The Liberation of St. Croix: Historical Flash Fiction by cam
Cruise Ship From Frederiksted, St. Croix
From 1650 to 1848, the indigenous population on the island of St. Croix was enslaved, being forced to serve in the growing of sugar cane and the production of sugar by the Kingdom of Denmark. At the end of the 18th century, about 1500 whites ruled the island where as many as 20,000 lived as slaves.
St. Croix Shoreline from an Interior Elevation
The Liberation of St. Croix
“The time has come for us to stand against our captors and to become free people once again,” said a man who was highly respected as a leader of the gathered slaves.
“But Budhoe, the King has spoken. All children born from now on will be free,” said one man.
“And in twelve more years, we will all be free,” said another.
His name was Moses Gottlieb, but most just called him Budhoe, which probably came from the French word, Bordeaux, since the French were the first to successfully settle and govern this Island of the New World. The name of the island was Ay Ay according to the Carib Indians. The Spaniards called it Santa Cruz after Columbus discovered it, but the enduring name, the French name, would be St. Croix. In the days of Budhoe and his fellow slaves, the island was in the hands of The King of Denmark, and the time was ripe for revolt.
Sugar Processing Mill
“Twelve years?” said Budhoe as he walked among the gathering of slaves on the western end of the twenty-seven mile long island. “Twelve years? Why would we give up twelve years of freedom? Why would we spend another day harvesting canes and producing sugar only to make our captors wealthier and ourselves poorer? How many of you will even be alive in twelve years?” The words drifted among the slaves, convincing, inspiring, inciting. One by one the crowd of men and women began chanting, General Budhoe, General Budhoe. He had won their hearts, and they would follow him to freedom or to death. “Now is the time to march on Frederiksted,” said Budhoe. “The Governor is off the island, and the Danish forces will fall into confusion.”
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On the evening of Sunday, 2 July 1848, Budhoe lead a force of hundreds eastward toward the town of Frederiksted and the fort where Governor Peter von Scholten directed the Danish colony.
“Burn and destroy,” cried Budhoe as the mob approached the first plantation on their march. “But do not kill.” Torches were lit. Barns and homes burned, yet the occupants were left unharmed. As the rioting spread eastward through the center of St. Croix, the number of insurgents steadily grew.
Bells were ringing, horns were blowing. Was it the landowners warning neighbors of the rebellion? Was it the rampaging slaves calling others to join their march on the city? It wasn’t clear even to General Budhoe, but the alarms accomplished both purposes. From the high peaks of the interior of the island, Budhoe saw a ship approaching the harbor at Frederiksted.
“The Governor is returning,” he said. “But it is too late. We are nearly to the city. Have the women gather sugar cane tops from the fields.”
Salt River Bay, St. Croix
Early in the morning, on 3 July 1848 Frederiksted was invaded by a mass of rebelling slaves. Women piled the cane tops in preparation for burning the city and fort. Men dug up the whipping post where slaves had been beaten nearly to death and threw it from the wharf into the sea.
More than 2,000 slaves marched into Frederiksted on that morning, and many more joined them until 8,000 slaves stood outside the fort, some anxious to start the fire that would destroy this symbol of their servitude.
General Budhoe wound his way through the anxious crowd, calling out encouragement here, a warning to be patient there, until he came to the gate of the fortress. Soldiers looked down on the scene, not knowing what action to take, if any.
“We have a message for the Governor,” said Budhoe, and the crowd cheered. “Today, we will have our freedom. Tell The Governor that he has until 4:00 to free all slaves on St. Croix, or the city and the fort will be burned.”
Governor von Scholten still had not arrived at the fort. He was being driven from the harbor when his carriage was surrounded. Slowly he was allowed to pass until the press of the crowd was too great. A messenger from the fort maneuvered through the gathered slaves and briefed the Governor on the demands of Budhoe.
Governor Peter von Scholten stood and scanned the mass of humanity that surrounded him, his eyes stopping when they met the eyes of Budhoe. The official representative of King Christian vIII of Denmark, stepped down from the carriage, and the crowd parted as he walked among them to where Budhoe awaited.
“The rioting and burning must stop,” he proclaimed after the crowd went silent. A few shouted their displeasure with the Governor's first words, but Budhoe raised his hand so the man could continue. “It must stop or there will be nothing left on this island for slave or free.” The crowd remained hushed while the Governor paused. Then he proclaimed in his native tongue, “"Alle unfrie paa de Danske Vestindiske oer ere fra dags dato frigivne,” All unfree in the Danish West Indies are from today free.
As news of the proclamation spread among the gathered slaves, a roar arose in an ever expanding wave that traveled to the peaks of the interior of the island and to the shores where it rebounded off the waves of the sea. The slaves of St. Croix were free.
St. Croix Shoreline From the Beach
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The freedom which the Governor proclaimed was resentfully upheld by the Crown. For days following the declaration of freedom on 3 July 1848, Budhoe, accompanied by Danish soldiers, retraced the steps of their march, calling an end to the rioting which was still being carried out by slaves who had not heard the news.
Governor Peter von Scholten was deported by the new Governor, Peter Hansen. Budhoe spent several weeks confined to his house, after which he was imprisoned in Christiansted for six months. Governor Hansen then had him deported, telling him that if he ever returned to St. Croix, he would be executed.
On the day he left the island, the Governor provided Budhoe with expensive clothing and was paraded in front of the former slaves as he boarded the ship. Some historical sources report that after they were away from the harbor, the ship’s captain handed Budhoe some rags and was told to change into them. He reportedly spent the remainder of the voyage to Trinidad serving among the crew of the ship.
Today the events of 3 July 1848 are remembered as Emancipation Day on St. Croix. This year, 2015, was the 167th anniversary of the Governor’s proclamation.