The Atlantic Ocean’s Infamous “Middle Passage”–defined and then described in harrowing detail

The Middle Passage Defined and Described



Middle Passage Defined

The Middle Passage—the second leg of the infamous Triangular Trade Route—is that potion of the Atlantic Ocean upon which European ships, between the 15th and 19th centuries, transported African people from the west coast of Africa to a life of chattel slavery in the New World.

Middle Passage


Middle Passage Described

Preparation for Departure

Several days before departing the west coast of Africa on board slaving vessels, the heads of all slaves—males and females—would be shaved clean so as to facilitate cleansing and minimize the spread of hair-borne pests. When the cargo of slaves belonged to multiple owners, the slaves had to be branded, typically with silver wire or iron shaped in the letters of the initials of the respective owners. It was the custom of the Portuguese to baptize their slaves prior to departure for Brazil since not to do so was punishable by excommunication.


Slave-holding pen


Many of the slaves transported to the New World had been held in holding-facilities—slave castles, barracoons, slave pens, on-deck houses, etc.—for several days to several months prior to departure. On the day of departure, slaves so held were provided an abundant meal which signified their final day on African soil.


After being fed, the enslaved were chained at the ankles in pairs and taken to the slaving vessels, whereupon the enslaved were stripped naked so as to facilitate cleanliness, but also to prevent them from using their garments to create nooses with which to hang or otherwise destroy themselves or others. Once naked, males and females were placed into separate holds.  Women and children were sometimes not kept in holds during the daytime, but were instead kept on deck, their only protection from the elements being the vessels’ sails and tarpaulin. On-deck, daytime accommodations also exposed the women and children to sexual abuse from crew. At night, all slaves—men, women, and children—were retired to the holds.


An eyewitness account of a first encounter with a slaving vessel has been preserved for history in the 1789 autobiography of former slave, seaman, writer, and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano (a.k.a. Gustavus Vassa) (ca. 1745-1797) of the Igbo (Eboe) region of what is today southeastern Nigeria. Enslaved as a child, Equiano describes the experience thus:



The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship which was then riding at anchor and waiting for its cargo.  These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror when I was carried on board.  I was immediately handled and tossed up to see if I were sound by some of the crew, and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits and that they were going to kill me.  Their complexion too differing so much from ours, their hair and language they spoke (which was very different from any I had ever heard) united to confirm me in this belief.  Indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country.  When I looked around the ship too and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate; and quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. 


Slaving Vessel


Thus, the enslaved were sailed off towards the horizon utterly unaware of what would befall them, whether the vessel bearing them would fall off Earth’s edge once beyond the horizon, or if they would be devoured by cannibals, or be mercilessly skinned and tanned for the production of shoes.


The holds of slave ships, quite predictably, were notoriously squalid. And accommodations were most uncomfortable:  The height of the decks within the holds averaged between four and five feet. Because it was a known fact that slaves bound by leg irons deteriorated more rapidly, some slavers, when shipping so-called “mild” blacks from Benin and Angola, dispensed with leg irons; but doing so was the exception, not the rule. Bound in pairs, and given the horrendous conditions upon slaving vessels, it was not uncommon, upon arriving at daybreak, for one slave to find himself tethered to a dead one.





British surgeon Alexander Falconbridge (ca. 1760-1792), who participated in four slave trade voyages between 1780 and 1787, thereafter becoming an abolitionist then in 1788 publishing An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa, observed:


When the sea was rough and the rain heavy, it became necessary to close the air vents.  Fresh air being thus excluded, the Negroes’ storage area grew intolerably hot.  The confined air, rendered noxious by the effluvia exhaled from their bodies and by being repeatedly breathed, soon produced fevers and fluxes which generally carried off great numbers of them.


Frequently, I went down among them till the hold became so unbearably hot that I could not stay.  Excessive heat was not the only thing that rendered the situation intolerable.  The floor of the hold was so covered with blood and mucus which proceeded from them in consequence of the flux, that it resembled a slaughterhouse.


It is not in the power of the human imagination to picture a situation more dreadful or disgusting.  Numbers of the slaves having fainted, they were carried on deck where several of them died and the rest, with great difficulty, were restored….


Upon going down in the mornings to examine the condition of the slaves, I frequently found several dead, and among the men, sometimes a dead and living Negro fastened by their leg irons together.  When this was the case, they were brought upon the deck and laid on the grating when the living Negro was disengaged and the dead one thrown overboard.


Then, of course, there is the harrowing 1819 account of the French slaver Le Rodeur, where nearly all on board—captain, surgeon, crew save one, and all 160 slaves—were blinded by ophthalmia while crossing the Atlantic.  When in the throes of their desperation, drifting at sea, they happened upon another vessel and cried out for help, all were horrified to learn that the encountered vessel, the Spanish Saint Leon, was suffering a similar fate:  all on board blind.

Deck of Slave Ship




Meals On Board Slaving Vessels

Slaves were brought up on deck at 8:00 in the morning, their leg irons fastened to a long chain that was connected to the deck. As such, sixty or more slaves could be secured, thereby avoiding rebellion. Once securely fastened, the slaves were provided with water with which to wash themselves, and the ship’s surgeon would inspect them for sores, cuts, or other ailments. Sick slaves were removed to a special section of the vessel, where treatment would be administered.


Meals were served twice daily:  breakfast was dispensed around 10:00 a.m., and another meal in the late afternoon, around 4:00.  In good weather, slaves ate in groups on deck; in inclement weather, meals were had in the slovenly holds of the ships.  Slave groups/gangs were typically required to say grace before eating and give thanks after meals.


In order to monitor food-intake (and prevent slaves from deliberately starving themselves), the process of eating was sometimes directed by signals from a monitor who indicated when slaves should in unison dip their fingers or wooden spoons into their bowls and when they should swallow.  It was the responsibility of the monitor to report slaves who were refusing to eat, the penalty for which was severe whipping and/or forced-feeding by use of a speculum orum, a mouth-opener, that was used to force food down a recalcitrant slave’s throat.


The typical slave ship diet included rice, farina, yams, and horse beans. Occasionally, bran was included. Some slavers offered their slaves the so-called “African meal” once per day, followed by a “European meal” in the evening, which consisted of horse beans boiled to a pulp.  Most Africans so detested the European meal that, given an opportunity, they would oftentimes surreptitiously throw it overboard rather than eat it.


Slaves from the various slave regions of West Africa had their food preferences:  Those from the Winward coast tended to prefer rice; while those from the Niger Delta and Angola preferred manioc (cassava), though it was bulky and had a lower shelf life (unless in dried, flour form) and was therefore less frequently offered. “Slabber sauce,” comprised of palm oil, water, and pepper, was sometimes added to the food—to the relative delight of the slaves since palm oil was a popular ingredient in West African cuisine.


For drink, slaves were provided half a pint of water twice per day. Occasionally, pipes were circulated, affording each slave a few puffs.


Log books were carefully kept of ships’ provisions so as to avoid shortages at sea. When inclement weather in the Middle Passage prolonged a ship’s journey across the Atlantic, food and water allowances were reduced.  In an infamous case in 1781, the slaving vessel Zong, headed to Jamaica, became short on food and water while also experiencing an outbreak of disease.  The captain decided to jettison 136 slaves whom he declared too sick or weak to recover, arguing that throwing those 136 slaves overboard spared them a lingering death.



Slave Activities Onboard Slaving Vessels

In good weather, the daily routine involved the slaves being brought on deck (men, typically in chains) to wash and anoint themselves with oil. In the afternoons, they were forced to amuse themselves with singing, dancing, and musicmaking (with the use of makeshift drums, etc.), which also served the dual purpose of providing some means of exercise to the slaves. Slaves who did not willingly participate in exercise were whipped into compliance. As a pastime, females and children were provided with colored beads and thread upon which to string them. At dusk, men were returned to the holds, women and children allowed to remain on deck until the fall of darkness in times of good weather.


At sundown, the second-mate and boatswain, armed with whips, would go down into the hold to arrange the slaves for sleep. Special attention was paid to the sizes of the slaves in determining where they would be placed for sleeping.  Shorter slaves were typically placed near the bow, with taller slaves in the area of greatest breadth of the vessel.  Slaves were positioned so as to lie on their right sides, which certain slavers believed was good for the heart. (The slaves situated on the right-hand side of the vessel faced forward and lay in each other’s lap; those on the left side faced the stern, in a similar formation).   Most slaves slept on the bare boards of the hold, but Portuguese slavers tended to provide coarse mats as bedding.


Generally, one of every 10 slaves was assigned to maintain order in the holds during the night.  To assist in his duties, he was provided with a whip.  As compensation for his services, he was provided with a pair of trousers.




Once per week, the ship’s barber shaved the heads of the slaves, males and females alike, and nails were pared to diminish injuries during the inevitable nightly battles over sleeping-spaces.  Buckets, to serve as makeshift latrines, were distributed in each sleeping-compartment, though, while chained, it is to be expected that arriving in a timely manner at the designated makeshift latrines would prove difficult, especially in the dark of night.





Ships’ holds, with poor ventilation, overcrowded conditions, and deplorable sanitation, were breeding-grounds for diseases.  Fever, dysentery, and smallpox were commonplace, smallpox being particularly disastrous as there was no cure.  [The first successful vaccination was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796, almost at the end of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.]


Captains aimed to maintain some standards of cleanliness, and ships, by the height of the trade, were required to employ a ship’s surgeon. Diseases wreaked havoc nonetheless.


In intervals, slaves had their mouths rinsed with vinegar or lime juice, and were administered a dram of lime juice as an antidote to scurvy.


Sick slaves were often placed under the half-deck, where they slept on planks. At dawn, the surgeon would oversee the casting of the dead into the ocean, man-eating sharks trailing slaving vessels so as to devour the dead, dying, and discarded.



Distraught slaves resorted to suicide, oftentimes by hanging themselves.  Other slaves jumped overboard to a watery death at the first opportunity.




The fear of mutiny was ever-present on slaving vessels, and troublemaking slaves were severely punished. Slaves from certain areas of West Africa earned a reputation for rebellion.  The “Coromantees” of the Gold Coast, for example, were infamous for their pride and mutinous desires and tendencies. To prevent rebellion and mutiny, slavers went to great lengths:  Holds were searched daily for weapons and anything that could be used as one; weapons and any other on-deck item was safeguarded.


Mortality Rates

All things considered (“tight pack” versus “loose pack”; outbreak of disease; onboard physicians; food and water shortages; suicide; jettisoning; etc.), the factors which most contributed to mortality on board slaving vessels were length of journey and outbreak of disease.  Most ships completed their journeys from West Africa to the New World in 60 to 90 days, around 70 days being typical. [For example, the journey from Gambia to the West Indies was 3,200 miles; from the Gold Coast and the Niger Delta, 5,500 miles; from Angola, over 6,000 miles.  Journeys to Barbados and Jamaica required an additional 1,000 miles. Storms prolonged the journey, and with the attendant reductions of food rations and water allowances, resistance levels of those on board declined, contributing to the spread of disease].  And the overall morality rate on board slaving vessels from the 15th to 19th centuries was around 20%.


George Francis Dow in his book Slave Ships and Slavery writes:  “The Cruelty and horror of the ‘Middle Passage’ can never be told in all its gruesome details. It is enough to recall that the ships were always trailed by man-eating sharks,” no doubt devouring the dead, dying, and discarded.


A 19th-century observer graphically described the Middle Passage thus:  “Were the Atlantic Ocean dried up today, one could trace the pathway between the slave coast of Africa and America by a scattered roadway of human bones.”


And as if the Middle Passage were not horror-filled enough, on occasion disaster would occur in otherwise safe havens.  Johan Nissen, in his 1793 diary, tells of two overcrowded slaving vessels finally reaching the harbor of St. Thomas only to be destroyed by a terrible hurricane that took the lives of all on board.


Sale of Slaves in the New World


Cropped Th. Jessen


When provisions allowed, slaves were fattened-up nearing journey’s end. Immediately upon arrival, before being offered for sale, the onboard physician would stuff with oakum the anuses of slaves suffering from the flux (amoebic dysentery), an ulcerative inflammation of the colon, one of the symptoms being oozing from the anus. Tar was smeared upon bruises to conceal them.  And slaves would be bathed and oiled prior to being presented for sale.


A central location within the Caribbean archipelago and a natural deep-water harbor made the Danish West Indies island of St. Thomas an excellent location for ships to make their first port of call after crossing the mighty Atlantic.  Once in St. Thomas, sick slaves were taken ashore for medical attention; food and water supplies were replenished; and slaves could be sold locally as well as put on board other vessels for sale up and down the Caribbean.


