Prior to the general emancipation of all people who were unfree on July 3, 1848, enslaved people in the Danish West Indies gained their individual freedom legally through a legal process of manumission, whereby they were freed in writing by their owner and then issued a Free Letter by the governor. Owners freed their slaves for various reasons. Two of the most common were due to faithful service, and because the owner had a relationship (including kin) with the person they were freeing. Enslaved people also purchased their freedom. As shown by this document, manumissions were often specified in wills, and then they were officially registered in the police records.
In this activity, students will use questions to interpret a manumission and discuss paths to freedom during slavery in the Danish West Indies. They will use the themes of time, continuity and change to discuss the terms used in the past to identify amount of racial mixture, and to consider the significance that some enslaved people were able to change their status in a slave society.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Manumission by Will, St. John, November 2, 1796
Author / Artist:
John G. F. Knevels
Danish National Archives
Suggested Teaching Instructions
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
The class can work through the questions from the Analyze a Written Document worksheet individually or as a class.
Related Books & Resources
Slave society in the Danish West Indies : St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix
N. A. T. Hall