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 disclosed about my ancestry, the more I learn and understand how I am the person that has evolved today. My family's research efforts have taken me on an enlightening journey back through the past in the U. S. Virgin Islands (formerly Danish West Indies) and Coastal Georgia. As with most people of Afro-Caribbean descent, my ancestry stems from peoples brought together by colonialism and conquest; it stems from people thrown together, albeit forcibly, by the throes of enslavement. As a result, my DNA tells me that my people originate in Africa, Europe, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Lesser Antilles, and Leeward Caribbean Islands. Two collections made my dream to research my ancestors in the Danish West Indies a reality. I have conducted extensive research using the St. Croix Population Database 1734-1917, a St. Croix African Roots Project product, and a research and document transcription effort sponsored by the Virgin Islands Social History Associates (VISHA). The other catalyst has been accessing the extensive photo, manuscript, and microfilm collections at the Library and Archives of the St. Croix Landmarks Society at Estate Whim in St. Croix. My heartfelt thanks go to all my cousins, extended "cousin-family," friends, and research colleagues from the St. Croix-based Virgin Islands Ancestry Discovery Group, for their input and collaboration. I also want to thank the UJima Genealogy Group in Coastal Georgia and GlynnGen.com; webmaster Amy Hendrick has introduced me to Southern History and its people. This site allows you to transform yourself to a time during the Danish period (1734-1917) when life was both complex and straightforward. If you have any questions, comments, or need assistance searching for a Danish West Indies ancestor, I invite you to drop me an email. Its.sheldew@gmail.com I especially appreciate the followers' encouragement.

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