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Main Street: The Stores and Their Proprietors, Part Three

  • Broadcast in Culture
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We continue our virtual stroll down the middle section of Main Street, also known by its Danish name, Dronningens Gade.

First, a brief history Saint Thomas and its harbor, particularly because it is in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie: After St. Thomas became a free port, it experienced palmy days during the second half of the 18th century as a regional shipping center. A significant amount of exchange of goods took place via the large merchant houses along Dronningens Gade.

St. Thomas Harbor became one of the most important commercial ports in the West Indies of the 1800s. The traffic in the harbor was extensive because of its good situation and fine facilities. It was popular among merchants and trading companies for its excellent facilities: the West Indies’ largest floating dock, good machine shops, clear channel marking, and inexpensive harbor fees. 

But it was also notorious for 2 problems: hurricanes and diseases, particularly yellow fever and cholera. In the 1800s, an average of 2,000-3,000 ships came annually to St. Thomas. In the 1860s, this increased to 4,600 annually.

The vessels in the harbor became larger and larger. In the first half of the 1800s, the average tonnage increased from 60 to 100 metric tons. From 1820 to 1916, the total metric tonnage increased from 150,000 to 900,000 annually. 

About half of the tall ships arrived from Caribbean ports and a quarter from European ports. Vessels under the Danish flag made up a smaller and smaller share. In the 1820s, it was 23%; in 1916 just before the transfer, it dropped to 13%. Most ships in the 1820s sailed under an American flag, but in the 1910s British ships had become completely dominant.

More on the topic of the St. Thomas Harbor to come in future episodes.