Group Title: Olasee Davis articles
Title: Homesteaders were hardworking people
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/CA01300919/00206
 Material Information
Title: Homesteaders were hardworking people
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Davis, Olasee
Publication Date: March 13, 1998
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: CA01300919
Volume ID: VID00206
Source Institution: University of the Virgin Islands
Holding Location: University of the Virgin Islands
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

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Environment


The Daly News, Friday, March 13,1998 21


Homesteaders were hardworking people


The entire family helped in order for them to succeed


When the homestead program
started on St. Croi in 1932, it was
not easy.
This third column focuses on
homesteaders at work and the hard-
ship they encountered.
Homesteaders worked hard, with
commitment from the entire family
if they were to succeed in making a
life for themselves on the land.
Although agriculture had been
modernized, bomesteader relied on
traditional hand tools including
cane knives, hand plows and hoes.
This tradition was passed down
from slaves who worked the land
more than 300 years. Everybody
worked from dawn to dusk.
Homesteaders worried constant-
ly about the weather, getting the
cane to the market, the price of cane
and sanual paymenTs fr their land.
But the homestead program tried
to improve the living conditions of
local people through the coostruc-
tion of new homes.
In the 1930s,. St. Croix's rural
blacks and Hispanics lived in


unsanitary housing in old slave
plantation villages and in over-
crowded houses, for which they
paid 30 to 50 cents per week to
owners.
The typical set of rooms was
occupied by five or six persons.
Disease was rsmpan Many people
lived in poorly bult two- or three-
room apartments in long barrack-
type buildings. Many families did
not have their own homes.
Homesteading brought the first
radical change from these slave
housing patterns that dated back
from the 1800s.
Starting in 1934, the federal
government constructed houses for
homesteaders. This was the first
public housing in the Virgin
Islands. The new houses cost
between $500 and OO00. They con-
sisted of two to four rooms with
kitchens, citerand porches.
In 1938, 52 new houses had
been built on homestead plots, but
the federal funds dried up with only
a few additional hose constructed


Olasee
Davis
Our
0lmi miMnti


by the local government.
Some homesteaders erected their
own houses. Overall about 20 per-
cent of the homesteaders lived on




Homesteading reinforced
family values at home
and at work. Strong
family ties were key to
successful homesteading.


their own land.
Homesteading reinforced family
values at home and at work. Strong


family ties were key to successful
homesteading.
But homesteaders had to use
their land mainly to grow sugar
cane for the big sugar corporations
on the island. Al first, homesteaders
enjoyed success. From 1933 to
1937 homesteaders saw steady
advances in both output and income
on their farms.
During this period, 96 percent of
all bills were paid on time, and more
than 300 homesteaders averaged an
income of $100 per year from cane
sales, which they supplemented with
other food crops grown.
By comparison, the typical field
workers for the sugar corporation
earned about $75 per year in wages.
But the homesteaders failed to
sustain their success. In 1938 a
severe drought hit the island.
With this natural disaster, sugar
prices fell, and rising wage rates
forced many homesteaders to relin-
quish their plots in favor of govem-
meat employment.
By the end of 1941, only 202


active homesteaders remained with
533 acres of aceland in production.
The program also suffered as the
federal government grew disinter-
esLed. In 1934 the federal funds for
the program were reduced tremen-
douly.
The cuts scrapped officials'
plans to purchase additional lands,
build more houses and provide
more cooperative services for the
farmers. In fact, by 1935 there were
no federal funds.
Instead, the federal government
gave millions to the Virgin Islands
Co., which was established in 1934
to rehabilitate the sugar industry.
By the 1940s the sugar compa-
ny receive a total of S3.4 million as
compared to $400,000 for the
homestead program.
Next week Who is to blame for
the failure of the homestead pro-
gram?
Olasee Davis, wao hs a master
ofscience degree in range manage-
ment and forestry ecology, is a SL
Croix ecologist, activist and writer.




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