Sugar was the mainstay of the Crucian economy until the 1960s. The crop was also cultivated throughout St. Thomas and St. John until the second half of the nineteenth century. This painting depicts the primary physical features of a typical sugar plantation estate: laborers in the cane fields, the windmill, the factory, the great house complex, and the workers’ village. A dirt road connects the property to the town of Christiansted, where the sugar and rum will be weighed and shipped overseas. At the time of the painting, Mary’s Fancy comprised 300 acres and was owned by George Ryan.
In this activity, students will use questions to examine a painting of Mary’s Fancy on St. Croix. They will use the scene depicted in the painting to consider what life was like for the people that were freed by Emancipation in 1848. Students will use a current map of St. Croix to locate Mary’s Fancy. They will discuss when the painting was made, and research the provisional Labor Act of 1849.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
The teacher can introduce students to the definition of primary source as needed and discuss how artwork can be a primary source.
Load the artwork 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 Artwork 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 Artwork 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 artwork 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.
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 topics, give background information, create a safe environment for discussion, and be prepared to support their students’ questions and responses to the subject matter.
Examine the Artwork: What is your first impression of the artwork? What do the colors, people, objects, or activities represent? Does it depict a different time? When? What was happening at the time in history it was created? Why do you think the artist created this artwork? Who do you think was meant to see the artwork? Explain your answer. What value can artwork hold as historical evidence?
Find Mary’s Fancy on a Current Map: The teacher can show students a current map of St. Croix and help them to identify the location of Mary’s Fancy.
When was it painted Discussion: The painting was made around 1850, the metadata included by the Maritime Museum says, “It is unclear whether the picture was painted before or after the abolition of slavery”. Emancipation occurred in 1848 in the Danish West Indies.
Have students observe the painting, do they think the painting was made during slavery? Or after slavery was over? Have students explain their answer and identify the aspects of the painting they used to decide. What do students think a recently freed person’s choices were just after emancipation? Where might they have gone? Where might they find a home, and work? Did they stay and continue to work on the plantation estates? Who would work on the plantations after emancipation? Would the type of work being done on a plantation before emancipation and the work being done after emancipation, be the same or different? Explain answer.
The Provisional Labor Act of 1849, created by Danish colonial authorities and the former slave owners, contained 23 provisions that severely curtailed the freedom of movement, wages and working conditions of the rural working class. Students will read the Provisional Labor Act of 1849 individually, in small groups, or with the teacher’s assistance as a class. The Provisional Act was published in the St. Croix Avis on January 29th, 1849. Read it online at: “St. Croix Avis, January 29th, 1849“.
After reading the Provisional Act, students will write an essay on how the labor act affected the lives of the recently freed laborers of the Danish West Indies.