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The First Reliable Chorographic Map of St. Croix

Rare Danish map of the island of St. Croix, drawn by Jens Michelsen Beck and engraved by O.H. De Lode in Copenhagen.

First published in 1754,  Beck's map of St. Croix is the first modern map of St. Croix and served as the main reference and base map of the island for much of the second half of the 18th Century.

As noted in the title, the island is divided into "Quarteers" (which are named), with the Quarteers further sub-divided into numbered plantations.

Atop the map are two large insets, showing early town plans for Fridirchstaed and Christenstaed, the latter with a key locating 18 points of interest, including, a fortress, two public squares, several warehouses, a forge, cemetery, Lutheran Church, Church of England, Reformed Church and other points of interest.

Two areas are noted as  "Neger Quarteer" (Negro Quarters).

The map is embellished with a half-naked negro slave, a monkey perched on a bale of cotton, a parrot, what appears to be a cobra, a pile of cane stalks, a palm tree, and a pair of full- rigged ships; and by the humble but ambitious dedication to Adam Moltke, the president of the Danish West India and Guinea Company.

Mapping St. Croix

St. Croix was a late addition to the Danish West Indies, having been purchased from France in 1733.   The island was initially controlled by the Vestindisk-guineisk Kompagni (Danish West India and Guinea Company, 1671-1754), a private, royally chartered joint-stock company in which the Danish crown and many prominent individuals in the royal administration had substantial personal interest.  The company's shareholders were promised plantation lands on St. Croix in return for there development and reinvestment in the island. 

Prior to 1750, there had been no serious effort to map St. Croix, Two printed maps existed, the first by de la Point map which appeared in J.B. Du Tertere's 's Histoire generale des Antilles habities par les francois (1671) and Gerard Van Keulen's later copy of the de la Point map in 1719.

The founding order for the colony included a provision directing the survey and subdivision of the island into plantations, specifically that:

300 large sugar works plantations, each of 2 000 feet breadth and 3 000 feet length, are then to be surveyed out of the lands which are considered to lie most conveniently, to be most fruitful, and are of equal terrain ... [I]t would be wished most preferably that these plantation lots as far as possible were next to one another in one quarter if it is practicable.

With respect to the mapping of St. Croix, the order further directed that 

The engineer and his assistants shall as soon as possible draft an accurate map of the land in general of such large scale that not only the land's extent and all the coves and harbours but every plain [?], wooded ground, and plantation can be distinguished with number, length, and breadth, as well as expressed by means of characters whether it is a sugar or cotton plantation, of which map, for whose correct and prompt execution the Chief [of the St. Croix government] will take all care and pains, 3 copies are to be made . . . 

The land was distributed by lottery, with the island divided uniformly in quarters and plantations. A formal cadastral survey was not completed until 1750, mainly under the supervision of Johann Cronenberg and Johann von Jaegersberg.  A single manuscript example of Cronenberg's survey of the island is known to survive.

The Danish West India Company was dissolved by the Danish Crown in 1754, at which time Denmark retook administration of its colony in St. Croix.  It was at this moment in time that Jens Michelsen Beck's map of St. Croix was created.  Jens Michelsen Beck arrived on St. Croix in 1742 and served in various capacities in the administration until 1753. He acted as surveyor from time to time between 1749 and 1753.  Beck was later accused in court of graft and extortion in connection with the survey. He left St. Croix and the service of the Danish West India Company under the cloud of  these charges,  but he rose to some social prominence later in life and lived comfortably near Copenhagen, apparently on the income of a St. Croix sugar plantation

Within a year of his departure from St. Croix, an engraved map of St. Croix bearing his signature was published in Copenhagen.  Hopkins surmises that the map was drawn largely from the earlier work of Cronenberg and Jaergesberg, but notes that "Beck's rendering of the coastline was much better than Cronenberg's and Jaegersberg."  While Beck's map offers little topographical detail, it preserved the plantation grid laid out by the Danish West India Company and copies of the map in circulation at the time were often annotated with the names of the plantation owners.  The Beck map was the primary reference for an audit of land ownership conducted by the Crown.  

While pre-dated by the de la Point map of St. Croix which appeared in J.B. Du Tertere's 's Histoire generale des Antilles habities par les francois (1671) and Gerard Van Keulen's later copy of the de la Point map in 1719, there would be no serious effort to map St Croix until Cronenberg's survey and no real map of the island until Beck.    As noted by the US Coast & Geodetic Survey,

The first reliable chorographic map of St. Croix, exhibiting the subdivisions into quarters and estates, which have continued with little change until the present time, is the “Tilforladelig Kort over Eylandet St. Croix," drawn by I. M. Beck, and engraved by O. H. de Lode at Copenhagen in 1754. The tracts are properly numbered, the proprietors' names added in legible script, and each proprietor's holdings distinctively hand tinted.  

As noted by Hopkins, Morgan and Roberts in GIS & the Reconstruction of St. Crox’s Slave-Plantation Economy at p. 89-91:

The geometric outlines of Cronenberg's map were improved . . .  by his successor in the office of the public surveyor, Jens Beck, particularly on the steep northwestern coast, which Cronenberg had been unable to complete and had rendered simply as a tentative, wavering line.  . . . Beck's [map] is highly schematic, but he arranged to have his map of St. Croix engraved and published in Copenhagen in 1754, while Cronenberg's manuscript map disappeared into the obscurity of the Danish government's collection of nautical charts. . . .


The next mapping of St. Croix would not commence for several decades, until military engineer Peter Lotharius Oxholm's map's map of 1794.



The example in the Library of Congress includes the date 1767 and is annotated to show the names of each of the plantation owners.

The example in the collection at Harvard includes a pastedown list of plantation owner at the bottom center of the map.

The Danish National Library holds several examples of the map.

Condition Description
Old color. Minor toning. Signature of an early owner on the verso (J. C. Beny or Berg 1796 ?).
Hopkins, An Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Map of the Danish Sugar-Plantation Island St. Croix. Imago Mundi , 1989, Vol. 41 (1989), pp. 44-58.
James William McGuire; Geographic Dictionary of the Virgin Islands of the United States, Volume 4 By U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (page 1).