St. Croix runaway escapes slavery and writes letter to the King

St. Croix runaway escapes slavery and writes letter to the King

St. Croix runaway escapes slavery and writes letter to the King

One of the most common questions I encounter after I tell people about my research is “were enslaved people in the Danish West Indies literate?”
The short answer is a resounding yes and no, because the experience of slavery varies for every individual and these individuals had various ways of communicating to one another with or without having the ability to read the language of the colonizer (be it British English, French, or Spanish). Some enslaved people living in St. Thomas, St. Croix or St. John during the Danish Occupation era were able to read and write, but the languages they chose to use were highly variable dependent on their country of origin, occupation, masters nationality, and duration of education on island, etc. Since English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Irish, and various Creole languages were all spoken on the island of St. Croix this area was unique in terms of its linguistic development. Out of this mixture of languages developed a Dutch Creole traditional Crucian dialect, which is still in use today.

Another factor that affected the development of literacy among enslaved peoples in the Danish West Indies is the fact that Denmark in collaboration with the Moravian church established for the first time in history a public education system for enslaved peoples, establishing compulsory free education for children of enslaved people living in St. Croix. Even though the primary goal was to teach children to read the bible in order to promote conversion, no where else in the world was their actually a legal statute to promote education and literacy among enslaved people.

One example of advanced literary capabilities on behalf of enslaved people in St. Croix comes from a runaway slave named W.F.A. Gilbert, the only escaped slave whose personal written statement has survived through today. He became a fugitive when he escaped slavery in St. Croix and somehow made it all the way to Boston. Still to this day  no one knows how he accomplished this but on August 12, 1847 (one year before emancipation was established in the Danish West Indies) he took the bold move of writing a letter to the King of Denmark from his new home in Boston to request his legal freedom and plead for freedom for every enslaved person still under the Danish regime in St. Croix.

View his original message here

To His Supreme Magistrate, King Christian VIII, Copenhagen,
Denmark. Sir: I taken my pen in hand a runaway slave, to inform your
excelcy of the evil of slavery. Sir Slavery is a bad thing and if any man
will make a slave of a man after he is born free, i, should think it
anoutrage becose i was born free of my Mother worn and after i was
born the Monster, in the shape of a man, made a slave of me in your
dominion now Sir i ask your excelcy in the name of God & his
kingdom is it wright for God created man Kind equal and free so i
have a writ to my freedom I have my freedom now but that is not all
Sir. i want to see my Sisters & my Brothers and i now ask your excelcy
if your excelcy will grant me a free pass to go and come when ever i
fail dispose to go and come to Ile of St. Croix or Santacruce the west
indies Sir i ask in arnist for that pass for the tears is now gushing from
mine eyes as if someone had poar water on my head and it running
down my Cheak. Sir i ask becose i have some hopes of geting it for i
see there your Nation has a stablished Chirches and Schools for
inlightning the Slave. that something the American has not done all
though she is a republican my nam is Frederick Augustus Gilbert now
i has another name thus William F. A. Gilbert
Sir, when i see such good sines i cannot but ask for such a thing as liberty and freedom for it is Glorius. Sir i make very bold to write to a
King but i cannot help it for i have been a runaway slave i hope your
excelcy will for give me if i is out in order Please to sind you answer to
the Deinish Council in Boston
His withered hands he holds to view
With nerves once firmly strung,
And scarcely can believe it true
That ever he was yong,
And as he thinks o’er all his ills,
Disease, neglect, and scorn,
Strange pity of himself he feels
That slave is forlane
William F. A. Gilbert.

Creole Psalm Book

Moravian psalm book published published in Creole language.

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