Historical knowledge

The Abolition of Slavery in 1848

The Danish ban on the transatlantic slave trade in 1792 marked the beginning of the end of slavery. Fifty years later, in 1847, the state of Denmark ruled that slavery be phased out over a 12 year period, beginning with all new-born babies of enslaved women. This was far from enough for the enslaved population. Many of them feared that they would not live long enough to experience freedom, and at the beginning of July 1848 this culminated in a revolt. Several hundred slaves gathered, threatening to burn Frederiksted and the rest of St. Croix to the ground if they were not granted their freedom. Governor General Peter von Scholten saw no other way to prevent the insurrection than granting them their freedom.

In Denmark people like to claim that Governor General Peter von Scholten granted the slaves their freedom. But this is not how things are seen on the U.S. Virgin Islands: here it was not the governor general who freed the slaves, but the enslaved who took matters into their own hands and demanded their freedom.

A key figure in this process was the enslaved man John Gotlieb, also known as General Buddhoe, who prevented the uprising ending in violent confrontation. He is celebrated as a freedom fighter on the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Danish ban on the transatlantic slave trade in 1792 marked the beginning of the end of slavery. Fifty years later, in 1847, the state of Denmark ruled that slavery be phased out over a 12 year period, beginning with all new-born babies of enslaved women. This was far from enough for the enslaved population. Many of them feared that they would not live long enough to experience freedom, and at the beginning of July 1848 this culminated in a revolt. Several hundred slaves gathered, threatening to burn Frederiksted and the rest of St. Croix to the ground if they were not granted their freedom. Governor General Peter von Scholten saw no other way to prevent the insurrection than granting them their freedom.

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