Trade and Industry
In the time of the West India and Guinea Company, which ended in 1754, trade and industry in the Danish West Indies – like most aspects of the islands’ administration – were administered by the
Company (see catalogue). After the colony was taken over by the Danish crown in 1754, various government colleges in Copenhagen were involved in the administration of trade and industry on the islands, e.g. the Chamber of Revenue, the Chamber of Customs, and particularly the Board of Commerce. Several chartered trading companies also played a role in Danish trade and shipping relations with the islands.
The value of the overseas trading companies’ archives in the Danish National Archives is underlined by the fact that, in 2000, the United Nations’ cultural organisation, UNESCO, included these archives in the Memory of the World Register.
The Board of Commerce 1735-1848
The Board of Commerce had two predecessors of the same name, which operated from 1670 to approximately1685 and from 1704 to 1731 respectively. Both predecessors were, however, mainly interested in local Copenhagen affairs, and the relatively few archives left by them are therefore kept at the Copenhagen City Archives.
In 1735, a more broadly conceived college named the Board of Economics and Commerce was established. This institution continued its activities under slightly differing names until it was merged with the Board of Customs under the joint name of the Chamber of Customs and Commerce 1816-1848.
Throughout the years, the Board of Commerce was engaged in primary production, manufactures, and domestic and foreign trade, including consular services. Often the borderline between the Board’s field of authority and that of the Chamber of Revenue was rather fluid.
Upon the abolition of the Board of Commerce in 1848, cases concerning foreign trade and consular services were transferred to the Foreign Ministry, while cases concerning domestic trade and industry went to the Ministry of the Interior.
The West Indies
The Board of Commerce’s extant archives do not include any separate West Indian series, but several of the general series include files and information about business life on the islands, especially if, in the case of trade and shipping, it was relevant to Denmark.
We call attention to the registers of what were called the Algerian sea passes, which, for the years 1747-1771 (nos. 195-202, 8 vols.), 1778-1796 (nos. 1186-1190, 5 vols.), and 1797-1814 (nos. 1850-1854, 5 vols.), provide much information about almost all the ships under Danish colours sailing to and from the West Indies and requiring passes as protection against Algerian privateers. Such registers have also been preserved for the period 1815-1848 (nos. 3104-3112, 9 vols.), but the need for Algerian sea passes gradually declined.
Another file group that may be found relevant is Danish consular reports to the Board of Commerce on general conditions and particularly the lists of calling ships under Danish colours, including vessels registered in the Danish West Indies. These periodical shipping lists and/or annual general shipping lists exist for the years 1747-1771 (nos. 360-361, 2 boxes), 1771-1772 (no. 427, 1 box), 1773-1797 (nos. 1115-1166, 52 boxes, also containing other documents), 1807-1815 (nos. 1815-1816, 2 boxes), and 1816-1848 (nos. 2998-3020, 23 boxes, also containing other documents). Initially, these lists were generated mainly by consulates in European ports, but later they were prepared on in American ports, as well, e.g. in New York. After 1848, consular shipping lists were kept in the archives of the Foreign Ministry (see Chapter 13).
Finally, the industrial files in the Board of Commerce’s archives should be pointed out, since some of these concern the many sugar refineries in Denmark and Norway. There is, for instance, a register concerning the refineries in Denmark 1757-ca.1801 (no. 898) and scattered notes in the official documents left by a member of the board, Christian Martfelt (nos. 2119 and 2124).
The Board of Commerce’s archives for the older period, until 1816, are described in detail, together with the Board’s fields of authority, work routines, and filing practices in J. O. Bro-Jørgensen & Morten Westrup, Kommercekollegiet 1735-1816, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 22, Copenhagen 1984. For the later period, after 1816, see the detailed survey of archival material in Frank Allan Rasmussen, Teknologi. Centraladministrationens behandling af teknologisager 1816-1996, Administrationshistoriske Studier 14, Copenhagen 1998, pp. 173-233. The separate series of consular files is registered in Udenrigsministeriet (Kommercekollegiet). Samlede sager 1762-1866. Sager til konsulatsjournal, Foreløbige Arkivregistraturer, Series 1, No. 1, Copenhagen 1963. See also the general survey in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. I:1, Copenhagen 1983, pp. 441-468.
