This is a follow up to Father Markoe´s 1953 Journal
From 175th Anniversary Commemorative History of
St. Anne´s Church
By Msgr. Michael Kosak
P.O. Box 1160
Kingshill, St. Croix, Virgin Islands 00851
In the beginning of research into the builder of Barrenspot, we were given one tiny lead, and from it developed the story of a very interesting West Indian Planter, perhaps typical of his age and its opulance, it is also a reflection of the times in which he lived, as even then, world affairs shaped the destiny of the little West Indies.
Christopher McEvoy, Jr. was born on St. Croix in 1760, the eldest son of Maria Markoe and Christo-pher McEvoy, Sr. His mother, 23 years at the time of his birth, was the daughter of Peter Markoe and Elizabeth Cunningham, both prominent families on St. Croix. Her Father’s side were French Hugenots, exiles who first had settled down-island, prospered, and moved up to St. Croix. The Markoes were big land-owners when Maria married Christopher Sr., and her mother’s family were influential in island affairs. Christopher Sr., a newcomer from Scotland, was a Catholic refuge, complete with Coat-of-Arms, on his arrival on St. Croix in 1751. A suitable match for Maria, probably he came with some money, as he soon owned quite a bit. In 1776, when applying for Danish citizenship, he mentioned he had established 10 plan-tations in St. Croix by himself in his 25 years of residence.
Christopher Jr. was not an only child, he was followed by Michael, Ann, Bridget, Peter and Marcella, the last being born in 1776. In that year, his matenial grandmother died. followed by his mother Maria, in 1777. Being brought up as a typical son of a wealthy planter, he received his advanced education in England, and in Denmark’where he studied commerce. He re-turned to the island of St. Croix before 1786, perhaps much before, but census records show him as an indi-vidual in that year for the first time. His father re-married in 1778, one Jane Low of St. Christophers, a spinster, with whom there were no children. She was later to make trouble for young Christopher.
Frequent travel to Europe to conduct business was usual. While we think nothing of trips to Europe today it is amazing, with the length of passage time, that many went so regularly. Most of the planters’ children were educated abroad, it was the “thing to do,” but quite often they were still regarded as “West Indian Planters,” certainly not social equals in the gay capitals of Europe, Money, and the lack of it, was going to change that.
Christopher Sr. and the second wife, Jane, moved to England around or before 1792, and either old age or irritation caused him to cancel his formal marriage contract with Jane, his wife. However, he rewrote his Will and it had nearly the same contents as before, this one was filed in Denmark, in April of 1791. Christopher Sr. died in England towards the end of 1792, and is buried there.
Meanwhile, Christopher Jr. was learning the plantation business, moving from one family estate to another. In 1794, he became owner of Westend Quarter No. 4, and lived there until 1802, when it was called John’s Rest, perhaps for a friend of his who worked it with him and who died there, so a story goes. In 1803 he named it Whim, and today this property, which he sold during the English occupation around 1814-1 5, is a museum. It is believed he built the greathouse there which is one of the main attrac-tions of the museum. In April of 1 804, he bought from his brother Peter, Estate Barrenspot, a place Peter had inherited from their brother Michael (Michael died in May of 1803). The Barrenspot estate had come to them through their mother, whose father had owned it back as far as 1765 and perhaps earlier. Christopher Jr. made many other acquisitions and sold many pro-perties, but we will trouble ourselves no more with those on St. Croix; merely leave it to say he prospered indeed.
Since planters and managers were the only residents considered to be worthy of “society,” and only landowners could sit in council, Christopher, with his wealth, both inherited and made, was probably one of the most sought-after young men on the island–lie was wealthy, and he was a bachelor; We can assume many mothers vied for a chance to entertain him, no matter how many times his estates hit the debtors lists – everyone else’s did too, for the same reason. They were all into sugar cane, and while it had been king of crops for over 60 years, by the mid-I 800’s it was a losing proposition. This had been preceded by years of drought, hurricanes, and other “acts of nature” such as excess taxes, an embargo from the fledgling United States of America, blockades by English ships during the American War of 1812, and other an-noyances.
St. Croix did not do all that badly under English occupation in 1804 and again from 1807 to 1814. Many of the planters and managers were from the British Isles originally or had ties to England – un-like St. Thomas, they fared rather well. Research done by Isidor Paiewonsky of St. Thomas, published in the Daily News of St. Thomas the past several years, mentions that Cruzans enjoyed many privileges of cargoes, which the other Danish isles did not.
Under Christopher Sr.’s Will was a provision that his wife Jane was to share in the profits of Barren-spot. Since Christopher was doing well, Jane (the wicked stepmother), in 1807, from England, petitioned the good Danish King to obtain her rights – the money! She finally went to court in Denmark over the issue, and won. According to the translator at the Danish Archives, Christopher Jr., under all sorts of pretexts, did not pay her(Westindian Journal No.1855).
