ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

USVI Slave Rebellion | St. John Slave Revolt of 1733

Updated on April 4, 2013
Caneel Bay, US Virgin Islands. This was the site of bloody fighting during the 1733 revolt.
Caneel Bay, US Virgin Islands. This was the site of bloody fighting during the 1733 revolt. | Source

Virgin Islands Slave Revolt

While most think of the US Virgin Islands as a vacation paradise, these tropical islands were colonized by Europeans in the early 18th century in order to establish a plantation economy founded on race-based slavery. The plantations were intended to produce sugar, cotton, indigo, and other commercial crops for export back to Europe. While they produced enormous profits for European planters, the entire system was founded on forced, unpaid labor.

The island of St. John was colonized by the Danish in 1718 and, 15 short years later, slaves on the island decided to rise up against their Danish masters. This slave revolt was one of the earliest in the European colonies and took place decades before more famous slave revolts, such as the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint L'Ouverture. The slave revolt of 1733 is still commemorated annually in St. John, and visitors can take an all-day informative tour in late November each year.

Cinnamon Bay Plantation, one of the first plantations taken by rebels.
Cinnamon Bay Plantation, one of the first plantations taken by rebels. | Source

St. John's Revolt of 1733

The Danes began importing slaves soon after colonizing the Virgin Islands. They colonized the island of St. Thomas in 1672 and St. John in 1618. Neither island had any native inhabitants. At first, they tried to encourage immigration to the islands and attempted to use Danish prisoners as labor on the plantations. These prisoners were used as indentured servants, which meant they gained their freedom after six years. These prisoners were considered the lowest of the low and were even looked down on by enslaved Africans. After experiencing prisoner revolts and general Danish unwillingness to move to the Virgin Islands, plantation owners began importing African slaves.

Slaves in the Virgin Islands were not emancipated until 1848, 114 years after the slave revolt.
Slaves in the Virgin Islands were not emancipated until 1848, 114 years after the slave revolt. | Source

By 1733, at least 1,000 slaves labored on the island's plantations. Many of these plantations were owned by absentee landlords who lived on St. Thomas, which meant St. John had many more African inhabitants than European ones. Several factors led to the St. John's slave revolt of 1733. Insufficient food and water, rampant disease, and harsh punishments meant the slave population was already restive. Then, in 1733, conditions took a turn for the worst when, all in one year, the island was ravaged by a plague of locusts, crippled by drought, and pounded by a severe hurricane. In response to the difficult times and fear of runaways, the Danish government enacted harsh punishments for any slave caught trying to escape the island. Punishments ranged from the amputation of a leg to whipping and branding for less 'severe' infractions. The scared, outnumbered white population also set up punishments for not informing on other's plots to run away and for insolence or verbal insults to whites.

How well do you Know Slave Rebellions?

view quiz statistics

Together, the poor living conditions, harsh new laws, and small white population created the perfect conditions for a slave rebellion. The rebellion began on November 23, 1733 and was spearheaded by members of the Akon tribe and its leader, King June. The Akons, also called Akwamu or Aminas, from present-day Ghana, were known for their martial prowess. They concealed cane knives, tools used for cutting cane on sugar plantations, in stacks of wood. The slaves then gained admittance to the Danish fort at Fortsberg and proceeded to murder the sleeping garrison of soldiers. Only one soldier, John Gabriel, survived and escaped to neighboring St. Thomas.

After successfully capturing the fort, the revolting slaves fired the fort's cannon, signaling to the other slaves it was time to rise up, kill their plantation owners, and declare freedom. The rebelling slaves killed as many whites as possible, though many landowners with smaller plantations were able to escape.

Interestingly, the slave revolt was not intended to liberate all slaves on the island. Instead, the Akus wanted to create at Akwam-ruled state and intended to keep Africans from other tribes as slaves for the production of sugar and other crops. African slavery was not invented by Europeans - Africans had been using prisoners of war from other African tribes as slaves for hundreds of years.