Slave Auction


There were three principal methods for selling slaves:  private treaty; scramble; and public auctions.  Under the private treaty method, slaves were sold directly to planters or specified wholesalers at previously established prices.  Scramble entailed slaves being assembled into an open area, with buyers handpicking their choices.  Public auction was the method typically used as a last-resort option for sickly slaves.  Unsold slaves were left in the harbor to die lingering deaths.  It was not uncommon for free and enslaved Africans to offer assistance, residence, and even kinship to slaves abandoned in the slave harbors.


Eyewitness Accounts of Slavery n the Danish West Indies by Isidor Paiewonsky

Stand the Storm–A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Edward Reynolds


The History of Slavery in the Danish West Indies–A Comprehensive Timeline

Slavery in the Danish West Indies—A Timeline



Slavery in the French Era—1650-1695 (1733)


-1650:  France acquires St. Croix.  Source of Slaves is Senegal.


-1651:  Phillipe de Lonvilliers de Poincy acquires St. Croix as a private island.


-1653:  de Poincy grants Sainte Croix to the Knights of Malta


-1653-1665:  Knights of Malta attempt the colonization of the island. But the aristocratic knights, who never fully embrace a life of agriculture in the tropics, fail at their colonial endeavor.


-1665:  France acquires St. Croix from Knights of Malta, thereby becoming the first official colonizers of Sainte Croix.  The French, using African slaves, establish approximately 90 plantations along the islands coastline, cultivating indigo, cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane.  A capital is established at present-day Estate Judith’s Fancy. (It is believed that the plantation names “La Grange” [French for “The Farm”] and “La Grande Princesse” [“The Big Princess”] originated during the French era.)


-1695:  King of France declares the colonial effort on Sainte Croix unsuccessful and orders the island’s inhabitants to destroy the island’s infrastructure (so as to discourage interlopers); set the island ablaze; pack up personal belongings and the enslaved population; and head for Saint Domingue (Haiti), concentrating their colonial efforts on that larger island.



Definitions (as applies to this timeline):

African—a person born on the continent of Africa.

Bomba—a slave-driver.

Bosal—an African-born enslaved person recently brought from Africa to the Danish West Indies.

Coloured—a person of mixed racial heritage totaling at least 50% white. (Light-skinned persons with less than 50% white blood were referred to as “light-skinned” blacks.)

Creole—a person, black, white, or of mixed racial heritage, born in the Danish West Indies.  As such, the term was oftentimes preceded by adjectives such as “white” or “black” (e.g., “white creole,” “black creole,” or “colored creole”) for clarification/distinguishing purposes. In general, however, while recently imported blacks were specifically referred to as “bosals,” island-born black were rarely called “creoles.”  Instead, they were referred to as “blacks” or “negroes.”  The term “creole” was more typically used to describe island-born whites or island-born persons of predominantly white ancestry.

Driver—a Bomba or slave-driver.

Field-slave/Plantation slave—an enslaved person who labored primarily in agricultural production, whether in sugarcane, cotton, tobacco, or indigo fields.

Freedman—a person born into slavery but who obtained freedom by testamentary devise; during the lifetime of his/her owner; by some other form of manumission; or by self-purchase.  The term “freedman” is also used to describe persons born free to free(d) non-white parents/mothers.

-Free person—a person born free.

-Grand marronage—running away from enslavement with the intention of permanently separating oneself from one’s owner.

House-slave—a slave who principally worked in the home of his/her master.

Indentured servant—a European or non-African brought to the Danish West Indies in or because of some capacity of indebtedness, with a contractual agreement to render labor for a specified period (usually six years) in order to relieve himself of said indebtedness.

Maroon—a runaway slave.

Mulatto—the offspring of one white parent and one black parent.  (Technically, a mulatto can also be produced by two mulatto parents, but such persons are traditionally classified as “colored” as opposed to as “mulatto.”)

-Petit marronage—running away from enslavement with the intention of eventually returning to one’s owner.

Provision plot (also called “Negro ground”)—a plot of land, approximately 30 ft. by 30 ft., provided by the plantation owner to each adult slave for the purpose of growing basic food for sustenance.

Seasoning—the process by which newly arrived slaves were, through branding, beatings, torture, food deprivation, excessive work, etc., forced into submission so as to accept their lot in life as slaves and the property of their masters.

Unfree—an enslaved person.

Urban slave—a slave who lived in the towns of Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, or Frederiksted.

European/White—a person of white European ancestry born in Europe.



Slavery in the Danish Era—1666-1848


-1659:  Establishment of the Danish African Company.  Construction of the slave-trading Danish forts, Christiansborg and Frederiksborg, begins shortly thereafter on the “Gold Coast” (Lower Guinea area) of West Africa.


-1660s:  Denmark officially enters the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.


-1666:  Erik Smith occupies the island of St. Thomas in the name of the King of Denmark.  Denmark attempts to establish a colony on the island, which is occupied by a few English and Dutch interlopers, but the colonial attempt fails within a year and a half, partly because Smith’s colonial efforts were frustrated by the Dutch and English residents, but primarily because of illness. (Dutch vessels transport enslaved Africans to St. Thomas.) Smith and his compatriots die.


-1671:  The royally chartered Danish West India Company (DWIC) established.  In effect a joint-stock company, the DWIC, with investors such as the king of Denmark and other wealthy Danes and foreigners, was granted, among other perquisites, a national monopoly. The company’s overall mission was to successfully administer the colony (as opposed to obtaining African slaves on the continent of Africa, which was the mission of the 1674-established Danish West India and Guinea Company).


-1671:  Denmark, via the Danish West India Company (DWIC), successfully establishes a colony on St. Thomas. Because Danes show little interest in moving to the islands, the DWIC institutes a policy of “colonization by invitation,” enticing European planters to invest in the island.  The Dutch show the most interest, and by the 1680s, St. Thomas was more “Dutch” than “Danish.” By 1701, the Dutch controlled the St. Thomas economy.  And by 1727, Dutch had become the lingua franca of St. Thomas, to wit: Of the nine governors of St. Thomas between 1672 and 1727, the last six (6), beginning with Christopher Heins in 1688, began occasionally issuing proclamations in Dutch as well as in Danish.


-1672:  White indentured servants transported to St. Thomas to serve 6-year terms before being granted full rights.  Most die from hard labor and tropical conditions.


1673:  Slaving vessel delivers 103 enslaved Africans to St. Thomas. [According to leading Danish scholars, approximately 100,000 slaves were shipped to the Danish West Indies during the 129-year period between 1673 and 1802:  775 slaves per year; 64 slaves per month; 21 slaves per island, per month (to service over 200 plantations on all three islands combined and urban slavery in Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, and Frederiksted, all cities ranking amongst the most populous cities in the Danish empire during the 18th and early 19th centuries).  Considering that throughout the history of slavery in the Danish West Indies mortality rate exceeded birthrate; and that until 1792 the general policy was to “buy, not breed,” slaves, many scholars consider a “slave trade” averaging 21 slaves per month, per island, as simply unsustainable, dismissing the 100,000 number as grossly—and perhaps deliberately—deflated.]


-1674:  Founding of the Danish West India Guinea Company (for the purpose of engaging in the Triangular Trade, including acquiring enslaved Africans on the west coast of Africa and transporting them to the New World via the Middle Passage).


-1680:  There are 156 whites and 175 slaves occupying 47 small plantations on St. Thomas.  By the taking of the first census in 1688, there are 317 free inhabitants and 422 slaves.  Forty-five percent (45%) of the white inhabitants declared themselves to be of Dutch nationality, while only 13% were Danish.


-1688:  St. Thomas firmly established as a plantation colony.



Slave Life—on the plantations; in the towns


“Whence They Came”:  The Primary African Homelands of the Africans Transported to the Danish West Indies


While Denmark established its slave-trading fortifications along the Gold Coast of Lower Guinea, it would be unwise to assume that the majority of Africans transported to the Danish West Indies derive primarily from that region.  Firstly, ships from various European nations transported African slaves to the Danish West Indies. Secondly, according to Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, who visited the islands in the 1760s, many slaves self-identified/were identified as Fulani, Mandingo, Amina, Akim, Popo, Ibo, and Yoruba, peoples native to a region stretching from the Senegal River to the Bight of Benin, even though Oldendorp insists (even if without recorded data) that the Amina people were the most numerous.  [According to scholar Pauline Homan-Pope, the Twi-speaking Akan-Amina people were the most numerous on St. Croix and St. John in the 18th century.]  Thirdly, across the three centuries of active Danish slave trading—from the 1660s to the early 1800s—various regions along the west coast of Africa were sourced for slaves, shifting, for example, from the Gold Coast to the Congo in the late 18th century.  And fourthly, because of the Free Port status of Charlotte Amalie since 1764, the diverse ethnic make-up of the slave population on that island was remarkable in the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Many scholars today, especially with the advancements in DNA testing, maintain that the enslaved population of the Danish West Indies derives primarily from Upper Guinea to Angola, between the Senegal and Cuanza Rivers.


The Triangular Trade Route Defined

During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from the 15th to the 19th century, perhaps most graphically depicted by the “Triangular Trade Route,” European vessels would leave that continent’s great ports laden with European goods to trade for enslaved human beings along with west coast of Africa, thereafter transporting those enslaved souls in the holds of those European ships to a life of toil in the New World, thereafter filling those same ships with products and raw materials from the New World for transport back to the great ports of Europe, only to repeat the notorious, but immensely profitable, three-legged enterprise time and time again. (The Triangular Trade Route of New World slaving nations such as Brazil and the United States featured a triangle pointing in the opposite direction:  the first leg involved ships leaving New World ports en route to Africa to trade goods for slaves; the second leg entailed delivering those enslaved Africans to the Caribbean, where sugar, rum, molasses, and exotic hardwoods, for example, would be loaded onto the ships for delivery to the New World ports of origin, thereby completing the third leg of the triangle.)


The Middle Passage Defined

The second leg of the notorious Triangular Trade Route, the Middle Passage is defined as that portion of the Atlantic Ocean between the west coast of Africa and the New World upon which European vessels transported enslaved Africans to a life of chattel slavery in the Americas between the 15th and 19th centuries.  It is said that sharks would trail behind the slaving vessels devouring the dead, dying, and discarded, so much so, that if the Atlantic Ocean were to dry up today, there would be a trail of human bones stretching from the Bight of Benin to Brazil.



The Middle Passage Described (Edward Reynolds; Isidor Paiewonsky’s Eyewitness Accounts of Slavery in the Danish West Indies)



Upon Arrival in the Danish West Indies:

-Public auction (outlawed in 1830s as dehumanizing)


-The March to the Plantation



[The Earliest Years—See Johan Lorens Carstens]



According to a written account dated 1788 from Johan Lorentz Schmidt, surgeon on the Schimmelmann estates of La Grange and La Grande Princesse:


Plantation Slaves

-The slaves’ day, established by routine, began at 4:00 a.m., when the Bomba (“Driver”) would ring the plantation’s bell or blow a conch shell horn called a tuttue. (According to Peter von Scholten’s 1838 Labor Ordinance, the driver was to be considered the plantation equivalent of a police officer. His typical attire consisted of a red jacket with a green collar).

-Slaves would work until 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m., at which time they would be allowed 30 minutes for a breakfast break, which the slaves would take in the cane fields.  Breakfast typically consisted of leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Slaves with nothing to eat would eat a couple stalks of sugarcane (during crop season—December to June).

-After breakfast, work would resume until midday, at which point slaves would be given 90 minutes to eat lunch.  Slaves with families would return to their homes for lunch; but single slaves would typically eat their lunch in the cane fields.  The typical lunch consisted of fungee [also spelled fungi] or johnny cakes with salted fish or beef; kallaloo; or boiled or roasted provisions such as sweet potatoes, yams, or cassavas.

-After lunch, slaves worked without any additional break until sundown. (During the crop season, they would work until late into the night, oftentimes beyond 9:00 p.m., and even later on moonlit nights. Even the ill were expected to work during crop time).

-At the end of the workday, prior to returning home, the slaves had to feed the animals (cut guinea grass, etc.) in a routine called “throwing grass.”

-Only after feeding the plantations’ animals were the slaves allowed to return to their homes in order to attend to their personal needs, the needs of their families, prepare and eat dinner, then, finally, rest for the following day’s labors.

-Because sugarcane grass is a perennial (During harvesting, the grass stalks are cut close to the ground between December and June then allowed to grow back to full height and maturity between July and November, known as the “dead season”) but should be replanted every 4-14 years—depending on the cultivar—in order to obtain highest yields, the years designated for replanting of new cane plants were especially arduous. The difficulty of the work-routine of each stage of the sugar cycle is undeniable, but holing-and-planting is notoriously so.  In order to ease the tedium of their labors, slaves would sing in unison, rhythmically holing and planting.

-Female slaves were expected to return to the fields within two weeks after giving birth.

