Although the greatest part of archival material concerning the history of the Danish West Indies before 1917 is to be found in the Danish National Archives, other Danish institutions also hold archival material concerning the history of the three islands. These other collections will not be described in detail here, but the most important ones will be briefly discussed in the following, which could be characterised as a series of examples and can in no way be regarded as complete.
Provincial Archives of Zealand
The Provincial Archives of Zealand, an official public archives located in Copenhagen, collect and preserve archival material from government institutions on the island of Zealand – as well as, traditionally, Danish overseas colonies. The West Indian local archives and others were originally brought to the Provincial Archives. In 1920, however, these records were transferred to the Danish National Archives, except for the West Indian parish registers.
Many West Indian parish registers are preserved on the Virgin Islands. The holdings of parish registers from the Danish West Indies in the Provincial Archives consists of approximately 40 volumes. They usually list various data regarding births, confirmations, marriages, and deaths of parishioners. The parish registers are those of the Evangelical Church on St. Thomas and St. John 1691-1920 (file group no. 775); the Black Mission Church on St. Thomas and St. John 1788-1849 (file group no. 776); the Evangelical Church on St. Croix 1740-1860 (file group no. 770); the Danish Mission Church on St. Croix 1788-1818 (file group no. 771); the Evangelical, including the English Lutheran, Church at Christiansted on St. Croix 1861-1920 (file group no. 772); the Evangelical, including the English Lutheran, Church at Frederiksted on St. Croix 1834-1917 (file group no. 773); and the Dutch Reformed Church on St. Croix 1764-1814 (file group no. 774).
From the Evangelical Pastorate of St. Thomas and St. John is preserved an administrative archive comprising about twenty volumes and boxes from the period 1672-1918. The records concern the church buildings, parsonage, poor relief fund, and country schools.
The church supervision archives in the Provincial Archives of Zealand, chiefly devoted to church accounts, also contain material from Frederick Church in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, i.e. the church ledger 1854-1885 (1 volume) and pew lists 1871-1892 (1 booklet).
One private archive (6 volumes and boxes) concerning ecclesiastical affairs on the islands used to belong to the Commission for the Lutheran Church in the Danish West Indies, whose aim was to strengthen the Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Danish West Indies. The archives include a commission’s minute-book 1904-1923, correspondence files 1904-1926, accounts 1907-1915, and miscellaneous printed matter. The work of the Commission is described in the newsletter Den Vestindiske Kirkesag, vols. 1-37, Copenhagen 1907-1918.
The extensive archives left by the Copenhagen Superior Court (see Chapter 6) include a few West Indian cases reviewed by the court.
A handful of private individuals’ archives in the Provincial Archives of Zealand also concern Danish West Indian history. They are, first of all, planter Johan Lorentz Castenschiold’s private archives (5 boxes), which include quite a number of letters from the Virgin Islands dating to before 1747, and files concerning his plantation in the West Indies and the West India and Guinea Company; other family papers are kept in the Danish National Archives under his original name of Johan Lorentz Carstens (see Chapter 14). There is a little material on the Danish West Indies in the archives of four other private individuals. The first archive is that of Andreas Buntzen, a Copenhagen-based merchant, and consists of a letter copybook 1802-1804 containing copies of letters to the West Indies and other places. The second archive was left by Søren Uldrich Helt, a member of the clergy on St. Thomas, and contains only one letter from 1740. The third archive was left by S. H. Prætorius, a customs inspector in the Danish West Indies, and includes forty or so loose sheets of copies of letters 1814-1816. The fourth archive was left by Christian Skeel Wassard, attorney-at-law and a member of the Danish Parliament, and includes material on the formation 1876 and management of the St. Croix Cooperative Sugar Factory, the Colonial Treasury, and the negotiations about the sale of the Danish West Indies 1901-1902.
Finally, the maps collection at the Provincial Archives contains a couple of printed nautical charts of the Danish West Indies 1778 (map no. 72-4), the Antilles 1775 (map no. 72-6), and the Danish West Indies 1785 (map no. 72-5).
A general survey of the Provincial Archives’ collections is to be found in Harald Jørgensen, Landsarkivet for Sjælland, Lolland-Falster og Bornholm og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse. En oversigt, Copenhagen 1977.
Other Provincial Archives
The other three provincial archives in Denmark hold very little archival material of direct relevance to Danish West Indian history, but it is worth noting that the Provincial Archives of North Jutland in Viborg hold the archives of a failed Jutland-based business enterprise named the Aarhus West India Trading Company 1782-1796 (file no. PX 15A5, altogether 13 volumes and boxes).
