Annaberg in 3D

Annaberg Estate: Heritage Site Overview

In 1493, on the second of his four transatlantic voyages, Christopher Columbus sailed west from Spain with a fleet of 17 ships, intending to establish a colony and search for gold. In November, he reached the Lesser Antilles on the eastern edge of the Caribbean, near the islands of Dominica and Guadeloupe.  He sailed north along the leeward (western) side of islands later known as the Leeward Islands. Before reaching Puerto Rico, he encountered a cluster of islands which he named in honor of St. Ursula, perhaps because she too survived a perilous sea voyage. According to Christian legend, this fourth-century Cornwall princess had sailed from Southwest England to Europe with her numerous handmaidens; all these young virgins eventually met martyrdom in Cologne.  This archipelago of small islands, therefore, become known as the Virgin Islands.

European powers jockeyed for territorial control of the Caribbean through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, decimating the indigenous populations and establishing sugar plantations that exploited enslaved African labor. In the 1670s, the Danish West Indies-Guinea Company (Det Vestindisk-Guineisk kompagni) annexed the islands of St. Thomas and St. John, and later purchasing the nearby island of Saint Croix from the French in 1733. Imitating other European colonizers in the region, the Danish Company began building sugar plantations on the three islands and importing slave labor from Africa. In 1755 the Danish king ended this monopoly by abolishing the struggling company and putting the islands under control of the crown. The slavery system was not officially abolished until 1848, after a slave rebellion on St. Croix.

Lying just to the east of St. Thomas, the hilly island of St. John covers scarcely three square miles.  Danish colonists and enslaved Africans began clearing the island in 1717.  One of the first plantations was that of Isaac Constantin, which emerged in 1721 on the north side of the island. It was eventually abandoned, but by 1779 a new entity, the Annaberg estate and factory complex, appeared in the area. For nearly a century, this industrialized sugar plantation, centered on a hill overlooking Leinster Bay, was one of the largest on St. John. It consisted of a windmill, boiling house, horse mill, slave quarters, garrison and big house. The plantation held more than 500 Africans and their descendants, and this sprawling slave labor camp produced hundreds of thousands of tons of sugar annually. The modern-day ruins at Annaberg reflect the main industrial complex of the estate at the peak of its development in the early nineteenth century.

The Annaberg Historic District is now part of the Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, United States Virgin Islands. The Digital Resources section below contains links to more information on this heritage site, including several extensive recent site surveys by the Virgin Islands Historical and Genealogical Resource Center. Because Annaberg is one of the most intact sugar plantation ruins in the Virgin Islands, Trimble Inc. and CyArk sent a team there in 2015 to scan and collect 3D data of the site for historical preservation. You can virtually explore the ruins through this digital model which uses an open-source JavaScript library, called CesiumJS, for 3D globes and maps.

Building the Annaberg Plantation, 1779-1871

The initial construction at the Annaberg estate began in the eighteenth century. David W. Knight Sr., director of several historical surveys and author of the book Understanding Annaberg, argues that “the residential and industrial heart of the former Constantin plantation was relocated to the present Annaberg factory site, but available documentary evidence strongly suggests that it occurred well after the acquisition of property by Salomon Zeeger Jansoon in 1758.”

Zeeger was born on the Dutch island of St. Eustatius in 1729. As a young man, he immigrated to St. John where he married Anna deWindt, the daughter of a prestigious plantation owner. The couple had four daughters: Anna Maria, Elizabeth Mooy, Anna (who died at an early age), and Adriana. In 1758, Zeeger expanded his landholdings with the purchase of what was then called the Constantin sugar plantation (Knight 9-10). By the time of his death in 1764, the family had already acquired additional land adjoining the Constantin plantation

The next generation, the three surviving Zeeger daughters, made strategic local marriages and combined efforts and resources to build a large-scale sugar plantation. The eldest daughter, Anna Maria, married one of her relatives, Peter deWindt, who already possessed an adjoining plantation called Dewindtsberg. The second daughter, Elizabeth Mooy, married Benjamin Lind, who occupied a number of important positions, such as provisions agent, customs officer, and postmaster. The third daughter, Adriana, married John Shatford Jones, an American who owned a plantation called Mary’s Point, adjacent to the old Constantin Plantation. With upwards of 92 enslaved Africans, these three families joined land and renamed the site “Annaberg.” The name translates as Anna’s Mountain, presumably chosen by the daughters to honor their mother, Anna deWindt Zeeger, and their deceased sister as well.

