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An Association to promote the interest for and the knowledge of the Danish cultural legacy on the former Danish West Indies and raising funds for
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History Denmark and the Danish Vestindies.


In the beginning of the 16th  century the Danish King looked in envy at the riches brought home by other countries from America. Denmark already had possessions in Africa and Trankebar. In 1633 the king decided to send an expedition to the Caribic to, if possible, occupy one of the island.

This was easier said than done. In those days the Danes didn't like to move too far away from the parish so beside the seamen no-one wanted to move so far away to settle down.

The problem was solved by forcing prisoners and imprisoned women of easy virtue to go. The trip was terrible. Many died from sea-sickness and scurvy on the 3 month long trip so only 100 people were left alive on arrival to St.Thomas. The island was deseeded but had an excellent nature-harbour.

The people were set ashore and started to clear the jungle so the ground could be cultivated. Then the ships sailed home leaving a few people. Most of the Danes died of malaria, snakebite and other tropical diseases.

The next expedition was launched in 1666 also with prisoners and women of easy virtue and a few volunteers. As chief-commander a man named Jørgen Iversen Dybbøl participated. Jørgen Iversen was a hard, just and god-fearing man. The participants had to meet for morning and evening devotion and failure to appear was punished by the whip.

On arrival at St.Thomas´ only a handful surviving Danes were found but now there were also quite a few English, French, Portuguese and Spanish people who had fled from other islands and the tyranny which ruled there.

Jørgen Iversen Dybbøl immediately realized that it was necessary to build a defence to be able to resist an attack from other countries and pirates. All people capable of working were put to work on the construction of the fort witch was finished in 1671-72, and was Named after the Danish King Christian and is then called Christian and the town was named after the Kings Queen - Charlotte Amalie.

Fort Christian is more or less still standing as when it was build with only the necessary repairs and therefore it is a worthy memory for the start of Denmark presents at the islands.

The ground was now cultivated with sugar cane, tobacco and cotton. The profit wasn't very good but the harbour in Charlotte Amalie became an important transit harbour and gave profits on the form of taxes from ships from other countries.

However it quickly became clear that the Europeans couldn't work in that hot tropical climate and since other countries imported slaves from Africa to do the work Denmark now started what was the 3 point trade. Cheep goods, clothes of bad quality, old weapons, knives and glass-bends were shipped from Denmark, Copenhagen and Flensburg to the gold coast in Africa where the before named goods were sold to the negro chiefs and slaves were given in return. These slaves were stowed on board the ships under horrible conditions and sailed to St.Thomas were they were sold to the planters and put to work naked in the fields, often the mortality during these transports were 25-30%. Yes it was even said to be so bad that the sharks would follow the slave ships and live off the dead slaves thrown overboard.

After the slaves were send ashore, the ships were given their cargo of sugar, syrup, rum. tobacco and cotton and sailed to Denmark where the goods were sold with a large profit.

The conditions of the slaves on St.Thomas and later on the to other islands were terrible. They were given a small piece of land where they could grow their own food, they could only grow their own little peace of land on Sundays because they had to work from early in the morning till late in evening for the owners of the plantations the other 6 days of the week.

Disobedience were punished very hard. 100-200 wipe lashes for minor offences, hereafter the bloody back was covered in salt and pepper. Theft were punished by cutting off a hand, attempt to escape by cutting off an leg and appealing to rebel by whipping after being maiming and then they where put on the wheel or hung by their legs until they died.

When it comes to the food for the slaves it was cheaper to let the slaves work and starve themselves to death then to give them food.

In 1864 Denmark occupied St.Jan under great protest from England but the island was supplied with slaves who cultivated the ground. A fort was also build on the island but here the canons were facing towards the island. There was a greater fear of slave-rebellion than the fear of attacks from the seaside. This was well-founded because in 1733 a slave-rebellion broke out. The slaves took the fort and then went ravaging across the island cutting the troaths of most of the whites. Denmark didn't have enough troupes on St.Thomas to defend the rebellion and the rebellion wasn't crushed until a year later when help arrived from the French troupes and all the slaves were killed. After this rebellion the production on St.Jan never became the same.

In 1733 Danish West Indies Company bought the island St.Croix from France and thousands of slaves were brought to the island which was divided into shares. In the coming years the island gave a large amount of crops and large profits for the planters and for Denmark. In 1755 West Indies Company gave the island to Denmark.

In Europe there were constant wars between England and France, England and Spain and so on.

