The slave lists

Every free citizen in the colony was required to prepare a list each year of the persons who lived on his or her property. The lists were used to calculate taxes and were to include both free persons and enslaved laborers. Today the lists are important sources for knowledge about the enslaved laborers’ circumstances, about colonial society, and not least about the differences in society – between town and country and between large and small plantations.
Pre-printed land and head tax information form from 1772.
Mary A. Heyliger’s pre-printed land and head tax information form from 1772 for the Estate King in Kings Quarter on St. Croix. Heyliger states that there is a total of 169 enslaved laborers on the plantation. Of these, there are 126 capable, 8 half-grown, 28 children and 7 manquerons. (The Danish National Archives).

The same amount of tax was not paid on all enslaved laborers. Therefore the enslaved were divided into categories. These changed over time but had a starting point in five main groups:

  1. Capable – adult and fully able-bodied enslaved laborers. Full tax was paid on these.
  2. Manquerons – entirely or partially disabled enslaved laborers. This could involve, for example, older enslaved who were no longer able to perform the hard work. Reduced tax was paid on these.
  3. Half-grown – adolescents between 12 and 16 years of age. Reduced tax was paid on this group.
  4. Children – children under 12 years of age. No tax was to be paid on this group.
  5. Busals – newly-arrived enslaved laborers that had not yet been in the colony for a year. They were entirely exempt from taxation, as it was expected that they would take some time to adapt themselves to existence as enslaved laborers before their owners could get full use out of them.

Lists of the enslaved laborers

The lists were variously designed and the extent of details varied greatly. Sometimes it was a matter of pre-printed forms, other times the citizen designed the form on his or her own. In some cases, it was merely a single slip of paper with very little information, perhaps just the number of enslaved laborers. Others were far more elaborate. Often each individual enslaved laborer was listed with name, category, and gender. In the most elaborate forms, it was indicated whether field slaves, house slaves, or craft slaves were involved, whether the enslaved laborer was a Creole – born on the islands – or an African – born in Africa. The number of couples that had been married in church might also be noted, and the number of enslaved laborers that had been baptized in the Christian faith. In some cases, the number of enslaved laborers that had been born and the number of deaths in the year in question were also listed.

Enslaved laborers in the country and in town

Today the lists provide important knowledge about the colony. They tell about the composition of enslaved laborers at the individual plantations or households. They also clearly show the great difference between life on the plantations and life in the towns. There were typically far more enslaved laborers on the plantations, where they were used for the hard field work. The households in the towns generally had fewer enslaved laborers. They helped in the housekeeping, sold goods at the market, or worked as craftsmen. The lists also provide an insight into the great differences that existed between the individual plantations. Some had several hundred enslaved laborers, while others had only a couple of them.