Thursday, September 29, 2011

Religion in St. Croix 1841-1911

In my last post I discussed the genealogist’s go-to record, the census.  The DWI census records have one major advantage over US census records: they indicate religion.  This is very helpful as often the only source of birth and death records come from church registers.  How do you know which church to look at if you don’t know the denomination?  Fortunately, it’s right there in the census (Also it’s really convenient that there were only a couple of churches).   I thought it would be interesting to see how popular each religion was, so I collected the data from VISHA and performed an analysis.  Since the official religion was Lutheran, one would expect that most people would be Lutheran… but one would be wrong.

I tabulated all the St. Croix censuses spanning 1841-1911 (with the exception of 1857, which is mostly missing from the VISHA database). This was a total of 203,144 census records.  Of that number, only 987 indicated...
that they belonged to no religion.  This is a very religious people! The vast majority of respondents stated that they belonged to one of the four major religions on the island: Anglican (also known as “English”), Roman Catholic, Moravian, and Lutheran (or “Danish”).  In addition, 975 records stated an affiliation with one of a host of other recognizable denominations including Jewish, Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, even Hindu and Salvation Army.  There were also things you wouldn’t expect: 158 were Swedenborgian (more on this in a future blog). Eight were listed as “Heathen”. In 1860, Nicoline Augusta Blom, age 24, stated that she “can’t remember”. (Her husband, Peter Blom was Lutheran). 23 were listed as “coolie”, which I can only assume is a Chinese religion, possibly Buddhist.

Distribution of religion according to census records
Here is a breakdown of the major religions from the entire dataset of over 200,000 records.  As you can see, the largest religion was Anglican/Episcopalian, the English church.  In fact, it was twice as large as the Lutheran, which turned out to be ranked last of the 4 major religions on the island.

I wanted to see if this changed over time, so I analyzed the proportions for each individual census.  The table shows that the percentages of Catholic and Lutheran were nearly constant over the entire 70-year timespan.

Percentage of Population by Major Religion by Year
Roman Catholic27%28%28%28%28%27%29%25%28%28%28%

Being a scientist, I like to see graphs of my data and this showed an interesting phenomenon.  From 1860 to 1890, the percentage of Moravians dropped to almost half of its previous levels.  Interestingly, the Anglicans saw a rise in the same time.  It would appear from this data that what the Moravians lost, the Anglicans gained. Turns out that the total of Moravian plus Anglican was pretty steady. The number of Lutherans was showing a steady decline during this time.
Change over time of the four major religions on St. Croix
When considered in light of the social structure of the island, maybe this isn’t so surprising.  The Danish may have been the elite in government and the military, but the planters were overwhelmingly English (or Irish or Scots).  Since the Moravians were the missionaries to the slaves, they would have been most important before emancipation.

Well, hopefully you found that interesting, I certainly did.  Demographic analyses help me understand my ancestors and help me get a feeling for their world.  I have done a variety of analyses on the data and continue to find interesting insights.

Please leave me a comment to tell me if you are interested in seeing more analyses like this in the future.


  1. This is very interesting Mr. Lynch. My family was Lutheran for many generations and very active in the Lutheran Church. I am surprised by your data, I actually thought most on St. Croix would be Lutheran. Fantastic information! And, great blog!

    Yolanda Scurdy (EAVI admin)

  2. I am doing research on my grandmother's people in the West Indies and have just found a 1901 Census that lists her religion as Moravian Bas, which I had never heard of. We are continuing to dig because we always understood my grandmother to be Jewish and have some evidence to older bother being taken to synagogue, for example. Leads me to wonder a couple of things...the household is listed as having 27 people in it and the owner of the home someone entirely different. Could this have been a boarding house? Could the religion have belonged to the owner of the home? Were Jewish people unpopular in the Islands? Or would that have been unlikely? Very interesting stuff.

  3. Moravian was a large group (18% of St Croix in 1901). Jews were fairly rare on St Croix, according to the census. In 1901, out of 18,643 people enumerated, only 44 listed their religions as other than the four gropus I detailed above. 112 declared no affiliation. None declared themselves Jewish. This was a decrease from previous years. 1855 was the peak, where 46 people were identified as Jewish, Hebrew, or Israelite.

    There was a larger community on St Thomas, but the census hasn't been made available in digital form, so I don't have statistics.

    If you send me the particulars on your family that you identified in 1901, I'll be happy to look and see if there are any answers to your questions.

  4. My email is

  5. I've noticed some census records listed the religion as Mosaisk (the Danish word for Jewish, which comes from the word Moses) but the records were incorrectly transcribed as Moravian. It may help to look at the original image to determine what is actually listed in the column.

  6. That's a very good point about transcription. There are many cases where transcription errors occur, especially where a translation has occurred. Great hint!