Slave Revolt in the Danish West Indies

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s extensive research on African-American lives was revealing, and now his new series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” is reaching across to a mass audience in the diaspora, invoking us to tell our story.

After watching “The Age of Slavery” Episode 2 of the six part series, I felt a need to revisit the history of my Virgin Islands – then the Danish West Indies, on how freedom came here in 1848, including a summary on the resistance and rebellion to slavery by those in bondage.

This series inspired me to look to such authors as Isaac Dookhan, William Boyer, Harold Willocks, Arnold Highfied and George Tyson who wrote about slavery as the economy of the day in the Danish West Indies. They spoke about the common thread of all slaves – separation, isolation, mental anguish, being stripped of dignity, language and culture. These emotions, foreign in nature to men and women who were up-rooted from their homeland, caused the Africans to rebel against this institution of oppression.

In 1746 and again in 1759, African descendants in the Danish West Indies revolted to try to regain their freedom. Although the hunger and thirst for liberation never faded, it took careful planning to execute the Revolt of 1848 against their owners. “By any means necessary” a modern-day phrase reflected the mood of the time. Fires were set; bells tolled all over the islands and conch shells blew, transmitting messages from one estate to the next; refusing to work; and demolishing homes on the plantations were some of the actions taken by the slaves. This went on over a span of about two days throughout St. Croix. Large crowd gathered on the West end of the island demonstrating and demanding their freedom.

Craft by Rosie Mackay (wood, fabric, mixed media)
Craft by Rosie Mackay
(wood, fabric, mixed media)

On July 3, 1848, Governor Peter von Scholten delivered a proclamation “all unfree in the Danish West Indian islands are of today free”. It was the strength, sacrifices and determination of the Africans, and not the generosity of the Danish Government, which could not be ignored as they brought freedom to their people and their descendents. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.

By shelley dewese

As I continue to search out my history, I am discovering how much I did not know. The more information that is disclosed about my ancestry, the more I learn and understand how I am the person that has evolved today. As a native New Yorker, with roots in Coastal Georgia and deep roots in the Danish West Indies, now the Virgin Islands of the United States or commonly referred to as the United States Virgin Islands, I have always had a yearning to return to my maternal homeland. In September of 1976, my family and I relocated back to St. Croix. While living in New York, I was always telling my friends about my trip back home, but here I was actually waking up every day, walking among the streets and people that I have identified myself with all of my life. At the time, I was not involved in any genealogical work, but I knew there was a missing link that became completed after I was offered the opportunity to transfer Danish documents into a database. That opened up my world and I realize that this was my niche. I now had the tools to explore and document my ancestry. Growing up, my mother always impressed upon her children the pride in being a “Bough”, which was her surname. Now I was able to track where that pride came from, through participating in family history projects and meeting new family, as we gathered together for the Bough Family Reunion on St. Croix in July of 2012. As I continued to research, I found my passion extending to photography. Sunsets and street art are my favorite features, as shown in my tumblr blog http://minkyadoo.tumblr.com/ I also began blogging, and found that it has help me to improve my writing skills. Through the comments and well wishes, I have been encouraged to continue to write the stories and events of my life. Whether or not your roots trace back to the Danish West Indies, you will find a beautiful tapestry of life that reflects our “baseball and apple pie”. This site affords you the chance to transform yourself to a time during the Danish period (1734-1917) where life was both simple and complex. If you have any questions, comments, or need assistance in searching for a Danish West Indies ancestor, I invite you to drop me an email.

7 comments

  1. Dr. Gate’s new series has been a great experience for me and everyone in my family who have been watching it each week without fail! So, I’m not surprised to hear how you too have been compelled to revisit the history of your homeland. Shelley it has been WONDERFUL to read your blog and learn the heritage of the Virgin Islands through your family’s history. I look forward to learning much, much more!

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    1. Liv: I have been moved by these series from the very beginning. That is so nice how your family is watching the series as well, it makes for such a good discussion and in those discussions come gem stones including the appreciation of your effort in documenting. Thank you for your interest and for your encouragment. We must continue to tell it!

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  2. I wasn’t able to watch that series, here in Australia but have been viewing quite a few others on “You Tube” and educating myself in aspects of the slave trade that I had absolutely no idea about. Thanks for sharing your most amazing family history Shelley…it is indeed fascinating.

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    1. Catherine: Would you believe there are people in denmark not aware of slavery in the Danish West Indies. I found that amazing . So dont worry it’s not everything major we are going to have knowledge of however, we are ever learnng, and ever willing to learn.

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  3. Shelley….found this site/blog by accident. I was thoroughly thrilled to see the 3D piece I did on the 1878 Fireburn. I am not sure how you got this, but I am excited to see it on line. Thank you.

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