1937 3¢ U.S. Virgin Islands Territory
US #802 pictures Charlotte Amalie Harbor on the island of St. Thomas.

On July 3, 1848, Governor Peter von Scholten abolished slavery in the Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands).

The US Virgin Islands are part of the Lesser Antilles island chain and the Leeward Islands group in the Caribbean Sea, located just east of Puerto Rico. They include more than 50 islands, but the largest are St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix.

1937 3¢ U.S. Virgin Islands Territory Classic First Day Cover
US #802 – Classic First Day Cover

The Ciboney tribe initially inhabited the islands, but the Arawak later drove them out. The Caribs, who were a much fiercer tribe, in turn, displaced the Arawak. Christopher Columbus reached the Virgin Islands in 1493 after he was blown off course during his second voyage of exploration. He landed on St. Croix but decided not to stay. Columbus kidnapped six Arawak natives to act as guides. The numerous small islands and reefs reminded him of St. Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins – a legend based on a 4th-or 5th-century martyr. Columbus named the area the Virgin Islands.

2012 45¢ Virgin Islands
US #4326 – from the Flags of our Nation Series

The Spanish easily conquered the Caribs, but finding little gold in the islands, didn’t establish permanent settlements.  As trade and shipping increased in the region, other European nations became interested in the Virgin Islands.  Over the years, Denmark, Britain, Spain, and France fought over the land.  Eventually, in 1733, France sold the island to the Danish West Indies Company.

2012 45¢ Virgin Islands Fleetwood First Day Cover
US #4326 – Fleetwood First Day Cover

Sugar cane became the prime crop in the Virgin Islands, as conditions for growing it were nearly perfect. The profits from this industry led to an increased demand for labor. By 1672, Denmark was importing enslaved Africans to work on the plantations. A slave-trading outpost was established in 1685, and the enslaved Black population soon greatly outnumbered the Europeans. Slaves on St. John led a successful revolt in 1733 and took control of the island for six months before Denmark was able to retake control – with the assistance of French forces.

1967 6¢ Air Mail Postal Card - Virgin Islands
US #UXC6 – Postal card issued for the 50th anniversary of America’s purchase of the Virgin Islands

In 1847, Danish governor Peter von Scholten laid out a 12-year plan to emancipate the slaves. Plantation owners opposed the plan, and those enslaved didn’t want to wait that long. On the morning of July 3, 1848, a large group of slaves in Frederiksted stormed Fort Frederik and demanded that they all be declared free by noon or they would burn down the town. Von Scholten wasn’t in his office at the time, but upon receiving the word, agreed and made the announcement at 3 pm. He declared, “all unfree in the Danish West Indies are from today emancipated.” Some 5,000 slaves were freed, but many plantation owners refused and about 17,000 people remained enslaved.

2008 94¢ Trunk Bay
US #C145 pictures Trunk Bay on St. John Island.

The king of Denmark was not pleased with von Scholten’s declaration and had him imprisoned. Restrictive laws were put in place to limit the freed slaves, and unhappiness grew. Both laborers and owners started to abandon the sugar plantations that had been the foundation of commerce. The soil wasn’t able to sustain the heavy farming that had been going on, and with the labor force depleted, the economy of the islands started to collapse. Though it would be some time before all who had been made slaves were truly free, July 3 would later come to be known as Emancipation Day, an official holiday in the US Virgin Islands.

2008 94¢ Trunk Bay Classic First Day Cover
US #C145 – Classic First Day Cover

In 1867, the United States wanted to purchase St. Thomas and St. John. A price of $7.5 million was agreed upon, but the deal fell through when the Senate never voted on the treaty. Another attempt was made in 1902 but also failed. Finally, during World War I, American concerns grew that Germany would try to take over the Danish territories in the region. Denmark was badly in need of money due to the war, and in 1917 sold the islands to the US for $25 million.  The name was changed from the Danish West Indies to the US Virgin Islands.

1902 2¢ on 3c Danish West Indies - blue & lake
US #DWI24 – Danish West Indies stamp from 1902

Under American authority, industrialization started replacing the failed sugar farms. In turn, the land was allowed to recover and rum distillation again became a thriving business. Very little of St. Thomas’s economy was based on farming, while St. Croix remained almost completely plantation-dominated. Now, tourism makes up 80% of the territory’s economy, and Charlotte Amalie is one of the most popular cruise ship destinations in the West Indies.

Click here for more Danish West Indies stamps.

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3 Comments

  1. This article is full of inaccuracies
    1.The governor did not give us our freedom… we demanded it and forced his hand. To not mention we as the enslaved revolted is to dishonor our struggle towards true emancipation.
    2. Columbus did NOT make landfall on st. Croix. His men were killed by Taino omen in Salt River bay. They neve rmade it to land, nor took hostages. The first island Columbus was on, was Hispanola, Columbus never set foot on any land that became America, so crediting him with founding America is also inaccurate.

  2. The dates don’t add up ,because the revolt in St.John happen in 16 to 17 hundreds ,and the danish acted as business people ,for the Spanish ,Christopher Columbus is also Spanish ,the Santa Maria ,and pinto did not brought slaves ,but African who were freedom fighters like Toussant who also helped in the revolt in St.Johns all put together by Toussant to be at the same time design to let them know we was working and thinking ,and they put false doubt ,at the over throw ,and right them lies to make the look good ,and return even rescued and protected the Arawaks who bloodlines me still run in them islands like Puerto Rico ,the saw their revolt back fire and lot of spaniard got killed by british and french executed many of the revolters St.Croix was over turned free not a drop a blood for the land nor the people cause of what happen in St.John with the revolt that’s the only Island out of the three islands that saw a revolt the people in workers in St.Croix, was left to tend for themselves leaving them Free and so everything was taken away from the spaniards who was conquered in Puerto Rico but the language was already learned by the people so it stayed .

  3. St, Croix was belongs to the Arawaks and the Africans so when America became establish ,they came with Buiness intentions , and discussed a better living St.Croix was a straight up deal with the Arawaks and the Africans ,who became Buffalo Soldiers ,travel through San Juan win the war for America ,and the Buffalo Soldiers is the ones who stop the slaughter in Puerto Rico cause now They we’re American backed so the British and the French came to deal with America because of the Buffalo Soldiers ,who was on their way to becoming a Union and not just a unit, but that never happened because of to much power ,if the Buffalo Soldiers was a Union, so they killed ,Abraham Lincoln so he won’t let the Buffalo Soldiers become a Union. St Croix , only blood shed at that time was the president Abraham Lincoln ,to stop him from doing more for the islands they say United States bought the island from Danish for Spanish ,that got back stabbed between the two ,but which president bought them islands, I say Abraham Lincoln,cause Christopher Columbus did not set no sail in no 1492 with no slaves that’s where things get confused like it supposed to do but research bring it clear that he set sail some 16 to 17 hundreds, before that thing was a peaceful place ,for the already adventurous Africans thier with the people who was already thier and mess up everything that’s the biggest lie in history is Christopher Columbus sailing in 1492 to all the islands big lie mess up everything all the revolt happen on ship and as soon as they landed down trying to show power by abusing the men they had stolen from Africa but paid heavy that’s is what happen from Columbia to all of the Caribbean places like Antigua have places that is called Free Town , and Free Man’s Ville And Free Man’s Village ,them place the slave.master ran leaving the people back in charge of them lives . But it’s that date 1492 Is a lie ,but the truth behind that date ,is really ,that’s when the Africans set sail to prove to them haters who said if you go out to far they would fall off the earth and the Africans so no ,you keep on sailing the Africans is the hero in this history story for them was the great adventures of and before that time 1492,.

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