Estate Zootenval’s Papilleau Bay

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On December 16, 1728, Lorentz Hendrichsen and his young wife Hellina Margretha Muller were formally granted title to a 1200’ X 3000’ tract of land in the Coral Bay Quarter of St. John. As was the policy of the time, the Hendrichsens were given a seven-year tax amnesty to aid in the development of a plantation [SJLL, 1729]. Due to this amnesty, no details concerning the property appear in the St. John tax rolls between 1728 – 1735, making it difficult to determine whether Lorentz Hendrichsen and/or his wife ever lived on their Coral Bay holding, or if they made any appreciable effort to develop the property during that time period. Danish West Indies Company records do indicate that a storehouse on the Hendrichsen plantation was burned during the 1733 slave rebellion, so it is likely that the parcel was at least in the process of being developed by that date [LD, 1734].

Lorentz Hendrichsen died in 1734 just one year prior to the termination of the tax amnesty on his property. After Hendrichsen’s death the parcel remained in the name of his widow, Hellina Muller, until her death in 1735, after which it was transferred to the St. Thomas Byfoged (town bailiff), Andreas Williamsen, on July 23, 1736. That same year, Williamsen reportedly “gave over” the property to the masterknegt (overseer) of the Danish West Indies and Guinea Company sugar plantation in Coral Bay, Jan Christian Papilleau [Ryburg, 1945; SJLL, 1735-36].

Little is known of Jan Papilleau except for what can be gleaned from the St. John tax records; but, from his name it may be assumed that he was among a number of French Huguenots who emigrated to the Danish West Indies during this time frame. When the former Hendrichsen plantation was first listed in the name of Jan Papilleau in 1736, it was noted that Papilleau was employed on the Company plantation as a masterknegt, and that he was married to “the daughter of Ole Henningsen’s widow”. Ole Henningsen had been a carpenter and mason on St. Thomas, who was also an employee of the Danish West Indies and Guinea Company. Upon Henningsen’s death his widow and step children had been left destitute, unable to pay even their yearly “head tax” to the Company [STLL, 1730]. As was the policy of the time, women without the means to support themselves were encouraged to marry new immigrants to the colony. This was most likely the situation that led to Marie Elizabeth Papilleau (born: deRuyter) and her twice-widowed mother, Mary Magdelane Henningsen, finding themselves the mistresses of a parcel of stony ground that lay along the arid northeast shoreline of Coral Bay: a property worked by only two capable field slaves [SJLL, 1736].

West Indies and Guinea Company tax rolls for St. John only exist for four years of Jan Papilleau’s ownership: 1736 through 1739. From the last available report we learn that by 1739 Mary Elizabeth had bore two children to Papilleau, and that by that date the youngsters were four and five years of age. No indication is given in this record as to what the primary activity on the plantation was, but due to the fact that there were only four enslaved workers on the property (two adults and two children under eight years of age) the estate’s production must have been modest at best [SJLL,1736-39]. But, while Jan Papilleau may not have been one of the more prominent or successful early settlers on St. John, his name has lived on to remind us of his presence. To this day, the reef-encumbered bay that fronts Estate Zootenval is known as Popilleau (sic) Bay.

 


David W. Knight, Sr.

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