Directly across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from Road Town, Peter Island is the home of the luxurious Peter Island Resort, a fine upscale, newly renovated resort. This island has a rich past of famous pirates, plantations and one man’s private paradise.
Once Spain claimed the region, outlaw privateers routinely attacked her ships, homeward bound with riches from the New World. The hilly Virgin Islands, with countless nooks and bays, proved ideal hiding grounds for buccaneers like Henry Morgan, Sir John Hawkins, and Sir Francis Drake, whose name claims the channel between Peter Island and Tortola.
Dead Chest Island, the visual focal point of Peter Island’s Deadman’s Bay, is the storied site where Blackbeard marooned 15 mutinous men with only a sword and cask of rum — spawning the musical memoir “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” The bay is named for the unlucky souls who washed up on its shores. Nearby Norman Island is thought to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” and scavengers still scour its caves for buried treasure.
In the late 17th century, pirates gave way to planters when a group of slave traders from Brandenburg, a small German state containing Berlin, first settled Peter Island after plans to build a plantation on St. Thomas failed. Initially, the Brandenburgers intended to build a warehouse and start a large settlement. They built forts around the island to protect it from the Danes, who controlled St. Thomas and other Caribbean islands.
In the meantime, the Danes ordered Colonel Codrington, governor of the Leeward Islands, to prevent Germans from settling any of the Virgin Islands. He eventually drove the Brandenburgers out of Peter Island.
Although the sugarcane plantation boom at the turn of the 18th century passed over Peter Island because of its unsuitable soil, several Tortolan planters with slaves successfully introduced cotton. Soon after the first harvest, the plantations expanded and required more slaves. Little more was known about this period in Peter Island lore until historians recently discovered an old trunk in a dusty garret in London. The findings included a batch of letters chronicling a fascinating story of Peter Island in the 1770s.
In the late ’60s, Norwegian millionaire Torolf Smedvig fell in love with Peter Island and purchased most of the land. He shipped a set of luxury A-frame chalets to the island from Norway, and assembled them on Sprat Bay along with a clubhouse and marina, which became Peter Island Resort. Smedvig operated the British Virgin Island resort until his death in the late 1970s, at which time two Michigan-based entrepreneurs purchased it. Peter Island is now privately owned by JVA Enterprises.
Today, Peter Island draws guests to its romantic seclusion, its untouched beauty and world-class resort atmosphere. Named one of the “Best Places to Stay in the World” and “Top 20 Islands” in the world by Conde Nast Traveler, the private resort recently completed an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation to recapture the charisma and natural charm exclusive to the British Virgin Islands. (This information came from www.peterisland.com)
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