After Emanuel “Mano” Boyd blew the conch, the Emancipation Day festivities began with dancing, singing, hair braiding and local food and craft sales.
Carnival festivities turned somber as the Festival and Cultural Organization of St. John marked the 159th anniversary of emancipation in the Virgin Islands at a Tuesday afternoon, July 3, ceremony recognizing the historic day.
The blowing of the conch shell by Emanuel “Mano” Boyd called St. John residents and tourists alike to the Frank Powell Sr. Park in Cruz Bay, where Pastor Carlyle Sampson delivered the invocation.
Throughout the day, Oswin Sewer read vignettes focusing on the history surrounding the emancipation of slaves in the Danish West Indies on July 3, 1848.
“Virgin Islands Emancipation Day should be more profound,” said Sewer. “We must always pay tribute to the freedom fighters.”
Governor Frederik Von Scholten, who declared all those who were enslaved free, may have only discussed freeing slaves to get the free coloreds on his side, explained Sewer.
Rumors of a riot should Von Scholten not free those who were enslaved began to spread, Sewer added.
“One hundred fifty nine years ago, Governor Von Scholten of the Danish West Indies declared ‘all unfree of the Danish West Indies from today are free,’” he said. “There are different accounts of what really happened on July 3. To the governor’s credit, his actions saved many lives.”
Musical Selections, Readings
Sewer then read several royal ordinances declared in the 1800s, each one giving slaves more and more freedoms, including schooling, and the freedom of children born to slaves.
The day featured several musical performances by Love City musicians the Echo People, who performed the Bob Marley classic “Redemption Song” and other selections, and Four Strong from the British Virgin Islands.
Local historian Dr. Gilbert Sprauve and his daughter, Masserae Sprauve-Webster, performed a lively reading entitled “Eman-cipation Echo.”
“July 3 was our glory day,” said Gilbert Sprauve. “It was our day of jubilation.”
Following the somber musical performances and vignettes, the crowd was treated to an energetic performance by the St. John and Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers.
Later that afternoon, Clarence Cuthbertson and Carabana Ensemble performed the play “Dear Anna/Dear Peter,” and the emancipation day celebration concluded with a lantern parade around Cruz Bay.
Emancipation was granted by Von Schol-ten on July 3, 1848, following the assembly of enslaved Africans on St. Croix in front of Fort Frederik.
Slaves Freed Following Demonstrations
The enslaved Africans, armed with knives and cutlasses, began gathering the night of July 2, 1848. Early on the morning of July 3, approximately 600 demonstrators marched from the fort to the Police Station, demanding the police chief proclaim their freedom, according to a timeline of the emancipation by George Tyson and Svend Holsoe on the St. John Historical Society Web site, www.stjohnhistoricalsociety.org.
The police chief declared the slaves’ freedom pending approval by Von Scholten, who later greeted nearly 8,000 enslaved Africans in Frederiksted, announcing their freedom. Later that evening, Von Scholten ordered the Emancipation Decree printed.
Looting of plantations and the assistant police chief’s home occurred throughout the day on July 3. News of the emancipation finally reached St. John on the evening of July 4. Laborers on Estate Adrian were the first to hear the news, according to the timeline. Von Scholten later resigned on July 6 and sailed for Denmark on July 14.