Colonial power

The administration of the West Indian islands from Copenhagen

When Denmark established a colony in the West Indies in 1672, the goal was to make Denmark richer. But the plantation owners and the enslaved laborers in the West Indies were not motivated by a desire to increase Denmark’s well-being. Therefore, the Danish government needed to maintain close supervision and control.
The West India and Guinea Company’s facility at Christianshavn in Copenhagen.
The West India and Guinea Company’s facility at Christianshavn in Copenhagen, as it appeared at the time of the company’s dissolution in 1754. Among other things, it includes a harbor, building slip, sugar refinery and administration building. (The Danish National Archives).

Control was exercised through the years by different bodies in Copenhagen. These sent officials to the colony to ensure local administration.

In the beginning, when the West India and Guinea Company administered the islands, the Company was also responsible for controlling trade and collection of taxes. When the state of Denmark took over administration in 1755, the central government took over these duties.

The General Customs Office

In 1775, a special West India and Guinea Office was established under the Revenue Office, the Ministry of Taxation of that time. However, the Revenue Office was immeasurably large, and in 1760 the colonies and the customs service were split off to a new organization, the General Customs Office (formally named West Indian and Guinean Revenue and General Customs Office). West Indian matters remained here until 1849.

Matters not involving administration of the Danish state’s revenues and expenditures for the colonies remained until 1849 with the authorities that administered the corresponding matters for the other parts of the Danish realm. For example, the Danish Chancery dealt with questions regarding civil law, courts, churches, and schools.

The Central Directorate for the Colonies

After 1849, all matters concerning the West Indian Colony were concentrated in the Central Directorate for the Colonies. That was because the Danish Constitution of 1849 had made the individual ministries responsible for the administration of their areas. Dividing the small amount of colonial administration among several ministries was not appropriate in this instance.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its predecessors, the German Chancery and the Department of Foreign Affairs, always looked after the foreign policy matters concerning the colonies. This continued without change after 1849. Thus it was through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the sale negotiations were conducted with the United States in 1867, 1902 and 1916.