Trade and shipping

Warships in the West Indies

Long periods during the Danes’ nearly 250-year colonial period in the West Indies were marked by both local and international unrest. No fewer than 140 times, Danish warships were sent to the region. The ships carried both troops and officials and were part of convoys.
In connection with the tensions between Denmark and Great Britain, a battle arose on March 3, 1801, between the Danish brig “Lougen” and two British frigates at Fugleklippen (Bird’s Key) off St. Thomas. Despite the enemy’s great superiority, Lieutenant Commander C. W. Jessen succeeded in damaging both the frigates, so they had to withdraw from the battle and he safely slipped into the harbor at Charlotte Amalie (Maritime Museum of Denmark).

Right from the start, the first Danish expeditions to the West Indies were carried out with men-of-war – warships – borrowed from the Danish Royal Navy. But from the 1690s onward, there were no Danish warships in the colony for sixty years. With the great colonial war of 1756-1763 and the Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars of 1793-1807, there was a need, however, to resist the warring naval powers’ many privateers (Privateers were privately-owned ships that would prevent by force of arms both enemies and neutral countries from conducting trade and transporting goods). Warships were therefore sent again from Denmark.

Permanent presence of Danish warships

Warships were also important for maintaining peace and order in the slave community, where the fear of rebellion always lay in wait. The ships were typically frigates and brigs. As a supplement, the local authorities also had local small craft at their disposal such as schooners and cutters. The Danish possessions were occupied twice in the early 1800s by Great Britain. That resulted in a need for a permanent presence in the area by Danish warships. In 1816-1848, there were generally two permanent men-of-war in the West Indies that cruised the waters around the three islands. This demanding activity was one of the main duties of the Danish Royal Navy.

The frigate “Jylland” and the screw schooner “Ingolf”

After a pause, the Danish Royal Navy resumed the voyages to the West Indies in 1860, now with the large frigates with steam engines. The frigate “Jylland” – which still exists – made five expeditions in 1871-1878. One of the most-used warships, however, was the screw schooner “Ingolf”, which made no fewer than thirteen voyages to the West Indies. During this period, the ships generally stayed a couple of months in the colony, and one to two years often passed between the expeditions.

Last expedition with the cruiser “Valkyrien”

Right up to the end, warships were dispatched to the colony. The last expedition – with the cruiser “Valkyrien” – occurred in November 1915 after disturbances among the workers on the islands. During the visit, it became clear that the islands would be sold to the United States. The cruiser’s commander, Henri Konow, functioned as the islands’ last Danish governor until he transferred the colony to the United States on March 31, 1917. After a couple of days, “Valkyrien” could then steam homeward.