The Virgin Islands of United States popularly known as United States Virgin Islands (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Virgin Islands or USVI) is a United States Overseas Territory in the Caribbean which is inhabited by mostly descendants of Africans, who were enslaved and brought to the Caribbean by Europeans to labor on sugar plantations. US Virgin Islands was formerly known as Danish West Indies until 1916.
The Islands which is renown for its white sand beaches, crystal-blue waters and idyllic sailing venues forms part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. It is situated precisely in the Atlantic Ocean, about 40 miles (64 km) east of Puerto Rico and immediately west of the British Virgin Islands. They share the Virgin Islands Archipelago with the Spanish Virgin Islands (administered by Puerto Rico) and the British Virgin Islands.
The territory consists of four main islands: Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and historically distinct Water Island, as well as several dozen smaller islands. The main islands have nicknames often used by locals: "Twin City" (St. Croix), "Rock City" (St. Thomas) and "Love City" (St. John). The total land area of the territory is 133.73 square miles (346.4 km2). The territory's capital is Charlotte Amalie on the island of Saint Thomas.
US Virgin Islands kids of the St Thomas majorette junior performing traditional dance: credit W, Bostwick
US Virgin Islands which currently has overwhelming population of black Africans of mostly West African ancestry was originally inhabited by the Ciboney (Cave-dwellers Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea), Tainos (Arawaks), and latter Kalinago (Caribs). Christopher Columbus, Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer sited the Islands on his second New World voyage in 1493 and named the Island "Las Once Mil Virgenes," in honor of Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Up to and including the 17th century, these islands were captured and controlled by many European powers, including France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.
In 1672, while expanding its influence into the Caribbean Sea, the Danish West India Company built settlements on Saint Thomas, then on Saint John in 1694; Denmark later purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. Denmark transformed the islands into royal Danish colonies in 1754, and soon thereafter, the sugarcane business began to prosper, driven of course on the backs of slave labor.
US Virgin Islands people
It is important to note that it was on these Islands that about 150 enslaved Akwamu (Akan) warriors from Gold Coast (Ghana) launched one of the most earliest, bloodiest and long-devastating slave rebellions on their European masters in November 23, 1733. The Akwamus on St. John especially did not see themselves as slaves, but rather as free men abducted from their homeland. Many were nobles, wealthy merchants or powerful warriors who were accustomed to large commands. The Akwamu slaves captured the fort in Coral Bay and took control of most of the island, intending to resume crop production under their own control and use other ethnic Africans as slave labor. The revolt ended in mid-1734 when several hundred French and Swiss troops sent from Martinique defeated the Akwamu. in fact, other African slaves of different ethnicity did not support the rebellion. Some even joined the Europeans against the Akwamus. It must also be emphasized here that, even before the Akwamu fomented slave revolt in the Caribbean island of St. John in 1733, in 1693, Asimani an Akwamu warlord who was unhappy about how the Whites were controlling trade instead of blacks led a raid and seized Osu Christianborg Castle (which used to be the seat of the Ghana government), from the Danish colonists. The Akwamu thus controlled many of the trade routes from the interior to the coast in the eastern half of what is now Ghana and created a capital at Nyanoase whiles Asamani became the unofficial governor of the Gold Coast.
The Danes (Denmark) sold USVI (formerly Danish West Indies) to the United States in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies of 1916. They are classified by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, and are currently an organized, unincorporated United States territory. The U.S. Virgin Islands are organized under the 1954 Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands and have since held five constitutional conventions. The last and only proposed Constitution, adopted by the Fifth Constitutional Convention in 2009, was rejected by the U.S. Congress in 2010, which urged the convention to reconvene to address the concerns Congress and the Obama Administration had with the proposed document. The convention reconvened in October 2012 to address these concerns, but was unable to produce a revised Constitution before its October 31 deadline.
According to the CIA`s "The World Factbook" of 2014 (cia.gov) the population of US Virgin Islands is hovering around 104,170. Out of this estimate approximately 72.6% are Blacks or Afro-Caribbeans of African ancestry, 13.5% are Whites, 1.1% Asians, 3.5% are of mixed ethnicity, whilst other minorities constitutes about 6.1%. It is also said that Hispanic or Latino of any race in USVI constitute 17.4% (10.3% Puerto Rican, 5.4% Dominican). Of the majority African descendants on this Islands majority are Akans (Akwamu, Fantes, Asantes, Akyem), and Gas from Ghana, with few Igbos and Yoruba from Nigeria, and some Fon and Ewes from Dahomey (republic of Benin). The evidence of Akan domination on Virgin Islands just like most Caribbean Islands is exhibited in their repertoire of folklore which is based on Akan story-telling characters Anansi (Kwaku Ananse) and Nto como (Ntikuma/Ntsikuma). Ananse stories are known by every US virgin Islander of African origin. They have never forgotten their African root.
Today tourism is the primary economic activity, accounting for 80% of GDP and employment. The islands normally host 2 million visitors a year, many of whom visit on cruise ships.
Virgin Islander Culture reflects the various peoples that have inhabited the present-day U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands throughout history. Although the territories are politically separate, they maintain close cultural ties. Like much of the English speaking Caribbean, Virgin Islands culture is syncretic, deriving chiefly from West African (mostly Akans from Ghana), European and American influences.
Virgin Islands culture continues to undergo creolization, the result of inter-Caribbean migration and cultural contact with other islands in the region, as well as the United States. Migration has altered the social landscape of both countries to the extent that in the British Virgin Islands, half of the population is of foreign (mostly Caribbean) origin and in the U.S. Virgin Islands, most native-born residents can trace their ancestry to other Caribbean islands.
US Virgin Island lady in her carnival attire
Symbolism: The territorial bird is the indigenous yellow breast, and the territorial flower is the yellow elder, commonly called "Ginger Thomas." The flag, adopted in 1921, is white with a yellow American eagle grasping three arrows in its left talon and with an olive branch in its right, between the blue initials "V" and "I." On its breast is a shield of the United States.
US Virgin Island women
The U.S. Virgin Islands are in the Atlantic Ocean, about 40 miles (64 km) east of Puerto Rico and immediately west of the British Virgin Islands. They share the Virgin Islands Archipelago with the Spanish Virgin Islands (administered by Puerto Rico) and the British Virgin Islands.
The territory consists of four main islands: Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and Water Island, as well as some 50 smaller islets and cays. The total area of the USVI is 133 square miles.
The main islands have nicknames often used by locals: "Twin City" (St. Croix), "Rock City" (St. Thomas) and "Love City" (St. John). The combined land area of the islands is roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are known for their white sand beaches, including Magens Bay and Trunk Bay, and strategic harbors, including Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted. Most of the islands, including Saint Thomas, are volcanic in origin and hilly. The highest point is Crown Mountain, Saint Thomas (1,555 ft or 474 m). Natural hazards include earthquakes and tropical cyclones (including hurricanes).
Beautiful US Virgin Islands
Saint Croix: The largest of the four islands in the USVI, St. Croix is sometimes referred to as the ‘big island’. It lies at 17°45′N 64°45′W: the easternmost point in the United States of America is St. Croix's Point Udall. The island has an area of 214.66 km² (82.88 sq mi), 22 miles long and the widest point is a little more than 6 miles and serves as a residence to 53,000+ .
St Croix Beach
Residential areas are fairly spread out around the island with a concentration of homes, schools, grocery stores and so on in the center of the island. Resorts and condos are mostly on the north shore and vacation villas can be found in various areas. The big island offers a big assortment of activities for visitors to enjoy.
