In July and August of 1997, students from the Industrial Archaeology program at Michigan Tech conducted the first systematic survey and excavations of sugar plantation and harbor complex on the island of Nevis, in the West Indies. Colonial artifacts found during the excavation helped date the active period of the site from the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries. Recovered material included slave made colonoware, gunspalls, typical European colonial wares, and trade porcelain. Industrial artifacts found include an iron windmill mainshaft, parts of a vertical three-roller cane mill, and iron cauldrons.
Although Columbus sighted the island in 1493, the island remained unmolested by Europeans until English colonists arrived from the neighboring island, St. Kitts, in 1627, establishing tobacco, indigo, and ginger plantations. By 1650, however, sugar production came to dominate the colony's economy. Sugar production, and the trade in slaves which sustained the industry, drove Nevis to the forefront of the emerging global economy of the eighteenth century. Located at the northern end of the Leeward islands just west of Antigua, Nevis was well situated for colonial enterprise. Once so prosperous from the sugar and slave trade that it was called the "Queen of the Caribbees," today only stone ruins remain as silent testimony to the industrial past. Nevis is better known as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, and where a young Captain Horatio Nelson met, and married, Frances Nesbit, in 1787. Nelson was in command of a squadron of ships sent by England to prevent trade between Nevis and the new nation of the United States, in violation of the Molasses Act. The island's dominance of the sugar trade was eventually eclipsed during the era of steam powered mills, nevertheless, Nevis continued to play an important role in the industry until the mid nineteenth century.
Unique among these vestiges of industry is the site located on the dry, windswept, southern side of the island, at Indian Castle Bay. In 1704, the Nevis Council declared the harbor located at the bay a "shipping place" in order to facilitate and encourage sugar production and settlement along the island's south coast. Historic documents refer to the site as the "shipping place of St. George Parish." Remains of the Indian Castle Estate stand on the cliffs overlooking the harbor.
The crew from Michigan Tech surveyed the site and documented several structures associated with sugar production, including a stone windmill, sugar works, and a two-story complex which may have served as a harbor warehouse. Drawings produced the year before by Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions, from New York, were a significant aid to field work and provided a benchmark for determining the rate of deterioration of site structures. In a span of less than one year one wall of the two-story complex, which stands on a cliff overlooking the harbor, were found to have collapsed into the sea.
The cliff side complex, measuring more than 50 meters by 70 meters had within its walls a stone cistern, a vaulted chamber supporting a staircase, a "kitchen," and two long "galleries."
The project team completed a map of the plantation site and produced detailed drawings of several structures. Iron artifacts of presteam era milling and sugar manufacturing were also recorded in detail. Future projects at the site are under consideration.For more information contact: Marco Meniketti, 2635 Hopkins Ave., Lansing, MI 48912