Ownership history

Life in the colony – Tax data reports

The tax data reports that formed a basis for taxes to the Danish state contained detailed information about both the free and the subjugated populations in the West Indian colony. The reports are therefore important sources today for knowledge about the conditions in the colony.
Land list for St. Thomas from 1688.
Land list for St. Thomas from 1688. Unlike the later land and head tax registers, the plantations’ location is indicated here, and the information about the owners and their families is more detailed. (Danish National Archives).

All of the colony’s free inhabitants paid taxes every year to the Danish state. Taxes were paid on their land, land tax, and on their enslaved laborers, poll tax or head tax. Therefore, every year reports were made called land lists and subsequently land and head tax registers.

Land lists and land and head tax registers

The land lists contained information about every single plantation and its residents. They were based on the owners’ own declarations. The most essential thing for taxation was the number of enslaved laborers, but the early land lists also contained detailed information about the plantations’ owners and other residents. Both nationality and religion were indicated. The land lists also contained information about the plantations’ location, length, width, and crops.

The land and head tax registers were created on the basis of the slave lists, among other things, which all free citizens submitted every year. They indicated here the number of persons on their properties. The individual categories in the land and head tax registers changed over time, but generally they contained information about the plantations’ size and how large a share of the area was cultivated in sugar, cotton and other crops, or lay uncultivated.

But they also indicated the plantations’ residents divided into three main categories:

  1. The owner and his family
  2. White overseers, called “mesterknægte”, and servants
  3. Enslaved laborers. The enslaved were further divided into taxable and tax-exempt individuals. Often they were also divided in subcategories according to jobs, gender, and age. The information about the enslaved generally became more detailed with time