The Danish King used this to convert the harbours on the Danish West Indies to free-harbours which mend that a lot of money was earned especially on St.Thomas but it also mend occupation by the English from time to time who were unhappy with the fact that the pirates had a refuge on the islands. The pirates were only allowed to lie in the harbour for repairs for 24 hours and they weren't allowed to go ashore or trade with the residents on the island, but after nightfall in return for giving customs their share it happened, and often there were great riches on board these pirate ships and they did need water and provisions before they sailed on.

The ratio between the white and the slaves was 1 to 100, so eventhoug the whites lived a very rich life they feared slave-rebelling. There weren't a lot of Danish Soldiers and they wouldn't be able to resist a rebellion like this. The Danish and the Danish Planters have always been a minority on the island. The plantations were mostly owned by English, Dutch or Germans.

Peter Carl Von Scholten.
Peter Von Scholten, son of a former governor on St.Thomas and by the Kings favour had filled the appointment as road-master and tax-master on St.Thomas was appointed Consul-General in 1827 for all tree islands and moved to St.Croix.

Probably from the beginning Peter Von Scholten decided to improve the slaves conditions, he collaborated with the religious order on the island. Hereabout for schooling the slave-children and eventhoug he had a wife at home in Copenhagen he took a coloured but rich mistress the name of Anne Hedegaard with whom he lived his life on St.Croix. To the great regret of the planters he appointed a black officer in the militsen and invited coloured people to the parties held at the governors home in Christianssted on St.Croix. The black people loved him and the white can well be said to hate him.

Peter Von Scholten had many good years with Anne Hedegaard and good help from his brother who was the tax-master in Frederikssted.

After the English had set all the slaves on their islands free in 1833 Peter Von Scholten tried to make the King to free the slaves on the Danish islands during a visit in Copenhagen in 1834. He failed but in 1847 King Christian the 8th decided that all slavery should cease to exist 12 years later but all children born by slaves should be born free from 1847. This law did of course create unhappiness both amongst the slaves and the slaves-owners. Last mentioned didn't want to feed the children of the slaves since they were no longer their property and the slaves said to massa Peter as they called Peter Von Scholten, 12 years is to long for our children to be free when we are still slaves.

At the end of June 1848 there was great anxiety amongst the slaves which let to a slave riot breaking out at the 3rd of July where thousands of slaves armed with big knives gathered in Frederikssted demanding freedom and they shouted that they wanted to spear to Massa Peter. Or else they would burn the town down.

The soldiers and the police at fort Frederik in Frederikssted were so few that they didn't have the option to fight the riot and Peter Von Scholten who was at his country house near Christianssted was sent for, he immediately hitched a horse to a carriage and drove to Frederikssted where he was met by a large crowd demanding freedom now.

Thinking of the riot on St.Jan and the bloody riots on the French and Spanish islands Peter Von Scholten stood up in his car declaring that from today all slaves on Danish West Indies were free people.

The slaves cheered and the planters were furious and accused Peter Von Scholten of high treasen.

Peter Von Scholten was now a broken man, a few days later he fell of his horse with a brain haemorrhage, then he was brought to Copenhagen and put in front of the court which convicted him of hightreasen, took his titles and his pension. The year after he was rehabilitated by the high court, but he was now a sick man. He went to his daughter in Altona where he died in 1854.

Peter Von Scholten never again saw his beloved West Indies or Anne Hedegaard. He is buried at Assistent Graveyard in Copenhagen.

After the release of the slaves great problems arose. The slaves were now to be paid for their work and what about their homes which belonged to the planters ? Riots arose plantation-operations was no-longer profitable. In Denmark they now grew sugar-beets and were able to extract sugar far cheaper than from the sugar-canes on the islands.  A lot of planters simply left their properties and travelled home to Europe with their fortunes.

More riots arose where the former slaves burnt down the plantations and killed some of the white people who stayed. Distress and misery ruled on the islands.

This was more less how it appeared when Denmark after a wote held in Denmark decided to sell the islands to USA on march 31st 1917 for the amount of 25 million dollars.

The woting percent here in Denmark was 40%, 286694 voted for the sale, 157596 voted against.

Personally I believed that we have treated the islands and the population on the islands very poorly. First we mistreat our slaves, fetch great riches home to Denmark at their expense. Then we release the slaves but let them live in distress and misery since it was no longer possible to fetch riches home. Then we sell the islands with man and beast to the USA for even more distress and misery. Yes, it would be the same as if we were to sell Bornholm to Sweden without asking the people on the island what they thought about it.

During visits to the former Danish West Indies I found that a lot of people still have warm feelings toward Denmark, but they feel that we owe them something. And they are probably right.

Hans Mathiesen


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