The terrain on the east end of the island is rocky and arid with short grassy hillsides and many cactus clusters. The west end of the island is lush with large fruit trees and ferns gracing the mountains. In the middle of the island are miles of beautiful beaches, rolling pasturelands and beautiful land. St. Croix's highest peak, Mount Eagle, is 1,088 feet high. The land slopes to flatlands on the southern side of the island. There are two main towns Frederiksted and Christiansted. There are a few natural harbors and protected bays. St. Croix is about 40 miles away from St. Thomas. Three National Parks: Salt River which protects a diverse ecosystem in addition to pre-historic ruins; Buck Island with stunning marine gardens; and five historic structures in Christiansted that give visitors a look into Danish colonial way of life. Additional parks and preserves include: Sandy Point notable for its beauty and for its protected sea turtles, and Jack and Isaac Bays.
The island which is of volcanic origin and lies to the south of Saint Thomas in the Charlotte Amalie harbor has an irregular shape with many bays and peninsulas. The highest Point is 300 feet above sea level. It is located just half a mile from St. Thomas' south side. Ferry service runs regularly from Crown Bay, Saint Thomas to Phillips Landing, Water Island; the ferry ride is about 10 minutes.
The island has no significant commercial establishments. A number of homes on Water Island are available to accommodate visitors. The main attractions are beaches, including Honeymoon Beach, plantation ruins, Fort Segarra, an underground fort partially constructed by the U.S. during World War II, and scuba diving site Supermarket Reef, in Limestone Bay.
The east-most third of the island is a gated community, Sprat Bay Estates. This includes Sprat Point, a 30 acre peninsula and nature preserve owned by the United States Department of the Interior, and private Sprat Bay Beach, located between Sprat Point and Carol Point. All beaches in the USVI are public when approached from the water.
One of the principal attractions of Water Island is Honeymoon beach, in Druif Bay, on the west end of the island. Initially Honeymoon Beach could hardly be called a beach. It was an area about 50 feet long strewn with vegetation and rocks and only extended about 10 feet from the water line. The trees and brush were removed, 200 truck loads of rock and gravel were hauled off, and the beach stone was broken up with a bulldozer. The sand was sifted to remove any remaining debris and a dredge was used to remove the seaweed and to deposit sand on the shore. Rows of palm trees were planted back from the shoreline. This was all accomplished under the direction of Walter Phillips, the Master Leaseholder in the early 1950s.
Fort Segarra was built as part of the United States' defense strategies during World War II on Water Island in the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. World War II seacoast batteries here were Battery 314 at Flamingo Point (1944, never completed) and an Anti Motor Torpedo Boat Batteries. In addition some barracks, watch towers, ammunition bunkers were also created near Carolina Point as well as an infrastructure of docks, roads, water, sewage and power systems. It was to be an underground fort and its purpose was to protect the submarine base on St. Thomas. The war ended before its completion and the project was subsequently abandoned. The uncompleted post was transferred to the Army's Chemical Warfare Division in 1948 for testing poison gas and chemical agents on goats and pigeons for several years. Following the conclusion of these tests, the Army transferred control of this area to the Interior Department in 1952.
Gun emplacements, tunnels and underground rooms which were created during the Second World War building efforts are still visible. The site is now open for viewing, and tunnels and underground chambers are open for tours. The area is monitored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and soil samples are monitored from the former chemical test sites to ensure "that no residual contamination remains from previous Department of Defense activities.
The official language is English, although Virgin Islands Creole, an English-based creole, locally known as "dialect," is spoken in informal situations. The Virgin Islands Creole spoken on St. Croix, known as Crucian, is slightly different from that spoken on St.
A Dutch Creole, Negerhollands, arose in the seventeenth century on Saint Thomas from interactions between Dutch planters and African slaves and spread to Saint John and Saint Croix. In the next century, German missionaries translated the Bible into that language. With emancipation and the influx of English Creole speakers from other islands, the use of Dutch Creole declined. An English Creole arose on Saint Croix and is still spoken, although its use is generally limited to older islanders. The United States takeover in 1917 resulted in American English becoming the standard administrative, educational, and economic language. "Virgin Islands English," which retains some Creole features, is widely used in personal and informal situations.
Thomas and St. John. Because the U.S. Virgin Islands are home to thousands of immigrants from across the Caribbean, Spanish and various French creole languages are also widely spoken. Spanish has become increasingly important because of immigration from nearby islands; Spanish speakers make up 35 percent of the population of Saint Croix.As of the 2000 census, 25.3% of persons over the age of five speak a language other than English at home. Spanish is spoken by 16.8% of the population and French is spoken by 6.6%.
The first human habitation in the islands came in a form of ancient cave-dwelling Ciboneys. The human dwelling of the islands occurred as early as about 1000 BCE, with the arrival of Arawakan-speaking people from the Orinoco River basin of South America. Primarily farmers and fishers, they began to settle in villages about 200 BCE and eventually developed into the complex Taino culture beginning about 1200 CE. The warlike Carib settled in the islands in the mid-15th century and conquered the Taino. They were the islands’ dominant culture by the time Christopher Columbus reached St. Croix in 1493. Columbus named the islands Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes, in honour of the legendary St. Ursula and the 11,000 martyred virgins. Over the next two hundred years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Denmark-Norway.
In 1555 a Spanish expedition defeated the Carib and claimed the islands for Spain, but by 1625 English and French settlers were farming on St. Croix. In 1650 the Spaniards evicted the remaining English settlers, but the French took the islands later that same year. St. Croix was willed to the Hospitallers (Knights of Malta) in 1653, but they sold it to the French West India Company. In 1666 the English evicted the Dutch buccaneers who had established themselves on Tortola (now in the British Virgin Islands). That year Denmark claimed St. Thomas, and in 1684 it claimed St. John.
The Danish West India Company settled on Saint Thomas in 1672, on Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754, named the Danish-Westindian islands (Danish: De dansk-vestindiske øer). Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries, until the abolition of slavery by Governor Peter von Scholten on July 3, 1848. The first Africans to be sent here were mainly from Ghana (mostly Fantes, Gas, Asantes, Akyem and later Akwamu). Few other Africans from Dahomey and Nigeria were also brought in. The need for other African of different ethnicity became important for Danes, because the Akans, especially the Akwamus were very troublesome to be controlled. The Akans never see themselves as slaves and this led to serious slave rebellion in 1733 in which 150 Akwamu warriors nearly captured the entire Island of Saint Johns.
For the remainder of the period of Danish rule, the islands were not economically viable and significant transfers were made from the Danish state budgets to the authorities in the islands. In 1867 a treaty to sell Saint Thomas and Saint John to the United States was agreed, but the sale was never effected. A number of reforms aimed at reviving the islands' economy were attempted, but none had great success. A second draft treaty to sell the islands to the United States was negotiated in 1902 but was defeated in the upper house of the Danish parliament in a balanced ballot (because the opposition literally carried a 97-year old life member into the chamber)
The onset of World War I brought the reforms to a close and again left the islands isolated and exposed. During the submarine warfare phases of the First World War, the United States, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base, again approached Denmark with a view to buying them. After a few months of negotiations, a selling price of $25 million in United States gold coin was agreed (this is equivalent to $580 million in 2013 dollars). At the same time the economics of continued possession weighed heavily on the minds of Danish decision makers, and a consensus in favor of selling emerged in the Danish parliament.
The Treaty of the Danish West Indies was signed in August 1916, with a Danish referendum held in December 1916 to confirm the decision. The deal was finalized on January 17, 1917, when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. The United States took possession of the islands on March 31, 1917 and the territory was renamed the Virgin Islands of the United States. Every year Transfer Day is recognized as a holiday, to celebrate the acquisition of the islands by the United States. U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927.
Water Island, a small island to the south of Saint Thomas, was initially administered by the U.S. federal government and did not become a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands territory until 1996, when 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land was transferred to the territorial government. The remaining 200 acres (81 ha) of the island were purchased from the U.S. Department of the Interior in May 2005 for $10, a transaction which marked the official change in jurisdiction.
