Fortsberg — A Hike Not To Be Missed

By Chuck Pishko
St. John Tradewinds

Dr. Gilbert Sprauve, center, discusses the St. John slave revolt of 1733 atop Fortsberg on the annual hike in Coral Bay.

The St. John African Slave Revolution Committee and the Pan-African Support Group will conduct their annual tour of the sites of the revolution on St. John on Friday, November 26, and all are invited.

The tour ends with a hike up Fortsberg to see where the revolution began on November 23, 1733.

Atop Fortsberg was the Danish Fort where the enslaved Africans overpowered the soldiers even though they were armed only with cane knives. The slaves were driven to this extreme act by the inhumane conditions foisted upon them.


Not only were they stolen from their homelands, but they also were subjected to a horrendous voyage across the Atlantic in chains and packed into ships so tightly that millions died on the way of diseases and starvation. The slaves on St. John were set to work hewing plantations out of the bush. Natural disasters, drought and hurricanes led to starvation.


Also, the Danish governor imposed a draconian code of conduct for the slaves which called for penalties of death or dismemberment. All of these conditions made living conditions insufferable.

With their heavy bundles of firewood the enslaved Africans also carried the weight of their insufferable conditions. They took back their humanity on top of Fortsberg and the spirit of freedom was reborn.

The revolt here predated the French Revolution, the establishment of the black nation of Haiti, the American Revolution, emancipation of slaves throughout the Americas and our civil rights movements.

The St. John Revolt not only preceded these events but was also a precedent for them. The freedom fighters held the island for six months despite repeated attempts to crush the revolt by the Danes and the British.

Finally professional French troops put down the revolt. Conditions improved for the enslaved with the knowledge that further revolts were possible.
Professors Gilbert Sprauve and Gene Emmanuel of the University of the Virgin Islands lead the annual hike and the commentary. They are aided by retired V.I. educator and author Sele Adeyemi who shares their incredible grasp of the facts.

The work of other scholars who have recently added to the understanding of the revolt will be discussed including Professor Jon F. Sensbach, who recently wrote “Rebecca’s Revival” about the life of Moravian missionary Rebecca Protten, wherein he noted precedence for the revolt in West African History, and Dr. Peter Stein who continues to uncover new information as he translates the works of C.G.A. Oldendorp, an early interpreter of St. John history.

Unfortunately, I won’t be on St. John this Friday for the hike after participating for 12 years. The hike will begin at Sputnik’s in Coral Bay at around 12 noon where history will be discussed and music played.

The group will proceed to Fortsberg, which is privately owned by the Samuel family who have given their permission for the hikers to visit. This is a unique and exhilarating St. John experience that should not be missed.