The History Of St. Kitts Is Alive At Romney Manor

By: Justin Burch

Like many of its Caribbean neighbors, St. Kitts still bears many markings of its colonial past. A tour across the island will reveal old sugar plantations, stone fortresses and period European architecture. One of the most celebrated sites on the island is the oldest colonial plantation and its mansion, Romney Manor. Established in the 17th century during the first major stage of colonial development, the property has been owned by only six families in over 350 years. Today, Romney Manor retains much of its antique charm and certainly has plenty of stories to tell the curious visitor.

Before colonizers gained control of the land surrounding Romney Manor, it is believed the site was occupied by the village of Chief Tegereman - the leader of the Carib Indian tribe. Soon after European colonizers defeated the native tribes, the land came to be owned by the ancestors of Thomas Jefferson. Many of the structures from the once-successful tobacco plantation known as the Wingfield Estate date to this early colonial period. Adjacent to the Wingfield Estate, the Earls of Romney established their own sprawling plantation and resided over both estates by 1735.

The story of Romney Manor in the 18th century is, in many ways, the story of the Caribbean. In the fields, African slaves focused on the cultivation of sugar cane while the Romneys tended to their airy Caribbean mansion. After the emancipation of slaves in 1834, sugar production slowed considerably - not just at Romney Manor, but also throughout the region. As more Caribbean nations gained independence in the 19th and 20th centuries, plantation farming came to a halt and colonial structures such as Romney Manor fell into disrepair. However, in 1974, this majestic property again became a site of culture and industry.

Today, Romney Manor features one of St. Kitts' most celebrated local businesses - Caribelle Batik. Using the traditional Indonesian method of treating fabric with wax to resist dye, the artisans of Caribelle Batik have been creating their apparel and tapestries for over 30 years. When you visit the site, you can watch the artists at work and even learn the technique during hands-on demonstrations. Known for their durability and inventive designs, handcrafted artworks from Caribelle Batik are some of the finest souvenirs you can find in St. Kitts.

Outside the main home, you will find some of the most beautiful botanical gardens on the island. Spread over six acres, the gardens feature many varieties of tropical flowers and plenty of animal life. At the heart of the gardens' diverse plant life is a 350-year-old saman tree, also known as a rain tree. Having seen all stages of St. Kitts' diverse history, this giant tree - it covers nearly half an acre - has long been one of Romney Manor's most popular sites. In many ways, the saman tree and the gardens it presides over add to the majestic aura of the site.

At the farthest reaches of the botanical gardens, you can even spot the beginning of the island's dense tropical rain forest. As you walk amongst the ruins of the oldest plantation in St. Kitts, you can hear the creatures of the rainforest calling to one another and see the land rise to the volcanic peak of Mt. Liamuiga. If you want to explore parts of the rainforest while you are at Romney Manor, guides are available to help you find the best trails and teach you about the ecological diversity of St. Kitts.

Many tours visit Romney Manor each day and it is easy to find if you venture to the site on your own. Perhaps more than any other destination in St. Kitts, Romney Manor has many stories to tell about how the island used to be and how to best appreciate it today.

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