Highlights from the Archives

As an appetizer, it might be a good idea to have a look at some of the best pieces from the rich collections of the Danish National Archives relating to the former Danish West Indies, today known as the United States Virgin Islands.

Below, you will find 28 examples of beautiful maps and drawings together with text documents concerning many different aspects of the history of the Danish West Indies from the beginning in 1671 to the sale of the islands, in 1917, to the United States.


One of the oldest documents in the Danish National Archives concerning the Danish West Indies is the royal charter of the West India Company, given by King Christian the Fifth in 1671. The Company was granted a national monopoly of trade and shipping to the Caribbean. In 1671 the Danes occupied St. Thomas, in 1718 St. John was taken, and in 1733 St. Croix was bought from the French.
Danish National Archives, The West India and Guinea Company, no. 2.


 

Map of St. Thomas, 1719, printed in a Dutch maritime atlas. Inserted are detailed maps of the harbour at Charlotte Amalie and at Coral Bay on St. John. At the bottom are views of several islands seen from certain directions and distances, useful for an arriving sailor.
Ioannes van Keulen, De Nieuwe Groote Lightende Zee-Fakkel, vol. 4, Amsterdam, 1740.


 

Manuscript map of Coral Bay on St. John, 1720. This was the first place where the Danes settled on the island. They established a plantation (B) and erected a small fort on Fortsberg (A). A picture of the fort is inserted to the upper left. This is where the slave uprising started in 1733.
Danish National Archives, Maps and Drawings Collection, Chamber of Revenue, no. 337,18.


 

Matricul from St. John, 1739. Pieter Duurloe had bought his sugar plantation in 1724, after the land had been cleared only three years before. It was 3,000 feet long and 2,000 feet in breadth, which was the standard size of a plantation. Here lived the overseer Charles Hill with his wife and daughter, together with 16 slaves, while 5 slaves had escaped.
Danish National Archives, The West India and Guinea Company, no. 753.


 

Manuscript map of La Grange, 1759. This plantation was one of the largest and most profitable in the Danish West Indies. It was owned, together with several other plantations, by the very influential Schimmelmann family. In most of the fields no. 1-16 were sugar cane grown. Only the small lot no. 17 was a garden of pleasure. The plantation was surrounded by bush.
Danish National Archives, Private Individuals, no. 6285, Ernst Schimmelmann, no. 68.


 

Printed map of St. Croix, 1754. At that time most of the fertile island was cultivated, except for the two North Side and East End quarters. Signatures for horse mills and wind mills are given at the various plantations. The envisaged northern half of the city of Frederiksted was never realized.
Danish National Archives, Maps and Drawings Collection, Chamber of Revenue, no. 337,1.


 

So-called Negro list, January 1774. On the large Estate Longford, belonging to McEvoy and Selby, lived 172 slaves and a manager and two overseers. The slaves were specified according to quality and age.
Danish National Archives, West Indian Local Archives no. 3, West Indian Government no. 81.483, Subject files, Plantation information forms 1773.


 

Map of St. Croix 1766. At that time the island had been brought totally under cultivation. It had been divided into rectangular plantation lots, and on most estates are shown windmills. Map by J. H. Zöllner.
Danish National Archives, Maps and Drawings Collection, Chamber of Revenue, no. 337,37.


 

The town of Frederiksted on the West end of St. Croix with Fort Frederiksvaern 1778. The nearby countryside is dominated by rectangular sugar plantation lots.
Danish National Archives, Maps and Drawings Collection, Chamber of Revenue, no. 337,215.


 

Denmark was the first European nation to abolish its trans-Atlantic slave trade. The royal decree was issued on 16 March 1792, and came into force ten years after, that is as from 01 January 1803. Slavery, however, was not abolished in the Danish West Indies until 1848.
Danish National Archives, Special Collection of Ordinances etc.


 

Letter of emancipation for a slave, 1801. It states that Mary Ann and her daughter Elizabeth, formerly belonging to Rapzaard Heyliger in St. Croix, and their heir should be free and thereafter enjoy the privileges of free coloured persons.
Danish National Archives, West Indian Local Archives no. 3, West Indian Government no. 81.577, Subject files, Manumission letters 1769-1807.


 

Water-colour painting of Christiansted harbourfront, executed by H. G. Beenfeldt 1815. To the right are Fort Christiansvaern and the church, in the foreground the Company headquarters (today Post Office), and in the background the weighhouse. Ships are waiting in the harbour to take on board the large ox-heads of raw sugar that were to be shipped to Denmark for refining.
Danish National Archives, Maps and Drawings Collection, Chamber of Revenue, no. 337,211b.


 

Water-colour painting of Christiansted seen from the harbour, executed by H. G. Beenfeldt 1815. The central part of the town has remained almost unchanged until today. At the bottom is inserted a view of Frederiksted, also seen from the sea.
Danish National Archives, Maps and Drawings Collection, Chamber of Revenue, no. 337,211a.


 

Weekly return from Estate North Star in St. Croix, October 1831. Monday through Friday the slaves were working hard in the fields etc., Saturday was for work in the slavesí own own provisional grounds, and Sunday was a day possible for rest. Notice that each day, between 11 and 15 out of 75 slaves were sick or for other reasons incapable of working.
Danish National Archives, West Indian Local Archives no. 46, West India Debt Liquidation Commission on St. Croix no. 17.55, Files and reports concerning individual plantations on St. Croix, North Star 1830-1833.