General surveys of provincial archives collections are to be found in Hans H. Worsøe & Poul Rasmussen, Landsarkivet for Nørrejylland og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse. En oversigt, vols. 1-2, Viborg 1980-1981; Anne Riising, Landsarkivet for Fyn og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, Odense 1970; and Frode Gribsvad & Johan Hvidtfeldt, Landsarkivet for de sønderjydske Landsdele. En oversigt, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 6, Åbenrå 1944.
The Danish National Business Archives
The Danish National Business Archives in Århus is an official public archives specialising in archival material from private Danish companies as well as from professional and industrial organisations.
Of material concerning the Danish West Indies, the following deserves mention, viz. the large archives left by the Danish West Indian Plantation Company, which existed on St. Croix from 1903 to 1927 (file no. 104, altogether 66 volumes and boxes). The Company’s objective was to promote agriculture, trade, and industry on the island. The extant archival material includes the Company’s minute-books and miscellaneous accounting material. The Company’s annual reports are available in print for the period 1903-1916.
Several other file groups have small sections of relevance to Danish West Indian history. By way of example, the extensive archives of the United Danish Sugar Company contain a good deal of material on 1) the St. Croix Cooperative Sugar Factory 1876-1903 (file no. 1532, 11 volumes and boxes), viz. a minute-book, ledgers, and letter copybooks; 2) the St. Croix Sugar Factory 1872-1929 (file no. 1534, 21 volumes and boxes), viz. a minute-book and miscellaneous correspondence and accounting material; and 3) the sugar plantation Estate La Grange on St. Croix 1879-1923 (file no. 1431, 57 volumes and boxes), viz. miscellaneous accounting material and correspondence.
Likewise, the archives left by the East Asia Company include a good deal of material on its subsidiary the West India Company (file no. 2053, 23 volumes and boxes), which was founded in 1902 and was of central importance to the modernisation and ship traffic of the port of Charlotte Amalie. The archives cover the period 1902-1983 and include files concerning the organisation and management of the Company as well as correspondence.
A few separate archives also deserve mention, i.e. those of the West India Trading Company, a Copenhagen-based wholesale business dealing in food, beverages, and tobacco (file no. 1687, 78 volumes and boxes). Its archives cover the period 1908-1981 and consist mainly of accounting material. Other archives are those of the West Indian agency of the Mutual Insurance Company Denmark, founded 1904 and dissolved 1920 (file no. 5503, 3 volumes and boxes). The archival material is from 1894-1920 and covers both St. Thomas and St. Croix.
A summary survey of the total holdings of the Danish National Business Archives is to be found in Erik Korr Johansen, Erhvervsarkivets arkivoversigter, vols. 1-4, Århus 1991-2000. Similar information can be found on the website: danpa.dda.dk.
There are approximately 450 local archives in Denmark. These institutions vary considerably in size and quality, but all of them collect and preserve private archival material from their local regions. Some of them hold material in the form of pictures and correspondence concerning the Danish West Indies, but such material is rare.
A survey of all the local archives of Denmark is to be found in Arkivvejviser 2001, Vejle 2001, issued annually by the Association of Local Archives. Many of the local archives collections are included in the
National Database on Private Archives in Denmark.
The Danish National Maritime Museum
The collections of the Danish National Maritime Museum at Kronborg Castle in Elsinore contain objects from the Danish West Indies and some archival material. This material consists primarily of a large geographically and thematically sorted collection of pictures from the islands’ Danish period.
The yearbook of the Museum, Handels- og Søfartsmuseets Årbog, issued since 1942, often contains articles on various aspects of Danish West Indian history; annual accession lists for the collections are published in the yearbook.
The Danish National Museum
The Danish National Museum in Copenhagen is the central historical museum in Denmark. Its extensive collections consist primarily of archaeological and historical objects and related documentary information. As regards the Danish West Indies, there are archaeological finds from Indian habitations at Salt River on St. Croix, Danish West Indian coins, furniture, paintings, and other objects from the islands. The National Museum also holds a few written sources in the form of letter collections, maps, drawings, photographs, surveys and documentation of buildings and furniture in the Danish West Indies, as well as copies of tombstone inscriptions found in the old Danish churchyards on the islands.
There are no published catalogues of the written sources to be found in the National Museum. In general, information can be found on the
The Royal Library
The Royal Library is the national library of Denmark; it holds the largest Danish collection of printed material concerning Danish West Indian history in existence, in the form of Danish and foreign books, periodicals, and leaflets, as well as printed maps and nautical charts. In addition to printed material, the Library has an enormous picture collection and a large manuscript collection.
