By 1733 there were 109 plantations on the tiny Danish island of St. John. Many of the slaves belonged to a fierce and proud African tribe called the Amina. In Africa they had been rulers and slave owners themselves. They were used to giving orders, not taking them.
1733 was a devastating year. A drought was followed by a hurricane, which was followed by a plague of insects. These natural disasters were particularly hard on the slave population because, on top of having to labor in the plantation fields, they had to grow their own food. Lack of rain, punishing winds, and insects made supplying their own needs nearly impossible.
Starving slaves began to grow restless, many escaping into the bush. In September, to keep more slaves from running away the Danes imposed a harsh slave code. Punishments were severe and included torture, cutting off an arm or leg, branding, whipping and death.
In the early dawn hours of November 23rd, a group of slaves carrying cane knives, entered the small fort at Coral Bay and killed six of the seven soldiers garrisoned there. That afternoon the one soldier and a few panicked refugees arrived on St. Thomas and told a frightful story.
Whites were being slaughtered, plantations destroyed.
It was a well planned revolt. For six months the slaves held the island of St. John. The Danes had to ask the French for help to quell the rebellion. In the end about a quarter of the 208 whites living on the island had been killed and 48 plantations had been severely damaged.
Only 146 of the 1087 slaves had actually taken part in the revolt. Those who were not captured and sentenced to death, committed suicide rather than surrender.
This first revolt set the huge ship called slavery into a slow turning towards freedom.
In 1755 King Frederick of Denmark issued the Reglement, in which slave rights was mentioned for the first time. In 1802 Denmark became the first European country to abolish the slave trade. Ten years later the Danes required all slave children attend school and classes were taught in English.
In 1834, when Britain freed their slaves, hundreds of slaves from St. John left their homes and families escaping to near-by Tortola. This caused such a labor shortage that it became hard for the plantations to continue operating.
Through continued acts of passive and active resistance and an uprising on St. Croix, all slaves in the Danish West Indies were finally given their freedom on July 3rd, 1848.
Though it had taken over a hundred years, the slaves in the Danish Virgin Islands had won their own freedom.
The news reached St. John on the 4th of July.