The U.S. Virgin Islands economy is based primarily on tourism and other services. The leading sectors in employment are government service; trade, encompassing personal, business, and domestic services including tourism; manufacturing; and finance, real estate, and insurance.
Trunk Bay beach on St. John in the US Virgin Islands
The tourism industry is the main industry, generating 80% of GDP and employment. The majority of tourists are from the USA and the most common way to get there is by sea. The tourism industry mostly employs those who have migrated to the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2005, a record of 2.6 million visitors visited.
About one-fifth of the total land area is farmland, most of it on St. Croix. In the late 20th century agricultural production underwent a transition from the traditional reliance on sugarcane to more-diversified crops. Fruits (especially mangoes, bananas, papayas, and avocados) and vegetables (notably tomatoes and cucumbers) are the main crops grown. Cattle (ranched on St. Croix), goats, sheep, and pigs are the main livestock. St. Croix produces milk sufficient for island needs. The government has built dams on St. Croix and St. Thomas to improve farmers’ water supply. Only 6 percent of the land is forested, but the government has planted large areas of St. Croix with mahogany and has reforested parts of St. Thomas. A bay forest on St. John supplies leaves for the bay-rum industry. Fishing is restricted to supplying local needs and to sportfishing.
The islands also receive cross-over subsidies, which generated approximately $100 million for the Virgin Islands in 2008.
With the help of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Virgin Islands Next Generation Network (a government-owned subsidiary) is bringing broadband internet access to the territory, in an effort to stimulate the technology sector and business generally.
Manufacturing: Manufacturing industries developed significantly in the 1970s, especially on St. Croix island. Most industries depend of tax concessions and the financial advantages they derive from being a U.S. territory. An alumina factory processed bauxite until December 2009. The Hovensa oil refinery produced 495,000 barrels per day (78,700 m3/d), and closed down in February 2012.
Major Industries. Manufacturing consists of textile, electronics, pharmaceutical, and watch assembly plants. Saint Croix has one of the world's largest oil refineries and an aluminum smelter. The need to rebuild after hurricanes has caused an upsurge in the construction industry.
Trade. Imports include crude oil, food, consumer goods, and building materials. The major source of export revenue is refined petroleum, with manufactured goods contributing a significant amount. The major trading partners are the United States and Puerto Rico.
Classes and Castes. Historically, the society was divided along caste and color lines. Even after emancipation in 1848, ex-slaves' participation in the political process was restricted and their freedom of movement and emigration were limited by legislation. A result of Danish determination to maintain the status quo was the Fireburn of 1878, a labor revolt on Saint Croix that destroyed many plantations.
Symbols of Social Stratification. The use of Standard English characterizes the upper classes. Children often use native forms at home and speak Standard English at school. A higher percentage of males speak dialect than do females. The use of dialect is considered an important part of the culture but an impediment to educational and economic mobility.
Government. Congress established the government through the Revised Organic Act of 1954. The Office of Insular Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior administers the islands. The governor and lieutenant governor are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. There is a fifteen-seat Senate whose members are elected for two-year terms. The islands elect one representative to the U.S. House of Representatives who may vote in committees and subcommittees. Virgin Islands citizens do not vote in United States' presidential elections. The judicial branch is composed of the U.S. District Court, with judges appointed by the President, and the Territorial Court, with judges appointed by the governor.
Leadership and Political Officials. The current governor and the current representative to the U.S. House are both Democrats. In the Senate, the Democratic Party holds six seats and the Republican Party and the Independent Citizens Movement have two seats each; the remaining five seats are held by independents.
Social Problems and Control. The high cost of living and the low pay scale for service sector jobs have created widespread discontent. Saint Croix has seen drive-by shootings, but most crime is property-related. To protect tourism, the government has increased the law enforcement budget. Local officials work with the Drug Enforcement Agency, Customs, and the Coast Guard to combat the illegal drug trade.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
The Department of Human Services attempts to provide for the needs of low-income persons, the elderly, children and families, and the disabled.
US Virgin island lady
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
The Saint Croix Foundation is active in community development and has established anticrime initiatives. Environmental associations on the three main islands promote ecological awareness, sponsor guided outings, and encourage responsible legislation.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Women are increasing their participation in the economic and political areas. The U.S. Small Business Administration established the Virgin Islands Women's Business Center in 1999 to encourage and train women business owners. The heroine of the 1878 labor rebellion in Saint Croix was "Queen Mary," a canefield worker. The current Senate president and the presiding judge of the Territorial Court are women.
St Croix man from USVI
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. One in three families is headed by a single female parent. The rate of unmarried teenage pregnancy is increasing and is a major social concern. Wedding customs range from the traditional African "jump the broom" to European-influenced church ceremonies.
Domestic Unit. According to 1995 census data, married couples comprise 57 percent of households and unmarried females with children, 34 percent. The average household has two children.
Inheritance. The concept of jointly owned "family land" accommodates the pattern of alternately settling down and moving that has characterized the lives of many families since colonial times.
Infant Care. Women are responsible for infant care. Breast-feeding is supplemented by formula given in bottles; the use of formula results in early weaning. In more traditional households, folk beliefs about infant care, including the use of "bush tea" to induce sleep, are common.
Child Rearing and Education. A "bogeyman" is used as a threat to correct children's bad behavior. Education is compulsory and free. Multicultural education is seen as a necessity, but there is growing concern about the public schools, and those who can afford private schools generally choose that alternative. A higher percentage of females than males finish high school.
Higher Education. The University of the Virgin Islands, founded in 1962, has campuses on Saint Thomas and Saint Croix. It offers bachelor's degrees in a number of areas and master's degrees in business administration and public administration.
As in most Caribbean countries, Christianity is the dominant religion in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Protestantism is most prevalent, reflecting the territory's Danish colonial heritage. There is also a strong Roman Catholic presence.
The predominant religious affiliations are Baptist (42 percent), Catholic (34 percent), and Episcopalian (17 percent). Remnants of African culture are found in the belief in spirits.
As in other Caribbean islands, Rastafari is also prevalent. There are some Jews living in the territory, and a significant Muslim population, primarily of Palestinian descent.
Rituals and Holy Places: Saint Thomas has the second oldest synagogue in the New World. Lord God of Sabaoth Lutheran Church and the Friedensthal Moravian Church on Saint Croix are the oldest congregations of their kind in the United States. To commemorate their freedom in 1848, former slaves built the All Saints Cathedral. The Arawak Indian carvings on Saint John may have religious significance.
Fungi (pronounced fun-gee) is a main staple of the traditional Virgin Islands diet. It consists of cornmeal that has been boiled and cooked to a thick consistency along with okra. Fungi is usually eaten with boiled fish or saltfish.
Their main snack is Pate (Pronounced PAH-TEH), fried dough filled with various meats including beef, chicken or saltfish stuffed inside is a popular snack (similar to a Jamaican patty). Another popular snack is Johnnycake (originally known as 'journey cake'), a pastry also made with fried dough.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Sugar cakes made with coconut and boiled sugar, are a traditional midafternoon snack. Maubi, a local drink, is made from the bark of a tree, herbs, and yeast. Souse is a stew of pig's head, tail, and feet, flavored with lime juice that is served on festive occasions.
“Bush tea”, a general term for any herbal tea derived from native plants (including lemongrass), is the hot beverage of choice in the Virgin Islands. Popular cold beverages include maubi, sorrel, soursop, sea moss and passion fruit. Drinks with ginger root are also popular.
Legal holidays include 1 January, New Year's Day; 6 January, Three Kings Day; 15 January, Martin Luther King Day; President's Day on the third Monday in February; Memorial Day on the last Monday in May; Independence Day, 4 July; Veterans Day, 11 November; and Thanksgiving.
