St. Croix’s Chaney

st. croix USVI beach pottery

By Elizabeth Smith and Denise Fashaw

St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a tropical destination for many travelers. St. Croix has been owned by Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Denmark and is currently a U.S. territory. All of these countries influenced the native Carib people, giving St. Croix a rich history. 

virgin islands old map

Along with the rich history you will find beautiful white-sand beaches with turquoise water, tropical weather, coral reefs, scuba diving, great dining, a rainforest, fishing, kayaking, golf, and more all within in the two main towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted. 

One “must do” for beachcombers in St. Croix is Chaney hunting. Chaney, pronounced “chay-nee,” is the local name for beautiful pottery shards found on the beaches and grounds of old sugar mill plantations that are scattered around St. Croix. Historically, the children of St. Croix would find the broken pieces of china, round them into coins and use them for play money or tokens for hopscotch. Chaney is a Crucian word derived from the words “china” and “money.” 

plantation chaney

Land Chaney, also known as Plantation Chaney, is pottery that is dug from the soil around the island’s many sugar mill plantation. Plantation Chaney is usually shiny, with its original glaze intact. There are many explanations as to why Chaney can be found around plantation homes. Fine china, after much use, often begins to chip or break, and since there were no landfills in early St. Croix, broken pottery was just tossed out the kitchen window. Another possible source is the infamous labor riot, “Fireburn of 1878,” where workers in the pursuit of better working conditions—in many ways, they were still treated like slaves—looted and burned down many plantations and many household items, including china, were destroyed. 

Finally, St. Croix was at one time owned by Denmark, and locals celebrated the Danish New Year’s Eve tradition of smashing chipped or unwanted china against their neighbor’s door on the last night of the year. 

ocean chaney

Ocean Chaney is found while snorkeling, diving, and beach combing. Ocean Chaney is smooth and has naturally rounded edges from years of rolling around in the sand, rocks, and sea. Ocean Chaney is a rarer find than Plantation Chaney, and like Plantation Chaney there are many explanations as to where it came from. St. Croix is famous for shipwrecks, so pieces could have come from sunken vessels. Secondly, ships that entered the colonial island were often taxed by the weight of the ship, so damaged china would be tossed out to sea with other trash before entering port. Broken dishes and pottery were sometimes used as ship’s ballast to maintain balance at sea. When colonial ships filled their hulls with sugar, rum and molasses, the ballast was discarded overboard. Finally, as in many other places around the world, it was common practice to toss unwanted items into the ocean. Little did they know that hundreds of years later their trash would be highly regarded treasure on St. Croix. 

blue chaney

Blue Willow, Flow Blue, Mochaware, and Shelledge are typical Chaney patterns that are often found in blue and white, but lucky hunters can also find green, red, and purple pieces. Although Chaney can be found any time during the year, more is found after storms when the ocean has been churned or after a good rain when soil has been washed away revealing these buried treasures.

virgin island beach

Accommodations on St. Croix range from casual hotels, golf resorts, beach front inns, and resorts to privately owned villas. Several inns and hotels are in close proximity to the two main towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted, including The Buccaneer, The Fred, and Sand Castles on the Beach. Plan your Chaney hunting trip at www.visitusvi.com/stcroix.

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