|Section of 1846 census at Estate Fountain on St Croix|
So, I conducted a study of the birthplaces indicated on the Danish censuses from 1841-1911. I discovered a couple of interesting features about the population profile so I figured I’d share.
This post is about the composition of the St Croix population from pre-emancipation to right before the US purchase. In particular, the overwhelming tendency to be Bahn Ya (Born here).
The St Croix census at www.visharoots.org holds over 210,000 records from the censuses spanning 70 years. In each census, the enumerator indicated the birthplace of each person. Responses ranged from very specific: “Strobeck in Schleswig”, to the very vague: “the Spanish Main”, “West Indies” and “the great desert”. In 1870, 8 people are identified as “Coolies”, or Indians (more on this in a later post). The different Danish West Indian islands are listed separately (St Croix, St Thomas, St John) in the census. Most Africans simply listed “Africa” or “Guinea”. There are over 900 distinct entries for birthplace in the census. After grouping into countries and other similar regions, there are over 90. Most areas contribute very little to the overall population during this time.
Over the full database, 87% of all people on St Croix during these 70 years were from St Croix. This table shows the total people for each major geographical division.
These numbers are overwhelmingly Crucian. In terms of overall percentages:
From this we can see that relatively few people came to St Croix from St Thomas (less than 1 percent) and St John (a quarter of a percent) during this time. Then, as now, St Croix tended to stand apart from the other islands. Only 1.32% of the population was from continental Europe (1.12% from Denmark) and a mere 0.6% from the British Isles.
It is even more interesting to look at the population over time. Here is a chart of the population variation over time from the Danish islands, Africa, and the other Caribbean islands.
In the period from 1850-1860, Crucians made up over 90% of the island population. Prior to that there was a significant, but declining, contribution of Africans.
The vast majority of Africans were brought to St Croix as slaves. In 1803, Denmark abolished the transatlantic slave trade. It was illegal to import African slaves into the Danish West Indies. Slavery wasn’t abolished until 1848, but the importation was illegal. By this time, most slaves were “creoles”, that is, native. In 1803 the importation of “bosals”, or African-born halted. The African population mixed with the creoles. Over time, with few new Africans coming to the island, the African population dwindled, their children being Crucians. [Note: a small number of free Africans had come to St Croix. Some in connecton with the slave trade, some to work as laborers or artisans. This practice continued throughout the 19th century.]
By 1835, when the first surviving censuses were taken, those Africans still living constituted 15.5% of the island’s population. The population declined steadily until it was 0.02% in 1890.
In 1835, Crucians and Africans together constituted over 96% of the population. This composition was nearly constant until after 1860. Over the first half of the 19th century, the population of St Croix actually declined. By 1846 it was down 17% from the 1797 peak, and continued falling into the second half of the 1800s. The falling population was presenting a problem to planters.
Note the sudden change in the population composition at the 1870 census. After reaching a peak of 93.2%, the Crucians drop in a decade to 85% and continue lower to only 78% in 1911. This corresponds to the increase of people from other Caribbean islands shown in the chart above.
In the next part of this series I will look at the cause of this change and its significance as a piece of Island history.