On an island that once had 49 plantations, the historical significance of the Emilio Wilson Estate, covering the former Sentry plantation, can no longer be overlooked. The government’s commitment this month to purchase 370.000 m2 (91 acres) of the estate can allow not only for a terrestrial park but for a connection to the island’s cultural past, according to Rueben J. Thompson, member of the boards of the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation and of DCNA.
Thompson, whose family has been traced back on the island for hundreds of years, said the estate is a critical link to help islanders honor their heritage.
“Many of our ancestors were slaves on that plantation,” Thompson said. “They worked on that plantation, they died on that plantation, and we believe they were buried on that plantation. If this area is lost, we lose one of the last remaining tangible links to our ancestors.”
The Emilio Wilson Estate is located on the western side of the road that runs through Cul deSac valley to St. Peter, covering about 43 ha (~106 ac) from the road to the top of Sentry Hill. The estate includes a small portion of land leased to the Emilio Wilson Historical and Cultural Park Foundation and additional land that includes Sentry Hill, rock walls, historical sites, and caves that were used as shelters during hurricanes.
The estate has great historical value. The Cul de Sac valley was the area of the first major colonial period settlement on the Dutch side of St. Maarten. The valley was home to several large sugar plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Wilson estate contains the former Sentry plantation — which in 1781 became Golden Rock and Industry plantations — and is the last vestige of a plantation on Dutch St. Maarten that has remained relatively intact and untouched since the abolition of slavery.
Researchers have gathered artifacts at the current Emilio Wilson Historical Park that provide evidence of an African slave village situated there. The site may have been occupied even back to the mid- to late 1600s. The Golden Rock area is where John Philips, commander of St. Maarten from 1734-1746, lived. Thus, the estate encapsulates colonial St. Maarten emancipating into a new era of the current country of St. Maarten.
A 2006 archaeological survey prepared for ROB-VROM Department of St. Maarten recommended preserving part of the property as a historical site and creating a national heritage park.
As one contiguous historical site, this property could easily be converted into a major protected nature park for the St. Maarten community that could be accessed from L.B. Scott Road. The park can complement the current Emilio Wilson Historical Park.
“The melting pot of all of that heritage that came from Africa and came from Europe, where all of that came together and formed what we have now as our St. Maarten culture, (the plantation is) where all that started,” Thompson said.