Fighting continued on St. Johns for a long time. The Akons were able to capture almost all of the island - only a site known as Durloo's Plantation was able to resist their assaults. The Akons did not loot buildings or destroy crops because they intended to use this infrastructure for their own, new nation. Finally, after receiving assistance from the British, French, and Free Negro Corps, the rebellion was quashed in May, 1734. In the intervening months, the Akons established their own government with elected leaders, and made plans to expand the revolution to St. Thomas and Tortola.

Most of the rebels were executed in gruesome ways. Some were burned alive, but many were impaled or beheaded. A few died in jail and others were 'merely' sent sent to other plantations and worked to death.

St. John Off The Beaten Track
St. John Off The Beaten Track

This guide contains in-depth information about the 1733 revolt and sites associated with it

 

Commemorating the St. John Slave Revolt

Since 1983, a commemorative walk each November has celebrated the St. John slave revolt with a day of visiting sites from the revolution, historical reenactments, and information about life on the island in the 18th century. In 1999, the Virgin Islands Legislature passed a bill establishing November 23 as Virgin Islands Freedom Fighters Day.'

Visitors to St. John can tour some of the sites that played a role in the rebellion. Cinnamon Bay Plantation and the restored Catherineberg sugar cane mill are only two of many destinations open throughout the year. If you want to learn more about non-traditional tourist areas on St. John, invest in Gerald Singer's St. John off the Beaten Track. With a newly-revised, 2011 edition, this highly-informative guide tells you all about the best spots to visit for real local flavor and history.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

      Natasha 

      3 years ago from Hawaii

      Yeah, fact is stranger than fiction sometimes.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 

      3 years ago

      Thanks for the that bit of history! I think the saddest part was that they wanted to own their own slaves.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

      Natasha 

      5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you for stopping by! I think it's really funny that the main revolting group just wanted to make themselves in charge, though. Very interesting turn of events! I don't think I've seen a movie on it, but you never know - maybe it's out there somewhere.

    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 

      5 years ago from Idaho

      This was a very interesting article on a subject that I am, until now, largely uninformed. I love history's stories about when a large number of people realize that they are being oppressed by a small number of people and do something about it. Surely there's a movie in there somewhere. Great info. I can tell you did your research. Thanks for sharing!

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

      Natasha 

      5 years ago from Hawaii

      So many current US possessions/states weren't originally settled by the English. The English were kind of late to the party, but they did a good job of capturing other people's stuff!

      Thanks for stopping by, rlbertoo.

    • rlbert00 profile image

      rlbert00 

      5 years ago from USA

      Oh yes, the Danes were very prolific in their exploration of the Caribbean. My personal favorite was the pirate/privateer Joost van Dyke.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

      Natasha 

      5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, Brainy Bunny!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 

      5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      As always, you write engaging history! Voted up and interesting.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

      Natasha 

      5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for stopping by, Mhatter99. I think it was a pretty unique (and fairly un-heard of) event.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this interesting piece of history.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

      Natasha 

      5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! This event isn't usually taught in schools. Most people don't realize the islands were colonized by the Danes, either!

    • rlbert00 profile image

      rlbert00 

      5 years ago from USA

      Excellent article. St. John is my favorite of the U.S. Virgin Islands but I was completely ignorant of this event, having never been in November perhaps that is my problem. Again, nicely done, I enjoyed reading this.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

      Natasha 

      5 years ago from Hawaii

      I was surprised, too! Evidently they weren't exactly successful and many of their colonies had more immigrants from other European nations 'native' immigrants. We (or at least, I) never seem to think about most European nations and slavery, or northern states and slavery, but pretty much everywhere had slavery at one point in time. It's just that some places were a bit faster to outlaw it.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 

      5 years ago from UK

      For some reason I never thought imagined that the Scandinavians had slavery. Interesting hub, thanks!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)