-A nursing mother worked with her infant tied onto her back.

-Mothers with unweaned children would, while working, lay the children in the cane field atop calf or sheep skin.


Division of Labor

Field-laborers were divided into “gangs”:

-“first gang,” “big gang,” or first-class laborers:  grown men and women.

-“second gang,” “little gang,” or second-class laborers: half-grown adults of both sexes, aged 15-18.  Also called “crooken” gang.

-“third gang”:  children between the ages of 6 and 14.

-“fourth gang”:  children under 6 years of age.




Plantation house-slaves

-There is a paucity of information in the historical record on the housing conditions of plantation house slaves (They did not live inside the greathouses).  What can be gleaned from the records suggests that the standard of housing was the equivalent of urban house slaves—the “long-row” type of housing that is typical in the “big yards” of the towns’ finer homes. Plantation house- slaves typically occupied a separate village (apart from the field-slave village), situated to the rear of the greathouse.


Plantation field-slaves

-By the 1750s, plantation field-slaves lived in the plantation village, generally situated in the immediate vicinity of the sugar works:  mill, boiling house, etc. The standard-size plantation of about 136-150 acres and approximately 70 slaves would likely have a plantation village consisting of about 21 slave huts, generally laid out in three or four rows.  Richard Haagensen, in his 1754 description of plantation houses, describes them as being of wattle-and-daub construction with thatched roofs made from the dried blades of the sugarcane grass. The doorways were very low, requiring a person of average height to bend to enter/exit.  Bare earth served as the floor for the houses, and slaves slept either on the bare earth or a board for a bed.  Only the doorway and a few small openings in the walls allowed for air and light to enter the houses. An interior partition divided the houses into two rooms of unequal size, the smaller of the two serving as the bedroom.  The typical plantation slave village dwelling was expected to house three to four people.  According to Haagensen, slave houses in the Danish West Indies were of poorer construction and accommodations than the homes of the humblest serfs in Denmark.


  1. G. A. Oldendorp, who visited the islands between 1767-1769, reports that the Christianized slaves kept better houses than non-Christian ones. Oldendorp describes Christian slaves as having houses with walls [presumably, wattle-and-daub] plastered with a coat of lime; a separate cookhouse; modest furnishings of tables, chairs, and chests; and mattresses, called “kavanna,” made from reeds.


Writing in the 1780s, Hans West describes slave bedding made of banana leaves.  And according to Schmidt, also writing in the 1780s, a slave woman’s most important item of furniture was a sheep’s or calf’s skin that was used for bedding within the slave huts and as a blanket upon which to lay infants while working in the cane fields.


Very little documented history exists on the actual dimensions of slave dwellings. According to Victor Schoelker, writing in the 1840s, the decade of emancipation, even the slave quarters of the Moravian-owned and -run Friedensthal plantation on St. Croix were deplorable:  wooden planks, instead of beds, were still in use; the slave quarters served as stark contrast with the spacious, airy houses of the missionaries; and the slave houses of the Danish West Indies were of poorer quality than contemporary slave housing in the French West Indies. Bending to enter a slave dwelling was still the order of the day in the 1840s, according to Schoelker.


On St. Croix’s 16 royally leased plantations, however, slave housing had to meet certain minimum standards:  masonry walls; wooden floors; and of high, airy construction; roofs were to be shingled or tiled; and each dwelling had to be partitioned in two with overall measurements of 18 feet by 12 feet, with a separate kitchen.


Peter von Scholten’s 1838 Labor Ordinance calls for housing improvements. But wattle-and-daub slave/laborer quarters remained the order of the day until emancipation (and beyond).  In essence, then, slave housing in the Danish West Indies went from non-existent to deplorable, then remained deplorable for the 246-year-long history of slavery in the Danish West Indies.



-Few slave houses had separate, outdoor kitchens before the 1840s.  Consequently, food was primarily prepared outdoors on open-fires [presumably, on “three-stones”].  During the rainy season, food was prepared indoors on fires established on the earthen floors of the huts.

-C.G.A. Oldendorp describes the system of “provision plots”/ “provision grounds” in the 1760s, where each adult slave was allowed usage of a small tract of land (approximately 30 ft. by 30 ft.) upon which he could grow food to sustain himself. Items such as sweet potato, yam, cassava, okra, tania, etc., were routinely grown on provision plots, the term “provisions” (or “ground food”) used to this day by Caribbean peoples to describe tubers. Some slaves who produced extra provisions would sell/barter them.  (While slaves, themselves regarded as property, could technically own nothing in their own right, and while laws specifically prohibited slaves from selling in their own right, custom, by the 1760s, had sanctioned slaves offering provisions for sale in the public markets (on Market Day) or as itinerant, door-to-door hucksters). (Some English plantation owners did not implement the system of provision plots, instead providing rations for their slaves.)

-In general, the slaves’ diet consisted of rations of salted beef, herring, and cod—with cornmeal and cassava flour, the cornmeal used to make fungi (also spelled “fungee”), and the cassava flour used to make boiled dumplings and a skillet-baked bread called “johnny cakes.” Kallaloo was the main fare, and “provisions” were eaten as the starch complement to the protein rations of salted beef and fish.

-Johan Lorentz Schmidt, who lived on St. Croix between the 1770s and ‘80s while serving as surgeon on the Schimmelmann plantations, La Grange and La Grande Princesse, writing in the 1780s reports that the standard breakfast consisted of fungee and salted meat or fish.

-But even into the 1790s, slaves were still expected to fend for themselves for food.  Sanctioned by custom and viewed as a practical approach to enhancing slave productivity, food rations were specified in Frederik V’s 1755 Reglement, but that instrument was never made law in the Danish West Indies. Until Peter von Scholten’s amelioration initiatives of the 1830s, therefore, slaves in the Danish West Indies had no rights to food.

-Food was especially problematic on St. Thomas and St. John.  By the 1720s, after approximately five decades of marginally successful plantations but blessed with one of the best ports in the entire Caribbean, slavery on St. Thomas had evolved into a primarily urban-based slavery.  Provision plots, therefore, did not exist.  And since food rations for slaves were left largely to the discretion of the owner, St. Thomas slaves were historically challenged with obtaining daily sustenance, a condition that would ultimately adversely impact the evolution of the island’s cuisine. Provision plots also never became the norm on St. John.  And because of the island’s hilly terrain, St. John’s plantations (though, ironically, the largest in the Danish West Indies) enjoyed, at best, modest financial success, thereby adversely impacting their owners’ abilities/inclinations to provide discretionary food rations to their slaves.




-Overall, slaves’ clothing in the Danish West Indies was generally more deplorable and substandard than their food situation.

-House-slaves, whether in the colony’s towns or in the plantation houses, by necessity wore better clothing than field-slaves.  The garments provided to house-slaves were typically commensurate with the status/financial wherewithal of their owners. Urban slaves—washer women, cooks, artisans, harbor laborers, etc.—who occupied support-staff housing in the town’s “big yards,” also, by necessity, wore a better-quality garment than field slaves and were oftentimes the recipients of the “hand-me-down” and “cast-off” garments of their owners.

-According to Haagensen, as late as the 1750s—80 years after slaves were first taken to St. Thomas and 20 years after the Danish colonization of St. Croix—most slaves were still wearing nothing at all or just a rag to cover themselves.  Gardelin’s 1733 Slave Code makes no provisions for slave garments.  And the never-officially adopted 1755 Reglement of Frederik V specifies slaves should be provided with two sets of garments made of coarse linen or cotton or, alternatively, be provided with eight alens (approx. 5 yards) of such fabric from which to construct their own clothing).  Oldendorp, in the 1760s, writes that Christian slaves tended to wear clothing:  men in trousers made of rough linen and, occasionally, a short shirt; women in a skirt and possibly a shirt with a jacket.  All slaves [except for house-slaves in the finest homes] went about barefooted, even when dressed in their finest for the most festive or solemn occasions.


-As late as 1802, Adrian Bentzon suggested that owners who could neither afford to feed nor clothe their slaves should be forced to sell them, indicating that food and clothing remained problematic in the Danish West Indies into the 19th century. 


Belief Systems

-Christian slaves were buried by day in the tradition of their denomination.  Family members of deceased house-slaves were provided with four boards from which to make a coffin.

-Non-Christians slaves, by law, were to be buried at night in unconsecrated ground.  Silence was required at such funerals. According to Johan Lorentz Schmidt, writing in the 1780s, Bosals interred their fellows in the African manner—with dance.

-By the 1780s, wakes, with food and drink, were being conducted in the home of the deceased.

-1788:  Edvard Colbiørnsen (a judge in the colonial services) reports that the Ibos believed that suicide was a sure way to return to the African homeland—provided that the body had not been touched by fire.

-Ancestors as the Christian equivalent of guardian angels.

-General belief in spirits, jumbies, ghosts.

-Obeah practitioners, typically old women, served a dual purpose:  as medicinal healers; and as sorcerers. Witchcraft was punishable by death; medicinal healing was encouraged.

-According to Schmidt, based on his observances of slave life at Estate La Grande Princesse, the first eight days after the birth of a child were critical.  Candles [New mothers were customarily given gifts of wine, rice, and candles.] were left burning each night for the first eight days, and on the eighth day, the child was carefully guarded by in excess of 20 persons in order the protect the newborn from being stolen or eaten by evil spirits. (The belief was that if an evil spirit was able to look the newborn in the eye during the first eight days, the evil spirit would absorb the child’s spirit, resulting in death of the child. Beyond eight days, however, the power of the evil spirit would dissipate.)

-Babies were typically delivered by midwives—typically older slave ladies on the plantation.

-In the 1750s, mothers were expected to return to work within two weeks after delivery.  Only in Peter von Scholten’s Labor Ordinance of 1838 was a work-free post-natal period specified.

-According to Hans West, writing in the 1780s, herbal-induced abortions were widespread:  “Ram Goat Bush” (tagara tragodes) and Adelia Rincinella Linnaes were well-known abortion herbs (similar to the use of “Gully Root” in Barbados and the use of the root of Mimosa Sensitiva in Demerara).



Urban Slaves



-By 1750s, urban slavery was firmly established in the Danish West Indies.  And from its inception, urban slavery tended to facilitate grand and petit marronage as plantation slaves could hide themselves/be hidden within the black ghettos typically situated on the outskirts of the towns.  Likewise, in the case of St. Croix, with its two towns, urban slaves from one town could successfully hide in the black ghetto the other town.

-1758:  Urban slaves account for more than 60% of the populations of Christiansted and Frederiksted.  (And during the second half of the 18th century, the slave population never registered below 50% of the overall urban population.)

1758-1803:  St. Croix’s urban slave population grew from 1,454 to 3,879.

-1797:  Slaves account for 66% of Charlotte Amalie’s total population.

-At the end of the 18th century, the urban slave populations of the three towns exceed that of the white and freedmen population of the three towns.

-By 1838, more than 75% of St. Thomas’ total population resides in Charlotte Amalie, primarily because by 1782, St. Thomas’ position as a thriving Free Port was firmly established, while its status as a plantation economy had begun its decline by the 1720s, thereby enticing the island’s population to its harbor town. In 1802, freedmen own 30% of all slaves in Charlotte Amalie.

-Because of the labor associated with urban living, there were generally more female urban slaves than male urban slaves:  83:100 in Christiansted and Frederiksted; 68:100 in Charlotte Amalie.

-1792:  Burgher Council reports that many poor urban whites and freedmen had no property besides a few slaves and had no other means of income besides what could be earned by those slaves.   Generally, urban slave owners hired-out their slaves to do various income-earning chores:  as carpenters, seamstresses, jockeys, messengers, watercarriers, silversmiths, barbers, hairdressers, musicians, etc.  Such slave owners also used their slaves as “hucksters,” itinerant vendors who sold everything from haberdashery notions to bread and butter to meat and vegetables to candles. In 1784, it is estimated that the total sales from hucksters is in the vicinity of 100,000 Rigsdaller.  (The cost of maintaining the Danish West Indies garrison in 1826 is estimated to be 68,000 Rigsdaller.)  By the beginning of the 1800s, hired-out slaves could bring approximately $2.00-$3,00 per week for their owners, a considerable amount for that time.


Housing, Food, and Clothing of Urban Slaves


Little data were compiled on urban slave dwellings, diets, and their wardrobing.  What is known, however, is that the majority of the people who owned urban slaves were modest whites and freedmen, the latter living in the Free Gut areas of the towns. And since, for the most part, the homes of those owners were modest, it can be inferred that the housing they provided for their slaves was even more modest.  Considering the deplorable housing conditions in plantation villages, and given building regulations and codes for urban structures, however, it is safe to say that the housing of urban slaves was superior to that of plantation slaves, even if only slightly so.




