Monday, March 25, 2013

All Bahn Ya! - 19th Century St Croix Population

image
Section of 1846 census at Estate Fountain on St Croix
One thing I noticed when I started going through the St Croix census from the 1800s and early 1900s: most of the population said that they were from St Croix.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of immigration from Europe, the US, or even neighboring islands.  Since this seemed so prevalent, I wanted to know just how many of them were from St Croix, and how that number changed over time. 
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.

Birthplaces from St Croix Census 1841-1911

1835 1841 1846 1850 1855 1857 1860 1870 1880 1890 1901 1911 Total
St. Croix 3592 21934 21363 21412 21009 2794 21415 18977 15923 7888 14505 12058 182870
Other Caribbean 100 559 417 337 276 58 606 2714 1747 902 3265 2674 13655
Africa 691 2033 1361 977 536 40 324 79 19 2 4 3 6069
Europe 14 227 196 331 312 57 253 308 317 175 286 292 2768
St. Thomas 31 202 174 184 224 35 170 172 186 182 287 200 2047
United Kingdom 3 261 223 187 158 11 133 108 82 14 44 36 1260
St. John 4 72 55 51 55 4 44 74 50 18 40 29 496
USA 8 64 51 45 25 5 28 26 31 16 39 56 394
India


6


86 46 58 54 35 285
China






37 20 12 19 11 99
South America 4 8 7 10 5 2 5 7 3 5 16 20 92
At Sea
7 2 6 5

2 1 1 1 2 27
Canada
1 2 2 3 3
2 1
6
20
Grand Total 4447 25368 23851 23548 22608 3009 22978 22592 18426 9273 18566 15416 210082

These numbers are overwhelmingly Crucian.  In terms of overall percentages:

Contribution to total census from geographic areas
St. Croix 87.05%
Other Caribbean 6.50%
Africa 2.89%
Europe 1.32%
St. Thomas 0.97%
United Kingdom 0.60%
St. John 0.24%
USA 0.19%
India 0.14%
China 0.05%
South America 0.04%
At Sea 0.01%
Canada 0.01%

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.

image

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.

image 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.

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