Since the 1760s, St. Thomas, benefiting from free port status and one of the finest natural harbors in the world, has been a hub of Atlantic maritime trade and commerce. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a vast variety of trade goods from the far reaches of the Atlantic World (Europe, Africa, and the Americas) arrived annually onboard thousands of vessels, was warehoused in the town of Charlotte Amalie and sold to local planters as well as foreign merchants and ship captains for transport elsewhere in the region. This lucrative, transit trade was closely supervised and carefully documented by Danish harbor authorities. As shown by this record compiled in 1804, their accounting of ship arrivals showed the date of arrival, the captain’s name, the vessel’s type, name, nationality, port of disembarkation and primary cargo. Note that two of the ships listed were slavers, that were permitted to enter after the official termination of the slave trade in 1803, because their voyage had commenced in that year.
In this activity, students will use questions to Analyze a Written Document, and determine how the information in the document applies to the transit trade. They will also consider why a slave ship was allowed to enter the port after the Danish slave trade was terminated.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
This primary source activity includes the topic of slavery. Viewed as a sensitive topic for classroom lessons, teachers should consider their students ability to engage with the topic, give background information, create a safe environment for discussion, and be prepared to support their students’ questions and responses to the subject matter.
Before using this document, lead a class in a discussion about the free port status of Charlotte Amalie, Danish West Indies, its significance, and its connection with the transit trade in the 1800s.
This document is written in Danish. Danish was the main language used in government operations in the Danish West Indies. Historians and researchers must transcribe and translate such documents in order to use them in their research. The teacher will therefore need to be prepared to have students transcribe some of the words on the document and then translate them in order to identify the cargo carried by the ships listed. A translation of the column headings is provided.
Load the cargo manifest on a smart board, or individual computers. Help students to make sense of the cargo manifest.
Analyze the Primary Source
You may load the Analyze a Written Document worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through answering the questions, print the worksheet and distribute to your students, or adapt the questions from the worksheet to create your own. Primary Source Analysis Worksheets
Independently, with a partner, in small groups or as a class have the students answer the Analyze a Written Document worksheet questions.
The document is written in Danish. A translation of the column headings is provided in the order they appear:
“Month”| “Date”| “Name of the captain” | “Type of vessel” | “Name of vessel” | “Of what nation” | “Arriving from” | “Inbound cargo” | “Number of crewmembers and [type of] ammunition” | Number of crewmembers” | “Canons” | “How many handguns” | “How much gunpowder” | “Passengers” | “White men” | “White women” | “Colored men” | “Colored women” |
Use the manifest to answer and discuss the following questions:
- Name a ship that arrived in St. Thomas?
- Name some of the cargo that arrived in St. Thomas? (The document is written in Danish. The teacher can have students transcribe words in the “Inbound Cargo” column and then use Google Translate or another online translation program to translate the word to English.)
- What were the ports of origin for the ships? Find each port on a map.
- How many enslaved people arrived?
- Think, the Slave Trade ended in 1803, why were these ships allowed to continue to transport enslaved people? (Use the Background information provided with this activity for help with the answer)
- Thinking about the transit trade, why would St. Thomas be a successful port. (Use evidence in your response.)
- Discuss how researchers today can use records like this to learn about the historical impact of trade locally and globally.
- What can we learn by investigating records like this document?
Project 1: Create a Historical Timeline
In March 1792 Denmark took the initial step to end its participation in the transatlantic slave trade. The King issued a decree that the slave trade would end – however not until January 1, 1803, ten years later. In 1803, Denmark’s participation in the slave trade officially ended. Have students use what they know and their research skills to create a timeline showing what other countries abolished the slave trade and in what years.
Project 2: What’s Your Opinion Essay
After countries like Denmark ended the slave trade, do you think any illegal slave trading still occur? Why or why not? How might you research your opinion to find support for or against your point of view? What types of records might show illegal slave trading activity?