As the majority of the country gets ready for a holiday weekend in celebration of the United States’ independence from England, the USVI begins their celebration a day early.
On this date in 1848, the Danish Governor-General, Peter von Scholten announced to slaves in revolt on St. Croix: “Now you are free, you are hereby emancipated.”
Following his announcement, he had this proclamation written in both Dutch and English and posted all over the territory:
Several slave revolts throughout the territory led to this eventual proclamation of freedom. You likely have heard or read about the 1733 revolt on St. John. At that time, there were 1000 enslaved laborers on St. John living under inhumane conditions. With only 200 European settlers on island, the odds were in their favor when a small group of them took the fort at Fortsberg in Coral Bay on November 23rd of that year. They fired the cannons in signal to the other plantations and the slaves rose up around the island in a 6 month revolt until the French came to assist in May of 1734.
On July 2, 1848, the slaves of St. Croix, led by John Gottliff AKA General Buddhoe, began an initial revolt in demand of their freedom. The Danish Governor-General responded in favor of this request after the revolutionaries had taken the town of Frederiksted and burned some of the island’s plantations.
General Buddhoe and his Admiral Martin King organized the group in Frederiksted on the morning of July 3 and, with the blowing of a conch shell, demanded their liberties be granted by noon that day. By 3PM the Danish Governor-General granted those freedoms, making the Danish West Indies one of the earliest to declare the emancipation of enslaved laborers.
Today, the statue of a figure blowing a conch shell in Cruz Bay’s Franklin Powell Park stands in the spirit of freedom for Virgin Islanders. And today the islanders remember the sacrifices and celebrate the independence for which their ancestors fought.
If you’re interested in the history of the Virgin Islands, there are several sites worth mentioning. I gather a lot of my historical information from Virgin Islands History, a collection of history from the Danish West-Indies. The St. John Historical Society is also an amazing resource!
Interested in hearing more about the story of the conch? Hear it straight from Ital Delroy Anthony!