According to its catalogues, the Manuscript Department holds almost one hundred manuscripts concerning the Danish West Indies. This figure covers a diversity of units: from Cosmus Bornemann’s brief statement in a legal process between Governor Milan and the management of the West India and Guinea Company in 1689, over bookkeeper Peter Mariager’s treatise of 1753 on the Company’s history, several hundred pages long, to miscellaneous correspondence concerning the St. Croix Cooperative Sugar Factory and some of its accounts from 1912 and later.
The Manuscript Department also holds quite a number of letters to and from persons in the Danish West Indies. The letters are catalogued in a special database accessible from the Royal Library’s
It should also be noted that the Royal Library’s map collection includes several hand-drawn maps and nautical charts of the Danish West Indies.
Finally, the Library’s picture collection includes a substantial number of relevant pictures, primarily in the form of photographs from the Danish West Indies, but also many portraits of persons associated with the islands. These portraits are catalogued in another special database, likewise accessible from the Library’s website.
The Royal Library’s collections of printed material are catalogued in the bibliographical finding aids mentioned above in Chapter 1 or can be found by means of the electronic library catalogue,
REX. On this website, you will also find the Manuscript Department’s updated catalogues. Older printed catalogues are to be found in the form of E. Gigas, Katalog over Det kongelige Bibliotheks Haandskrifter vedrørende Norden, særlig Danmark, vols. 1-3, Copenhagen 1903-1911; C. Behrend, Katalog over Det kongelige Biblioteks Haandskrifter vedrørende Dansk Personalhistorie, vols. 1-2, Copenhagen 1925-1927; and Alfred Krarup, Katalog over Universitetsbibliotekets Haandskrifter, vols. 1-2, Copenhagen 1929. The old catalogues have been supplemented by Det kongelige Biblioteks Håndskriftafdeling. Erhvervelser 1924-1987. Vejledning i benyttelse, vols. 1-2, Copenhagen 1995, which also contains a brief guide on how to use the Manuscript Department. The Department’s manuscripts concerning the West Indies are catalogued in Palle Ringsted, Americana. Manuskripter og breve vedr. Nord-, Syd- og Mellemamerika i Håndskriftafdelingen, Copenhagen 1992, pp. 31-39.
Archives Outside Denmark
There is a good deal of archival material on the history of the former Danish West Indies in the National Archives in Washington D. C. and in various collections on the islands, primarily the Enid M. Baa Library on St. Thomas, the Florence Williams Library in Christiansted, and the Saint Croix Landmarks Society, Library and Archives at the Estate Whim near Frederiksted.
Of other countries, there is special reason to mention Great Britain, since this country occupied the Danish West Indies 1801-1802 and again 1807-1815. The Public Record Office in London therefore holds a good deal of material on the administration of the colony during these years and, of course, on relations with Denmark before and after. Because many British subjects owned plantations in the Danish West Indies, there are many rich private archives of relevance in Great Britain. There is a general introduction to the British collections in Peter Walne, ed., A Guide to Manuscript Sources for the History of Latin America and the Caribbean in the British Isles, London 1973, while sources solely relevant to Denmark and Danish West Indian history are catalogued in Jens Engberg, Kilder til dansk historie i engelske arkiver, Copenhagen 1968.
The Archives Nationales in Paris hold a good many documents concerning French commercial relations with the Danish West Indies and other relevant matters. Some of the documents are catalogued in chronological order in Aimery Caron, Inventory of French Documents Pertaining to the U. S. Virgin Islands 1642-1737, St. Thomas 1978.
The Moravian Brethren had their headquarters in Germany, whence missionaries and others were sent out to the Danish West Indies. Large archives are kept at the
Archiv der Brüder-Unität at Herrnhut in
Zittau, Germany. In addition to the general papers of this church, the archives hold reports and correspondence from missionaries in the West Indies. A brief general survey of the contents of the archives can be found in Hans Otte, ed., Handbuch des kirchlichen Archivwesens, vol. 1, Neustadt an der Aisch 1997, pp. 323-336.
On the three islands, the Moravian Brethren were also meticulous keepers of many books, entering data about all missionary activities, such as baptisms and education. This material ranges from 1734 onwards, but with main emphasis on the 19th century. The material comprises approximately two hundred volumes and boxes and is currently held in the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the United Sates. The material is catalogued in Arnold R. Highfield, The Historical Records of the Moravian Churches of the United States Virgin Islands in the Moravian Archives at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, St. Croix 1990.
All in all, it is possible to unearth sources that directly or indirectly shed light on aspects of the history of the Danish West Indies before 1917 in archives and libraries all over the world.
But the most important collection is and will always be that of the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen.