of the Interior Report, 1993).
  • Ruth Hull Low & Rafael Valls, St. John Backtime, Eyewitness Accounts from 1718 to 1956 (St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, Eden Hill Press, 1985).
  • Hans Rühmann, Von Flensburg nach Westindien (Flensburg, G.)

David W. Knight, Sr.

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