While the plantation slaves were allowed to maintain provision plots and were generally provided with food rations, urban slaves were not afforded such “luxuries.”  But because of access to the towns daily markets, urban slaves were likely to be exposed to greater varieties of food.


While the sale of spirits was prohibited on the plantations, such proscriptions did not exist in the towns.  Taverns could sell spirits to slaves, though tavernkeepers were required to serve the slave patrons outside the establishment, per an ordinance of 1766. And to avoid loitering, slaves were to be sold only one drink. Also, no alcoholic beverages were to be sold on Sundays (per a pre-1766 ordinance), on church feast days, and after the beating of the sundown drum.  Those advisories/ordinances were rarely followed, however.

-1741:  Ordinance forbids whites to sit and drink or gamble with slaves.  Punishment to whites:  8 days imprisonment on bread-and-water diet.




Whereas plantation slaves were afforded approximately 5 yards of coarse linen or cotton from which to construct their garments each year, urban slaves were allowed to construct their garments from linen and cotton or a slightly finer quality.  Also, because of the proximity and intimacy of the urban slave to the towns’ populations, urban slaves were known to obtain cast-offs and hand-me-downs from white and freedmen town residents.  And, of course, slaves owned by wealthy owners dressed in a manner consistent with the wishes of their owners, even if such owners were encouraged to exercise moderation in the wardrobing of their urban slaves.


[-In the 1790s, Christiansted, founded on May 2, 1735, had approximately 664 houses and 250 horses; Frederiksted, founded on October 19, 1751, had 190 houses and 50 horses.]

-1789:  If the ability to avoid epidemics is any indication of overall condition in life, the death rate of slaves in the 1789 influenza epidemic killed 1:77 persons in Christiansted; 1:45 in Frederiksted; and 1:16 everywhere else on the island of St. Croix.  (And the difference in rate between Christiansted and Frederiksted is attributed to the then-foul-smelling lagoon just north of the town of Frederiksted). The statistics suggest that overall living conditions of slaves in the towns exceeded that of slaves on the plantations.


-1774:  Ordinance prohibiting whites from attending any dance at which slaves are present.  Whites were also prohibited from dancing or drinking with slaves. Violators were punishable by imprisonment on bread and water for 14 days or were required to pay a fine of 100 Rigsdaler.


-(After emancipation in 1848, many former plantation slaves moved into the Free Gut neighborhoods of the towns, as evidenced in the censuses of 1850 and 1860 and the subdivisions of Free Gut plots.  Also, post-emancipation, to accommodate the migration to the towns, neighborhoods such as “Pond Bush” in Frederiksted and “Water Gut” in Christiansted [both low-lying, swampy areas prone to flooding, hence their names] were developed.  Additional streets were also added to the towns.  In Frederiksted, for example, New Street and, finally, East Street, were added to serve as residential areas for the town’s black population).





With amputations and castrations of slaves becoming less prevalent in the later decades of the 1700s, whippings remained the go-to device for administering punishment, the quantity of lashes (usually between 25 and 100) determined by the seriousness of the crime.  For urban slaves, most whippings were with cartwhip (also called “cowskin” and “bullbud”) at the prison (forts) [St. Croix’s first designated prison, the Richmond Jail, also known as “Bassin Jailhouse,” was not built until the early 1840s, a handful of years before the 1848 emancipation].  But for more serious crimes, the whippings occurred at the public beating-post, the “Justitsstøte,” located in a prominent place (usually in the market square) of each town, with the whippings for the most egregious violations occurring under the gallows. Whippings were potentially deadly.  In 1803, Governor-General Walterstorff claimed that if administered in anger against the bare flesh, the whipping left marks more indelible than branding, with unknown long-term consequences. Like the punishment of branding, whipping at the gallows rendered a slave ineligible for manumission.


(In 1815, Governor-General Peter Oxholm exempted imprisoned “mustee” [one-quarter black/three-quarter white] and “castice” [one-eighth black/seven-eighths white] children from comprising chain-gangs engaged in public works and road maintenance, his rationale being that persons with sufficient quantities of white blood should not be subject to such degrees of public degradation.)


For private disciplining, owners of urban slaves could either punish them privately or request that the allegedly refractory slave be punished by the authorities at the fort, the private owner thereby availing himself of the public correctional system.


-In 1799, with the assumption of office by Governor-General Lindermann, slaves (urban and plantation, but the option was primarily exercised by urban slaves) are allowed to file complaints to the authorities for alleged abuses by their owners.




-1685 – 1715:  As part of the “colonization by invitation” initiative instituted by the Danish West India Company, the Brandenburgers (part of Prussia, present-day Germany) are invited to help colonize the St. Thomas.  The 30-year lease entitled the Brandenburgers to:

-as much land as could be supported by 200 slaves;

-the ability trade freely with all nations;

-engage in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade;


[The Brandenburgers’ headquarters on St. Thomas is the handsome building with the lion-head portal directly across from the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.  The Brandenburger headquarters is the oldest German building in the New World.  The Danes soon discovered that the lease was far more advantageous to the Brandeburgers than to the DWIC, and the lease was not renewed in 1715].


-1688:   Slave population on St. Thomas is 422; white population is 317. (Another source reports 392 slaves, 338 free).


-1690:  The first year the DWIC declared dividends for its shareholders.


-1700:  By 1700, there are 122 plantations on St. Thomas.


-1708:  DWIC forced to grant a long list of concessions to the island’s planters, including their right to ship and trade their produce with North America and Europe.


-1715:  By 1715, there are 160 plantations on St. Thomas, with 32 operational sugar mills.  The population is comprised of 3,000 slaves and 547 whites.


-1717: Danes acquire, uncontested, St. John.


-1717:  By 1717, the following churches were established on St. Thomas:  Lutheran; Dutch Reformed; French Reformed; Anglican; and Roman Catholic.  All except the Roman Catholic have resident priests by 1717. Thus, by the early 1700s, the Christianizing of the enslaved African population had begun.


-1718:  Denmark establishes colony on St. John.


-By 1720s:  St. Thomas achieves its summit as a plantation economy.


-1721:  By 1721, there were 39 planters on St. John:  25 were of Dutch origin, and 9 were Danish.  The enslaved population of St. John, consequently, spoke a Dutch creole.  


-1725:  Slave population of St. Thomas numbers 4,490; white population totals 324.




Evolution of the Dutch Creole and English Creole Languages in the Danish West Indies.



-From the earliest years of Danish slavery in the DWI, the slave population derived from a variety of nations, cultures, ethnic groups, and language groups of West Africa.  Consequently, upon being randomly grouped on the various plantations in the Danish colonies, and when forced to interact with plantation and municipal personnel, a slave lingua franca emerged by necessity. On St. Thomas, and then on St. John, for the 130-year period between the 1670s and 1800, a Dutch creole, on account of the predominance of Dutch plantation owners and personnel on those islands, emerged.  That Dutch creole was also spoken on St. Croix during its earliest years of Danish colonization since some of the island’s first Danish-era settlers came over from St. Thomas, beginning on September 1, 1734. By the 1760s, however, because of the high percentage of English-speaking plantation owners and personnel on St. Croix, an English creole emerged on the island. Then, as a result of the capital of the Danish West Indies being established as Christiansted, St. Croix, in 1755, and because of the island’s overall economic importance vis-à-vis St. Thomas and St. John, by 1841, an English creole had come to be spoken on all three of the Danish West Indian islands.


Lingua Franca Timeline

-By 1680s: Dutch nationals outnumbered Danish nationals on St. Thomas.  St. Thomas was more “Dutch” than “Danish” by 1680.

– Of the nine governors of St. Thomas between 1672 and 1727, the last six (6), beginning with Christopher Heins in 1688, began occasionally issuing proclamations in Dutch as well as in Danish.

-By 1701:  A Dutch lingua franca emerges on St. Thomas.  (Dutch are considered controllers of St. Thomas’ economy. Dutch dominance on St. Thomas/St. John continued into the 1760s.)

-By 1741:  The English-speaking population of St. Croix exceeds the Danish population by 5:1.

-1749:  Born in Montserrat of Irish extraction, plantation owner Nicholas Tuit[e] visits St. Croix in 1749 in search of a plantation island where he can freely practice Catholicism, the practice of which is restricted in British-owned Montserrat.  Pursuant to the Danish policies of “open colonization” and “freedom of religion,” Tuit arrives in 1754 along with 1,000 English-speaking Catholics, Tuit establishing himself as one of the islands largest plantation operations, he and his heirs between 1754 and 1804 collectively owning more than 2,000 slaves and 1,500 acres.  Similarly, English-speaking Christopher McEvoy, Sr., and then Jr., collectively owned 3,000 acres and 1,000 slaves on St. Croix, the language of the enslaved population on Tuit’s and McEvoy’s plantations undoubtedly being English creole.

-By 1770:  Dutch creole is being written and printed in books—mainly Bibles, prayer books, and hymnals—for use by the black population.

-1770 -1802:  The Royal Danish American Gazette, the first newspaper regularly printed on St. Croix, featured a masthead in the English language.  Also printed in English were obituaries, advertisements, notices of impending auctions, etc. The paper was overwhelmingly English in overall tone. Proclamations and government announcements were published in both Danish and English.

-1780s/’90s:  Danish school headmaster Hans West confirms the existence of an English creole on St. Croix.

-Before the end of the 1700s:  English creole has taken definitive form on St. Croix.

-1802 -1808; 1815 -1917:  Dansk Vestindisk Regerings Avis (“Danish West Indies Government’s Newspaper”), St. Croix’s second regularly published newspaper, was similarly English.

-From 1815:  The St. Thomas Tidende was also English in overall tone.

-By 1841:  English creole had replaced Dutch creole in the Lutheran churches of the Danish West Indies thereby marking the official beginning of English creole as the popularly spoken language amongst the enslaved population of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John.



-1732:  Count Zinzendorf dispatches two Moravian Brethren to St. Thomas to convert the enslaved population to Christianity.  Because of the concept of “Pietism,” which requires that each Christian encounter God through reading the Bible on his own, the illiterate amongst the Moravian-converted enslaved population begin learning how to read the Bible (and, by extension, read in general).  [Get names of two missionaries]


-November 23, 1733:  Slave Revolt on St. John.  The Danish military presence on St. John in 1733 consisted of six (6) infantrymen, one corporal, and one lieutenant.  The overall white population numbered 208, while the slave population stood at 1,087, or 1:4.  According to Mielche, 76 whites, including a 12-year-old girl, were killed in the revolution. [According to Mielche, the total white population on the island was 140.]


On November 23, 1733, enslaved Africans, primarily those formerly of the Akwamu Empire, seize St. John’s fort Fortsberg, thereafter taking control of the entire island, killing many of its white inhabitants. The mission of the slaves was revolution, not simply rebellion.  For seven months, the Africans controlled the island, flying their makeshift flag over the fort.  The revolution was put down when military assistance from neighboring colonial powers, primarily the French of the island of Martinique, arrived to assist Denmark.  Most of the revolutionaries either committed suicide, were executed, or perished in captivity. Approximately 50% of the revolutionaries were females.


-1733:  Demark purchases St. Croix from France for 750,000 Livres.  The Danes “inherit” 50 English families upon the acquisition of the island. (Apparently, after the French abandoned St. Croix in 1695, interlopers—whites of humble means from neighboring British colonies—settled on St. Croix.  The Danes permitted them to remain, granting them each a small tract of land from which they could eke out a living while serving as a white yeomen class to help prevent a St. John-type uprising on St. Croix.) [Denmark in the 1660s had a national population of only about 500,000 people.]


-September 1, 1734:  First Danish-era settlers arrive on St. Croix from St. Thomas and immediately begin construction of Fort Christiansvaern, which is largely completed by 1749.


-1734:  Moravian missionaries (Friedrich Martin, Christian Gottlieb Israel, and Georg Weber) sent to St. Croix to convert and teach the island’s enslaved population, thereby beginning the history of formal education on the island. [Verify that there are only 3.  I think there were four]



-1735:  DWIC begins aggressively inviting planters from other Caribbean islands to establish plantations and help colonize St. Croix since few Danes of financial means were interested.  Besides tax incentives, Danes use cheap land, low-interest loans, and St. Croix’s unexhausted fertile soil as incentives.


-1741:  Five times as many English on St. Croix as Danes.


-1740s:  No formal legislation regarding the manumission of slaves before the 1740s, at which point slaves could be manumitted by testamentary devise or during the life of the owner.  (See below:  October 10, 1776)  Question:  What happened when a slaveowner died intestate and heirless?  Did his/her slave(s) become free?



-1754:  The Danish West India Company (DWIC) transfers administration of the Danish West Indies (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix) to the Danish crown.


