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History Lessons and Island Fare Bring Out Emancipation Day Crowd

July 3, 2007 — Emancipation Day, July 3, was the territory’s glory day, said St. John resident Gilbert Sprauve in a skit during Tuesday's celebration in Cruz Bay Park.
"The met in the shadow of a disabled grinder at Enfield Green,” he said. “That's where it all began.”
Sprauve and others told the tale of the 1848 emancipation in Frederiksted, St. Croix. In a series of vignettes, Oswin Sewer said the enslaved people began to gather on the evening of July 2 for their march to Fort Frederik.
If Gov. General Peter Von Scholten didn't declare that them free, the enslaved people would have killed all the white people within their reach, Sewer said.
"But not a drop of blood was shed," said the Rev. Carlyle Sampson as he read his part in the play.
Emancipation Day's purpose gets lost in the July 4th Celebration, St. John's annual Carnival event, Sewer said.
The observance was filled with symbolism, from the blowing of the conch shell by Emanuel "Mano" Boyd to the drumming by Echo People. Dozens of people came and went as the observance continued.
St. John resident and amateur historian Chuck Pishko was on hand early on. He called Emancipation a bittersweet event because the newly freed people were tied to another kind of bondage when they were forced to sign yearly contracts for their labor.
"But it was a step in the right direction," he said.
While some recounted the territory’s history, vendors in Cruz Bay Park sold all sorts of wares. Laurel Hewitt-Sewer stayed busy selling native pastries, including slices of Vienna cake filled with six layers of jam and jellies.
"It doesn't have to be six layers,” she said. “It's usually four, but today is special.”
The St. John Festival and Cultural Organization, which organized the event, set up a small museum to showcase some local handicrafts and to pass out samples of seasoned rice.
Arlene "Shakura" Wiltshire, a St. Thomas resident with roots in St. John, said she comes to Cultural Day every year to braid hair. As she worked on the hair of Hobbs, N.M., resident Morgan Bingham, she said she was also teaching a group of young girls the art of hair braiding. Bingham, 15, was part of a group of people in St. John for a wedding.
The bride, Dovie Boltshavser, said she and her friends and family were in Cruz Bay Park for the afternoon because they wanted to see what the event was all about. Although she's getting married Wednesday, Boltshavser said she's fitting the wedding in between the parade and the fireworks.
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