In addition to the general works on the history of the Danish central administration, see the thorough introduction on pages 13-57 of the catalogue by J. O. Bro-Jørgensen & Morten Westrup and Frank Allan Rasmussen’s book. The background for the reorganization of the Board in 1797 is discussed in greater detail in Morten Westrup, Kommercekollegiet 1797, in Arkiv, vol. 3, 1970, pp. 186-202.
An essential source edition is Kristof Glamann, Otto Thott’s uforgribelige tanker om kommerciens tilstand. Et nationaløkonomisk programskrift fra 1735, Copenhagen 1966, reissued in expanded form as Kristof Glamann & Erik Oxenbøll, Studier i dansk merkantilisme. Omkring tekster af Otto Thott, Copenhagen 1983.
The Guinea Company 1765-1778
Guineisk Kompagni 1765-1778
In the years following the deregulation of the Guinea trade, upon the dissolution of the West India and Guinea Company in 1754, few Danish ships called at the forts in Guinea. It was therefore felt that a new, chartered trading company would give fresh impetus to the Danish triangular trade. At the initiative of the merchant H. F. Bargum, the Guinea Company – also called the Slave Trade Company or the Bargum Trading Company – was therefore founded in 1765. In the years up to 1772, the Company succeeded in establishing a regular Danish triangular trade. It was not very profitable, however, and the Company entered into liquidation in 1775. Afterwards, the transatlantic slave trade continued for the king’s account, administered by the Chamber of Customs, until 1781, when the new chartered Baltic and Guinea Trading Company took over the trade. No archives remain from this Company, however.
The West Indies
The Guinea Company’s archives comprise approximately two hundred archival units, divided into three main sections: Copenhagen archives, books kept onboard company ships, and archival material sent home from the Guinea Coast. Log books (nos. 88-108, 21 vols.), ships’ protocols (nos. 109-122, 14 vols.), ships’ paybooks (nos. 123-130, 8 vols.), consumption books (nos. 131-133, 3 vols.), trade books (nos. 134-135, 2 vols.), and medical records (nos. 136-141, 6 vols.) combine to give a detailed picture of the slave purchases made in Africa and the Middle Passage transports across the Atlantic.
An elaborate survey of the archives is to be found in J. O. Bro-Jørgensen & Aage Rasch, Asiatiske, vestindiske og guineiske handelskompagnier, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 14, Copenhagen 1969, pp. 259-285. Some of the archives are also included in J. Reindorf, Scandinavians in Africa. Guide to Materials Relating to Ghana in the Danish National Archives, Oslo 1980. See also Erik Gøbel, The Danish West India Company Records in the Danish National Archives, Society of Virgin Islands Historians Occasional Papers, vol. 1, St. Croix 1989. For additional information, see the survey in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. I:1, Copenhagen 1983, pp. 542-545.
See the introduction pp. 261-263 in J. O. Bro-Jørgensen & Aage Rasch’s catalogue. A comprehensive special study is Leif Svalesen, Slaveskibet Fredensborg og dansk-norsk slavehandel i 1700-tallet, Copenhagen 1996, which is also available in an English version as Leif Svalesen, The Slave Ship Fredensborg, Jamaica 2000.
The West India Trading Company 1778-1824
Vestindisk Handelsselskab 1778-1824
The West India Trading Company was established in 1778 in order to exploit the wartime conditions favourable to trade and shipping under the neutral Danish flag. This Company traded primarily with the Danish West Indies and had a lease on customs on St. Thomas and St. John, and on customs and excise duties on all West Indian coffee imports to Denmark-Norway. The Company was managed by an executive board and by administrations at Copenhagen and St. Thomas respectively. After the American War of Independence, the West India Trading Company sustained substantial losses, and in 1785 the Danish government took over the Company. It continued in straitened circumstances until 1816, when it went into liquidation, a process that lasted until 1824.
The West Indies
The extant archives of the West India Trading Company comprise approximately five hundred archival units, almost a hundred of which come from the St. Thomas branch (nos. 457-531). The main part of these West Indian archives consists of minutes, correspondence, and accounting archives in the form of ledgers, account journals, and current-account books.
