As you may know, I am participating in Amy Crow’s 52 week ancestors with the 52 week Challenge. http://www.nostorytoosmall.com/ Although this is the 18th Week; I am posting #15 and hope to catch up with the rest of the bloggers before the month is over.
I was recently given a letter that was written by Isabella Barzey (1820-1890) that had me puzzled as to the conditions of life of the population since July 3, 1848 when the Danish Governor General Scholten proclaimed freedom for all slaves in the Danish West Indies. Why were people bound to the plantations that enslaved them and why were they still being physically assaulted by the managers? I discovered that the author of the letter is my ancestor through marriage, and I needed to research in detail the facts of this ancestor.
By using Ancestry.com and stx.visharoots.org, I gathered information on birth, death and marriage dates. But I needed to look further at the past history to obtain a real sense of time in which Isabella Barzey lived, when she wrote a letter in April of 1849 to the Danish King, pleading to be transferred from Estate Cane Garden Plantation on St. Croix after being flogged in order to join her husband in St. Thomas.
My findings from the VI History books led to the Labor Act of 1849 in which I will point out two portions of the Act that shaped the early years following emancipation:
- The great majority of the newly-freed Blacks were to remain unfree on the estates with no recourse open to them but to submit to the bondage imposed by the 1849 Labor Act.
- The amended 1849 Labor Act.- The Act created a new institutionalized system of serfdom base on contract labor, in place of slavery. The law fixed the contract year from October to October, renewable each August. Engagement’s made by heads of families were to include their children. Laborers were divided into three classes with meager wages. No laborer could refuse the work he might be ordered to do. To assure that a laborer remain bondage to his former owner, the law placed him in a no-win predicament by providing:
The laborer shall have given, or received, legal notice of removal from the estate where he serves, before anyone can engage his service; otherwise the new contract to be void, and the party engaging in tampering with a laborer employed by others, will be dealt with according to law. The contract was inviolable except by mutual agreement between the master and laborer, or by order of a magistrate.
The Letter I have transcribed is from Mrs. Isabella Barzey, describing the bad treatment she received from Manager Maloy of Estate Cane Garden, and her request to be sent to St. Thomas to meet her husband. Isabella letter is as follows:
May it be pleasing to your Excellency
I humbly state that I have attended Mr. Maloy the manager of Estate Cane Garden three years as Cook, House Attendant and Seller. Always faithful obedient and attention to my business. On Monday the 16th of April last I was constrained from bad feelings reasoned by a Cold and hoarseness, to beg Mr. Maloy for a dose of oil which he refused to give when I was obliged to seek for it elsewhere and remained my house until Thursday, the 19th. When Mr. Maloy called me before Dr. Johnson who said I was not sick when my feelings were really sick as did not allow me to work the following day. I was sent to Kings Hill and their flogged in a shameful manner, the first time since I arrived at the age of maturity which is painful to my feelings. July next will be 10 years since I was married indorsed medals with accompanied certificates will prove my character it was from life and exemplary life and laudable conduct which was pleasing to Priest O Kennely
who honored me with this mark of distinction from other married women. I was always respected from the managers who preceded Mr. Maloy, it is bad feelings in him to treat me in this manner, to expose me, to cut my flesh and humble my becoming pride which was always govern with markings of obedience to my superiors, and friendship to my equals. Mr. Maloy has without cause inflicted a wound which he cannot remedy. My husband is now in St. Thomas a Mason of trade. I humbly beg that your Excellency will after mature deliberations be graciously pleased to grant myself and children to follow my husband according to the 2nd paragraph of your excellency Regulation of the 26th January last as I cannot remain to be further exposed under the powerful control of Mr. Maloy; my first child is 13 years old and my last 9 years old, your excellency’s compliance to the above will be ever gratefully remembered by your most humble servant.
Christiansted 5th May 1849
It is not yet known whether Isabella’s request to follow her husband to St Thomas was granted. The 1855 Census revealed that she was no longer living at Estate Cane Garden. She was then living in the town of Christiansted with her two daughters.
By 1860, the St. Croix Census showed that Isabella Barzey was then divorced from Henry Barzey, and living in the town of Christiansted with her daughter Virginia and grand-daughter Theresa Chabert.
Isabella’s grand-daughter Theresa Chabert married my 3rd generation Uncle Esram Bough, on February 26, 1884 at Holy Cross Catholic Church on St. Croix. Together they had four children. (see my post on Esram Bough the Cigar Maker)
Isabella Barzey died on April 11, 1890 she was 70 years old.
After the 1878 revolt on St. Croix, the Labor Act came to an end after thirty (30) years on October 1, 1879.
Letter: National Archives of Denmark -Courtesy of Camilla Jensen
Willocks, The Umbilical Cord, page 192
Boyer, America’s Virgin Islands, page 58-59
St. Croix Census 1855, Available from Ancestry.com Virgin Islands Social History Associates (VISHA), comp. U.S. Virgin Islands Census, 1835-1911 (Danish Period) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
St. Croix Census, 1860, Available from Ancestry.com Virgin Islands Social History Associates (VISHA), comp. U.S. Virgin Islands Census, 1835-1911 (Danish Period) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
http://stx.visharoots.org/ St. Croix Population Database
Holy Cross Catholics Church, Christiansted Marriage records 1855-1898