The Zeeger heirs retained the Annaberg plantation until 1796, when they sold the entire enterprise to James E. Murphy, a wealthy merchant from St. Thomas who owned land, ships and slaves. He also acquired the Smith’s Bay Plantation, a tract of land adjoining the Annaberg holdings, which he quickly renamed Leinster Bay after his distant Irish heritage. By the turn of the nineteenth century, Murphy had almost completed the new Annaberg factory complex. With the purchase of more surrounding land, he eventually amalgamated these sugar estates into one major plot of over 1,300 acres. Portions of the estate were not suitable for cultivation, but at its peak, Murphy’s operation included over 530 acres of cane fields. According to Knight, he also controlled “the island’s largest labor force, with a total of 662 enslaved individuals – sixty-one of whom were reported to be house servants and/or craftspersons” (Knight 13).

After James E. Murphy’s death in 1808, disputes among his heirs led to a long probate hearing and appraisals of his extensive property. The result was a re-partitioning of land, whereby his son, Edward C. Murphy, took the Leinster Bay region, while his daughter, Mary Murphy Sheen, acquired Annaberg and other holdings. By 1827, Edward, Mary, and her husband Thomas Sheen had all passed away, leaving the entire region to Edward’s wife Catharina Sheen Murphy. She remarried to Hans H. Berg, who became the Governor and Commandant of St. Thomas and St. John in 1853. Berg retained possession of the Annaberg estate until his death in 1862.

Annaberg proved enormously profitable for Murphy and Berg as owners, usually producing more than 100,000 pounds of raw sugar per year. But for most of the plantation’s occupants, the experience was vastly different. During the century before emancipation arrived in 1848, several thousand enslaved Africans worked and died within the confines of this single huge slave labor camp.  Gradually, soil depletion, a sagging economy, and the labor shortages that followed emancipation “all served to drive down production. In 1861, the year prior to Berg’s death, Annaberg’s sugar crop yielded less than five thousand pounds of raw sugar” (Knight, 16).

The decline of Annaberg continued after Berg’s death, when the estate was put up for public auction in 1862. Initially, George Francis, one of Berg’s plantation overseers, bought the land, but he soon sold the complex to Abraham C. Hill, a creole with both European and African ancestry. However, this aspiring young planter never lived to take possession, since he died shortly after the sale. Annaberg was once again put up for auction and was sold to Thomas Letsom Lloyd of Tortola, who could not sustain sugar production. Lloyd’s troubles were insurmountable following the combination of a hurricane and an earthquake in 1867. He then sold Annaberg for $100 to George Francis, after which the factory was left in ruins until today.

Enslaved Africans on the Annaberg Plantation

Danish involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade represented just under one percent of the total 12.5 million people forced aboard ships in Africa and taken to the Americas. Between 1641 and 1807, over 111,000 Africans entered the holds of Danish slave ships in Africa, while fewer than 92,000 people survived the Middle Passage to reach the Americas alive. This means that the mortality rate among African captives aboard Danish ships was about 18 percent.

The vast majority of these enslaved people boarded ships to the east and west of the Volta River where Danish traders had occupied and built several slave forts, such as Christiansborg (1658-1850), Fredensborg (1734-1850), Prinsensten (1784-1850), Kongensten (1784-1850), and Augustaborg (1787-1850). The Danes developed plantations around these forts in West Africa. Following Denmark’s emancipation of slaves in 1848, the Danes sold their African territories to the British Gold Coast Colony in 1850.

According to Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, Danish trade centered at the eastern Gold Coast (65%) and western Bight of Benin (20%); with the remainder leaving from the Upper Guinea Coast (10%), West Central Africa (2%), Southeast Africa (1%) and the Bight of Biafra (1%). Kwasi Konadu argues that “Danish sources reflect these developments since, prior to 1685, they focused primarily on Fetu [Frederiksborg] but thereafter concentrated on Akwamu and its subjugated coastal settlements, Akyem (after 1730), Asante, Fante, and those between Accra and the Volta River (or across the river into Popo and Ouidah) after 1742. These areas and their overwhelmingly Akan and Gã-Adangme peoples, including an Akan diaspora in the Bight of Benin, formed the bulk” of people involved in the Danish slave trade (Konadu, 95).

