Barbaric punishment for enslaved laborers with an urge to rebel

Something the Europeans in the West Indies always feared was rebellion among enslaved laborers and free agricultural workers. It happened in 1733 on St. John, when the enslaved laborers controlled the island for nearly a year, and again in 1848 on St. Croix – and yet again among the free agricultural workers on St. Croix in 1878. As a deterrent to others, any sign of rebellion was punished hard and barbarically by the Danish colonial rulers. That also applied to the planned slave rebellion on St. Croix in 1759.
First page of Sheriff Engelbret Hesselberg’s report on the planned rebellion on St. Croix in 1759.
First page of Sheriff Engelbret Hesselberg’s report on the planned rebellion on St. Croix in 1759. The report has been considered interesting and therefore exists in several simultaneous copies. Reproduced here is the copy from the handwritten manuscript collection of the Danish National Archives. (The Danish National Archives).

Engelbret Hesselberg interrogates the enslaved laborer Cudjo

One day in the beginning of December 1759, an enslaved man by the name of Cudjo asked for some rifle bullets. Cudjo thereby revealed that the enslaved laborers were preparing a rebellion against the white masters at Christmastime.

Cudjo was immediately arrested and interrogated by the Sheriff in Christiansted, Engelbret Hesselberg. The enslaved laborer confessed and provided names of several co-conspirators, both enslaved laborers and free agricultural workers. The plan was first to conquer the individual plantations and then the yet-unfinished Fort Frederiksværn in Frederiksted. They had all taken a solemn blood oath and declared that they would not under any torments disclose the plans.

Barbaric executions

One of the chief suspects managed to cut his own throat while being arrested, before he was convicted. His corpse was dragged around in the town behind a horse before it was hung from the gallows and finally burned on the bonfire. Thirteen others were executed in the most barbaric ways. Some were placed in a small iron cage in the burning sun and did not die for several days. Others were pinched with red-hot tongs and then burned alive on bonfires or hung up by the legs before they were finally choked to death. The two leaders were broken on the rack and placed alive on the wheel, where they remained alive for two hours and twelve hours, respectively. Ten others were sentenced to be sold on foreign islands in the West Indies.

Reward for the witnesses

The enslaved laborer Qvamina, who was called as a witness, got his freedom and a reward of fifty rix-dollars. Fifty-nine were interrogated but not convicted. Five others were sought, and a reward of fifty rix-dollars was promised for one of them alive and twenty-five rix-dollars for a dead one. Sheriff Hesselberg prepared a report on the matter.