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The Fireburn i nutidig Virgin Islands-undervisning

Kildeteksten er et uddrag fra en tekst om Contract Day (om startskuddet på The Fireburn i 1878) fra Virgin Islands Department of Education til nutidig undervisningsbrug i udskolingen og ungdomsuddannelser i U.S. Virgin Islands. Den kunne tidligere findes på The Virgin Islands Department of Educations hjemmeside, men er fjernet i forbindelse med en opdatering.


After Emancipation in 1848, St. Croix kept on producing sugar cane. Most Crucians1 stayed on the plantations as laborers. To keep the plantations running at a profit, the planters still needed a source of cheap labor. Although the free black people now had to be paid for their labor, the planters wanted to pay very low wages.

The Danish West Indian government helped the planters by passing a certain law. This law was called the Labor Act of 1849. The greatest impact of the law was felt on St. Croix. The Labor Act forced most Crucians to continue working on the sugar plantations. Under the terms of the Labor Act, laborers had to sign a yearly contract to work from October 1st through September 30th. October 1st was known as Contract Day. In August, the Crucian Laborers had to tell the planters if they wanted to change jobs. They changed jobs on Contract Day. They could not refuse any work that was asked of them by the planters.

Any laborer who did not work was considered a 'vagrant'. The dictionary defines a 'vagrant' as a tramp or a wanderer. However, the Danes defined a vagrant as anyone who was unemployed. If a laborer was out of work, he was considered to be a vagrant. He was arrested, put in jail and fed only bread and water.

The punishment for vagrancy was to clean the streets and public gutters. No Laborer wanted to be called a vagrant and put in jail. No one wanted to be forced to clean the streets and gutters. So the laborers had to work for whatever pay they were given by the planters.

The Labor Act made the new life of Crucian laborers very hard, like their old life of slavery. The Labor Act was always meant to be temporary. Starting in 1849 and every year afterwards, the laborers were promised that the Labor Act would be repealed. Instead, it lasted for thirty years. This made the laborers very unhappy.


Three Classes of Labor

Laborers on St. Croix plantations were divided into three groups. The first laborers, earning 15 cents a day, were skilled workers. They might have been carpenters or masons. The second class laborers, earning 10 cents a day, were field workers. The third class laborers were children or elders who could not do hard work. They earned 5 cents a day.

Tradesmen and artisans earned 20 cents per day. Tradesmen might own a cart, with a horse or a donkey to pull it. They could hire an apprentice, but only with the permission of the planter who hired them. When laborers were given an allowance of cornmeal and herring every day, 25 cents was subtracted from the weekly pay.


The Central Factory

In 1877, there was a change for some workers in St. Croix. In that year, the Central Factory opened at Richmond in Christiansted. In addition to the Central Factory, crushing stations were built at Glynn, Peter’s Rest, Barren Spot, Fair Plain and Princesse. Miles of pipelines were laid from the crushing stations to Orange Grove and to the Central Factory. The pipelines carried sugar cane juice.

The planters had their sugar cane loaded onto carts and taken to one of the crushing stations. The cane was crushed. Then the juice was pumped into big tanks at Orange Grove. Finally, the juice was piped to the Central Factory. There the juice was boiled and made into sugar.

Workers at the Central Factory were paid 30 cents - 35 cents a day. There was a large difference between Central Factory workers’ wages and plantations workers’ wages. This difference seemed unfair to the plantation workers. Soon the new machinery at the Central Factory broke down. Central Factory workers were laid off. Those workers who had been making 30 cents-35 cents a day at the Central Factory had to go back to the plantations where they were making 10 cents -15 cents a day. Now all the laborers were upset, and determined more than ever to make a change in their lives.

On Contract Day in 1878 four women on St. Croix, traditionally called queens, organized a revolt to demand all plantations pay the same or better than the St. Croix Central Factory and to repeal the Labor Act of 1849 that kept workers in serf- like conditions. These V.I. heroines were: Queen Mary Thomas, Queen Mathilda Macbean, Susanna “Bottom Belly” Abrahamson and Axeline “Queen Agnes” Salomon. They started the infamous “Fireburn of 1878” and for five days, much of the West End2 of the island burned. The four queens were imprisoned in Denmark but their hard work and fearless actions brought about change.


The End of the Labor Act

During the summer of 1878 a rumor was started. The rumor was that the Labor Act would be repealed on October 1st and that the laborers would get a raise in pay on that day. A huge crowd of laborers gathered in Frederiksted. Exactly one year after the Fireburn began, the Labor Act was repealed. The Crucian laborers showed in the Fireburn that they were not going to be treated like slaves any longer. Contract Day is observed October 1st annually in United States Virgin Islands.


Tekst 55 | Oversigten over kildetekster | Tekst 57 


1 Crucians: beboere på St. Croix

2 West End: en lokal betegnelse for byen Frederiksted


His2rie er en serie af bøger og tilhørende hjemmeside målrettet historieundervisningen på ungdomsuddannelserne.

Alt materiale er tilrettelagt ud fra bekendtgørelsen for historie på stx og/eller hf.

Serie og hjemmeside udgives og drives af forlaget Frydenlund.


Redaktør Vibe Skytte
c/o Frydenlund
Alhambravej 6
1826 Frederiksberg C
Tlf.: 3318 8136
E-mail: vibe@frydenlund.dk