-1755:  Immediately following the transfer of ownership of the Danish West Indies from the Danish West India Company to the Danish crown, the population of enslaved Africans on St. Croix totaled 8,897; the slave population on St. Thomas stood at 3,949; and the island of St. John had a slave population of 2,031, for a total slave population in the Danish colony of 14, 877. (The total free population—whites and non-whites—was 1,979).



Freedmen Within a Society of Free Men and Slaves in the Danish West Indies


Earliest Data on Freedmen:

-1755:  138 freedmen on St. Thomas (no data for St. John and St. Croix)

-1775:  368 freedmen on St. Croix (50 on St. Thomas; no data for St. John)

-1789:  16 freedmen on St. John (953 on St. Croix; 160 on St. Thomas)

-[1797-1815:  Number of freedmen in the Danish West Indies trebled, from 1,418 to 5,035—as a result of immigration, natural increase, and manumissions].


-1755 Frederik V’s Reglement indicates that freedmen have same rights as free-born (white and non-white), but earlier Gardelin Code of 1733 and subsequent ad hoc provisions of 1741 and 1746 indicate that freedmen are not equal to whites under the law.  But even after the 1755 Reglement (which never became law), governors issued many restrictive proclamations, the rationale being that as the colonial representatives of an absolute monarch (until institution of Constitutional Monarchy in 1848), governors were authorized to make proclamations as they saw fit.


-1755:  Nearly 30% of the free population of St. Thomas are freedmen. (1755 is the earliest year of data.)  But in 1775, twenty years later, freedmen account for only 10% of the free population of St. Thomas, the likely reason being migration to St. Croix, which, because of its then-thriving agriculture economy and its 1755 appointment as capital of the DWI, had become the premier island in the colony, offering the most opportunities for free persons of color. Between 1789 and 1797, freedmen on St. Thomas accounted for 25% of the free population on that island, but only 4% of the overall population. The island of St. John never had a total of more than 20 freedmen (10% of the total free population of that island) before the end of the 1700s.  In 1797, freedmen on St. Croix accounted for 35% of the free population but only 4% of the total population.



-1765:  On St. Thomas, freedmen were permitted to serve on the “Town Watch,” a paramilitary entity, the leader of which was called “captain.”  (8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.).  By the 1780s, such patrols of freedmen were armed and uniformed.  [The first “captain of freedmen” was Mingo Tameryn—of 1733 St. John rebellion fame. (See below). His son Pieter Tameryn became a captain of freedmen on St. Croix in the 1770s].



-1774:  No freedman could live in rural areas of the Danish West Indies; they had to live in the “Free Gut” areas. 


-1775:  Freedmen account for 20% of the overall free population of the DWI.



-October 10, 1776:  Definitive laws regarding manumission.  Three state-sanctioned manumissions had occurred prior to 1776:

1)  1733 manumission of Mingo Tameryn for his efforts to thwart the 1733 St. John rebellion.

2)  1759 manumission of Quamina for his role in the revelation of the 1759 conspiracy on St. Croix.

3)  1763 manumission of the elderly Christian Sort (Christian the Black) for his exemplary embrace of the Christian faith and his honesty.


-1775:  Freedmen cannot assume last names of their former owners, the rationale being not to tarnish the good names of upstanding families.


-No freedman’s evidence was admissible against a white person in the local courts.


-Early 1800s:  Freedmen own two-thirds of all slaves in the towns of the Danish West Indies.


-1802:  According to St. Thomas notary public C. G Fleischer, several freedmen are renting properties to white tenants and establishments:


  1. a) Firm of Beverhoudt and Meyer renting property from Hester Frederiks, a free black woman. She also runs a grocery store.
  2. b) Manderpal, a white schoolteacher, occupying a house owned by black innkeeper Marie Joseph.
  3. c) Ludwig Meyer, a gunsmith, renting from Anthony Derry, a black grocery-store keeper.


Freedmen’s Day-to-Day Existence

-June 22-23, 1802:  John Messer, a freedman and Captain of the Frederiksted Town Watch, is arrested, along with his wife Sarra, a slave, for hosting cockfights (Food prepared by Sarra would be served at the events).

-December 25, 1806:  Elisa Messer, a free black, arrested for singing bawdy songs with Fillis, also free, and a slave named Hanna.

-1806:  Benjamin Jeppe, a free black on St. Thomas, obtains a 3-year liquor license (extraordinary for the time).  Ten years later, in 1816, only three rum shops, all on St. Thomas, are owned and operated by freedmen.  All other requests for licenses had been denied.

-1807:  William Cosvelt, a free mulatto, obtains right to hold cockfights in Christiansted once per month for five months.


-1811: During the second British occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, Samuel Hackett, an immigrant freedman, announces that he was receiving freedmen borders and students at his school for freedmen’s children. First recorded attempt at providing education for children of freedmen in the DWI.


-May 1815:  St. Croix’s freedmen refuse to perform militia duty.


-April 1, 1816:  A total of 331 freedmen sign a petition addressed to the Danish king requesting equal treatment as whites.


-April 18, 1834:  Granting of civil rights to freedmen’s population in the Danish West Indies. (But people not manumitted by that date—but manumitted before emancipation—had to serve a 3-year probation period before being granted full, free, equal-to-whites status. Recently arrived foreign freedmen and children over 15 years of age also had a 3-year waiting period before being endowed with full civil rights).





The Slave Codes:


From the very early years of the Danish colonization of the West Indies, the slave population exceeded that of the white.  And the slave codes reflect the discomfort that fact presented to the plantocracy and administration.


Gardelin’s Code of 1733:

Drafted at a time when the slave/white ratio was 5:1, Gardelin’s Code of 1733, the work of Governor Philip Gardelin, can best be described as “draconian.”    The Code coincided with the 1733 rebellion on St. John and the purchase of St. Croix for its potential as a major plantation island necessitating thousands of slaves. Consisting of 19 clauses, almost half of them address the subject of grand and petit marronage, the running away of slaves, “grand marronage” being defined as the taking of leave of one’s owner with the intention of never returning, while “petit marronage” describes those instances when a slave intends a temporary leave from his owner.


At the foundation of Gardelin’s Code is the notion that a slave, as the property of his owner, had no rights; and a slave could possess or own nothing (and could, therefore, offer nothing for sale in his own right).  Slaves had only obligations—but no rights to food, clothing, shelter.  A slave did not even have the right to his own life:  An owner could kill his slave for any or no reason. A slave’s welfare was irrelevant in Gardelin’s Code.


[Despite subsequent codes, ordinances, and sanctions by custom that, de facto, softened the harshness of Gardelin’s Code, those measures were never made law.  As such, Gardelin’s Code remained on the books—and were relied upon by planters and other member of the white population with impunity.  It would not be until 1838, ten years before emancipation, that Peter von Scholten’s reforms superseded Gardelin’s Code that had endured over 100 years].


Re:  Marronage

-Death penalty—after torture in three (3) separate locations—for all ringleaders of marronage, intended or actual, that involved slaves taking leave of the island.

-Leg amputation for running away (or for conspiracy thereof) unless pardoned by owner.  And if pardoned, then 150 lashes and the loss of one ear.

-Punishments range from death to amputations, branding, and whipping for absences of over six (6) months, three (3) months, 14 days, and failure to report an impending marronage.


Re:  Public Order

-Menacing gestures and/or insulting words towards a white person resulted in torture followed by hanging.  (But if it was the wish of the insulted white person, the right hand of the slave would be amputated.)

-Slaves could be beaten by any white person for failing to step aside on public walkways or for failing to dismount when riding.

-Theft of property valued at more than five (5) styvers, or 20 pence sterling, would result in hanging after torture.

-Branding on the forehead and more than 150 lashes was the penalty for theft of less valuable goods.  The same punishment was meted out for the receipt of stolen goods.

-No plantation slave could be in the towns after the beating of the evening drum. Violators were to be beaten.

-Prohibited was all dancing, merrymaking, and funeral rites involving the use of “negro instruments.” (On days of no work, some small diversions were allowed if approved by owner/overseer.)

-Slaves were beaten for practicing obeah.

-Slaves convicted of poisoning or the intent to poison were tortured with glowing pincers, broken on the wheel, then burnt alive.


[Between Gardelin’s Code in 1733 and the ameliorative initiatives under the Governor Peter von Scholten administration in the 1830s and ‘40s, several ad hoc code-attempts, reglements, and custom would converge to shape the evolution of slavery in the Danish West Indies. But since none of those intervening elements ever became actual law, Gardelin’s harsh, inhumane Code, to the delight of many a slave master who would invoke it at will, remained “on the books” for the 100-year period until von Scholten. Below are the intervening attempts at addressing slave life in the Danish West Indies:]


-December 11, 1741:  Governor Moth’s “Articler for Negerene”

-elaborates upon Gardelin’s Code of 1733, providing detailed regulations pertaining to slaves’ movements, public order, and deference to whites.

-eliminated/restricted sexual congress between slave and free.

-whites discovered gambling or drinking with slaves were subject to imprisonment on bread and water.

-no slave woman allowed in room of white man at night—except when performing household or “innocent” chores.


-1742:  Under Governor Moth, there is the first inkling of the concept of the slave’s welfare being a matter suitable for legislation. 


Background Facts:  In 1742, nine years after the Danish purchase and occupation of St. Croix, the island’s lush primordial forests were still being cleared to make way for island-wide agriculture. (The French plantations on St. Croix during the 17th century were all situated along the island’s periphery.) Trees had to be felled, fired, then uprooted.  Overseers and others, without permission from owners, got into the habit of hiring-out slaves to engage in this work on the slaves’ free day(s) [typically Saturday and/or Sunday], compensation being in the form of rum.  As a result, many slaves who engaged in the forest-clearing work would be rendered too tired and too inebriated to render full service to their masters the following Monday. Though motivated by what was in the best interest of slave owners, Governor Moth’s 1742 prohibition of the practice serves as a recognition of his awareness of the welfare of slaves.


-Governor Lindemark, Moth’s successor, in the interest of public order, served to interpret Gardelin’s 1733 Code with even more specificity than Moth:   for example, no slave was to be seen with a dog unless authorized by the slave owner. And the dog had to be on a leash.


King Frederik V’s Reglement of 1755:

Frederik V’s Reglement of 1755 holds the distinction of being the first slavery-era Danish document acknowledging the rights and well-being of slaves.


Re:  Food

-Slaves 10 years and older are entitled to 2.5 quarts of cassava flour or corn meal (or 3 cassavas, each weighing at least 2.5 pounds); 2 pounds of salted beef or 3 pounds of [salted] fish.  Children under 10 years of age were entitled to half of the above-specified rations.


-According to the Reglement, signed by King Frederik V, no slave was to be offered a free day in lieu of rations.  And the custom of giving slaves unrefined rum, called “kill devil,” in lieu of rations was specifically prohibited in the Reglement.


Re:  Clothing

-Two sets of clothing made of coarse linen or cotton annually, or 8 alens (approx. 5 yards) of similar material from which slave could construct his own garments.


Re:  Housing

The Reglement was deafeningly silent on the subject of slave housing.


Re:  Overall Welfare

-Owners were “encouraged” to treat slaves with humanity. But owners were required to care for sick and old slaves, otherwise such slaves would be forfeited to the crown, their owners assessed a daily sustenance fee.


Re:  Religion

-Religious instruction (but not coercion) was to be made available through a mission established by the Danish Lutheran Church.

-All slave children to be baptized at birth and exposed to the catechism of his faith at an appropriate age.  (Learning to write is regarded as unnecessary, but learning to read for the purpose of reading the Bible is encouraged.)  All instruction of slaves is to take place on plantation premises.

-No slave is permitted to enter a church unless in a domestic-servant capacity accompanying a white person. But at death, a baptized slave is entitled to a Christian burial without condition.

-The 1755 Reglement was certain to re-confirm that a slave is property and that Christian baptism did not diminish a slave owner’s rights over his slave, the rational being that baptism impacted a slave’s soul, not his body, which remained the province of the slave master.

-Slaves’ right not to work on Sundays and high holy days is recognized.


Re:  Marriage and Family

-Slaves were permitted to marry, but only with owner’s permission. (All slaves wishing to marry had to be Christian, but slave not wanting Christianity could not practice polygamy.)

-Marriage automatically protected spouses from separation by auction, other sale, attachment for debt, etc. Minors were not to be separated from their parents.

-The Reglement acknowledges that a child born to a slave mother is owned by the owner of the mother.  But the Reglement also rejected the notion of perpetual servitude.

(-Fornication with slave women is specifically prohibited.  White men convicted thereof were to be fined 2,000 pounds of sugar.  And a fine of equal value was to be imposed on the owner of the female slave if he/she was aware of the circumstances but did nothing to prevent the act).


