Slavery ended in the Danish West Indies on July 3, 1848, when thousands of enslaved protesters assembled in Frederiksted, St. Croix and forced Governor-General Peter von Scholten to verbally proclaim “all unfree are now free”. That momentous event was largely peaceful, but disturbances broke out the following day. The official, printed emancipation proclamation, which granted universal emancipation was posted in some gathering places, printed in newspapers, and read aloud to laborers. It contained minimal, interim legal provisions regulating the new relationship between the freed laborers and their former owners. During the next six months those provisions were gradually expanded into the Labor Act of January 7, 1849, which imposed a new form of servitude that lasted until 1879.
In this activity, students will use questions to investigate the 1848 Emancipation Proclamation issued in the Danish West Indies. They will discuss who history credits with changes that result from protests; and consider the perspective of the protesters and the formerly enslaved.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
Analyze the Primary Source
You may load the Analyze a 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
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.
Ask students to define the word “emancipation”. Do they know who was Governor-General Peter von Scholten? Can they name at least one of the leaders of the largely peaceful protest demanding freedom on St. Croix? (John Gottlieb, aka General Buddhoe, is the most well-known within Virgin Islands history discussions.)
In your own words what are the four orders of emancipation? How long do the now free people have to arrange for a place to live? What happens to the formerly enslaved people who are too old or ill to find work? Do you think everyone listened to this proclamation? Why/Why Not? How do you think the planters and merchants learned about the emancipation? How did the laborers? Do you think the orders are fair? Why/Why Not?
“Making Connection” Question: Have students use the document and their research skills to answer this question. This 1848 proclamation was a result of a large protest on the island of St. Croix. Knowing that, discuss how protests are used to create change. Use evidence from the document and/or its description and one recent example to write an essay about the discussion topic.
When people protest and they are successful at bringing about changes, who does history usually credit with the change: the protesters, the government officials that make the changes formally by creating laws, or both? Who do you think should be credited with the change? Explain your opinion.
Perspective Activity: Have students imagine the people that were in the crowd in 1848 in Frederiksted, St. Croix waiting for Governor-General Peter von Scholten to hear their protest and demands for freedom, and write an essay describing the experiences the protesters may have felt. Describe how they might have felt waiting for Von Scholten to speak with them? Describe how they might have felt when he made the verbal proclamation granting them freedom? How they felt when they walked from the protest, after being freed, back to the places where they lived and labored. And what their thoughts might have been the next day when they awoke to the start of a new day, the first day after general emancipation.