A detailed survey of the archives is to be found in J. O. Bro-Jørgensen & Aage Rasch, Asiatiske, vestindiske og guineiske handelskompagnier, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 14, Copenhagen 1969, pp. 299-331. See also Erik Gøbel, The Danish West India Company Records in the Danish National Archives, Society of Virgin Islands Historians Occasional Papers, vol. 1, St. Croix 1989. For additional information, see Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. I:1, Copenhagen 1983, pp. 547-549.
See the introduction pp. 301-302 in the catalogue by J. O. Bro-Jørgensen & Aage Rasch mentioned above. A detailed economic study is P. P. Sveistrup, Det Kongelige Danske Octroyerede Vestindiske Handelsselskab 1778-85. En driftsøkonomisk Undersøgelse, in Historisk Tidsskrift, 10th series, vol. 6, 1942, pp. 385-427.
Other Trading Companies
There were also other chartered trading companies trading with and sending vessels to the Danish West Indies periodically in the second half of the 18th century, although their primary activities lay elsewhere.
The General Trading Company was established in 1747 and gradually built up a rather buoyant trade in the Danish West Indies and elsewhere. In 1774, the Company was taken over by the Central Internal Revenue Directorate (see
Finance). Only little archival material remains from the General Trading Company.
The Baltic and Guinea Trading Company was established in 1781 and held a monopoly on the African trade and transatlantic slave transports under Danish colours. The Company managed to send out approximately forty ships to Africa before going into liquidation in 1787. No separate archives of the Baltic and Guinea Trading Company survive, but its correspondence with public authorities is still retained in those authorities’ archives, primarily those of various financial institutions.
The Trade and Canal Company was founded in 1782, while wartime conditions were particularly favourable to neutral trade and shipping under the Danish flag. The Company sent out several ships to the Danish West Indies, but had to discontinue operations in 1788. The Trade and Canal Company left only a small archive.
Even trading companies such as the Asiatic Company and the Royal Greenland Trading Company, who seem unlikely participants in the West Indian trade and shipping, have left a few log books and accounts, in connection with voyages to the Danish colony in the Caribbean.
The archives of these trading companies consist mainly of correspondence and trading accounts, but they include log books and other material from their voyages. See the surveys in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. I:1, Copenhagen 1983, pp. 529-534, 552-553, 553-560, and 567-568.
Finding Aids and Literature
No finding aids have been published for the archives of these trading companies. The literature on the companies is presented in Erik Gøbel, Danske oversøiske handelskompagnier i 17. og 18. århundrede. En forskningsoversigt, in Fortid og Nutid, vol. 28, 1980, pp. 535-568, and in Ole Feldbæk, Danske Handelskompagnier 1616-1843. Oktrojer og interne Ledelsesregler, Copenhagen 1986.
The West Indian Warehouse Manager 1847-1918
Den Vestindiske Pakhusforvalter 1847-1918
From the middle of the 18th century – if not earlier – the job of the West Indian Warehouse Manager in Denmark was to buy and ship goods to supply the royal offices and hospitals in the islands. The warehouse manager was also responsible for supplying the West Indian troops from Danish military depots. In Copenhagen, he received the goods sent home from the islands for the king’s account. From 1848 on, the warehouse manager was affiliated with the Central Directorate for the Colonies (see Chapters 2 and 25).
The West Indies
Archival material has only been preserved from 1847 onwards. The material consists mainly of invoices and correspondence about the shipping of goods 1849-1918 (nos. 4-14, 11 boxes).
Finding Aids and Litearture
See the catalogue of the fifteen archival units that make up the Warehouse Manager’s archives in Koloniernes Centralbestyrelse, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 20, Copenhagen 1975, p. 102. See also the survey in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. II:4, Copenhagen 1991, p. 1899, and the discussion in Koloniernes Centralbestyrelse, pp. 50-51.
The Post and Telegraph Service 1848-(1917)
Post- og Telegrafvæsenet 1848-(1917)
Denmark’s first public postal service was established in 1624. It was administered by the General Post Office until 1809, when the name was changed to the Directorate General of Posts. This administration did not deal with West Indian affairs, so there are no separate file series on that subject, but nevertheless a few files scattered through the general postal archives.
In 1848, this field of authority was transferred to the newly established Directorate General of Posts and Telegraphs and subsequently to its various successors. The archives of these institutions are enormous, but tend to focus on conditions in Denmark proper.
A large part of the postal cases from 1848 onwards are filed according to a system that use the letters A-T for internal affairs and the Roman numerals I-XXII for foreign affairs.