 

Register of travellers arriving to Charlotte Amalie, 1835. The local police authorities kept accounts of all persons arriving to and departing from the Danish islands. Among the informations listed were date, personís name, wherefrom coming, shipís name, and captainís name. Most travellers came from nearby Caribbean ports on small sloops, scooners, etc.
Danish National Archives, West Indian Local Archives, St. Thomas Police Office no. 12.9, Registers concerning arriving individuals 1835-1838.


 

Fort Christiansvaern and its surroundings in Christiansted, 1836. The Commander of the fort lived in the upper storey of the main building (A and a). A small guards house (B and d) for the artillerymen was placed next to the flagstaff, overlooking the harbour and city.
Danish National Archives, Maps and Drawings Collection, Chamber of Revenue, no. 337,110.


 

Front elevations of the Danish church in Christiansted on St. Croix 1836. At the instance of Governor General Peter von Scholten, the architect Albert Loevmand renovated the old church and built a modern clocktower.
Danish National Archives, Maps and Drawings Collection, Chamber of Revenue, no. 337,102.


 

Front elevation and ground-plan of schoolbuilding in the countryside, 1839. Governor General Peter von Scholten built 8 such schools for slave children in St. Croix, and some in St. Thomas and St. John as well. The classical architecture is typical for Danish buildings of that epoch.
Danish National Archives, Chamber of Customsí West India and Guinea Files no. 429-431, Original proposals made by the Commission concerning the Situation of the Blacks in the West Indies.


 

On 03 July 1848 in Frederiksted, Governor General Peter von Scholten declared that slavery was immediately abolished in the Danish West Indies. During the following night his declaration was printed, and it was distributed the next morning. Also the newspapers in St. Croix and St. Thomas published this text in Danish and in English.
Danish National Archives, West Indian Local Archives, Sheriff of St. John no.5.5, Files relating to the journals for letters received from the Commander/Government on St. Thomas 1846-1854.


 

The Harbour Masterís protocol of ships arriving into Charlotte Amalie, April 1854. That year 4,162 ships entered the harbour, their tonnage amounted to 226,000 tons. Many arrived in ballast, while the most common cargo was coal for the many steamers that called. Half of the ships were British, only a fourth were Danish.
Danish National Archives, West Indian Local Archives, St. Thomas Harbour Master no. 4.8, Pilot journals of incoming vessels 1854-1855.


 

Matricul from St. Thomas, 1871. Like the countryside, the towns were divided into quarters. In the matricul it is mentioned who owned the lot, how large each building was, and what taxes had to be paid. Matriculs exist for each year from 1786 to 1915.
Danish National Archives, Accounts, West Indian accounts no. 83, St. Thomas and St. John land tax registers 1871.


 

Report on baptisms in the Moravian church at Friedensthal at Christiansted, 1891. The various churches in the three islands reported to the West Indian Government each quarter of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and deaths. However, not all of these valuable records have been kept till today.
Danish National Archives, West Indian Local Archives no. 53, Reports from Religious Congregations regarding births on St. Croix 1891-1909.


 

Census form, 10 Palm Street, Charlotte Amalie, 1901. At that time lived 12,000 persons in St. Thomas, whereof 8,500 in Charlotte Amalie. In St. John lived 900, and in St. Croix 18,500 persons. The population had reached its maximum during the first half of the 19th century, when 43,000 persons lived in the three islands.
Danish National Archives, Census 1901, Charlotte Amalie, no. 2.


 

Telegram from Governor Helweg-Larsen in St. Croix to Minister of Finance Brandes in Copenhagen, 08 February 1916. David Hamilton Jackson had started a strike among the field labourers in the crop season in January 1916 in order to rise low wages. After six weeks and after instructions from Copenhagen to the Governor, Helweg-Larsen and the planters had to give in.
Danish National Archives, Private Individuals, no. 5604, Christian Helweg-Larsen, no. 68.


 

The sales treaty, 04 August 1916, ratified by President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of State Robert Lansing on 16 Jauary 1917.Transfer took place on 31 March 1917 at 04:00 PM. The population of the three islands became American citizens, unless they preferred to preserve their Danish citizenship.
Danish National Archives, Treaty Collection 1901-1920, United States of America, no. VII,120.


 

The check of $25,000,000. As soon as transfer had taken place in the Virgin Islands, the United States paid Denmark the purchase price by handing this check over to the Danish ambassador in Washington DC. The check has been endorsed by Ambassador Brun before being cashed by the Treasurer of the United States, McAdoo.
Danish National Archives, Treaty Collection 1901-1920, United States of America, no. VII,120.


 

The bilateral archival agreement between the Government of the United States Virgin Islands and the Danish Ministry of Culture, 27 October 1999. The agreement was signed by Governor Charles W. Turnbull and Minister Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen at a ceremony in Government House, Charlotte Amalie. The archival work has already been started and is making good progress.


 

The Danish National Archives holds about 100 shelf miles of records. It is supposed that around 1 shelf mile has to do, more or less, with the history of the former Danish West Indies. Since 1999, all records from Danish authorities in the Virgin Islands have been surveyed, rearranged, catalogued, and put into new acid-free boxes. The pictures demonstrate the progress made during this process.

 
 

   Danish National Archives