Oldendorp: The man behind an impressive publication about the Danish colony

The Moravian missionary Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp wrote a passionate publication on the political, geographic, and social conditions of the West Indies, including the origin and living conditions of the enslaved laborers. His opus is one of the first ethnological descriptions of the history of Africa and the Caribbean.
The mission station of the Moravian Brethren in Friedensthal by Christiansted.
The mission station of the Moravian Brethren in Friedensthal by Christiansted in 1768 on a day where several white-clad male and female enslaved were on their way to be baptized at the “African church” to the left by the cemetery. In the background, we can see the housing of the missionaries and to the right some of the cottages of their enslaved laborers (Oldendorp, Geschichte der Mission, vol. 2, 1777).

The Moravian Brethren evangelized in the West Indies from 1732. The Moravians were also known as the Moravian Brotherhood or the Moravian Brothers. They were hard-working missionaries who, among other things, helped the enslaved laborers by training them as tradesmen and seamstresses. The Moravian Brethren’s pietism was also one of the major religious persuasions among the Europeans.

In 1767-1768 the scientifically trained C. G. A. Oldendorp was sent from Germany to the Danish possessions in the West Indies to write a report on the results of the mission in the islands. He wrote 3,000 pages. It was more than the Moravian Brethren were able to have printed, so in 1777 an edition of 1,100 pages was published titled Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Brüder auf den caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan. An English translation was published in 1987 entitled “A Caribbean Mission”.

Report about life in the Danish colony

The book was based on the personal observations of Oldendorp, written sources, and interviews with Europeans, enslaved laborers, and free farm workers. An important part of the report is the description of the geography, flora, fauna, and political, economic, and social conditions and living conditions of the population of the islands. In particular, he described the enslaved laborers, including their African origin, language, customs, and religion and especially their fate in the West Indies – housing, work, punishments, and the relationships with their owners and the Europeans. He also described the actual mission that ensured the baptism of 4,650 enslaved laborers in 1732-1768. In 2000-2002, a scientific edition of the entire substantial, original manuscript of Oldendorp was published in four volumes of almost 3,000 pages.