Legal holidays commemorating local events include Transfer Day (from Denmark to the United States in 1917); 31 March, Organic Act Day; Virgin Islands/Danish West Indies Emancipation Day, 3 July; and D. Hamilton Jackson Day on 1 November. Carnival was officially reinstated in 1952 and is celebrated at different times. Carnival celebrations include parades, floats, stilt walking "Mocko Jumbies," steel pan competitions, beauty contests, and food fairs.
US Virgin island carnival
Music of the Virgin Islands
The music of the Virgin Islands reflects long-standing West Indian cultural ties to the island nations to the south, the islands' African heritage and European colonial history, as well as recent North American influences. Though the United States Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands are politically separate, they maintain close cultural ties. From its neighbors, the Virgin Islands has imported various pan-Caribbean genres of music, including calypso from Trinidad and reggae from Jamaica.
The major indigenous form of music is the scratch band (also called fungi band in the British Virgin Islands), which use improvised instruments like gourds and washboards to make a kind of music called quelbe. A Virgin Island folk song called cariso is also popular, as well as St. Thomas' bamboula. The quadrille is the traditional folk dance of the islands, and include varieties like St. Croix's Imperial Quadrille and St. Thomas' Flat German Quadrille. The Heritage Dancers are a respected dance troupe that perform traditional folk dances from the Virgin Islands and beyond.
Folk music: Virgin Islander folk music has declined since the mid-20th century, though some traditions, such as scratch bands, remain vibrant. Trends that contributed to this change include the rise of the tourism industry, the switch of American tourists from Cuba to the Virgin Islands following the 1959 revolution, and the growth of industries based on mass radio, television and recorded music. These changes "(diluted) local traditions and (diverted) younger generations" from becoming involved in folk music, because popular styles came to be viewed as having more prestige, class and income.
Scratch bands and fungi music: Scratch bands, also known as fungi bands and formerly string bands, are a distinctive form of folk ensemble; they have survived the decline of other Virgin Islander folk traditions, through adapting to newly imported instrumentation and songs, and becoming a part of a more general revival of interest in folk culture on the islands. The name scratch band may derive from the sound produced by scraping the squash, an instrument similar to the Puerto Rican guiro, but larger, or from the word squash itself, used to refer to the bands first by American visitors and then by locals.
The traditional scratch band ensemble varied, but always used a percussive instrument, either the squash, tambourine, or a local form of double-headed barrel drum similar to the Dominican tambora, as well as an accordion, cane flute or violin as a melodic instrument. String instruments were also common, including the banjo, ukulele or a six-string guitar. The ass pipe, made out of a car exhaust tube, often provided the bass, and was played similar to the tuba. Since about the 1980s, the instrumentation for scratch bands became more rigid. The alto saxophone became the most common melodic instrument, replaced sometimes by a silver flute. Conga drums, squash, electric guitar or bass guitar, and a steel (a triangle). Banjo or ukulele, keyboard and additional saxophones or other melodic instruments are more rarely found in modern bands.
The music of scratch bands are a type of folk music that dates back to the days of slavery. The slaves on the islands used found objects to fashion instruments, such as by making strings out of twine salvaged from old sacks. Lyrics traditionally function as oral history, spreading news and gossip. Modern scratch bands play a wide range of dances, including calypsos, boleros, quadrilles, international pop songs, merengues, mazurkas, waltzes, jigs and other styles. They perform at church services, private parties, public festivals, local dances and fairs, christenings and weddings, and also perform for tourists. The scratch band tradition remains most vibrant on St. Croix, where the bands Bully & the Kafooners, Stanley & the Ten Sleepless Knights, and Blinky & the Roadmasters are well known. Scratch bands are less common on St. Thomas, and in the British Virgin Islands, though the popular Elmo & the Sparkplugs hail from Tortola.
Quelbe: Quelbe is a form of topical folk song, and is the official music of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Quelbe is commonly performed by scratch bands, Stanley & the Ten Sleepless Nights being the most popular throughout the Virgin Islands, though their folk origin lies in individuals, who sang the songs in informal settings, celebrations and festivals. These songs typically contained sexual innuendos and double entendres, as well as other hidden meanings; common topics included political events, such as a boycott. One example from the early 20th century chastises a carousel owner for opposing a wage increase:
I rather walk and drink rum whole night
Before me go ride on LaBega Carousel
I rather walk, man, and drink rum whole night
Before me go ride on LaBega Carousel
You no hear what LaBega say
"The people no worth more than fifteen cent a day"
You no hear what LaBega say, man
"The people no worth more than half cent a day" (Soule, Mary Jane; Lieth-Phillip, Margot (1993). Zoop Zoop Zoop: Traditional Music and Folklore of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. Liner notes. New York: New World Records. cited in Sheehy, pg. 971)
Other folk styles: The quadrille is a folk dance that was formerly an important part of Virgin Islands culture; it is now rarely performed, except on St. Croix. There, locals dance the quadrille at public performance venues, such as St. Gerard's Hall, or as educational spectacles for schools, festivals and holidays, or as entertainment for tourists. Educational and entertainment quadrille troops both wear traditionally styled clothing reminiscent of authentic attire.
The Virgin Islands tea meetings, the David and Goliath play and masquerade jig all probably derive from elsewhere in the Caribbean. The masquerade jig uses elements of theater, dance, music and oratory, and functions as simple entertainment with improvised jigs alternated with humorous monologues. Tea meetings are now only performed as reconstructions in folkloric ensembles; they were evenings of speech-making, feasting and the singing of hymns and parlor songs. The David and Goliath play features music, dance, theater, and dramatic and witty speeches, all based around the biblical plot of David and Goliath.
The Afro-Virgin Islander bamboula tradition is now only performed in a reconstructed fashion. It was a style of song, drumming and folk dance, performed by two drummers on one drum; one drum used his hands and heel, and the other two sticks. African-styled dance and group song with refrains were a constant part, with verses frequently improvised by a soloist.
Traditional Virgin Islander folk music festivals were performed until the late 1950s. Masquerading (mas'ing) was an important tradition, and consisted of groups wearing costumes based around a theme, and playing melodies and rhythms that suggest their identity. Instruments included a fife-and-drum ensemble that featured a cane fife, double-headed bass drum (known as keg or boom-boom) and snare drum (known as kettledrum).
Caribbean Quadrille Genera
The Virgin Islander cariso tradition is extinct in a true folk context, but remains an important symbol of Crucian culture, and is performed by folkloric ensembles for educational and holiday events. Carisos were still performed as late as the 1990s by several elderly singers, most famously Ethel McIntosh and Leona Watson. Though similar in some ways to quelbe, cariso is more African in its melodic style, frequent sustained syllables and traditional performance context, namely women singing in groups in call-and-response. Carisos, like quelbe, commemorate historical events, and spread news and opinions about important issues. One particularly famous cariso dates to 1848, and documents the emancipation of the slaves; the first segment is the refrain, sung by a chorus, which is followed by a verse performed by a soloist singer:
"Clear the road, all you clear the road, Clear the road, let the slave them pass, We a go for a-we freedom.
Hardship in the morning, suffering at night. No one ever help us, it is only Father Ryan. They bring we ya from Africa, that we bornin' land; Bring we ya in slavery, in the land of Santa Cruz."
By the 1980s, Virgin Islands was home to many imported styles, especially salsa, reggae, soca, merengue and rock. Jazz, Western classical music and musical theater, along with international pop stars, were common mainstream interests, while the islands' youth formed bands and dance troupes that played styles popular across the Caribbean, mainly Latin, Jamaican and Trinidadian influenced, such as salsa, reggae, steelpan and soca. The large Puerto Rican population in the Virgin Islands kept popular music from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic a major part of the islands' industry.
