Domingo Gesoe: An unusual life as a enslaved laborer

Most enslaved laborers lived a miserable life. But some enslaved carved out a tolerable life with unusual experiences. One of them was Domingo Gesoe. He became an overseer and missionary and even went on a voyage to Denmark.
Painting of the slave Cornelius.
There is no known portrait of Domingo Gesoe. Instead, this painting from 1784 shows the enslaved laborer Cornelius who was owned by the Schimmelmann family on St. Croix and who was catechist for the Moravian Brethren until his death in 1801. He is holding the Creole hymn book opened to his favorite psalm (Archiv der Brüder-Unität, Herrnhut).

Around 1710 Domingo Gesoe was born to an enslaved couple on St. Thomas. The plantation owner Johan Lorenz Carstens spotted the bright boy early on, and when Domingo had grown into a young man, he purchased him for 1300 rix-dollars. Mingo, as he was called, knew how to read, write, and do sums and soon mastered a number of languages, so Carstens made him assistant overseer of his two plantations, Moskito Bay and Pearl.

Mingo became a missionary and a preacher

In 1732, the two first Moravian missionaries came to St. Thomas. They came into contact with Carstens and thus Mingo as well. As one of the first enslaved laborers, he became a member of the new congregation where he was baptized and soon became an indispensable so-called mission helper – an important link between the European missionaries and the local slave population. He evangelized and preached to the enslaved laborers in Charlotte Amalie and around the entire island.

Travelled to Denmark and came back to evangelize

When Carstens travelled to Denmark in the late 1730s, he left Mingo in charge of his two plantations and commercial interests on the island. Carstens died in 1743. Shortly thereafter, Mingo travelled to Copenhagen to hand over the West Indian assets of the estate to Carstens’s descendants in Denmark. Mingo returned to St. Thomas in 1750, where he began to solely occupy himself with the Christian cause. Until his death in 1758, he did extensive social work for manquerons – incapacitated sick and old enslaved laborers. Mingo’s funeral was an event manifesting the importance of the Moravian Brethren in the colony. He was even buried next to white members of the congregation, which was something new.