Re:  Marronage

The 1755 Reglement was harsher than the 1733 Code regarding marronage:  There was no distinction between petit marronage and grand marronage.  Under the 1755 Reglement, the first offence enduring up to one month was punishable by branding and loss of both ears.  The second offense was punishable by the loss of both legs. And the third offense was punishable by execution.


Re:  Manumission

-The concept of manumission was acknowledged—by testamentary devise or during the owner’s lifetime. But a slave could not self-purchase his/her freedom, the rationale being that a slave was property and could therefore own nothing.


Re:  Public Order

-Violence or bodily harm perpetrated upon a white person was punishable by death.

-The penalty for theft is not death (as was the case in the 1733 Gardelin Code); instead, the penalty is branding and castration.

-For fear of congregation as a pretext for plotting insurrection, slaves owned by different masters could not assemble at weddings and other festive occasions.  First offense, whipping and branding.  Second offense, death.  (Any white person could arrest any slave found in violation of this law.)

-Slaves could not bear firearms (for example for hunting) unless with master’s written permission.

-Slaves were prohibited from selling anything in the town’s public markets—unless on behalf of the master.


Re:  Judiciary

-Evidence from a slave not admissible in civil or criminal cases (but such evidence could be taken into consideration for determining truth).

-Slaves were, however, indictable for offenses.

-A free person could bring charges against a slave, but a slave could not bring charges against a free person.





Despite the fact that custom had sanctioned certain concessions such as half-free day on Saturday and the selling of provisions from provision plots on Market Day on Sundays (until 1843, when it changed to Saturday, with Sunday being reserved for rest, attending church, attending to provision plots, etc.), when the crown assumed the administration of the Danish West Indies in 1754, Gardelin’s Code was the law.  And Frederik V’s Reglement, in fact, remained a dead document since the Danish authorities permitted its first royally appointed governor, von Pröck [The previous governors under Company rule had been appointed by the board of directors of the Company], to publish whichever portions of the Reglement he deemed appropriate.  Von Pröck exercised that discretion by publishing no part of the instrument, allegedly so as to remain in the good graces of the plantocracy, the preference of which was for slaves to have no rights, à la Gardelin’s Code of 1733.


Impact of the 1759 Conspiracy on the Slave Codes:

The 1759 Conspiracy resulted in many planters setting aside the customary concessions towards slaves that had been witnessed between 1742-1755, reverting to the directives of Gardeline’s Code:


-Itinerant Christmas minstrels were forbidden;

-Random visiting from plantation to plantation—even for spouses—was restricted;

-Selling rum or punch to slaves was forbidden;

-Slaves caught gambling were immediately taken to the whipping-post for 50 lashes.


The 1760s and ‘70s witnessed further reductions in customary privileges and allowances:



-No urban slave could be on street after 9:00 p.m., unless on a documented errand.

-Slaves could not attend Moravian Mission beyond 8:00 p.m. And slaves leaving Services could walk in groups comprised of no more than six persons, each group with a designated leader.

-Dancing (in St. Thomas) until 10:00 p.m. (or later with police permission), but no drumming.

-No slave wakes, the rationale being that they were an excuse for drunkenness and revelry.





-Punishment for gambling on streets raised from 50 to 150 lashes, the rationale being that 50 lashes had not served as a deterrent.

-The Bangelar (the metal-tipped stick used in stick-fighting) was banned.

-Itinerant vendors (“hucksters”) were banned, the rationale being that they encouraged slaves to steal from their masters so as to be able to purchase/barter for the irresistible items offered by the hucksters.

-Efforts were made to limit the amount of mourners at black Christian funerals to six pairs (besides pallbearers) as it was not uncommon for as many of 300 slaves to attend funerals—all dressed in their finest garments.  Rationale:  It was unwise to have so many negroes assembled in one place.

-The ever-popular tea and coffee parties were discouraged on the grounds of their popularity and because they encouraged slaves to dress beyond their means.



Lindemann’s Draft of 1783:

In the beginning of the 1780s, some Danes (and other whites) began arriving at the conclusion that Gardelin’s Code of 1733 was exceedingly brutal, especially as pertaining to public order.  The Colonial Government agreed that Gardelin’s Code was no longer appropriate.



Lindemann’s Draft featured four (4) sections and addressed:

-Regulations pertaining to slaves;

-Regulations for free coloreds;

-Obligations of whites to their slaves;

-Judicial processes vis-à-vis slaves.


-Amputations, branding, executions, etc., should be reserved for offences that could lead to/lead to rebellion.

-Draft offered suggestions for secular education.

-Opportunities for self-purchase.

-Encouragement of slave marriages.

-Regulation of punishments on the estates.

-Mutilations, castrations, etc., to be disallowed.

-Murder of a slave becomes a crime—to be adjudicated in Denmark, not in the colonies.

-The Draft is very strict towards slaves regarding deference to whites:  assault, arson, rebellions and conspiracy thereto, and poisoning all carried death sentences.

-Desertion and marronage no longer capital offenses, but in extreme cases, branding, 200 strokes, and in-chains for life is the penalty.

-Regarding public order, the Draft was very unyielding:  gambling, wakes, unauthorized dances are all prohibited.

-Stone-throwing and kite-flying are banned, the latter because it was known to startle horses, causing many a steed to separate from its white rider.

-Every white person possesses the power to arrest.

-No sexual relations between white men and slave women; and the unthinkable—relations between a white woman and a slave—was not only prohibited, but would result in the deportation of the white woman.

-Slaves were entitled only to summary judicial proceedings.

-Court Martial, to be invoked by local police, was proposed for grave offenses.  (Rationale:  Court matters involving slaves were too costly and too time-consuming.  Petty crimes to be handled by police. Courts to deal with matters involving the death penalty).

-Slaves were not competent witnesses against whites, but baptized slaves could testify against other slaves.

-Slaves’ rights to earn towards manumission.

-Each newborn slave was to be baptized.



Lindemann’s Draft proposed minimum obligations of whites to their slaves:


-food rations

-five to six meters of coarse cloth annually for slaves to construct their own garments

-a hat every two years

-compulsory care when ill

-each estate was to keep a plantation journal to record illness, marronage, rations, etc.


As was the case with Frederik V’s Reglement of 1755 and all the other proposed slave codes after Gardelin’s Code of 1733, Lindemann’s Draft was never officially implemented.



1785 Code by committee under van der Østen

-Code never implemented.


1791:  Commission established by the Danish crown to consider the abolition of the Danish involvement in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

-The Commission was of the opinion that amelioration and abolition were inextricably linked.

-The Commission was of the position that the amelioration of slave conditions should be left to the planter class since it was obvious that there were benefits to be realized by amelioration. (The alternative, the Committee felt, would be insurrection.)

-The Commission upheld the notion of the sacred right of property and the position that slaves are the property of their owners. The Commission opted not to make any statutory inroads that would infringe upon the masters’ discretion in areas pertaining to food, clothing, housing, pre- and post-natal care, or care of children and the sick.

-Peter Oxholm, spokesperson for the planters, lobbied for the continuation of the slave trade, and the Burgher Council of St. Croix was in support of his position.


(As late as 1805, Kirstein, Secretary of the Abolition Commission, was still espousing the position that a comprehensive slave code was not a priority and that the more immediate concern was a police code that would reflect what had become customary for master-slave relations in the Danish West Indies. Thus, even into the beginning of the 19th century, the welfare of slaves was not established by code law.)





-Between 1742 and 1755:  The notion of slave rations (of food and clothing) becomes the custom/practice, though not by law.


-1754:  Danish West India Company sells St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix to the Danish crown, the islands thus becoming a crown colony.


-1755:  Because of the significance of St. Croix as a plantation island and, as a result, its importance to the Danish treasury, St. Croix, after a mere 22 years as a Danish possession and one year under crown administration, becomes the capital of the Danish West Indies, maintaining that distinction until 1871 when the seat of government was temporarily moved to St. Thomas after a series of natural disasters that devastated St. Croix (hurricane, earthquake and tidal wave in 1867; two hurricanes in 1871).


-1755:  Slaves are allowed to marry—with slave owner’s consent.


-1755:  Nearly 30% of the free population of St. Thomas are freedmen. (1755 is the earliest year of data.)  But in 1775, twenty years later, freedmen account for only 10% of the free population of St. Thomas, the likely reason being migration to St. Croix, which, because of its then-thriving agriculture economy and its 1755 appointment as capital of the DWI, had become the premier island in the colony, offering the most opportunities for free persons of color. Between 1789 and 1797, freedmen on St. Thomas accounted for 25% of the free population on that island, but only 4% of the overall population. The island of St. John never had a total of more than 20 freedmen (10% of the total free population of that island) before the end of the 1700s.  In 1797, freedmen on St. Croix accounted for 35% of the free population but only 4% of the total population.


-ca. 1755:  Lutheran Mission for slaves and free people of color established.  In 1756, ten Lutheran missionaries arrive in the Danish West Indies. Instruction and books are in Dutch creole.


-1759:  Conspiracy on St. Croix.  William Davis declared ringleader; “Frank” or “French” declared his collaborator.


-1760 – 1820:  The “Golden Age” of the sugar economy in the Danish West Indies. St. Croix being described as the “Garden of the West Indies.”


-April 9, 1764:  Charlotte Amalie established as a Free Port.  Anyone is permitted to establish an enterprise on St. Thomas for the purpose of engaging in trade in European and/or American goods.  The Ordinance was confirmed and expanded in 1767, enabling enterprises to send cargo wherever they chose.  (The 1764 Ordinance required that return-cargo go to Denmark or that they be transported on Danish ships.)  The Free Port ordinance was renewed on November 4, 1782.


-1768:  Danish slaving vessel Fredensborg wrecks off the coast of Norway on the final legal of its triangular trade route during which it took onboard 265 enslaved Africans on the west coast of Africa and sold the 241 survivors of the journey in Christiansted. Discovered in 1974, retrieved from the wreck were precious elephant tusks from Africa, exotic woods from the Caribbean, and personal items of the crew such as cans of tobacco and leather shoes with fine buckles. The ship and its contents together constitute one of the most comprehensive examples of a slaving vessel ever found—anywhere in the world.


-1768:  Danish crown says public school system for slaves would serve “no useful purpose.”


-1768:  Peter Tongerloe, a “free Negro,” is owner of Estate Catherine’s Hope, situated east of Christiansted, and a townhouse at No. 25 Company Street, Christiansted.  He is also the owner of 10 slaves. Historian Neville A.T. Hall in his Slave Society in the Danish West Indies (p. 144), writes of Johasie Abrams as the owner of the10-acre “plantation” Catherine’s Hope, believed to be named after Abrams’ wife Catherine. Abrams, according to Hall, owns an unspecified number of slaves. Hall describes Abrams as a freedman who owned Catherine’s Hope “before 1800” and indicates that Abrams acquired the property by way of inheritance, along with his freedom, from a white slave owner. It is believed that Peter Tongerloe and Johasie Abrams are one in the same.  Further research is required.  



-1769:  Missionary Peter Lund suggests a special court for dealing exclusively with slaves and slave-matters.  The court was to be comprised of “coloureds” [presumably, persons of at least half-white racial make-up] who would function under the supervision of the governor and other whites. The colonial government thought the proposal administratively impossible; politically incorrect; and premature, given the pending slave code at the time.


-1770:  Armed, able-bodied colonists, numbering 320, serve as militia troops to defend the colony:  100 in Christiansted; 100 in Frederiksted; 80 on St. Thomas; 40 on St. John. (For economic and philosophical reasons, Denmark historically elected to implement a system of colonial defense that was based on local militia rather than on professional soldiers.  The professional soldiery rarely numbered more than was absolutely necessary to serve as official guards and for ceremonial duties).



-1774:  Gambling amongst slaves outlawed.


-1774:  No freedman could live in rural areas of the Danish West Indies; they had to live in the “Free Gut” areas. 


-1775:  Freedmen account for 20% of the overall free population of the DWI.



-October 10, 1776:  Definitive laws regarding manumission.  Three state-sanctioned manumissions had occurred prior to 1776:

1)  1733 manumission of Mingo Tameryn for his efforts to thwart the 1733 St. John rebellion.

2)  1759 manumission of Quamina for his role in the revelation of the 1759 conspiracy on St. Croix.

3)  1763 manumission of the elderly Christian Sort (Christian the Black) for his exemplary embrace of the Christian faith and his honesty.




The establishment of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, as a Free Port figured significantly in the evolution of urban slavery in the Danish West Indies. Also, because Charlotte Amalie, with its excellent harbor and strategic location in the center of the Caribbean Archipelago served a major slave depot for the entire Caribbean, slaves being transported on ships bearing the flags of all the European slave-trading nations passed through St. Thomas, many of those slaves remaining on the island, thereby adding to the cultural and ethnic diversity of the slave population of the Danish West Indies.