Calypso: The first calypso star from the Virgin Islands was Lloyd "Prince" Thomas, who moved to New York City in the mid-1940s and continued performing for some twenty years. Charles Harris, the Mighty Zebra (a well-known Trinidadian calypsonian) influentially performed in the Virgin Islands in the 1950s; he came for the Carnival in 1952, and stayed, playing at the Virgin Isles Hotel with the LaMotta Brothers Band. The LaMotta Band, led by Bill LaMotta, was a very popular group that recorded several albums and backed Mighty Zebra on a 1957 album for RCA Records. The remaining major early calypso band from the Virgin Islands was the Fabulous McClevertys, who toured widely across the East Coast of the United States at the height of the calypso craze in the late 1950s.
Another popular Virgin Islands calypsonian is Irvin "Brownie" Brown, who has hosted the islands' Carnival and has been a leading singer, radio entertainer, MC and drummer for many years. Originally from St. Thomas, he learned the timbales as a young man, and joined his uncle's hotel band in 1949 or 1950. The band soon began performing in Florida and elsewhere, and Brownie became known as a calypso singer while also learning bongos, congas and a trap set. They recorded for Monogram and then Art Records, with Mighty Panther and the Haitian singer Calypso Mama. Brownie's return to St. Thomas was followed by joining up with Milo & the Kings, a well-known band, for whom he was a percussion for seventeen years, recording a number of albums and touring across North America and the Caribbean. He began working as a DJ for the WSTA radio station in 1966, and continued for more than three decades; he had a regular talk show with calypso performances, The Original Side of Walter and Brownie.
Salsa: In the 1950s through present day Milo and the Kings (Emile Francis - music director) kept Latin music alive, especially on St. Thomas. Milo and the Kings were famous for playing with such infamous bands as El Gran Combo (Rafael Ithier - music director and Salsa Maestro to Milo), Tito Puento, Joe Cuba, Mongo Santa Maria, to name a few. Present day Milo's Kings sometimes attempt to honor Milo with Salsa. In 1998 Puerto RIco became the birthplace of Reggaeton music, a mix of Reggae and Latin music combined with Spanish Rap & Reggae. Prominent Reggaeton Artist from the Virgin Islands include Kamakazi, Nicky Jam, Nene Ganja, Panty Man.
Soca: The Virgin Islands has been home to a number of well-known soca bands. Among the oldest and most respected are: Milo & The Kings, Mandingo Brass, Imaginations Brass, & Eddie & the Movements (later renamed the "Awesome JamBand").
The "Jam Band" (formerly Eddie & the Movements) are 20 time Road March Champions. The original "Jam Band" slowed up with the death of the band's main front man "Nick 'Daddy' Friday" who died in 2005. The Enforcements band hailed out of Monbijou, St. Croix (many members branched out to form different bands).
The Imaginations Brass was the first group to incorporate the used of electronic drums & keyboard sequencers into their music. They started the trend & other groups (such as Seventeen Plus & the JamBand) later advanced the technique. It demonstrated the full use of the drum machines, electronic keyboards, vocals, and a bass line working together to set a new standard for Caribbean Music.
Other popular bands included: Seventeen Plus (17+); VIO International; Xpress Band (St. Croix Festival's 2006-2007 Roadmarch Champions); Starlites; P'your Passion Band; Xtaushun Band (St. Croix Festival two-time Road March Champions)."; Fusion Band(St. Croix Festival four-time Road March Champions); DJATC (Daddy Jones And The Crew); the Jammerz HP (formerly known as JDPP Jammerz); De Fabulous Stroka Band; Hyvoltage Band; Code 9; Xpress Band; Jam Tyme; UMB Soldiers; Rupsion Band; Spectrum Band (St. Thomas Carnival four-time Road March Champions); Kylo & Stylee Band; and Pumpa & The Unit have also made names for themselves.
Reggae: A reggae scene has been flourishing in the Virgin Islands, especially the island of St. Croix. The Virgin Islands reggae scene has achieved much popularity throughout the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, the United States, South America and Europe. Prominent reggae artists from the Virgin Islands include Pressure, Midnite, Dezarie, Army, Abja, De Apostle, Niyorah, Emanuel, Bambu Station, Inner Visions, Sabbattical Ahdah, Eno, Revalation, Iba Wicked, Jah Rubal, Jah Croix and many more. The reggae music of St. Croix has a distinct "roots" feeling and is strongly rooted in Rastafari. A prominent known reggae label in St. Croix is I Grade Records, who have released countless Midnite releases, two Dezarie albums, Niyorah albums, Army albums and Abja albums. Bambu Station guitarist Tuff Lion, along with Laurent Alfred of I Grade Records produce many of the tracks.
St. Croix also boasts a reggae radio station, WSTX 100.3 FM, which features Virgin Islands reggae.
Band Music: European-based military band music first came to the Virgin Islands through ship-based bands as well as the small military ensembles of the Danish troops based in the islands. Regular band concerts were given by Danish musicians in Charlotte Amalie at least as early as 1888 at the Emancipation Garden bandstand. The Native Brass Band, reportedly the first official band of local musicians, was formed under the direction of Lionel Roberts in 1907, while the Adams Juvenile Band appeared in 1910 and would be inducted into the U.S. Navy when the service took over the administration of the islands from Denmark in 1917. The induction of this all-black unit into the U.S. Navy was remarkable for its time and thus recognized the first black musicians in the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812. The United States Navy Band of the Virgin Islands gave regular public concerts on St. Thomas until the departure of the naval administration in 1931, and not long after its founding two additional navy band units were stationed on St. Croix. Alton Augustus Adams, Sr., the founder of the Juvenile Band and the bandmaster of the Navy ensemble, also wrote the Virgin Islands March (1919), now the official territorial anthem of the Virgin Islands, as well as The Governor's Own, the official march of the Virgin Islands Governor. With the exception of a single surviving bamboula arrangement, Adams's marches are entirely in the standard American march style of his idol, John Philip Sousa.
Hip-Hop: There has been the development of a hip-hop scene in the Virgin Islands, especially on the island of St. Thomas. There is also a burgeoning hip-hop scene among Virgin Islands artists in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Prominent Virgin Islands hip-hop artists include DJ Many from St.Croix Iyaz from Tortola, Rock City, Verse Simmonds from St. Thomas, K'Are from Tortola, Virgin Islands, British of the CB 4 Lyfe camp who also does Solo but is still a member of CB and the VI centered hip hop group Dem Rude Boyz.
Americanization in the U.S. Virgin Islands has led to the preponderance of American sports such as baseball, American football and basketball, while sports more popular in the English-speaking Caribbean, such as cricket and football, are also played.
Americanization in sports can be seen in the British Virgin Islands, as well. For example, basketball is much more widely played than cricket, one of the most popular sports in the Anglophone Caribbean.
Although dependent territories, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands both have their own independent national sports teams and compete in regional and international athletic events. In cricket, both territories are represented by the West Indies Cricket Team.
St. John Slave Rebellion by Akan Akwamu people of Gold Coast (Ghana)
Excerpted from St. John Off The Beaten Track
The Slave Trade
The Danish colonization of St. John was undertaken in 1718 for the purpose of establishing plantations where tropical products such as sugar, cotton, indigo and other crops could be cultivated. The most profitable of these crops was sugar.
Sugar production in the West Indies was an extremely lucrative affair. The sudden introduction of sugar to Europe created a great demand for this exotic new product. With this high demand and preciously small supply, the price of sugar was high, and the profit potential was enormous. Many of those involved in this new industry were able to accumulate great wealth and power. It has been said that the only present day business comparable to the sugar trade of the colonial days is drug trafficking.
European colonial powers battled fiercely over control of the new colonies. Pirates and privateers infested the seas in an orgy of murder and plunder. Worst of all was the development of slavery as an institution in the Americas. Slave labor was employed for the exploitation, settlement, and development of the new territories.
