V.I. Historian Arnold Highfield Translates 18th-Century Danish Account of St. Thomas

Arnold R. Highfield at home in the Virgin Islands. (Arnold Highfield photo)
Arnold R. Highfield at home in the Virgin Islands. (Arnold Highfield photo)

Georg Hjersing Høst arrived on St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies in 1769, taking a post with the colonial government and later marrying the daughter of Governor J.N. Kragh. Both events gave him complete access to the archives of the Danish West India and Guinea Company and the colonial government, whose materials he scoured for the numerous documents, letters, ordinances and other items that gave him an essential key to the early history of the Virgin Islands.

From this trove, Høst published his own account in 1791 that chronicled:

— The governors of the island from 1671 to 1776, including Jørgen Iversen, Johan Lorentz, Frederik Moth, Phillip Gardelin, Erik Bredal and Peter Clausen among others.
— Major events, such as the acquisition of St. Croix by Denmark, the attempt to colonize Vieques, the acquisition of and subsequent revolt on St. John, and the issuance of the Charter of 1734
–A range of topics, from customs duties, regulations concerning slaves, and Free Negroes to regulations about vessels and shipping, the office of the Governor General, government salaries, perquisites, and fines.

Historian and Professor Arnold Highfield has translated this considerable contribution to Caribbean history in his latest book, Georg Hjersing Høst’s Account of the Island of St. Thomas and Its Governors Recorded there on the Island from 1769 until 1776. Providing a straightforward and clear translation, Highfield organizes Høst’s account into readable chapters, while including the original page numbers, should readers want to compare the text to the source manuscript.

Highfield is a retired scholar-in-residence and professor at the University of the Virgin Islands and has published some twenty plus books on V.I. history, including Vanderbourg’s Report to Ernst Schimmelmann; The Cultural History of the American Virgin Islands and the Danish West Indies: A Companion Guide; St. Croix: 1493, An Encounter of Two Worlds; Time Longa’ Dan Twine; St. Croix 1650–1733: A Plantation Society in the French Antilles; Sea Grapes and Kennips, and Crucian Recollections to mention only a few of his more recent volumes.

His books are published by Antilles Press, which was established on St. Croix in the 1980s with the purpose of publishing books by and for Virgin Islanders. You can find many of its titles at Undercover Books in Gallows Bay and Eden South on Company Street on St. Croix, and at Bookstore 340 on St. Thomas. You can also purchase the full range of available books at www.antillespressvi.com.