Daniel Shea (Virgin Islands Daily News) reports that the National Park Service has granted St. Thomas Historical Trust $44,500 to research the historic battle of St. Thomas to create a more detailed account of what happened to Fort Frederik on Hassel Island, (not to be confused with the present Fort Frederick in St. Croix) in March 1801.
Part of the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, the funding is one of 25 grants, totaling over $1.2 million, given to organizations throughout the United States for the purpose of researching and preserving historic battle sites. Trust member Charles Consolvo, who is heading the project, says that “It is, hopefully, the beginning of a concerted attempt to preserve and make accessible a prominent part of our maritime history for our residents and visitors. It desperately needs to be opened up to the public. Most people don’t even know about it.” Consolvo, who is completing a master’s degree in historical archaeology, will go to Washington, D.C., for training in mid-August.
Part of the grant will be used to develop an engineering study to try to stabilize the fort, which is in danger of crumbling away. Another part of the grant is to survey the underwater area the battle traversed, searching for any artifacts from the ships and time period. The balance of the grant money will be used for a search through documentation from the era in England and Denmark, to find out about the ships, the captains and the fort. The study must be completed by December of 2011.
The Battle of St. Thomas, on March 3, 1801, was the confrontation of British and Danish ships in the territories that were then called the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands). Shea describes, “British frigates fired shots to slow down the Danish brig, the Lougen. The captain of the Lougen, Carl Wilhelm Jessen, sent the smaller messenger schooner that was accompanying his ship, back to port to advise the governor that they were, in fact, at war with the British. Jessen positioned his ship and fired on the British frigate, the Arab, starting an hour-long naval battle that only ended when the Lougen came within range of Fort Frederik’s guns, which kept the two British ships at bay. But, later that month, the British appeared with 29 ships and 4,000 men, and St. Thomas was surrendered without a shot being fired. Under British rule, Fort Frederik, sitting prominently on Hassel Island in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, became known as Fort Willoughby — as it is still known today. After the islands were taken in the spring of 1801, the British ended their occupation just less than a year later and returned the islands to the Danish.”
Photo of Fort Willoughby from http://www.seestjohn.com/hassel_island.html