Freedom in the Danish West Indies

Today, July 3rd is Emancipation Day a Holiday throughout the US Virgin Islands formerly the Danish West Indies. Emancipation Day commemorates the day in 1848 when enslaved Africans on St. Croix demanded their freedom and won their freedom, and for all slaves throughout the territory.

This day is full of activities beginning with the annual 5am Freedom walk of about 15 miles commemorating the day the slaves walked to demand their freedom.

Quadrille dancing is a cultural part of the celebration, the official dance of the US Virgin Islands, presentations from various schools, historians as well as a reading of the Proclamation of Emancipation.

This year marks the 166th anniversary of the proclamation.

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 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 data base. 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 with 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 question, comments or need assistance in searching for a Danish West Indies ancestor, I invite you to drop me an email.

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