When the Spanish first invaded and colonized the New World, they attempted to use the indigenous population as a slave labor force. Disease brought by the Europeans, warfare, cruel treatment, and overwork all but wiped out this race within a short time.
When the Danes occupied St. Thomas in 1672 there were no indigenous inhabitants living there, nor were there any on St. John in 1718. Therefore, the possibility of obtaining slave labor from this source was not available to the Danes.
The Danish government and the government-supported and subsidized Danish West India Company tried to encourage young Danes to emigrate to St. Thomas to labor on the plantations. Very few responded. Prisoners were then brought over to work as indentured servants with the stipulation that they would receive their freedom after six years, though few would survive that long. Apart from this, indentured servitude was exactly the same as slavery. They lived, ate and worked with the slaves and were subject to the same arbitrary punishments. Their social position was of the lowest order and they were looked down upon by both Africans and Europeans. The prisoners viewed emigration to the colonies as a death sentence. Their desperation and discontent resulted in mutinies and resistance. In response, the Danes began to place more emphasis on the importation of slave labor from Africa.
The first African slaves were brought to Hispaniola in 1502, and slavery was not completely abolished until the early twentieth century. During this roughly four hundred year span, it has been estimated that as many as 12 million Africans were unwillingly transported to the Americas.
A form of slavery existed within Africa prior to the advent of European colonialism. Tribalism has been a major influence in African political history, and warfare between rival tribes was a common occurrence. Many of the Africans who were sold into slavery were prisoners captured in these tribal wars.
The institution of slavery that developed in the colonization of the Americas was, first and foremost, a business. It was characterized by the profit motive, greed, and lacked morality, compassion and human decency. The Europeans' need for cheap labor created the demand. The existence of slaves acquired through the persistent warring of African nations provided the supply. Thus, a market and trade for human beings was established.
The captives were brought to the European forts or slave factories. The factors, or buyers, at the fort would buy the slaves using a barter system. The slaves were then chained and stored in warehouses called barrcoons until the slave ships arrived.
The Danes maintained such a fort at Accra on the Guinea Coast called Christianborg. The Danish West India and Guinea Company sent company ships bearing items such as rum, firearms, gunpowder, clothing and other goods, which were bartered for ivory, gold and slaves to the tribal leaders controlling the trade.
The voyage to the New World was known as the Middle Passage. Captives were confined into such small areas that it was impossible to stand or even sit. Inside the ship's holds, it was dark, dank and stuffy. There was no proper ventilation or sanitary facilities. The ship's officers and crew were made up of the prisoners, misfits and outcasts of Europe. Women were subjected to rapes and indignities. Disease, desperation and suicide claimed many lives before the ships even reached their final destinations in America or the West Indies.
Upon arrival the slaves were sold at public auction and then marched to the plantations for a period of "seasoning". One third of these new arrivals from Africa, called bussals, died during the seasoning period.
Early Danish settlement
The Danish West India and Guinea Company was chartered in 1671 and given the right to govern and exploit Denmark's first colony in the New World - St. Thomas. The company was granted a royal charter to St. John from the King of Denmark in 1717 and St. John was under company rule until King Frederick of Denmark terminated this agreement in 1755.
Twenty five settlers (eleven Dutch, nine Danes and five Frenchmen), sixteen enslaved Africans, and five Danish soldiers, under the command of Axel Dahl, sailed to St. John in the company of the governor of St. Thomas, Erik Bredal. They landed in Coral Bay on the east end of the island.
Seventeenth century Denmark had marginal resources and a relatively small population of approximately one half million people. Moreover, the Danes were reluctant to emigrate to the new colonies and Denmark lacked a sufficient population to effectively occupy their new territories. To compensate for this, foreigners were invited into the population of the colonies.
The largest and most influential of these foreigners to settle in St. Thomas, and later to settle on St. John, were Dutch. By 1721, of the 39 planters on St. John there were 25 Dutchmen and only 9 Danes. The Dutch, more than any other national group, influenced the culture of the Danish colonies, which prior to the acquisition of St. Croix in 1733, consisted only of St. Thomas and St. John. The most important language was Dutch and Dutch Creole became the "lingua franca" of the Danish islands.
By 1733 more than 1,000 slaves labored on 109 plantations on St. John. Twenty-one of these plantations were in the business of planting and processing sugar. The rest grew cotton and other crops. By the end of the century, however, the vast majority of the plantations were dedicated to sugar production, and there were more than 2,500 slaves on the island. On average, one slave was used for the cultivation of each acre of land.
African Background of the Rebellion
As early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, Accra on the Guinea Coast had become a center of economic power. The Accra tribe acted as the middleman in the exchange of slaves, gold and ivory from the interior for manufactured goods such as firearms, powder, lead, rum and cloth from the Europeans who operated out of fortifications on the coast.
The Danes entered the slave trade in 1657 by attacking the Swedes who were already established on the West Coast of Africa. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Danish West India and Guinea Company had consolidated their slave operation to the vicinity of Accra and traded with the Accra tribe.
All travel and transportation from the interior to the coast occurred along narrow forest paths. The Accras used another tribe, the Akwamu, whom the Danes called the Amina, to control the passage of merchants and merchandise along these trails. This was done so that all goods from the interior would have to pass through an Accra-dominated area north of the region's capital, Great Accra. Thus, direct access to the Europeans was denied to the traders from the interior, and merchants were forced to have the Accras as middlemen. For this unwanted service, the Accras demanded a percentage of the profits of this lucrative trade.
As time went on, the Akwamu, who had been paying tribute to the Accras, became more powerful. They directly controlled the paths leading from the inland centers to the European commanded forts on the coast. Realizing their power, the Akwamu demanded a tribute in gold from the Accras in order to permit traders to pass through Akwamu territory. In the 1670s the Akwamus allied themselves with the Accras' neighboring tribes, the Agaves to the east and the Agonas to the west. These alliances put further pressure on the Accras.
The Akwamus were excellent warriors. They developed an improved military strategy specific to the conditions imposed by the heavily forested environment. They also emphasized the use of missile weaponry, such as bows and arrows and flintlock rifles, which they obtained from the Europeans.
In 1677 the Akwamus attacked and conquered the Accras. Through a series of violent and bloody military campaigns, the Akwamus became the dominant tribe in the district of Accra, along the lower Gold Coast and the Upper Slave Coast.
Thousands were killed, and many prisoners were taken. The Accras, former allies and trading partners of the Danes, fled to the fort at Christianborg seeking protection. The commanders of the fort chose to remain neutral and did nothing to stop the slaughter and capture of the Accras.
The Akwamus were heavy-handed in dealing with the tribes they had conquered. They forcibly conscripted troops from the conquered tribes, demanded tributes and payments, levied excessive taxes, and resorted to the instigation of disputes and other forms of trickery and unfair tactics to justify the enslavement of peoples from the conquered tribes.
For example, I. Akwamu Wilks in The Rise of the Akwamu Empire, 1650-1710, wrote:
In every town (the Akwamu) took some wives, three or four according to the size of the town, and left them there to stay. Then every year they would travel from place to place, and make these wives eat fetish (That is, swear to tell the truth on pain of death from divine power) so that they would confess what men had had contact with them. These disclosures were made willingly, since the women would get part of the fines, and the gallants might be sold as slaves unless their friends ransomed them.
The Akwamu abuse of power eventually led to resistance and rebellion from the tyrannized peoples. When the Akwamu king died in 1725, a conflict arose over who would take power. This weakened the Akwamus, and the conquered peoples of the area attacked the Akwamu nation. By 1730 the Akwamu were defeated, their capital city destroyed, and their reigning king beheaded.
