The Night of the Silent Drums

BACKGROUND: BB is the interviewer’s mother. For several years in the 1980s, she lived on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands while working for the local resort.

BB: “When I lived and worked on St. John, USVI, in the 1980s I heard a story about how, when there were sugar cane plantations on the island (then part of the Danish West Indies) in the 1700s, there was a rebellion of slaves that went something like this: slaves had coordinated attacks on their captors by using different drumming patterns as codes. The slaves were unaware of the naval and land coordination of their Danish captors. The weapons they used were machetes, which they were given to clear the fields. After a particularly long and bloody battle between the slaves and their captors, in which slaves were cornered at the eastern end of the island, on a high cliff above the treacherous Sir Francis Drake Channel, hundreds of slaves jumped to their deaths.
I don’t know how much of this story is true, but it always fascinated and horrified me — and that a place of such serene beauty (now) could have such a sad and tragic history.”

ANALYSIS: This is a historical event that has become interwoven with the cultural tapestry of St. John. Even though BB did not see ghosts, there’s a ghostly quality to this story, the stains of slavery now shrouded by the serene beauty of the Caribbean. For another telling of the story, see:

Anderson, Lorenzo John. The Night of the Silent Drums. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1975.