Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This dissertation presents the history of the original cadastral survey of St. Croix by the Danish West India and Guinea Company in the early eighteenth century. St. Croix, the largest of the United States Virgin Islands, is distinguished by a remarkably regular and rectangular pattern of roads and properties, which appears to have had no parallel in the Lesser Antilles or Denmark. This is a case study of how colonial administrators approached the problem of the orderly alienation and demarcation of previously undivided land. The study is based mainly on original manuscript Company records in the Danish State Archive in Copenhagen. The study treats the Company's initial deliberations, the original orders for the distribution of land on St. Croix, the tentative laying out of a survey pattern, the vicissitudes of the work, resistance to the unfamiliar notion of wholesale survey prior to conveyance, revisions of the original orders, the difficulties encountered in creating and maintaining reliable land registers, the errors committed, the negligence and fraud that compromised a great deal of the work, the mapping of the island, and the progress of conveyance and settlement. The contributions and failures of individuals are central to the story. The essay is concerned as much with cadastral and cartographic imagination and communication as with the geometric details of the pattern established. The rectangular survey of St. Croix was the result of a special financial accommodation according to which uniform plots were to be allocated to Company stockholders in proportion to their investments. The scheme was incompletely visualized, and it was not carried to its logical conclusion. Although the survey was not very well executed in the field, its failure was primarily administrative: the necessary record-keeping was neglected. The essential cadastral connection between the land--the topography--and the documents of allocation and demarcation was not properly established. The Company scarcely realized how promising a start had been made until it was too late. When the island reverted to the Danish crown in 1754, the cadastral records remained in a confused and corrupt state. The survey had failed.