Early Education on St. John
Education seems to be the hot topic of the season with the release of the Territorial Report Card for 2006-2007, the 275th anniversary of the Moravian Church, and the dedication of a new interpretive sign at the Annaberg School including a tribute to Steve Edwards and Florence and Walter Lewisohn, who helped make it happen.
The Territorial Report Card pointed out higher levels of achievement at Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay. It may have been caused by the close involvement of the teachers there with the students to the point of serenading them during student assemblies. Also, I think the close presence of culture bearer and village elder Guy Benjamin helped considerably.
Mr. Benjamin’s 50 year career in education from teacher to principal to superintendent of schools still influences him even after making 94 years, and he is a sterling example to the students who see him daily. Be sure to read Carol Beckowitz’ article on “Traveling Backtime with Mr. Guy Benjamin” in the current edition of St. John Magazine for her impressions of this outstanding St. John icon. His strong Moravian faith has guided his life and permeates his community.
The Moravian missionaries brought with them a love of God and education, which they believed went hand in hand. They translated religious works into Dutch Creole, a dialect created to facilitate communications between the enslaved and the Dutch farmers.
Eventually, the Creole language assumed an English base influenced by the New English planters here. The Moravians’ century of devotion to the religious instruction of the enslaved Africans created a strong influence for them that was recognized by Governor General Peter von Scholten, who envisioned schools and free education for all children — free and unfree.
Their schools at Bethany and Emmaus were the prime examples of education at its best on St. John. Von Scholten encouraged the design of neo-classical stone schoolhouses such as the one pictured above by Lito Valls. The design is by architect-builder Albert F.L. Lovemand.
The first eight schools were architectural showplaces that dotted the landscape of St. Croix. Unfortunately, the eight schools in St. Croix required all of the money available for schools. Five wooden schools were built on St. Thomas but none have survived the termites.
Edwards’ records contain a report of a meeting held on September 9, 1843, at Susannaberg presided over by Governor-General and Major-General von Scholten and attended by Counsellor Berg, Stadshauptmand Knevels, Judge Brahde, Agent Hjardemaal, Alexander Fraser Esq., Reverend J. Tolderlund, and Moravian Missionaries Hauser, Gardin and Kraemer. The location of the schools were agreed upon to include Beverhoudtsberg, Annaberg near Munsbury bounds, Emmaus, and Parforce.
The schoolhouses were to be erected on the same plan as those in St. Croix. The document concluded that the monies were not available to carry out the plan. Bethany remained the education center in place of Beverhoudtsberg. Annaberg was the only schoolhouse built to the Lovemand design. The schoolhouse at Lameshur (Parforce), according to Edwards’ personal observations, was built with traditional three-foot stone walls with wooden upper walls and roof.
Records show that the Annaberg School was used for only three years when the teacher was dismissed. No replacement teacher was found, and the school, viewed as a vestige of the plantation system, closed.
Edwards also wrote the original agreement in August of 1983 between the park and the St. John Historical Society which set out the maintenance guidelines for the Annaberg Schoolhouse stabilization project. Don Bowry and Bob Pullen shared coordinating responsibilities with Edwards over the work which continued for three years. On Monday mornings in the winter, anywhere from six to
25 members of the society worked on the site. As part of the agreement with the park, a log was kept which showed 1,700 work hours.
Both in 2002 and 2006 Jane Bowry organized work crews to clear the bush at the school. She also had the interpretive sign restored in 2002 by husband Don Bowry and Pullen. In an article for the March 2002 society newsletter, Jane wrote that “Ruth Low, doing research for her book St. John Backtime, discovered ruins right off the road on the way to Francis Bay. She contacted Steve Edwards and, to their great excitement, concluded it had to be the Annaberg School…”
The stabilized ruins at Annaberg represent a unique example of Danish neo-classical architecture. The glory and worth of the Moravian education system lies with its missionaries and the people it brought to understand their lives and eternity.