Christopher Jr., apparently decided to move his permanent home to England around 181 l,.and did go there and buy a house, at Wimbledon. His sister Ann also went to England and became a Nun. Bridget married a William O’Daly; Marcella, who probably went to England with her father, married a James Galway of Ireland. The remaining brother Peter was in England by 1838, before that he married one Anne Bladwell Markoe, his Uncle James’ widow. Peter had at least nine children, but whether they are by Anne or another wife is not known.
[A descendant of Bridget MacEvoy notes she married Peter Daly and that the MacEvoys were Irish, not Scots]
In 1812. Denmark, suffering dearly from the wrong side of the War of 1812 (against the British), went bankrupt. One of the things done to raise money was to declare absentee ownership taxes; that is, an owner of property on St. Croix had to live there or in Denmark, or pay severe taxes. As a result, Christopher packed his bags and moved permanently to Copenhagen. He sold much of his property on St. Croix, perhaps to support the lavish lifestyle for which he would soon be noted. He spent a good deal of time in St. Croix though, as letters from Catholic priests men-tion his worl’ in trying to secure priests for the island from the British Isles and later, in 1815, mentions he is building a chapel on Barrenspot, to be finished about October of that year. So his hand was still in the bus-iness at Barrenspot.
Christopher quickly made a name for himself in Copenhagen, if he was not already well known. Frederik VI was King and had been Regent since 1784 when the previous King was declared mentally incom-petent. Frederik VI had one of the longest tenures of leadership in Danish history, being Regent for 24 years, and King from 1808 to 1839. Christopher became a Court Chamberlain and, in the poverty-stricken court, his wealth must have been welcome. He bought a townhouse called “Trianon” and the magnificent Dehn Palace only a block away from Amalienborg (now known as the Queen’s Palace). Dehn Palace covers half of a huge city block – each way, four stories high:all for a bachelor! He bought a sugar processing fac-tory in Gannelstrand and if his father’s shipping line was still in family hands, he not only grew the sugar, but shipped and processed it as well. He then bought Bernsdorff Castle, just out of the city. When he had bought and decorated the Dehn Palace, near Amalien-borg Castle in 1818, he arranged it so magnificently that the people of Copenhagen thought his wealth to be without limit. He did commit a faux-pas about this time, after he bought Bernsdorff in 18 17. He arranged an effect, to carry himself from his townhouse to his new country palace. He had a carriage, grander than the King’s, pulled by four white horses, highly decora-ted, to transport him. This greatly angered King Frederik, as white horses were a privilege restricted in use to the nobility, and while Christopher might be a Court Chamberlain, and very wealthy, he was not of the royal blood. McEvoy was exiled, and he took a long “vacation” to North America where it is assumed he bought eight rare white mules. When he returned to Copenhagen and next “drove out,” his coach was finer than before, and led by the mules dressed to the hilt with laces and decorations. The King was this time most amused and forgave him his ostentatiousness~
Sugar still continued to decline. A severe fever epidemic in 1817, and a hu’rricane in 1819, was followed by a drought in 1822 that brought near starva-tion. McEvoy returned to St. Croix time and time again, and in 1823, his chapel at Barrenspot was for-mally consecrated with great fanfare and ceremony. It was even written up on the front page of The Avis, very unusual for a Catholic function in a Lutheran stronghold.
Peter Frederik Von Scholten was named acting Governor, in 1827, of the Danish West Indies, but it is not known if Christopher ever entertained this man in St. Croix (This remarkable Dane was to free the slaves completely 2 1 years later). McEvoy seemed to have spent most of his time now in Denmark, not surprising-ly for a 67 year old man in favor with the King. Surely he met and talked to Von Scholten when the latter was in Denmark; they should have had much to dis-cuss. In 1829, the Crucian planters were in debt for 76 0/0 of their holdings, and no matter how capable they or their managers were, the decline could not be stopped. The year 1830 saw more drought and the development of beet sugar as well. Being declared a free port three years later did not help. Christopher did get a crushing station erected on the Barrenspot property in 1836 that might have helped the hopes, but it may be assumed that when he finally died, he was watching the collapse of an empire that had begun with his grandfather, swelled into riches with his father, and became fortunes in his~own hands. Now it was all being drained away. It must have been a hard blow to this 78 year old dynamo.
He died at his Bernsdorff Palace on St. Ann’s Day, July 26th of 1 838, and his body was buried at the Catholic St. Assisten’s Cemetery, in a small plot surrounded by iron railing. His stone states “Under here lies the dust of Planter Christopher McEvoy, died July26, 1838 in his 78th year.”
His heir was his brother Peter, resident of England, who, among other things, also inherited seven iron-bound chests of gold and silver tableware valued (at that time) at $40,000 Danish.
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