A History of Castle Nugent Estate

as told by Caroline Gasperi

Castle Nugent Caribbean Guest HouseWith the current Senepol ranch operating here since 1957 and other cattle ranches preceding us, Castle Nugent is thought by historians to be one of the oldest ongoing cattle ranches in the West Indies. However, Castle Nugent was not always strictly a cattle ranch.

A realistic watercolor painting shows the Castle Nugent estate buildings from a northern vantage point, with red cattle dotting the fields below and the sea beyond a windbreak of trees at the shoreline.

A watercolor painting by Caroline’s nephew Luca Gasperi depicting the Estate and the south shore reef from a vantage point on the hills above, with four of the five remaining estate buildings visible.

The main house was built on a land grant registered in the Danish archives in 1730 and is thought to date from that period. Cattle, cotton, and indigo were cultivated here. The Estate’s five remaining buildings include a cotton shed (now converted into a small house), and a tiny chapel, now my home. My old documents regarding the estate include letters from the plantation owner in the 1780s. He was running a cotton plantation with a few cattle. The farm was later converted to a sugar cane plantation, complete with a cane mill visible along the shoreline from the gallery at the front of the house.

Probably ten to twenty slaves lived here on the plantation in its heyday. We still find pottery shards and other artifacts when we’re working cattle in the pastures, left over from either slave shanties or from Arawak camp sites.

We don’t know how Castle Nugent got its name – Castle Nugent is both a castle and a county, in Ireland. Over the centuries it has had many owners, one of them being Christopher Nugent, who bought the farm in 1774 and perhaps gave the estate its name.

An historic black and white photo from the 1800s showing a team of four African longhorned oxen pulling a sugar cane cart.

African longhorned cattle pulling a sugar cane cart in the 1880s on St. Croix.

Denmark sold the island of St. Croix to the United States in 1917. Estate Castle Nugent changed hands between old Danish island families several times before its purchase by the Wall family (my parents) in the early 1950s, who also had purchased the historical Paladian house at Cane Garden Estate. My husband Mario and I, newly married, saw great potential in the Senepol cattle which thrived in the hot, arid landscape of St. Croix’s south shore.

Ranch hands stand by as a group of African longhorned cattle are herded through a cattle chute.

N’Dama cattle being worked at Estate Longford (part of the Castle Nugent ranching operation) in the 1950s.

N’Dama cattle were brought from Africa to St. Croix with the first slave ships. The last to arrive from Africa were purchased in the 1800s by the owner of Longford Estate (now a part of Castle Nugent Farms operations) and were part of the operation until the late 1960s. The first Senepol
cattle were added to the Castle Nugent herd in 1957. The herd still shows its African influence today. It was from this ranch that the Senepol Association was managed for its first fifteen years, by my late husband, Dr. Mario Gasperi.

An early meeting of the Virgin Islands Senepol Association in 1976. A diverse group of ranchers and agronomy experts stand under some trees.

The original Virgin Islands Senepol Association, 1976. From left: Enrico Gasperi (Mario’s younger brother), Mrs. Caroline and Dr. Mario Gasperi, Henry Nelthropp Sr., Oscar Henry, Hans Lawaetz, Dr. D. Padda and Dr. Ike Eller. Through 2007, Mario’s brother Enrico Gasperi, Caroline, and Mario’s son Mauro Gasperi, were still working cattle at Castle Nugent Farms.

From the 1990s through 2007 when I retired from the cattle business, exportation of Senepol from Castle Nugent Farms for breeding purposes were steady. (Embryos and semen were also exported.) The Castle Nugent Farms herd, now managed by the University of the Virgin Islands, is considered a Genetic Bank for the Senepol breed. Live animal shipments have been consistently intense in recent years to all the Sun Belt States (Florida through Texas) and Australia, with the result that CN genetics are quite common on many ranches with Senepol cattle.

An aerial photo of Castle Nugent taken in 1988 shows the unpaved South Shore Road in the foreground, the estate buildings in the center of the photo and to the north, the sea on the north shore of the island.

An aerial photo of Castle Nugent taken in 1988 shows the unpaved South Shore Road in the foreground, the estate buildings in the center of the photo and to the north, the sea on the north shore of the island.

Much of the beef produced here at Castle Nugent from non-breeding stock is sold locally. Popularity of Senepol beef continues to rise as health conciousness does; more people are demanding grass-fed, hormone-free low-fat beef that is naturally rich in flavor and nutrients.

Castle Nugent Farms began exporting cattle from St. Croix in 1977. CN cattle are sold world wide and can be found in South Africa, Mexico, Venezuela, Australia and the U.S. southeast and as far west as Oregon. Today there are four generations of the Gasperi family at Castle Nugent Farms!

(If you are looking for Caroline’s definitive history of the Senepol breed, click here!)

A herd of Senepol cows and calves cross South Shore Road as ranch hands stop traffic.

Traffic stops as a herd of Castle Nugent cows with young calves crosses South Shore Road. photo by Christina Frederick-Gasperi

Castle Nugent Farms Senepol calf

For more information about renting our Guesthouse, call:

Mauro Gasperi
Castle Nugent Farms
Phone/Fax (340) 201-1994

…or use the form below to send us an email!

If you are a rancher looking for Caroline Gasperi’s Castle Nugent Senepol, contact the UVI Agricultural Experiment Station! As of 2007, Caroline has retired and the herd has been donated to UVI.

Cattle graze in a pasture just south of the guesthouse.

Cattle graze in a pasture just south of the guesthouse.

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