Mahogany Road – Mystical Thoroughfare into Saint Croix’s Past
There exist roads in some places that are more than simple thoroughfares. More than paved routes connecting point A to point B. Their usefulness extends beyond providing convenience; facilitating more than mere transportation. They are, in many ways, mystical pathways connecting present to past. To traverse them is to tap into the very soul of a place; its cultural heritage, quirks, and cachet. Mahogany Road on Saint Croix offers just such an experience.
The fabled route snakes through the heart of the island’s “rainforest.” It connects the west coast and the town of Frederiksted with the historically significant settlement of Grove Place. The latter is home to the famous Grove Place Baobab Tree where some of the seeds of the historic 1878 Fireburn were no doubt sown.
Emancipation had come to St. Croix 30 years earlier. Formerly enslaved Africans, though, were not really free. In fact, under the draconian Labor Act of 1849, their condition was actually worse!
They worked for same plantation owners that had enslaved them. They earned mere pennies-a-day, and were no longer provided food, clothing, or free housing. By 1878, disaffected laborers had had enough.
After gathering in Frederiksted to protest, a riot ensued led by three (perhaps four) women. Mary Thomas, Susanna Abramson, and Matilda MacBean, or the “Three Queens” as they’re collectively known, spearheaded the Fireburn. Historical documents uncovered more recently, though, show a fourth woman, Agnes Solomon, also very much at the forefront of the riot.
Much of Frederiksted and numerous plantations were burned to the ground over the subsequent weeks. In the end, 100 people died, 400 arrested, and nearly 1,000 acres of sugar cane burned.
The Labor Act was amended the following year. The changes, though, did little to improve the plight of the laborers.
Still, the Fireburn is revered among the proudest events in St. Croix’s history.
Wooded Route into Saint Croix History
Moving slowly from Grove Place down Mahogany Road toward Frederiksted, the same route the laborers followed to Fort Frederik and the start of Fireburn, you can almost feel the weighty history here.
The wild, underdeveloped nature of the surrounding “rainforest” is much like it was so many years ago. Fragrant scents emanating from the lush foliage and would be familiar to the brave laborers. So too would the towering trees from which Mahogany Road derives its name.
Origins of the Mahogany Road Mahogany Trees
Upon taking control of Saint Croix in the 1750s, the Danes slashed and burned their way into making the island suitable for large-scale agricultural production. This deforestation had deleterious effects, of course, hampering the very plantation system the Danes hoped to achieve.
Among the solutions employed by the Danes was the planting of Mahogany Trees. The ones that line Mahogany Road are well over 200 years old!
Indeed, there exist trees in some places that are more than just trees…