Maps provide a wealth of visual information about a particular place in both space and time. The Virgin Islands archival record is exceptionally rich in maps depicting the various islands from the seventeenth century to the present. This map of St. Croix, originally drawn in 1794 by Peter Lotharius Oxholm, a trained Danish military engineer and skilled cartographer, reveals the extent and organization of the Crucian plantation system at its peak. Oxholm accurately locates the boundaries, sugar mills, great houses, and settlement sites of some 200 sugar and cotton plantations, which, along with the port towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted, occupied the entire island at the time. The extensive road network linking these population centers is also depicted, along with shoreline features, mountain ranges and the remaining patches of natural vegetation. In the upper left-hand corner Oxholm provides reliable population and production statistics. There is no better representation of the fact that the plantation system, based on enslaved labor and benefitting only a small number of free owners, totally dominated St. Croix at the time. Oxholm also produced an equally detailed, colored map of the Island of St. John in 1780.
In this activity, students will use questions from an Analyze a Map worksheet to investigate a map of St. Croix from 1794. They will practice map reading skills and understand how we can learn from historic maps. They will examine St. Croix’s population and the amount of land that was divided into plantation estates using the information included on the map.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
Before using this map, lead a class in a discussion about maps. Discuss the basic features of a map and why those features are important. As a group, review and identify the cardinal directions.
This is a large and detailed map, students will need access to the zoom features so a smart board or computer is needed to view the map.
Independently, with a partner, in small groups or as a class, have the students load the Map of St. Croix on the smart board or on computers, and answer the questions on the Analyze a Map worksheet.
Analyze the Primary Source
You may load the Analyze a Photograph worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through answering the questions, print the worksheet and distribute to your students, or adapt the questions from the worksheet to create your own. Primary Source Analysis Worksheets
Have students complete the analyze a map worksheet. Help students as needed to complete the worksheets. Review their answers and the observations as a class.
Identify the compass rose, title, creator, total population, find Christiansted, find Frederiksted. Can you identify a physical feature on the northside of the island? Can you identify a physical feature on the south side of the island? Next use Google Map to look up St. Croix. Compare today’s map to the historic map and identify three similarities and three differences. Why would viewing a map from the 1700s be useful to a person today? What could they learn from it?
Focus on the Details, Plantations and St. Croix: Look at the table on the map, what do you observe about the population? What types of mills are in operation? How much land is cultivated? What is being produced? Using the legend below the table identify the symbols that represent windmill and horse mill. Next zoom into the map and identify plantation estates, note their size, shape, names, and the type of mills they had on site. What do students think about the map? Who might have used such a map in the 1700s? What was its purpose?