Before Our Time: An Oral History of St. John

To my grandmother, Helen Smith Prince

To my mother, Naomi Prince Jacobs

To my son, Jonathan Joseph Burton, who read and owned hundreds of books as a child because reading is important.

Janet Burton

Images of by-gone days are created through the memories of interviewees or by reminiscences of the offspring of St Johnians.

It was a time, almost idyllic, although life was not easy. People lived off the land and sea — were caring, honest, churchgoing, if not God-fearing, folk. Education mattered, as did respect.

Manners were drilled into children. Sharing was a way of life. Mid-twentieth century life in St. John was the beginning of the end of a relatively simple rural lifestyle and the start of a more complex technological age with generators producing electricity that displaced kerosene lamps and lanterns and vehicles replacing horses and donkeys.

I envisioned a publication that would combine biographical material with oral history and illustration which would be appealing to youngsters from middle school to adults. The children are the main reason that this labor of love began. I write for all the students I taught and the ones I don’t know and will never know.

I want them to know what St. John was like for persons like my mother who was born almost 100 years ago in 1921 and for her contemporaries.

I want them to get to know people like her, who may not have a structure or space named in their honor, but who were instrumental in passing on the culture and history of this special place, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

She motivated me to love and preserve our story.

An Oral History of St. John

U.S. Virgin Islands


Janet Burton of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, is a retired teacher and school librarian. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State University and Master of Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Sandwiched between her employment at the Virgin Islands Department of Education were several years at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.