A People's Historical Journey to Self Determination & Decolonization

The Ay Ay Islands, (f.k.a.) The Danish West Indies, (n.k.a.) Virgin Islands of the United States

General Buddhoe~Liberator of the Virgin Islands

ST. CROIX - Thousands of slaves put their lives on the line 157 years ago to fight for freedom in a well-planned rebellion that would change the course of history for the Virgin Islands, then known as the Danish West Indies.

On July 3, 1848, slaves carefully executed a yearlong plan to demand their freedom on the streets of Frederiksted town - and won.

Much of what has been written about Moses "Buddhoe" Gottlieb, the free black who led the 1848 slave rebellion on St. Croix, is shrouded in controversy, but historians agree the Emancipation Proclamation that followed stands as a seminal point in Virgin Islands history.

According to historical accounts, the uprising by St. Croix slaves, particularly on the western end of the island, began on the evening of July 2, 1848, with hundreds of slaves assembling outside Fort Frederik, Frederiksted. The slaves declared they would not be working the next day and shouted for their freedom.

By the next morning thousands of slaves had gathered. Some 2,000 of them marched into Frederiksted from the northwest and north coast estates, joining others from Ham's Bluff and other estates along Centerline Road. According to historical accounts, by 10 a.m. about 8,000 slaves had gathered in front of the fort demanding their freedom.

Shortly after 1 p.m. on July 3, a message from the fort commander in Frederiksted reached Gov. Gen. Peter von Scholten. It read: "All the Negroes in this part of the country are in revolt; all over, bells are ringing."

It is not known if the bells and blowing of conch shells signaled for more slaves to gather or if planters were warning others of the uprising. Many West End plantation owners fled their estates for the security of the fort.
During the uprising, there were few reports of violence, thanks to Buddhoe, who stopped the slaves from rioting and kept them focused on obtaining their freedom.

Messages were sent from Danish authorities to von Scholten, begging him to come to Frederiksted since it was clear that if the slaves became hostile, they would burn the town and kill every white person within reach.

The whipping post, a device used to beat slaves within an inch of their lives, was torn from the ground and the slaves carried it to the wharf, throwing it as far out to sea as possible.

Black slave women were seen dragging sugar cane tops near the fort in preparation to burn the fort and town if any shots were fired from the fort or if they did not receive their freedom.

The slaves gave von Scholten a 4 p.m. deadline to liberate them. Realizing that the slaves were serious and not just venting frustration, he ordered that his horse-driven carriage be made ready and he set sail for Frederiksted.

One historical account states that once von Scholten arrived in Frederiksted, he immediately went into the fort to be briefed on the events. He looked outside the fort and saw more than 8,000 slaves silently awaiting his decision.

Von Scholten had no choice. Any refusal or delay would mean destruction of the towns and plantations and many would be killed. He walked to a commanding post, which is now the clock area, and announced: "Alle unfrie paa de Danske Vestindiske oer ere fra dags dato frigivne."

National Park Service historian William Cissel said another version used by historians states that upon von Scholten's arrival at the fort, his carriage was surrounded by slaves and he could not move.

He stood up or stepped down from the carriage and gave his Proclamation of Emancipation - "All unfree in the Danish West Indies are from today free."

As the word "freedom" rang through the air, the former slaves rejoiced. Pandemonium broke out and there was singing and dancing in the streets and countryside.

Cissel said Buddhoe's attempts to help calm the slaves took tremendous courage.

"Once emancipation is achieved, Buddhoe went along with Danish authorities to help extinguish any rioting and violence in the estates," Cissel said. "He was a remarkable man. Natural born leaders will surface when the time is right and it is how you use or misuse your opportunity for leadership that defines your character."

Slaves in Christiansted had not heard that they had been freed, but they heard of the Frederiksted rebellion and decided to rebel also. The Danish militia tried to quell blossoming riots there and eventually received orders to fire a cannon filled with shrapnel into a crowd gathered at Bassin Triangle, located west of Christiansted. The crowd was threatening to storm Christiansted. A number of slaves were killed and injured.

By the time von Scholten arrived in Christiansted the evening of July 3, 1848, the town was in chaos. The former slaves were determined to get revenge for the massacre at Bassin Triangle and set fires. White citizens, angry that their infrastructure was falling apart, filled government house. The night, however, passed without further incident.

Cissel said there are conflicting stories of Buddhoe's life and what happened to him after Emancipation. He said according to records of the 1841 and 1846 Danish census, Buddhoe's real name was John Gottliff. The last name translated into Danish and German is "Gottlieb," meaning "God's love."

He said there were other leaders in the rebellion. Among them were Moses Roberts of Estate Sprat Hall and Martin "Admiral" King of Estate Slob. King referred to his followers as "the fleet."

"It is likely that over time, people began to think of John Gottlieb and Moses Roberts as the same person, hence the name Moses Gottlieb," Cissel said.

Most historians believe Buddhoe was born in Estate La Grange and was a free black and skilled sugar boiler, which gave him freedom to come and go as he pleased.

At the time of Emancipation, it is estimated that Buddhoe was about 28 years old.

Cissel said that after the slaves were liberated, Buddhoe was jailed at Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted for about six months and then exiled to Trinidad, where accounts of his life become very unclear. Buddhoe was told if he ever returned to the Danish West Indies, he would be executed.

Cissel said there are stories of Buddhoe being robbed and forced to work on the ship and some historians argue that he was taken to Trinidad without incident and later left for the United States. Some say he died in Grenada.

Today, the events of July 3, 1848, are commemorated as Emancipation Day. This year will mark the 157th anniversary of the proclamation.

Cissel said the 1848 rebellion paved the way for struggles that followed - the 1878 Labor Riot or Fireburn and David Hamilton Jackson's fight for freedom of the press and the establishment of the first labor union in 1915.

"Buddhoe's achievement with emancipation is a pivotal event in Virgin Islands history and was a significant milestone along the way for the struggle over freedom and labor rights," Cissel said.

Source: General Buddhoe~Liberator of the Virgin Islands