The Danish Caribbean consisted of only three islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. The major Danish trading centers in the Caribbean were the ports of Charlotte Amelie on St. Thomas, as well as Frederiksted and Christiansted on St. Croix. As the smallest of the Danish colonial possessions, St. John never fully developed a major port, although Cruz Bay emerged on the western tip of the island and within view of the eastern tip of St. Thomas. According to Konadu, captives from the Voltaic region in West Africa disembarked at the entrepôt of St. Thomas, which largely supplied slaves to the smaller island of St. John (96).

The most active years of Danish slave trading occurred at the peak of Annaberg’s operations in the last decades of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth century. Between 1779 and 1807, over 46,000 Africans boarded Danish slave ships. Of these individuals, 77 percent (over 36,000 people) left from Danish forts in the Gold Coast’s Voltaic region.  Some went directly or indirectly to the Caribbean colonies of other European nations.  But most arrived at St. Thomas or St. Croix, and many of these were then purchased by planters on the smaller island of St. John.

The most active years of Danish slave trading occurred at the peak of Annaberg’s operations in the last decades of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth century. Between 1779 and 1807, over 46,000 Africans boarded Danish slave ships. Of these individuals, 77 percent (over 36,000 people) left from Danish forts in the Gold Coast’s Voltaic region.  Some went directly or indirectly to the Caribbean colonies of other European nations.  But most arrived at St. Thomas or St. Croix, and many of these were then purchased by planters on the smaller island of St. John.

Between 1755 and 1846, population estimates on St. John never exceeded 3,000 inhabitants. By 1800, there were hundreds of plantations on the island and Annaberg was among the largest. The enslaved population formed a large majority, outnumbering Europeans by a ratio of 8:1. Neville A. T. Hall has effectively demonstrated that the “disproportion was considerably larger in the plantation zones, and it was in the rural milieu that African-born slaves dominated the population… when the slave trade was at its peak” (1992, 70). As several scholars have argued, large numbers of Akan involuntarily found their way to the Danish colonies, and Annaberg would have followed this trend. Given these estimates, the 500 or so enslaved people working on Annaberg represented about sixteen percent of St. John’s total island population.

It should not be presumed that the ethnic groups from the Voltaic region were the only people taken to Annaberg. In 1767 and 1769, C. G. A. Oldendorp, a Moravian missionary, observed a large number of ethnicities on the Danish islands, which corresponded to peoples arriving from other catchment areas located between the Senegal River to the Bight of Benin. According to Hall, “the dominance of the Gold Coast supply areas appears to have undergone modification in the later decades of the eighteenth century, as a consequence of the shift of the main area of trade eastwards and southwards. References to cargoes of Congo slaves [from West Central Africa] newly arrived for sale, or to slaves of the Congo nation among runaways, particularly in St. Croix, are also instructive in this regard” (1992, 71).

Scanning Annaberg: Methods and Equipment 

In 1917, the U.S. purchased St. John from Denmark for $25M in order to establish a naval base, making the island an unincorporated U.S. territory. Since 1956, approximately 60 percent of St. John has been protected as Virgin Islands National Park, administered by the U.S. National Park Service. Trimble worked closely with the Virgin Islands National Park archaeologist, Ken Wild, to identify key areas of interest and to better understand how to document them. It took a team of nine people five days to completely capture the Annaberg site.

Digital surface models, high-resolution orthorectified imagery, detailed point clouds of the structures, SketchUp 3D models of the site and panoramic terrestrial imagery of specific features paint a comprehensive picture of the entire area. Several Trimble technologies were used to document the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, including TX8 scanning, UX5 unmanned aircraft system aerial photogrammetry and the V10 imaging rover with GNSS. The scale, variety and quality of captured data is one of the most complete and comprehensive site documentation efforts on record for a project of this type.

SketchUp Model

Digital Resources

Annaberg Windmill (CyArk)

Annaberg: An Updated Survey of the Annaberg Factory Complex (2002)

The Danish West-Indies: Sources of History - Danish National Archives (Rigsarkivets)  

Historic Building Surveys and Photographs (Library of Congress) 

National Park Service Cultural Landscape Inventory: Annaberg Surgar Factory Virgin Islands National Park (2010)

National Park Service Website: Annaberg Plantation

Links to downloadable 3D data of the Annaberg Factory Complex by file format: 

  1. .skp (SketchUp) light versions
  2. .las (point cloud)
  3. .rwp (RealWorks Project) Trimble software required
  4. .tzf (raw data)


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