A Nineteenth Century Description Of St. Croix

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This is an excerpt from a letter written by Sylvester Hovey (1797-1840), to the American Union for the Relief and Improvement of the Colored Race. That abolitionist organization was formed in Boston in January, 1835. One of its founders was American abolitionist Arthur Tappan (1786-1865), who worked along with the better known American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.The organization sought to...

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nd diffuse facts” about “the condition of slavery and of the African race” in the Americas and Africa, in order to bring about the gradual abolition of slavery. In order to achieve this goal, affiliates or members of the organization travelled to different areas, and writing letters to the organization about what they saw.The author, Sylvester Hovey was a tutor at Yale, and later became professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at William and Amherst colleges. He travelled through the Caribbean islands from 1835 to 1837, writing a number of letters back to the Union, describing what he saw. At the time, most of the Caribbean islands were European colonies. In many of them, enslaved people of African descent formed the majority of the population, in many cases working on sugar plantations.In the early 19th century, most Caribbean or West Indian islands were British, French, or Spanish colonies. A few were owned by the Netherlands. In the 1830s, Cuba and Puerto Rico, two of the largest islands in the Caribbean, were Spanish colonies. Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, and several other islands, were British. Martinique and Guadeloupe were French.Haiti won its independence from France in 1804, after almost 15 years of upheaval during the Haitian Revolution. It occupied the neighboring Dominican Republic, a former Spanish colony, in 1822. Haitian occupation ended in 1844, and the Dominican Republic won its independence.One of the minor colonial powers in the Caribbean was Denmark, which ruled the Danish West Indies, or the Danish Antilles. The main Danish Caribbean islands were Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix. The Danes planted sugarcane on their islands, and brought in enslaved Africans to work on the plantations.On the night of Sunday, July 2nd, 1848, enslaved people in St. Croix lit fires on plantations and blew conch shells to mark the beginning of a “revolt”. This revolt, however, was a peaceful one. By Monday, July 3rd, about 8,000 enslaved people, gathered in front of Frederiksted fort, where the island’s governor-general, Peter von Scholten, was based. They demanded their freedom, and von Scholten decided to grant their wishes instead of using force to suppress them. So slavery was abolished in the Danish West Indies.The United States had been interested in the Danish Islands since the late 19th century. In 1917, they bought the islands from the Danes, and renamed them the United States Virgin Islands. Today the US Virgin islands- St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John- are still part of the US.In his 1830s description of St. Croix, Hovey describes the condition of the enslaved black people there. Hovey described St. Croix as “the most delightful” island in the Caribbean, in terms of climate and scenery. Even in the 1830s, some people from northern climates were coming to the Caribbean to escape the winter cold. The majority of the population (about 78%) was made up of enslaved people, and most worked on sugar plantations. Most farmland was used for sugarcane, so almost all the island’s food had to be imported.