Excerpted from St. John Off The
Beaten Track ©
2006 Gerald Singer
The Johnny Horn Trail connects the Leinster
Bay Trail at the
eastern end of the beach at Waterlemon
Bay with the historic
Emmaus Moravian Church in Coral Bay. The trail is 1.8 miles long
and follows the mountain ridge through a dry upland forest environment.
There are some steep hills reaching an approximate elevation
of 400 feet. Some sections of the trail, especially on the Coral
Bay side, run through private property and inholdings.
There are five spur trails off the main trail. The first (starting
from Waterlemon Bay) provides access to the best place to cross
the channel if you would like to snorkel around Waterlemon Cay.
The second spur leads to the remains of an old Danish guardhouse.
The third trail takes you to the ruins at Windy Hill, the fourth
is the Brown Bay Trail to Brown Bay and East End and the fifth
is the Base Hill Spur.
The Johnny Horn Trail was named after Johan Horn who was second
in command to Governor Gardelin in St. Thomas and Commandant
of St. John around the time of the slave rebellion in 1733.
He was the Chief Bookkeeper and Chief Merchant of the Danish
West India and Guinea Company on St. Thomas. According to John
Anderson in his historical novel, Night of the Silent Drums,
Englishman John Charles, a former actor who became a small
planter on St. John, said the following of Horn:
He had a grimace for a face, lies for eyes, noes for a nose,
arse cheeks for face cheeks, fears for ears, whips for lips,
dung for a tongue, and to all who knew him it seems strange that
he has but one horn for a name.
Right near the beginning of the Johnny Horn Trail, there is a
short spur trail that follows the shoreline of Waterlemon Bay.
By walking along this trail, you can get to a point on the
shore that is half the distance to Waterlemon Cay than it would
be starting from the beach. This way you can save your energy
for the really good snorkeling around the cay.
There is a genip tree about fifty yards up the trail, just before
the turn off to the guardhouse. Some of these trees produce
sweeter fruit than others. This is a good one! Keep an eye
out for ripe genips in the summer.
A patch of aloe can be found a little further up the trail between
a big rock and the remains of the old Guardhouse. It is common
to find aloes planted close to homes and public buildings. The
pulp from the leaves is used for the treatment of sunburn, burns
and other ailments.
The spur trail on the left, just beyond the aloe, takes you to
the ruins of a Danish guardhouse. This small fortification
was built on this strategic location, called Leinster Point,
because it overlooked two critical passages, the Fungi Passage,
between Whistling Cay and Mary Point, and the Narrows, which
separate Great Thatch and St. John. The guardhouse was equipped
with cannons and manned by 16 soldiers.
Slavery was abolished in the British Virgin Islands on August
1, 1834. By the complicated terms of the law, all slaves less
than six years of age were to be freed immediately. House slaves
had to complete a four-year “apprenticeship” and
field slaves a six-year “apprenticeship” before they
received full emancipation.
By 1840, all the inhabitants of Tortola were free, while in
nearby St. John slavery was to continue until 1848. British law
granted free status to anyone who arrived in their territory.
These factors created a situation whereby slavery and freedom
were only separated by a mile and a half of water.
The channel between St. John and Tortola, although narrow, is
generally characterized by rough seas and strong currents. Nonetheless,
many St. John slaves braved this crossing in whatever manner
that was available to them. Some arranged with friends or relatives
in Tortola to meet them in some secluded bay and take them across.
Others stole boats or secretly constructed rafts out of whatever
material they could find including estate house doors. Some brave
and hardy souls even swam across the treacherous channel.
The first major escape from St. John occurred in May of 1840
when 11 slaves from the Annaberg and Leinster Bay plantations
fled to Tortola. This event was followed a week later by the
successful escape of four slaves from the Brown Bay Plantation.
The guardhouse at Leinster Point was built in an attempt to
prevent more of these escapes. Another stone structure, which
can still be seen on Whistling Cay, was also utilized to prevent
slave escapes. In addition to guardhouses, cannons and soldiers
on the land, Danish naval frigates patrolled the waters. The
captains and crews of these vessels were ordered to shoot to
One night in the year 1840, five slaves left St. John's north
shore in a canoe. A Danish naval ship spotted them somewhere
in the western Sir Francis Drake Channel, between St. John and
Tortola. The soldiers opened fire and a woman was killed. The
others jumped into the sea. Another woman and a child were apprehended
and returned to St. John, but the remaining two fugitives got
away by swimming the rest of the way to Tortola. The story of
their ordeal created an international incident.
The line separating St. John from Tortola was no more defined
in the 19th century than it is today. The government in Tortola
protested the killing of the woman in what appeared to be British
waters. The protest led to an official investigation of the occurrence
and the court martial in Copenhagen of a Lieutenant Hedemann
for the murder of the woman and the violation of British territory.
The lieutenant was found guilty and was sentenced to a two-month
In another incident in 1840, eleven slaves escaped from the
Leinster Bay Plantation. They commandeered the estate boat and
made their way to Tortola in the dead of night. In Tortola, where
slavery had been abolished, they had a good chance of finding
work on one of the many small farms that had been established
It was a well planned escape. The day before, they harvested
whatever crops they could from their provision ground and took
them to St. Thomas to be sold.
When the plantation overseer, Mr. Davis, arrived the next morning,
he found not only that the slaves had disappeared, but that they
had taken everything they owned with them. Mr. Davis was shocked.
