Records of baptisms, marriages and deaths of free and enslaved congregational members have been compiled since the Eighteenth Century by the officially sanctioned churches in the Danish West Indies, specifically the Lutheran Church, the Moravian Church, the Anglican Church, the Dutch Reform Church, and the Roman Catholic Church. The surviving records are essential documents for family history researchers, historians, demographers, and those seeking to understand Virgin Islands culture. The Moravian Church records, which focused almost exclusively on the Black population, are particularly valuable because, as shown by this image, they identify by name African members and specify their ethnic origins. Such information makes it possible for living Virgin Islanders to reliably trace their ancestry to a particular African ancestor, ethnic group, and homeland. The surviving church records are archived either in local rectories or mainland repositories. Because of their intrinsic value, several have been copied and can be found online. This image is from the Friedensthal Moravian Church Book 1734-1832, which catered primarily to enslaved people of the eastern half of St. Croix.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
This primary source activity includes the topics: slavery and religion. Viewed as sensitive topics for classroom lessons, teachers should consider their students ability to engage with the topics, give background information, create a safe environment for discussion, and be prepared to support their students’ questions and responses to the subject matter.
Before beginning this activity ask students if they are familiar with the Moravian Church. Allow some time for students to share what they know about the church. Specifically ask if students know that Moravian missionaries worked with the Black population, free and enslaved, in the Danish West Indies.
The teacher can provide information from the About section to inform students of the significance of the record they will examine in this activity.
Load the baptism registry onto an interactive smart board and have students make observations together. If there is not a smart board, students can work in small groups at computers. The registry is a digitized book. Use the thumbnail image of the book’s cover to access the book and then use the arrows to navigate the pages of the registry. The ability to zoom into the document is important, and that feature is available by clicking on ‘zoomable’.
Analyze the Primary Source
Have students research indigenous African religions, choosing one to focus on. They will also research the beliefs of the Moravian Church, and then create a Venn Diagram comparing the indigenous African religion they selected to the beliefs of the Moravian Church.