The Spring was an 18th-century sugar plantation located on a sloping hillside in St. Mary Cayon Parish on the northwest coast of St. Kitts. Sugar cane was cultivated at The Spring through the 1830s. Today the core of the plantation lies in ruins, with the remains of the great house, windmill and other severely deteriorated masonry dependencies visible through guinea grass and strangling fig. The surrounding fields are maintained by local farmers for the cultivation of vegetables and small herds of livestock.
In 1832, on the eve of emancipation, 77 enslaved Africans worked and lived at The Spring. A two-day shovel-test-pit survey was conducted at the site of the village by archaeologists affiliated with The St. Kitts-Nevis Digital Archaeology Initiative. The following pages provide a historical overview of the plantation. The archaeological data from the survey can be found on The Spring’s archaeological sites pages and can be accessed through the Query the Database section of this website. Access to 18th and 19th century documents related to The Spring is provided through a document query at the Query the Database section of this website.
The Spring Estate, St. Kitts
The Spring was an 18th-century sugar plantation located on a sloping hillside in St. Mary Cayon Parish on the northwest coast of St. Kitts. Today the core of the plantation lies in ruins, with the remains of the great house, windmill and other severely deteriorated masonry dependencies visible through guinea grass and strangling fig. The surrounding fields are maintainted by local farmers for the cultivation of vegetables and small herds of livestock.
The plantation was first identified as ‘The Spring’ in Daniel Cunningham’s 1770 will. The identification of Cunningham’s estate as ‘The Spring’ provides critical evidence about the early history of the property. Roger Leech’s research in the St. Kitts National Archives revealed that Cunningham mortgages a property in 1750 that is clearly The Spring, although it is not named as such in the mortgage. The mortgage describes the plantation “in the parish of St Mary Cayon, c.168 acres 3 roods 11 perches, and all that mountain land and wood land belonging to the same bounded to the N with lands late of Samuel Crooke, to the E with lands of William Ottley esq.and Timothy Earle esq., to the S with the tops of the mountains, to the W partly with the ridge and partly with the gut which divides the same from the lands of John Burryau” (St Kitts Common Records Book H, No.4, 1833, fol.326). The mortgage recorded in the St. Kitts Common Records also indicates that the plantation was home to 130 enslaved laborers in 1750 (St Kitts Common Records Book H, No.4, 1833, fol.326).
Cunningham’s 1770 will also tells us that he purchased the estate from Clement Crooke, although the date of Cunningham’s purchase is not provided in the will. Roger Leech suggests that The Spring was shown on early maps of St. Kitts that date to 1700 and 1706. Both early maps show a plantation owned by Ensign Crook and Clement Crook that is likely the estate known today as The Lodge. Leech concludes that both maps show an unnamed, unnumbered plantation south of The Lodge that may well be The Spring.
The Spring, its great house, mill, and slave village, are represented on the 1828 McMahon map of St. Kitts. Currently, the only other document that mentions The Spring is an 1832 deed of sale for the estate and for The Lodge. By 1832 these two plantations had been joined into a single estate, which was conveyed in 1832 to Charles Adamson of St. Kitts. Among other things, the deed for the property indicates that 77 enslaved laborers resided at The Spring at the time of sale. The 1832 deed of sale provides names and ages for these people. Unlike the early 1748 inventory for the Jessup’s estate on Nevis, which provides clues to some enslaved people’s place of origin in Africa, the inventory for The Spring provides no such evidence. However surnames on the 1832 slave list for The Spring suggests that at least four enslaved individuals laboring at The Spring were born on, or purchased from, neighboring plantations. Click here to view and read transcribed extracts from the original 1832 deed.
Sugar Plantations on St. Kitts and The 1828 McMahon Map
In 1828, William McMahon, a surveryor on St. Kitts, produced a detailed map of the island that not only included individual plantations and parcels of land but also the various divisions within each plantation, inclduing locations of mills, great house, roads, and slave villages. McMahon recorded detailed information on sugar cane acerage and total acerage for each plantation, as well as a breakdown by parish of estate ownership. Richard Frucht’s (1977) analysis of the McMahon map allows us to place The Spring in relationship to other St. Kitt’s sugar estates on the eve of emancipation. The 156 sugar plantations represented on the 1828 map ranged in size from 36 acres to 1200 acres. Around one-third of the St. Kitts’ sugar estates cultivated 100 acres or less of sugar cane (Frucht 1977:380). The 1828 McMahon map indicates that The Spring fell into the bottom third category, as 94 acres were in cane while the remaining 127 acres were comprised of “Works, Negro Huts, Pasture, Mountains, and uncultivated land, &c. &c.”.
Although The Spring ranked in the lower third of St. Kitt’s sugar estates in acreage in cane cultivation, the 1832 deed and 1837 Parilment Papers suggest that The Spring may have been among the larger slave holdings on the island. When money was distributed by Parliment to compensate slave owners after emanciaption, only 13 percent of the 766 claims made for compnesation were for more than 50 slaves (Frucht 1977:381). With 77 enslaved laborers in 1832, The Spring may have fallen into the top tier of slave-holding estates on the island. However, we did not have access to the Parlimentary Papers for the exact number of claims made by Adamson for freed individuals formerly enslaved at The Spring.
Historical and Archaeological Research at The Spring
In 2004, staff with the Nevis Heritage Project in collaboration with National Museums Liverpool, conducted a large-scale landscape survey of sugar plantations and slave villages on St. Kitts. Their work focused on two parishes on the island, St. Mary Cayon and Christ Church Nichola Town. Using the 1828 McMahon map as their starting point, archaeologists linked modern topographic maps of St. Kitts to the McMahon Map, allowing them to locate and map eight plantations in St. Mary Cayon and three in Christ Church Nichola Town. The Spring was one of eight plantations in St. Mary Cayon surveyed by Dr. Robert Philpott and his team in 2004. The major components of the estate, including house, windmill, cisterns, and slave village, were mapped using a total station.
The slave village associated with The Spring plantation is also represented on the McMahon map, lying in a narrow valley sandwiched between the great house and mill complex on higher ground to the south, and a deep ghut to the north. Archaeologists with the St. Kitts-Nevis Digital Archaeology Initiative visited the site in May 2008. Thick with guinea grass, they could not identify any artifactual or architectural evidence for the village on the surface. Concerned that nearly 150 years of erosion had impacted the village, the SKNDAI team scaled back plans for the complete survey the village using shovel-test-pits (STPs).
Instead of conducting a 4-week survey season at The Spring village as originally planned, in a two-day visit to the site, SKNDAI archaeologists excavated 18 STPs across the valley identified on the McMahon map. STPs in the valley bottom were in excess of 1 meter deep, while those closer to the ghut were .2 meters deep. This confirmed the initial impression that the site is a hydraulic jumble: both artifacts and sediment have been eroded from their original contexts and deposited along the valley center line.
Despite the disturbed contexts, the 18 STPs yielded a wide-range of artifacts that point to eighteenth and nineteenth century domestic activities. A total of 454 artifacts, including fragments of pottery, glass vessels, tobacco pipes, brick, architectural slate, nails, and a single gunflint, were recovered from the 18 STPs. The mean ceramic date for the village of 1787 date is a puzzle, since it does not fit with the evidence of the McMahon map, which portrays a sizable village on the site 40 years later.
Jillian E. Galle
The Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery