St. Croix: Birthplace of Emancipation in the United States of America

St. Croix:  The Birthplace of Emancipation in the United States of America

The United States Virgin Islands—the cluster of central-Caribbean islands consisting principally of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas—is the cradle of Emancipation in the United States of America:  Slavery was abolished in the Virgin Islands (then, the Danish West Indies) on July 3, 1848, seventeen (17) years before the 1865 Emancipation on mainland USA and the 1873 abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico. And the 1848 Emancipation in the Virgin Islands was precipitated by rebellion rather than proclamation. As such, the Virgin Islands has served as a Beacon of Freedom across three centuries—from the middle of the 19th century, throughout the 20th century, to present-day.

July 3, 2023, marks the 175th Anniversary of Emancipation in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and celebratory events will extend until July 3, 2024.

Like the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) led by black liberator Toussaint Louverture, the July 1848 rebellion on St. Croix was led by enslaved John “General Budhoe” Gottlieb (also spelled Gutliff).  Undetected by the plantocracy and the Danish militia, approximately 8,000 slaves—about 40 percent of St. Croix’s total enslaved population of approximately 20,000—marched to Fort Frederik in the town of Frederiksted and demanded their freedom.  In order to avoid widespread violence and loss of life, Governor-General Peter von Scholten declared the enslaved immediately free.  

“Except for Haiti and St. Croix, all other emancipations in the history of Trans-Atlantic Slavery, beginning with the British in 1834 and ending with Brazil in 1888, were accomplished by proclamation,” said Wayne James, former senator of the United States Virgin Islands and president of the Homeward Bound Foundation (HBF), the organization that, on July 3, 1999, in recognition of the closing of the foundation’s year-long celebrations to mark the 150th Anniversary of Emancipation in the Virgin Islands, lowered the 12-foot tall, 17-foot wide Middle Passage Monument onto the floor of the Atlantic Ocean’s infamous Middle Passage, thereby placing a gravestone onto what has been described as the World’s Largest Graveyard. “This year’s 175th Anniversary of Emancipation in the U.S. Virgin Islands allows the entire nation to participate in the discussion,” James added.  “All Americans should know that the U.S. Virgin Islands cleared the path to freedom, not only serving as a southern stop on the Underground Railroad, but also inspiring discourse on liberation.”

Consistent with its mission of 25 years ago, the Homeward Bound Foundation is gearing up to invite Denmark; the United States, with special attention being paid to collaborations with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the National Caucus of Black State Legislators (NCBSL); and the international community to a series of socio-historical events and educational programming aimed at heightening awareness of the post-Emancipation contributions of Africans to the cultural evolution of the world.

“Anniversaries afford an opportune time to look back,” James said.  “But they also allow us to look forward with clearer, more informed vision.  This 175th Anniversary celebratory year of Emancipation in what is today the United States Virgin Islands will be an excellent platform for the world to look at race relations, artistic collaborations, scholarship, and cultural exchanges.  And the Homeward Bound Foundation looks forward to again playing a key role in those discussions,” James concluded.


One thought on “St. Croix: Birthplace of Emancipation in the United States of America

  1. Brenda Jackson says:

    Thank you, Senator, for this outstanding piece of writing! It is a refreshingly vibrant reflection on our history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s