Official population censuses are the primary sources of information about the composition and distribution of a specific set of people over time. The Virgin Islands is fortunate in having available for research a total of fifteen, near-complete censuses for the period 1835 to 1940. They document in a variety of ways the transition from slavery to freedom, the final decades of Danish rule and the initial impact of American colonialism. The attached 1850 census return from St. Thomas reflects the multi-cultural composition of the Charlotte Amalie population at its peak period of prosperity during Danish rule.
In this activity, students will use questions from the Analyze a Written Document worksheet to examine a Danish West Indies census from 1850. They will discuss the diversity of the population in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
Before beginning this activity, help students to understand what a primary source is, have students provide examples of primary sources, help them with examples if needed, discuss why a written document can be a primary source, and discuss the difference between primary sources and secondary sources.
Ask students if they know what a census is. Help them understand what a census is, and why they are taken today. The teacher may want to share some of the information from the About section to give students a background on the census they are going to look at.
Load the census 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.
Also load the Analyze a Written Document worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through discussing their answers to questions on the worksheet.
Analyze the Primary Source
You may load the Analyze a Photograph 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
Have students complete the Analyze a Written Document worksheet individually, in small groups, or as a class. Help students as needed to complete the worksheets. Review their answers and the observations as a class. Follow all the sections:
What is it?
Who wrote it?
Who received it?
When is it from?
Where is it from?
What do students find out from this document? Do students think the page of the census shows that St. Thomas’ population was diverse 1850? How connected was the Danish West Indies to other Caribbean islands and the world at that time? Use the information from the census to explain your answer. Students can look at and discuss the people’s names, religions, ages, where they are from, and their occupations?
Use Census as Historical Evidence: Have each student choose a person listed on the census. Have the student report orally to the class where the person they selected was born and other facts about the person that they gathered from the census, and how those facts show that the person helps to make the island’s population diverse.