He couldn’t understand why his slaves had left such a comfortable
situation as he had provided for them on the estate. So Mr. Davis
tried to find out what happened. He went to the other slaves
and asked them what they knew, but no information was forthcoming.
He went to the Moravian minister and he also had no news. He
kept on trying to find the answer to the riddle and eventually
he learned that the slaves had gone to Tortola.
Then Mr. Davis went to the Land Judge in Cruz Bay and arranged
for him to go to St. Thomas and get an official pardon for the
runaway slaves. He then had the Moravian minister go to Tortola
and try to find the runaways.
The minister was successful in locating the former Leinster
Bay slaves. He explained to them that they would be pardoned
if they came back to St. John. The runaways called a meeting
during which they explained to the minister that they would not
return. Contrary to the accounts of Mr. Davis, the refugees’ version
was that Mr. Davis had mistreated the enslaved laborers on the
estate and that they would not consider returning unless he was
fired. Some years later, Mr. Davis was dismissed and several
of the refugees did return to Leinster Bay.
The St. John slaves had an underground network of contacts in
Tortola who often aided in their escapes. On the night of November
15, 1845, thirty-seven St. John slaves secretly left their plantations
and assembled at a deserted bay on the sparsely inhabited south
side of St. John. While the Danish Navy was busily patrolling
the north shore of St. John, the 37 men and women, safely and
without incident, boarded the vessels and were transported to
a new life in Tortola. Between the years 1840 and 1848, more
than 100 St. John slaves were able to find freedom in the British
As you proceed up the hill, you will come to several areas that
provide excellent views to the north. Near the top, the trail
forks. The trail to the left is a spur that leads to the ruins
of an estate called Windy Hill, which lie about 200 yards from
the fork, The trail to the right is the continuation of the
main Johnny Horn Trail. This structure was originally built
as the estate house for the plantation and sugar works at Leinster
In 1843, Windy Hill was owned by Judge H. Berg, the vice-governor
of the Danish West Indies. Berg, who lived in St. Thomas, was
also the owner of the Annaberg Plantation at that time. When
he visited St. John, he would reside at Windy Hill. Otherwise,
the house was occupied and managed by a Mr. and Mrs. Wallace.
Preserved letters from early travelers to St. John make reference
to the presence of an extensive library at Windy Hill.
Before selling the remainder of his estates on St. John, Judge
Berg bequeathed small plots of land east of the estate house
to some of his employees. These employees and their descendants
established the village of Johnny Horn. Remains of the old houses
can be seen in several places just off the Johnny Horn Trail.
Luther K. Zabriskie, in his book, The United States Virgin Islands,
gives this description of Windy Hill when it was a boarding house:
Leinster Bay, was where an excellent boarding house, for use
by occasional visitors, was once kept. The storm of 1916 blew
this house down. The wonderful old mahogany furniture that was
the envy of all who came to stay here, was scattered in all directions.
Windy Hill may also have been used as a Masonic Lodge. De Booy
and Faris in, Our New Possessions, wrote:
Near by are the remains of a building occupied by the only Masonic
Lodge on St. John. One can almost picture the banquets held by
the Masons when they assembled here in the olden days, when feasts
were of the first importance in the life of the West Indian planter.
From The Langford Mail:
Windy Hill was the private boardhouse of a Mrs. Clin (commonly
spelled “Clen”). It was owned by lawyer Jorgenson
and entirely destroyed in hurricane of 1916.
In 1917, when the United States bought the Virgin Islands, a
reform school was established here. Mrs. Clen was in charge of
the facility. Most of what you see now is from that period.
Following the relatively flat ridge, you will find scenic overlooks
with views of Jost Van Dyke, West End, Tortola, and the Sir
Francis Drake Channel. About a half mile from the Windy Hill
spur, you will come to another trail intersection.
The Johnny Horn Trail continues straight ahead and the Brown
Bay Trail is on the left. It is identified by a National Park
information sign. The Brown Bay Trail is 1.6 miles long. It is
0.8 mile to the beach at Brown Bay and another 0.8 mile to the
East End Road at the other end of the trail. See page 92.
Brown Bay Spur to Base Hill
Continuing straight along the Johnny Horn Trail, the path descends
gradually and crosses a gut. After crossing the gut, the trail
ascends steeply before reaching a more improved section of dirt
road near the top of Base Hill (pronounced Boss Hill). At this
point, you will have reached an altitude of 400 feet above sea
level, from which there are superb views down into Coral Harbor
and Coral Bay.
A dirt road just south of the ridge heading east, leads to the
summit of Base Hill where you can enjoy panoramic views extending
from Jost Van Dyke on the north to Coral Harbor on the south,
including spectacular vistas of the islands of the Sir Francis
Drake Channel all the way to Virgin Gorda and of the mangrove
lined bays within Hurricane Hole on St. John. The road narrows
into a footpath and loops back down to meet another dirt road,
which if taken to the right, leads back to the main Johnny
View from Base Hill
From the hilltop, the main Johnny Horn Trail descends rapidly
and leads to the Moravian Church in Coral Bay near the intersection
of Centerline Road and Salt Pond Road (Route 107).
The Moravians came to St. John in 1741. They established the
mission at Emmaus (Coral Bay) in 1782. They are the oldest of
the Protestant religions and were the first to minister to blacks.
This is the fourth Moravian church to be built on this site.
The Moravian Church, constructed in 1919, is listed in the National
Registry of Historic Sites.