Historical Society Publishing Comprehensive History Book

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Not since “St. John Backtime” was published in 1985 has there been a book covering St. John history with such broad range as the St. John Historical Society’s first book, St. John — Life in Five Quarters.

The hardcover book, due out early next year, is a compilation of articles, photos and images culled from the society’s newsletter, which it has been published for 10 years.

“It’s sort of the next step in fulfilling one of our missions of educating everyone about the history of St. John,” said society president Robin Swank. “Our goal is to make the book widely available to classrooms, libraries and historians at little to no cost, and also to reach the general populace with probably the first real history book since ‘Backtime’ was published.”

The 240-page book, whose title reflects the five administrative districts, or “quarters,” the island is divided into on Danish civil engineer Peter Oxholm’s St. John map of 1780, features seven collections of articles on subjects ranging from “Important Places and Events” to “Science and Natural History.”

“It’s sort of a series of vignettes that will cover many subjects, and we have 30 to 40 pages of images from the era of European civilization up through much of the 20th century,” said Swank.

The articles include pieces by Danish historians which have been translated; Nancy Gibney, who came to St. John in the mid-1900s; and modern-day historians such as past SJHS president David Knight and Elroy Sprauve.

“We have a wide variety of St. John voices,” said Swank.

The book’s images came from private collections, including that of Knight, whose father was a well-known photographer on the island; and from the National Archives in Denmark.

St. John — Life in Five Quarters covers the time period from early European settlement in the early 1800s through the mid-1900s. It’s not meant to be a book one reads from cover to cover, but rather a compilation whose bits and pieces can be  enjoyed at random, according to Swank.

“If you’re homebound in the rain, you’d pick out Eleanor Gibney’s story on November rain and read about what the weather has been like over time in the islands,” said the SJHS president. “Or if you have guests who are going to Lameshur, you’d look at David Knight’s article on Lameshur and read about why it’s spelled three different ways and how it came to be donated to Frank Stick and made into National Park.”

“If you’re a newcomer to the island, you could read Elroy Sprauve’s articles on understanding English Creole, so you get a better understanding for how language has evolved on the island,” said Snack.

The Historical Society is just beginning its marketing effort, including soliciting donations to help ensure its book is distributed territory-wide. The society is currently looking for supporters to make a donation to its book fund, or to prepurchase books for the institution of their choice.

The book’s final cost will be around $30, and SJHS anticipates it will be released early next year.

To sponsor or pre-purchase the book, send a check made out to the St. John Historical Society to PO Box 1256, St. John, VI 00831, and write “book” on the check’s memo line.

The society’s web site, www.stjohnhistoricalsociety.org, will soon have information on making donations.