The West Indies
From the perspective of the postal service, the Danish West Indies were considered a foreign country. Files concerning the administration of the islands’ postal services therefore constitute group XV in the archival system. This group comprises twelve boxes (nos. 3948-3959) from the period 1851-1918 concerning international conventions, various types of mail, postage stamps, statistics, etc.
There are, however, also other groups containing material on the West Indies, e.g. group I on international conventions etc., where box no. 3770 concerns the subscription terms applicable to the West Indies for Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish newspapers 1872-1917.
It should also be noted that a good deal of material on the postal service on the islands is held in the West Indian local archives, including the archives of both superior government offices and of, for example, the St. Thomas and Christiansted post offices.
For the period before 1848, brief surveys of institutions and archival material are to be found in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. I:2, Copenhagen 1983, pp. 569-578; for the period after 1848, in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. II:3, Copenhagen 1991, pp. 1071-1093.
As for the Danish West Indies, see the thorough introduction to postal history and philately in V. E. Engström & Reidar Norby, eds., Danish West Indies Mails 1754-1917, vols. 1-3, Washington D. C. 1979-1982. The most recent comprehensive Danish postal history is K. F. Knudsen et al., eds., P & T’s historie, vols. 1-5, Copenhagen 1991-1993. See also Fr. Olsen, Poststyrelsen, Postkontorerne og Postmestrene i Danmark 1624-1924, Copenhagen 1925.
The National Registry of Ships 1867-(1917)
From the end of the 17th century, the customs authorities sporadically surveyed and registered ships in Denmark. The relevant data can be found in the archives of the Chamber of Revenue and the Board of Commerce.
To enable the shipmasters to document the measurements and nationality etc. of Danish ships, it was decided in 1867 that all ships of 20 gross register tons or over sailing under Danish colours must be registered in a central registry of ships. Each customs house kept its own local register, and all the data were compiled in Copenhagen by the Central Registry in a chronologically arranged central register of ships. The Central Registry issued certificates of nationality – also for vessels of less than 20 gross register tons, of which the Registry kept a separate register.
In 1894, ship registration was centralised, and the Registry’s name was changed to the Bureau of Ship Registration and Measurement. This Bureau kept a register of ships in which each ship had its own page listing all the essential data: name of ship, signal letters, port of registry, principal owner, shipmaster, place and year of construction, type specifications, and dimensions. The Bureau also kept a register of shipowners and a register of bills of sale and bottomry bonds, including data on the ownership of each ship. The former register was divided into a register of vessels with a capacity between 5 and 19 gross register tons and a register of boats with a capacity lower than 5 gross register tons.
The West Indies
Ships registered in the Danish West Indies are found in the general central registers. The principal register from the period before 1894 (15 vols.) was, for West Indian ships, kept until 1917. Likewise, the register from the period before 1894 of vessels of less than 20 tons (2 vols.) was kept until 1917, for West Indian vessels.
See the survey in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. II:3, Copenhagen 1991, pp. 1353-1356.
The history of ship registration has not been written yet, but many Danish ships’ lists have been printed. From 1843 to 1873, there are a number of summary lists published by private individuals. Danmarks Skibsliste, an official national list, first appeared in print in 1883 and was published every other year until 1915 and annually thereafter.
The Directorate of Hydraulic Engineering 1868-(1917)
Upon its formation in 1868, the Directorate of Hydraulic Engineering took over harbour and canal affairs from the Canal and Harbour Inspectorate under the Ministry of the Interior, which had itself taken over this charge from the Board of Commerce in 1848.
The Directorate of Hydraulic Engineering administered, supervised, and advised the state-owned ports and practically all other ports and harbours in Denmark. The very extensive archives consist mainly of files grouped by port or harbour.
The West Indies
Files concerning the West Indies are to be found in file group no. 306. This group consists of one box only, designated: St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, 1842-1867. The contents are correspondence about a dredger, a diving bell, a floating dock, etc., mainly concerning the port of Charlotte Amalie 1865-1867, and a couple of drawings of warping buoys from 1842.
Finding Aids and Literature
See the survey in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. II:2, Copenhagen 1991, pp. 1043-1050, in which the archival system is described. See also Evan Hansen, ed., Vandbygningsvæsenet 1868-1968, Copenhagen 1968.