The Leinster Bay waterfront joined nearly 700 other sites, programs, and facilities last week on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, a National Park Service program that honors, preserves, and promotes the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight.
The Leinster Bay waterfront is situated close to what used to be the largest sugar plantation on the island. Leinster’s proximity to Tortola, where emancipation occurred in 1834 — 14 years before emancipation in the Danish West Indies — also made it a launching point for enslaved people to attempt to escape to freedom.
It’s estimated that around 100 enslaved people successfully reached Tortola from Leinster Bay.
“Only 1.3 miles across the sea, freedom was a reality,” said Virgin Islands National Park Supervisor of Interpretation Laurel Brannick, who completed the application to add the Leinster waterfront to the Network to Freedom.
“Danish West Indies Governor-General Peter von Scholten gave the order to shoot to kill those who were trying to escape, and there was a frigate that patrolled the bay and the guard house up above. But it was hard to control. People risked their lives and left their families behind because of their desire for freedom.”
Brannick was encouraged to submit the application by coworker Theodore Johnson, and her efforts were supported by National Park Archaeologist Ken Wild, archaeology intern Alessia Isolani, and a report done by University of Copenhagen students Nanna Wiennecke and Louise Rasmussen.
“Leinster Bay is one of the tangible places in the USVI where we can deeply ponder the quest for freedom, view the proximity of escape and imagine dreams of a life free of bondage,” said V.I. National Park Superintendent Nigel Fields. “We are honored and humbled that Leinster Bay Waterfront is now accepted into the NPS Network to Freedom. There are important and instructive stories to be told here on St. John as the longing for freedom is universal.”
The addition of the Leinster Bay waterfront to the Network to Freedom will allow for grant money to be applied for, to be used to add signage to the area or to conduct guided tours.
“It’s time for us to tell the stories of the people who sought freedom and how they helped others do the same,” said Brannick.
“We join at least 700 other sites to help us tell the story, and when the Network to Freedom brochures are reprinted we’ll get that additional recognition so even kids in the states can learn about it.”