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Danish Emancipation of Slaves, Part III

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After other nations had abolished slavery in their Caribbean colonies, for example the British in 1833, there were also forces that worked for a gradual abolition of slavery in the Danish colony. Not least of these was the colony’s Governor-General, Peter von Scholten, who implemented several reforms that eased conditions for the slaves.

In 1843, for example, the slaves were given Saturday off, just as they already had Sunday off. It meant that they could work for themselves, save money, and perhaps even buy their freedom.

The question of emancipation of the slaves was often discussed at the Assembly of the Estates of the Realm in Denmark in 1844. It was in 1847 it was decided that the children that were born to slaves in the future would be free, and that slavery would entirely cease in 1859.

However, during the following year, 1848, revolutions broke out several places in the world. France experienced the February Revolution, and revolutions also broke out in Haiti and Venezuela. The disorders there spread to Martinique and Guadeloupe. The desire for freedom also spread to the slaves in the Danish colony in the West Indies. On July 2, they rose up in an initial rebellion on St. Croix. Plantations were burned down, and the city of Frederiksted was besieged by rebels, so only the city’s fort, Fort Frederiksværn, remained in Danish hands.

When Peter von Scholten came the following day to Frederiksted, the situation was about to get completely out of control. Scholten was under heavy pressure and chose to declare slavery abolished with immediate effect. He called out over the enraged slaves: “Now you are free, you are hereby emancipated.”

In following days, local officials worked together with the rebellion’s leader John Gottlieb, called General Buddhoe, to calm tempers and get society to function on the new terms with the new free workers.