-1787:  Danes establish public schools—two in Christiansted, one in Frederiksted, and one in Charlotte Amalie—to educate the islands’ free black and enslaved populations.  Denmark, thereby, becomes the first nation in the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to officially educate its New World black population.  The public education, available at a small fee, focused on reading and memorization.  Extra instructions in writing and mathematics could be obtained at an additional cost.  The Danes (their official religion being the Lutheran faith), recognizing that the Moravians had had more experience in the educating of the black population through the Moravian Missions, utilized Moravian instructors and administrators in the Danish public schools. Moravian instructors would remain the educators of choice of the Danish West Indies school system until 1872.



-1789: “Great School Commission” established in Denmark.  By 1814, Danish public school system organized to educate peasant class.


-1792:  86% of St. Croix’s slaves are plantation slaves; artisans and urban slaves comprise the remaining 14%.


Christian Marriage in the Slave Population of the Danish West Indies


[-1717:  By 1717, the following churches were established on St. Thomas:  Lutheran; Dutch Reformed; French Reformed; Anglican; and Roman Catholic.  All except the Roman Catholic have resident priests by 1717. Thus, by the early 1700s, the Christianizing of the enslaved African population had begun.

-1805:  By early 1800s, church affiliation by slaves exceeds 50%.

-By1835:  99% of all slaves in the Danish West Indies baptized into the Christian faith.]



-1755:  King Frederik V’s Reglement specifies that slaves may marry—but there must be consent by their owners. (And children born to such marriages were owned by the owner of the female slave.)

-1792:  In a population of 8,568 adult slaves 20 years and older, there are 2,338 recorded intimate unions, but only 371 Christian-married couples. After the 1759 Conspiracy on St. Croix, slaves’ ability to congregate and visit from plantation to plantation on their free days is strictly regulated.  Married couples living on separate plantations, therefore, are not able to engage in conjugal visits without permission.

-1805:  At the beginning of the 19th century, after slaves have been authorized to marry for 50 years, only 10% of the adult slave population opts for Christian marriage. But 30% of adult slaves are in committed relationships.



-1792:  Abolition of Serfdom in Denmark


-1792:  One-third of all “Bosals” (newly arrived African-born slaves) expected to die during the “seasoning” process. By the 1830s, “guinea bird” had become an insult used by island-born slaves to describe Africa-born slaves.


-1792:  There are 197 plantations in operation on St. Croix:  71 plantations with 51-100 slaves; 70 plantations with 0-5 slaves; 13 plantations with 151-200 slaves; 4 plantations with 201-300 slaves; and 2 plantations with over 300 slaves. Of St. Croix’s 84 square miles, 40 are flat land, perfect for the cultivation of sugarcane.  Most of the island’s most profitable plantations are situated in the western portion of the island. Many of the plantations east of Christiansted, because of the lower fertility levels of that portion of the island, have few slaves and were devoted to the cultivation of cotton and grazing of livestock more so than to the production of sugarcane. In 1792, thirty-six (36) of the forty-one (41) plantations east of Christiansted had less than 100 slaves.  The average slave population on plantations east of Christiansted is 42).


-1792:  Denmark’s King Christian VII issues the Abolition Proclamation, which specified that Denmark would abolish the slave trade in 10 years, on December 31, 1802, Denmark thereby becoming the first European nation to abolish the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (though Denmark was not the first European nation to end the institution of slavery.  That distinction would go to the British.) 


In the 1790s, for practical and humanitarian reasons, various slave-trading European nations decided to cease going to the continent of Africa to obtain Africans for transport as slaves to the New World (the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade).  However, slaves could still be purchased, sold, and shipped within the New World.  (Furthermore, the institution of slavery itself would not end until the various declarations of emancipation, beginning with the British in 1834 [with the full effect of emancipation to occur in 1838] and ending with Brazil in 1888.)


Below is a listing of when the various slave-trading nations abolished the Trans-Atlantic Trade in enslaved Africans:


-January 1, 1803:  Denmark (and Norway, which, until 1814, was politically joined to Denmark)

-May 1, 1807:  Great Britain

-1813:  Sweden

-1814:  Holland (Netherlands)

-1814:  Spain (Agreed to stop the slave trade—except to her possessions)

-1815:  France

-1816:  Portugal (Agreed to end slave trade north of the Equator.  Therefore, Portugal continued shipping enslaved Africans to Brazil, her largest colony utilizing the labor of enslaved Africans.  Brazil gained its independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822)

-1820:  Spain (except to Cuba)

-1852:  Brazil


Emancipation in the New World—the ending of the institution of slavery itself—would not end until a generation or two later in the colonies of the above-listed nations.  Below is a listing of when emancipation occurred in the various slaving nations: 



*(Haitians claim their emancipation from France in 1803 after defeating the French at war.)


-August 1, 1834:  Great Britain (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), to take full effect in 1838.

-October 9, 1847:  Sweden

-April 27, 1848:  France

-July 3, 1848: Denmark (by rebellion)

-January 1, 1863:  United States (But it would not take full practical effect until the ending of the American Civil War in 1865)

-July 1, 1863:  Holland

-July 29, 1880:  Spain (All colonies except Cuba, which received emancipation in 1886)

-May 13, 1888:  Brazil (Brazil obtained its independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822, thereby ending Portugal’s official involvement in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and embarking upon its own that would endure for another 66 years.)


-1792:  Danes implement the policy of “Breed, Not Buy.”  Prior to Denmark’s King Christian VII’s Abolition Proclamation in 1792, which set the abolition of the Danish slave trade at January 1, 1803, ten (10) years after the Proclamation, the Danish slaving policy was to “buy, not breed,” to wit Danish slave traders would prioritize the acquisition from West Africa of young males in their physical prime (between the ages of 15 and 35) to serve as slaves in the Danish West Indies.  The objective was to work slaves to death (usually within five years), rather than having them live beyond their physical prime, thereupon becoming less productive and more costly to maintain. Under the old “buy, not breed” policy, a newly purchased, young, male slave would replace his physically expended predecessor. And in the labor-intensive sugarcane system, male slaves were preferred to females, whose productivity would be diminished, even if temporarily, by pregnancy and then infant care. (As such, the male slave population in the Danish West Indies always exceeded that of the female slave population until 1815, twenty-three years into the “breeding initiatives.”)  In addition, because of the poor working and living conditions of the enslaved population in the Danish West Indies, the mortality rate exceeded birthrate well into the late 19th century.  And low birthrate—on account of amenorrhoea, or absence of menses, a condition where women, owing to excessive labor, fail to even menstruate due to excess levels of testosterone because of the excessive labor—remained a problem throughout the history of slavery in the Danish West Indies.


In response to the 1792 Abolition Proclamation, Danish slave traders and plantation owners adopted a new policy: “breed, not buy.”  Thus, they began importing more female slaves, a policy which resulted in 1815—for the first time in the history of the Danish slave trade—a population of female slaves which exceeded that of male slaves.  In 1792, there were 7,364 female slaves and 8,579 male slaves on St. Croix.  But in 1835, there were 10,423 female slaves to 9,453 male slaves on St. Croix.


-1797: Total slave population in the Danish West Indies numbers 32,213 (25,452 on St. Croix; 4,769 on St. Thomas; 1,992 on St. John);

            Total freedmen population in the Danish West Indies numbers 1,418;

            Total white population in the Danish West Indies number 3,062.


-1797:  Total population of freedmen in the Danish West Indies is 1,418, with 80% of that number living on St. Croix. The vast majority of the freedmen in the DWI were “coloureds,” persons of mixed racial heritage, most having at least 50% white ancestry.


-1799:  Official Danish military presence in the Danish West Indies is meager, totaling 447 troops:  373 infantry; 56 cavalry; 18 artillery. (The official military presence was typically supplemented by local militia [armed, able-bodied colonists], consisting of whites and coloureds.


-By 1800:  The forts in the Danish West Indies towns of Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, and Frederiksted are, by 1800, well-established as the discipline venues of the colony, so much so that until the 1970s, the phrase, “…I will take you to the fort” [for legal redress, both civil and criminal] remained in everyday usage in the Virgin Islands.


-1802:  Freedmen (typically mulatto or with a higher percentage of white ancestry) owned 30% of the slaves in Charlotte Amalie.


-1802:  Case of Hans Jonathan, a slave from St. Croix taken to Denmark by his owner.  The issue was whether, by setting foot upon Denmark-proper soil, where, in 1802, slavery was not allowed, Hans Jonathan had automatically become free. The Danish court ruled that Jonathan was not entitled to freedom since his owner’s property rights extended to Denmark. The Hans Jonathan ruling was in stark contrast with the Somerset case of 30 years earlier where the English court held that a slave, upon setting foot on English-proper soil, automatically became free.


-1805:  By early 1800s, church affiliation by slaves exceeds 50%.



-1805:  Only 10% of adult slave population opts for Christian marriage; but 30% are in committed relationships.


-March 19, 1820:  John Gutliff (General Buddhoe, General Bordeaux, Moses Gotlieb), leader of the July 3, 1848 rebellion for emancipation, is born enslaved at Estate La Grange, Frederiksted.


-1830s:  Public auctions of slaves outlawed—as inhumane and degrading.


-1831/1832:  First comprehensive census of all three Danish West Indies.


-1828:  Peter von Scholten appointed governor-general of the Danish West Indies.


-August 3, 1832:  Public holiday declared to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Moravian Mission in the Danish West Indies. Ten thousand (10,000) slaves attended the celebrations at the Friedensfeld Moravian Mission.


-April 18, 1834:  All free people (whether free-born or manumitted), regardless of race, are considered equal in the Danish West Indies.


-November 1834:  Copenhagen endorses the idea of a public education system for slaves in the Danish West Indies.


-By1835:  99% of all slaves in the Danish West Indies baptized into the Christian faith.





Slave Education in the Danish West Indies

-1732:  Moravian missionaries arrive on St. Thomas and shortly thereafter on St. John.  Moravian concept of “Pietism,” which holds that Christians should know God through reading the Bible for themselves, requires that slaves learn how to read the Bible, and, by extension, how to read in general, thereby laying the foundation for slave education in the Danish West Indies.  Many enslaved persons gravitate towards the Moravian faith so as to learn how to read.  In 1734, the Moravian missionaries arrive on St. Croix.

-1755:  King Frederik V’s Reglement allows for the preaching of God’s word by Lutheran missionaries to the slave population and for a related Christian education to facilitate the teaching of God’s word.

-1787:  Danes establish public schools—two in Christiansted, one in Frederiksted, and one in Charlotte Amalie—to educate the islands’ free black and enslaved populations.  Denmark, thereby, becomes the first nation in the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to officially educate its New World population. The public education, available at a small fee, focused on reading and memorization.  Extra instruction in writing and mathematics could be obtained at an additional cost. The Danes (their official religion be the Lutheran faith), recognizing that the Moravian had been more successful in educating the slave population through the Moravian Missions, utilized Moravian instructors in the four (4) Danish public schools.  (Moravian instructors would remain the educators of choice in the Danish West Indies school system until 1872.)

-1793:  Danes admit that the Moravian missionaries are more successful at educating slaves than the Lutheran missionaries.

-1796:  Governor Ernst von Walterstorff declares Lutheran missionaries attempt at educating slaves in the DWI a failure.

-November 1834:  Copenhagen endorses the idea of a public school system for slaves in the Danish West Indies.

-1834 – 1838: Planters gradually accept the idea of education for slaves.

-1838:  Construction on the first von Scholten schools begins—though the School Ordinance becomes official in 1839.

-1839:  Public support for slave schools is established, the rationale being that with emancipation on the horizon, an educated slave population would make for a more peaceful and orderly transition into freedom.

-1839:  Peter von Scholten’s School Ordinance becomes official.

-By 1841—Some planters begin privately constructing schools on their plantations.  (Some planters had done so even earlier on humanitarian and religious justifications.)

-May 16, 1841:  First of 17 von Scholten schools opens at Estate La Grande Princesse, the site where almost 100 years earlier (in the 1740s) the first Moravian missionary on St. Croix had been buried. Römer, a Moravian missionary, was named director of the school at La Grande Princesse. The 1839 School Ordinance provided for the establishment of 17 free public schools for slave children in the DWI:  8 on St. Croix; 5 on St. Thomas; and 4 on St. John.  Children 9 years and under were to be educated for three hours in the morning each day, Monday to Friday.  Children aged 10 to 12 were to be educated one day per week, on Saturday mornings.

-1841 – 1846:  School attendance problematic because overseers are not cooperative.

-1844:  Records indicate that not one child from several plantations attended school.

