The slave rebellion on St. Croix and Emancipation

The transatlantic slave trade was abolished from 1803. But slavery in the West Indies continued. However, many called for abolition, and in 1833 the enslaved were freed in the British West Indies.

This was also a topic of discussion in Denmark and in the Danish West Indies. Peter von Scholten, who became Governor-General in 1827, was a persistent advocate in favor of gradual abolition of slavery. In 1847, it was decided that slavery was to be abolished completely after 12 years. In the meantime, the children born to enslaved parents were born free.

The slave rebellion on St. Croix

But that was too little and too late. In July 1848, a slave rebellion started on St. Croix. Big crowds of enslaved laborers from the town and the plantations took complete control of the small town of Frederiksted. One of the leading men among the rebels was the enslaved laborer John Gottlieb, called General Buddhoe.

The situation was critical. Von Scholten saw no other recourse than taking matters into his own hands in order to ward off avert a devastating rebellion. On July 3, 1848, he drove to Frederiksted, spoke to the rebels and abolished slavery in the Danish possessions in the West Indies effective immediately. It has since been said that von Scholten and John Gottlieb entered into a secret prior agreement, but there is no proof to document this claim.

The Governor-General had no authority to abolish slavery. He came under severe attack for his decision, both by the members of the West Indian government and by slave owners. The owners had lost a large part of their wealth without knowing what compensation to expect. Peter von Scholten suffered a nervous breakdown because of the events and left the islands soon thereafter.

The poster which publicized the decision to abolish slavery.
Governor-General Peter von Scholten had this bilingual poster printed immediately on the night of July 3-4, 1848, publicizing his decision to abolish slavery effective immediately. The poster was put up everywhere on all three islands in the days to come. (The Danish National Archives).