Once again the oppressed became the oppressors and thousands of Akwamu men and women were sold into slavery. Many of these Akwamus were sold to the Danes at the fort in Christianborg in the early part of the 1730s. They were then placed on ships bound for the slave market in St. Thomas. Many were sold to plantations on St. John.
From the company's records:
Haabet Galley, Danish registry, Captain A.H. Hammer, came to St. Thomas, February 1731, to sell 21 men 29 women, 5 boys, total of 55 out of Guinea; Cost to company wholesale 70 rigsdalers, cost to planter 120 rigsdalers.
From the company's records:
Laarburg Galley, Danish registry, Captain Lorenzo Jaeger (replaced by Captain Hammer) May 1733. It carried 443 captives out of Guinea of whom 242 survived (124 men, 64 women, 26, boys, 28 girls); 199 died of dysentery and two were sold to the Portuguese. The ship made an overall profit of 69.5% from the survivors; cost to company; 70 rigsdalers, cost to planters; 120-150 rigsdalers. (From MAPes MONDe Collection)
In 1733 at the time of the slave rebellion there were hundreds of Akwamu men and women among the slave population of St. John. Of the approximately 150 Africans who were involved in the rebellion, all were Akwamus. Africans of other ethnic backgrounds, some of whom had been sold into slavery by the Akwamus, did not support the rebellion. Some even joined the Europeans against the Akwamus.
The Akwamus on St. John did not see themselves as slaves, but rather as slave owners. Many were nobles, wealthy merchants or powerful warriors who were accustomed to large commands.
Information on the African background came from Sandra F. Greene's research appearing in The Danish West Indian Slave Trade, by George F. Tyson and Arnold R. Highfield.
Causes of the rebellion
Weakness of the Central Government and the Military
As previously mentioned, Denmark, a comparatively weak nation, began their colonization of the New World later than the other European colonial powers. St. Thomas and St. John were rocky, mountainous, and lacked a significant amount of rainfall. The Danes were able to colonize and settle these islands mainly because none of the other Europeans showed much interest in acquiring this territory.
Without a sufficient number of their own citizens to inhabit their new colonies, Denmark invited peoples of other nations to settle them. Thus, foreigners exerted a strong influence on government decisions.
The plantations were only marginally profitable, and the Danish West India Company lacked the motivation and the resources to provide a strong army for the defense of the islands. They relied instead on a citizen's militia. On St. John this situation bordered on the absurd. Aside from the ineffective civil guard, the number of soldiers stationed on St. John at the time of the slave rebellion numbered six. Moreover, morale was low and the incidence of disease, alcoholism and mortality were high.
Absentee Ownership of Plantations
Many of St. John's plantations were owned by men and women from St. Thomas who also had estates on that island. The St. Thomians usually hired overseers called Mesterknegte to manage their holdings on St. John. These overseers were not always honest and often failed to act in the best interests of the planters. (Out of sight, out of mind.) The overseers certainly did not give the interests of the slaves much attention.
Low Ratio of European to Africans on St. John
Partly because many of the plantation owners and their families lived in St. Thomas, and partly due to the nature of the plantation system itself, the ratio of European planters to African slaves on St. John became extremely low. The lack of a town or any alternative industries also contributed to this low ratio.
Drought, Starvation and Marooning
On St. John slaves were required to provide the labor necessary to grow the food they ate. They did this on their own plots of land, which were cultivated in their spare time. Because there was no supervision by the owners or overseers, slaves could use the time spent tending these grounds to talk freely among themselves and to make plans.
In 1725 and 1726 and again in 1733, St. John experienced prolonged droughts, and the provision grounds could not yield sufficient food; the slaves faced starvation.
In 1733 much of the land on St. John was not yet cleared and there were still large areas of thick bush and forest. The opportunities provided by this environment, combined with the skills the slaves developed from tending their provision grounds, made it possible for them to run away from the plantation. They were able to disappear into the bush and provide for themselves by tending small gardens, gathering and fishing. The fierce and warlike Akwamu (or Aminas as they were called by the Danes) also demanded the support of slaves still on the plantations.
By 1733 starvation, overwork, and harsh treatment had caused a significant number of slaves from the Amina tribe to maroon.
Slave Code of 1733
The drought of 1733 ended with a severe hurricane in July. This was followed by a plague of insects. Both plantation crops and provision grounds were devastated. Governor Philip Gardelin's Code of 1733 was written primarily as a response to the problem of marooning. Almost half of the nineteen provisions included in the code provided punishments for various forms and aspects of maroonage.
If slaves ran away to another country, or even contemplated, conspired, or attempted to leave the country, the punishment was torture by red-hot pincers at three separate public locations, followed by execution.
Those running away or conspiring to run away from the plantation, but not involving escape from the Danish islands were to lose a leg. If their masters pardoned them, they were to receive 150 strokes and suffer the loss of an ear.
Punishments of varying severity such as the cutting off of a leg, branding or whipping were prescribed for different degrees of maroonage, such as maroonage lasting over six months, maroonage over two weeks, and failure to inform of plots to run away.
The outnumbered whites also felt it necessary to include in the code, punishments for failure to show proper respect and deference. Menacing gestures or verbal insults to whites could be punishable by hanging, preceded by three applications of glowing pincers. At the discretion of the insulted or menaced victim, the slave's punishment could alternatively be the amputation of an arm. If a slave met a white person on the street, the slave would have to step aside.
It was prohibited for slaves to wear iron-tipped sticks or knives at their sides, although the carrying of machetes was allowed. The reason for this was that because the slaves were prohibited from owning weapons, they had developed the art of fighting with their walking sticks. This form of fighting reached the sophistication of the advanced martial arts practiced in other areas of the world. Machetes, on the other hand, were perceived as tools.
Theft of property by slaves was punishable by torture followed by hanging. Petty theft and possession of stolen property was punishable by branding on the forehead and up to 150 strokes.
Being out past curfew was punishable by whipping. Dancing, feasts, or funeral rites involving the use of "Negro instruments" as well as the practice of Obeah was prohibited and would be punished by whipping.
Conspiracy to poison, or the use of poison, was punishable by torture with hot pincers, being broken on the wheel and then burnt alive.
The preamble to the code expressed the philosophy that the slave was the property of the owner and had no rights.
The law was written in an effort to control the slaves through intimidation and terror and, thereby to prevent marooning. The passage of the law, however, produced the opposite effect. The slaves, faced with the impossible choice between starvation on one hand and mutilation and execution on the other, realized that their only way out was rebellion.
On November 23, 1733 slaves carrying bundles of wood were let into the fort at Coral Bay. Concealed in the wood were cane knives, which the rebels used to kill the half-asleep and surprised soldiers who were guarding the fort. One soldier, John Gabriel, escaped by hiding under his bed and running away when he had a chance. He was able to get to St. Thomas in a small boat and tell the story to Danish officials there. The rebels raised the flag and fired three cannon shots. This was the signal for slaves on the plantations to kill their masters and take control of the island.
The rebels proceeded to kill many of the whites in the Coral Bay area. The insurgents gained in number as they progressed from plantation to plantation. Some whites were spared, notably the company's doctor, Cornelius Bödger, because of the good relationship he had with the Africans in treating their medical needs. Also spared were Dr. Bödger's two stepsons. They were saved from death out of respect for the surgeon, and also to be made into servants for the new rebel leaders.
The stated aim of the rebels was to make St. John an Akwamu ruled state, governed under the Akwamu system. Africans of other tribal origins were to serve as slaves in the production of sugar and other crops.
Many of the small planters on the East End, who had few slaves or possessions, were able to escape to other islands in their family boats. Some of the whites from the western and southern parts of the island were warned by loyal slaves, and they were either able to escape to St. Thomas or to assemble with the other surviving planters at Durloe's Plantation at Caneel Bay (then known as Klein Caneel Bay). The approach to the plantation was guarded in part by two cannons. Captain Jannis von Beverhaut and Lt. Charles assumed command. Women and children were sent to Henley Cay with the intention that they be picked up later and brought to St. Thomas.