-1846:  Ordinance institutionalizing public school education for slaves in the Danish West Indies. The initiative was regarded as an “experiment.” A major component of the 1846 School Ordinance is that overseers could be fined for preventing school-age children from attending school.




-1838:  Governor Peter von Scholten’s Labor Ordinance.

From the 1830s, and into the 1840s, ameliorative policies had been implemented under Governor Peter von Scholten:

  1. a) The workday’s length was regulated;
  2. b) Discretionary punishment by masters reduced;
  3. c) Public auctions banned as dehumanizing;
  4. d) Plantation journals and inspection thereof mandatory;


  1. a) Saturday becomes free day (Market Day);
  2. b) Sunday free for religion and secular instruction;
  3. c) Slaves earn 4 Rigsdaller per day for working on a free day;
  4. d) Improvements in slave housing.


-1840:  170 plantations and cattle farms on St. Croix.


-1841:  There are 151 plantations in operation on St. Croix.


-1843:  Saturday becomes a free day for the enslaved of the Danish West Indies (thereby joining Sunday, which since the mid-1700s had, by custom and religious lobby, come to be accepted as a free day.  With Saturday becoming a free day, the slaves’ Market Day switched from Sunday to Saturday, thereby affording slaves the opportunity to devote Sunday’s to religious instruction.  (By the mid-1700s, the vegetable and fish markets in the three towns of the Danish West Indies had been established.)


-1845:  A total of 37 slaves from St. John escape to neighboring Tortola, where emancipation had occurred in 1834/38.


-July 28, 1847:  “Free Birth Proclamation.”  Royal proclamation conferring freedom on all slaves born after July 28, 1847, with emancipation for everyone else to occur in 12 years. (Peter von Scholten thought that such a plan–granting freedom to newborns but not to their parents—would be problematic.  He was 100 percent correct, as evidenced by the slave rebellion that occurred less than one year later).



The Unfolding of the July 3, 1848 Emancipation


-Night of Sunday, July 2, 1848: Beginning at nightfall, conch shells (tuttues) blowing on the various estates; signal-fires set.

-Morning of July 3, 1848:  Approximately 8,000 slaves gather at Fort Frederik, demanding immediate freedom. Danish West Indies slaves had been told, via the July 28, 1847 “Free Birth Proclamation,” that slavery would end in 1859.  (The enslaved population in the DWI had been long aware of emancipation in the British West Indies [1834/1838] and had recently become aware of the April 27, 1848 emancipation in the French West Indies.  Based on court testimony in the immediate aftermath of the July 3, 1848 emancipation, rumors were circulating that Denmark, too, had emancipated its slaves but that the DWI planters were withholding the information). There were no betrayers of the July 3, 1848 emancipation rebellion.  Almost 20,000 slaves were aware of the plan.

-4:00 p.m., Monday, July 3, 1848:  Governor Peter von Scholten, who had arrived from St. Thomas in the early hours of July 3, arrives at Fort Frederik and, immediately upon alighting from his carriage, approximately 16 hours after the first blowing of conch shells, declares all unfree, free.

-Monday, July 3, 1848:  Major Gyllich, commander of the Fire Corps, defrayed attack upon his person by large group of newly emancipated people by throwing his sword to the ground and announcing that he was friend, not foe.

-Tuesday, July 4, 1848:  Major Gyllich accompanies Buddoe as he restores calm on several mid-island estates.

-Early hours of Tuesday, July 4, 1848:  Group of newly emancipated people shot just outside the town of Christiansted.  Looting and destruction (except on the island’s eastern plantations) ensue over the next three days.

-Tuesday, July 4, 1848:  Town of Frederiksted put under state of emergency.  Court Martial invoked.  If freedmen re-enter Frederiksted in groups of more than 10 persons, they would be fired upon by cannon from the fort and the frigate in the town’s harbor.

-Thursday, July 6, 1848:  Governor Peter von Scholten suffers what would be described by today’s medical terminology as a nervous breakdown. The Lt. Gov. of St. Thomas, Frederik Oxholm, assumes command of the civil government.

-Thursday, July 6, 1848:  Entire island of St. Croix under State of Emergency.  Mass-arrests conducted.

-Friday, July 7, 1848:  Court Martial proceedings begin.

-Court Martial convened over next five weeks, examining more than 100 prisoners.  (Fort Frederik was overcrowded on account of the number of prisoners plus the whites who had taken refuge there.  Other prisoners were detained on board the Ørnen and various cargo ships in Frederiksted’s harbor).

-Within a week of the convening of the Court Martial, eight (8) persons are executed for charges ranging from felonious wounding and arson to riotous assembly:

  1. a) Decatur of Estate Bethlehem for rioting and theft. (Executed on July 11, 1848)
  2. b) Friday of Estate Castle.  (Executed on July 11, 1848)
  3. c) Augustus of Estate Concordia for felonious wounding.  (Executed on July 11, 1848)
  4. d) Adam of Rosehill for arson (setting fire to the cane field).  (Executed on July 11, 1848)
  5. e) John Simmons of Estate Mt. Pleasant
  6. f) James Heyliger




-Saturday, July 8, 1848:  Lt. Gov. of St. Thomas Frederik Oxholm arrives on St. Croix. The governor of Puerto Rico sends 530 troops.



Leaders of the Rebellion Emerge During the Court Martial Proceedings

-Peter von Scholten reports that he observed Buddoe [John Gutliff, General Budhoe, Moses Gotlieb, Gotlieb Bordeaux] in a leadership role, to wit:  he prevented looting; smashed with his sword a demi-john of liquor (presumably that being carried by a rioter/looter).

-Augustus of Estate Concordia.  Carrying sword.  Blood of a duck killed with same sword smeared onto the front of his shirt.  Told newly emancipated to organize in a line.  Later on Monday, July 3, said that he would decapitate anyone who refused to declare himself/herself free. Took up the whipping post from the Frederiksted Market Square and threw it into the sea.

-Moses of Estate Butler’s Bay.

-July 9, 1848:  Friday of Estate Castle says Martin King [of Bog of Allen] to be blamed for everything. (But Friday later says “Bordeaux was the head of everything.”)

-Four men executed on July 11, 1848, name Buddoe and Martin King as leaders. Decatur and Adam later name Buddoe as leader.


-Buddoe was supposedly “deported” at his own request [never to be heard from/of again].  According to some historians, Buddoe was deported to Trinidad.  Trinidad historians, however, insist that there is no record of Buddoe ever setting foot on Trinidad soil.  A Virgin Islands historian claims to have unearthed evidence of Buddoe in New York whence he maintained contact with his mother and sister. According to local oral tradition, Buddoe, in order to appease the newly emancipated population, was dressed in military regalia as if being sailed off to Denmark to be honored for his leadership role in preventing post-emancipation destruction.  Once the vessel sailed into the high seas, however, it is said that he was ball-and-chained and thrown overboard to a watery death.



Alleged Strategy Underlying the Rebellion

July 3, 1848 was supposed to be a Monday strike to force emancipation.  Sunday-night ringing of plantation bells and blowing of the conch shells were supposed to signal the Monday strike. Slaved aspired towards a free peasantry and a monocrop economy run by freedmen.


A song chronicling the great historic event emerged:


Clear dih road! Ah yoh, clear dih road!

Clear dih road; leh dih slave dem pass….

We ah goh foh ah we freedom!


The date of composition and the name of the composer have been lost to history.


-August 18, 1848:  Peter Hansen appointed governor-general of the Danish West Indies.  His immediate priority was to restore and maintain peace and order; establish labor laws; and to prepare a special report on the rebellion. Dispatched from Denmark, Hansen arrived on St. Croix on November 26, 1848 and assumed command the following day.


-January 26, 1849:  The Labor Contract of 1849. 

-Upon emancipation on July 3, 1848, some newly freed persons immediately left the plantations to which they were once bound and moved into the Free Gut neighborhoods of Frederiksted and Christiansted, in effect refusing to work on plantations, even for wages. Such persons eked out a living as cooks, washer-women, fishermen, tailors, seamstresses, etc. Artisans and skilled laborers such as cabinet-makers, blacksmiths, masons, carpenters, milliners, cobblers, and goldsmiths applied for burger briefs (business licenses) and established themselves, to the best of their abilities, as tradesmen, serving primarily the black community. But burgher briefs were expensive, and the loans that facilitated them oftentimes came with high interest rates. For the vast majority of the former slave population (referred to after emancipation as “laborers”), life continued as sugarcane laborers on the very same plantations to which they were once bound as slaves.

-Prior to Governor Hansen’s arrival, the Committee of Planters had, on July 29, 1848, less than 30 days after emancipation, issued an order stipulating that the former slaves should seek employment somewhere—either on their respective plantations or in the towns.  For those opting to remain on their plantations, contracts were drawn up specifying type of work, quantity of work, and wages to be paid for the contracted-for work.  Laborers who refused to work were to be reported to the Committee of Planters, which would take measures to punish such workers for vagrancy. Since the former slaves had no land upon which to settle to begin their lives anew, it was the consensus of the planter class that laborers would be forced to work on the plantations since very few would have the financial wherewithal to start a business. The order made no provisions for sick and elderly former slaves. Then, to add insult to injury, the order required that laborers, once hired, remain—for life—on the plantation of employment. The laborers, rightfully, regarded the order as tantamount to slavery and rejected it out-of-hand.

-On January 26, 1849, Governor Hansen proposed the Labor Contract that would 30 years later result in the 1878 Fireburn:

  1. a) Laborers were to sign one-year contracts, binding them to a plantation from October 1 to September 30, with the option to terminate—by either laborer or planter—occurring on August 1.  Any contract not terminated by August 1 would be automatically renewed for another year. The rationale supporting the provision was to stabilize the work force.  While, in theory, laborers were free to seek new employment contracts each year, planters had unspoken agreements amongst each other not to hire each other’s laborers, a policy which in effect bound laborers to their plantations for life.  (Laborers desiring to leave the DWI for employment opportunities elsewhere were obliged to purchase passports, which cost 32 cents, thereby being beyond the reach of many laborers. And to further frustrate free travel, laborers wishing to leave the Danish islands in order to seek opportunities elsewhere were required to have money in their possession to demonstrate to the Danish authorities a wherewithal for self-support outside the Danish colony [presumably so that Danish subjects would not become a burden on other nations, thereby putting the Danish colony at risk of earning an unfavorable reputation vis-à-vis other nations].  The amount travelers were required to have in their possession was not a fixed amount and oftentimes was determined at the discretion of the Danish authority issuing the passports—a situation which caused much uncertainty for laborers.  The arbitrary passports policy would ultimately serve as one of the primary catalysts for the October 1, 1878 Fireburn).
  2. b) The signing of a labor contract bound not only the laborer to the plantation, but also his wife and all his children between the ages of 5 and 15—as well as other dependents and elderly relatives. In the case of a female signatory, all her children under the age of 15, as well as any other person dependent upon her, were bound to the plantation.
  3. c) Per the 1849 Labor Contract, laborers were classified into three categories:  First-class workers earned 15 cents per day/75 cents per week/3 dollars per month/36 dollars per year; Second-class laborers were compensated 10 cents per day/50 cents per week/2 dollars per month/24 dollars per year; Third-class employees were paid 5 cents per day/25 cents per week/1 dollar per month/12 dollars per year. Specialized plantation workers such as sugar boilers, blacksmiths, coopers, and wheelwrights were paid 20 cents per day, but with a 5-cents-per-day deduction for food and provisions.
  4. d) Plantation laborers were allowed to maintain their 30 ft. by 30 ft. provision plots (also called “Negro grounds”) from which they could derive their sustenance, but traditional food rations of salted meat/fish and cornmeal/cassava flour ended with emancipation. Laborers who desired those items had to purchase them.
  5. e) The workday extended from dawn to dusk, Monday to Friday.
  6. f) All disputes between laborer and planter were to be resolved by a magistrate.
  7. g) Plantation workers lived in the plantation villages, which were historically substandard and were not improved post-emancipation.


In essence, then, little had changed after emancipation; chattel slavery had evolved into economic slavery. And a mere six months after the enactment of the 1849 Labor Contract, on July 2, 1849, one day short of the one-year anniversary of emancipation, laborers on 77 of St. Croix’s plantations participated in a job action—a strike—until the island’s police and gendarmerie forced the strikers back to work.


In 1850, John Candler and George Alexander, representing the Anti-Slavery Society, visited the Danish West Indies in order to assess the colony’s post-emancipation conditions. Welcomed to the islands and given free rein to assess, both men traveled extensively around St. Croix, visiting various plantations before arriving at the conclusion that the Labor Contract of 1849 had served to neutralize emancipation, rendering the great event in name only.


-1853:  Plantation owners, as compensation for the loss of their slaves as a result of the July 3, 1848 emancipation, were paid reparations in the amount of $50 per slave, regardless of age or sex.