Meanwhile, the rebels attacked Cinnamon Bay (then called Caneel Bay). John and Lieven Jansen and a small group of their slaves resisted the onslaught. The rebel force was overwhelming. Jansen's loyal slaves fought a rear guard action and held off the advancing rebels with gunfire, thus allowing the Jansens to retreat to their waiting boat and escape to Durloe's Plantation. Miraculously, the loyal slaves were also able to escape.
The rebels paused to loot the Jansen plantation before pressing onward to confront the white planters at Durloe's. The attackers became disorganized when faced with the initial cannon and musket fire of the defenders, and the attack on Durloe's plantation was repulsed.
Meanwhile in St. Thomas, Governor Philip Gardelin, under pressure from former Governor Moth, consented to send a small party of soldiers to St. John to relieve the besieged planters. More troops under the leadership of William Barrens, as well as a detachment consisting mainly of African slaves sent by the Danish West India Company and by St. Thomas planters, arrived on St. John soon afterwards. This well-armed and well-supplied army was able to recapture the fort and scatter the rebels who then took to hiding in the bush to fight a war of attrition.
To regain the status quo, the planters needed to wipe out the last vestiges of resistance. The remaining rebels could continue to survive by looting abandoned plantations and small farms and by living off the land where cattle now ran wild all over the island. The rebels would be a constant harassment to the orderly development and operation of any restored plantations. Furthermore, the Company and the St. Thomas planters feared that the St. John rebellion would inspire uprisings on St. Thomas and wanted to discourage slaves on that island from taking similar action.
The insurgents held their ground, fighting a guerrilla style war and disappearing into the bush when confronted with direct attack by the numerically superior troops led by the planters. This status quo continued for ten weeks.
The British were also concerned that the rebellion might spread to Tortola, and they decided to help the Danes by sending an English Man O' War from Tortola to St. John. The warship was commanded by a Captain Tallard had a crew of sixty soldiers.
When the British ship landed on St. John, the rebels staged an ambush in which four of Tallard's men were wounded. Tallard and his men, demoralized by this defeat, sailed back to Tortola.
Meanwhile, the owner of the plantation at Maho Bay, William Vessuup, had abandoned his plantation and fled to Tortola after being implicated in a murder. Maroon slaves had taken up residence at his plantation and had later used it as a headquarters for their troops in the rebellion.
In an attempt to regain favor with the Danes and be exonerated from the criminal charges against him, Vessuup offered a plan to trick the rebels. He was to lure the leaders aboard his ship with the promise of supplying them with badly needed guns and ammunition. He then planned to capture the rebel leaders and turn them over to the Danes. This attempt at treachery, however, proved to be unsuccessful.
In February of 1734 the St. John planters again solicited aid from the English, and shortly afterwards Captain John Maddox, a privateer, sailing from St. Christopher (St. Kitts) arrived on the ship Diamond with 50 volunteers. His motivation was personal gain. He arranged a contract with Danish officials that would have allowed him to keep all rebel slaves captured except for the 10 considered most dangerous. They were to be turned over to the Danes for punishment. For these 10 he demanded a payment of 20 pieces-of-eight each. On their first confrontation with the Africans, the forces of John Maddox suffered a loss of three killed (including one of his sons) and five wounded. Like his predecessor Captain Tollard, Captain Maddox and his men left St. John shortly after their defeat.
English Governor Mathews wrote:
On St. John the Danes at present hardly have possession. Their negroes rose upon them about six months ago. At my first arrival I heard they had quelled their slaves, but it was not so, they have in a manner drove the Danes off, at least they dare not now attempt any more to reduce these Negroes, who have always beaten them, and in a manner are masters of that Island. The governor of St. Thomas, was even modest enough to desire I would send some of H. M. ships to reduce them...and I now learn a rash fellow from St. Christophers, in open defiance of my positive orders to the contrary, having made a compact with the Danish governor, went with his two sons and three or four and twenty more on this errand, that the negroes have killed one if not both his sons, and two or three more of his company, and beaten them off.
In early April of 1734 a group of about forty rebels attacked Durloe's Plantation. This assault, like the previous one, was almost successful, but was finally repulsed by the defenders. The insurgents managed, though, to set fire to the defenders supply magazine.
Events in far away Europe were to deal a deathblow to the rebel cause. King Louis of France wanted to make his father-in-law, Stanislas Leszcynski the King of Poland. This would mean war with Poland, and France needed to know that Denmark would at least stay neutral. In addition to this, France was in need of money after having suffered severe financial losses in their Mississippi colony.
The Danes had been interested in the island of St. Croix for quite some time. Sensing an opportunity, the Danish West India Company offered the French 750,000 livres for St. Croix and sweetened the deal with the promise of Danish neutrality.
As a gesture of solidarity with their new friends, France offered Denmark help in subduing the slave rebellion on St. John. Monsieur de Champigny, the Governor of the French West Indies, sent Commander Chevalier de Longueville from Martinique to St. John with a force of two hundred soldiers. This included a free colored corps whose specialty was the tracking down, capturing and killing of runaway slaves, an activity they called maroon hunting.
The French detachment arrived on St. John on April 23, 1734 in two vessels, one commanded by Monsieur de Longueville and the other commanded by Monsieur Nadau. Danish Governor Gardelin dispatched a force of about 30 men under the command of Lt. Froling to offer any assistance necessary to the French soldiers. Gardelin also sent attorney Fries who was to mete out justice to captured rebels.
The French troops proceeded to relentlessly pursue the remaining rebels. A rebel encampment of twenty-six huts was found and destroyed. A young severely wounded slave named January was captured and led the soldiers to a point of land (Ram Head Point) where eleven rebels had committed suicide. A few weeks later eight slaves, two of whom were women, surrendered after their master promised them clemency.
From St. John Backtime, "The Raw Truth has Been Reported," Commander Longueville, from a document discovered and in the Colonies section of the French National Archives by Aimery P. Caron and Arnold R. Highfield:
On Sunday the 16 (May 16, 1734), six Negroes and two negroe women surrendered at the appeal of their master who spared their lives. He then informed me of the matter. I ordered him to bring them to me, since they were identified as rebels. I have them put into chains. Three of them were burned at the stake on three different plantations on St. John. I had previously informed the governor while passing through St. Thomas that should I catch a few of the rebels, I would put most of them to death and send him the rest so that he could make an example of them. The following day I informed him of their capture. He sent a judge who passed sentence for the sake of formality; I sent him the three other rebels along with the two women and requested that he not have them executed until I be present. One was burned to death slowly, another was sawed in half and the third was impaled. The two Negroe women had their hands and heads cut off after all five had been tortured with hot pincers in the town.
One week later twenty-five rebels were found dead on an "outjutting point of land in an unsuspected place" identified later as near Brown Bay. Commander Longueville and his men left St. John a few days later on May 26, 1744 and sailed to St. Thomas.
Unbeknownst to Longueville at the time of this departure, still at large, but hiding in the bush, was one of the leaders of the rebellion and a small group of his followers. He was a former Akwamu noble who was named Prince by his master. Through an intermediary, a deal was arranged whereby Prince and his supporters would be forgiven and allowed to come back to work. Prince and fourteen others surrendered to a Sergeant Øttingen. Prince was summarily shot and killed. His head was cut off as a trophy and his followers were captured. Subsequently four of the followers died in jail in St. Thomas, six were tortured to death and four were sent to St. Croix to be worked to death.
Sergeant Øttingen was given a reward and was promoted to Lieutenant for his bravery. The soldiers under him were also honored and rewarded.
The Danish West India Company reported that their losses in this rebellion amounted to 7,905 Rigsbankdalers.
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