Monday, November 28, 2011

My Ancestors weren’t Married?! (Part 3-Population)

This is the third part of a series on my study into St. Croix marriages. In Part 1, I described what made me undertake this study. In Part 2, I discussed my methodology and results. For this part, I digress slightly and look at the change in baptismal rates over the period.

From my article on Religion in St. Croix 1841-1911, I saw that the latter half of the 19th century showed a significant conversion from Moravian to Anglican, already the most popular religion on the island.  Since I expected to see a rapid growth in population on the island, I expected to see a corresponding growth in Anglican baptisms throughout the period.  Wrong on both counts.

The chart below shows the numbers of baptisms at St. John’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Christiansted, St Croix, the largest church on the island over the 94 years I studied.


Number of Baptisms by year at St John’s Anglican church from 1841-1934

As you see from the graph, the annual baptismal rate peaked between 1871-1873 at about 253 per year and fell continuously to 1934 with only 25 baptisms recorded in that church.  The gap from 1855-1856 is from the set of heavily damaged records which I omitted.  The low values in 1854 and 1867 are due to partial year counts surrounding these damaged records.  Since Anglicans dominated the population, this suggests that the population didn’t grow as it did in the continental US. 

There are a couple of contributors to this trend.  First, families became smaller.  As in the US, the numbers of children born per couple dropped significantly throughout this period.  While early St Croix censuses showed very large households, both urban and rural, later documents show small households. Here are the families in my direct line, by generation, with the numbers of known children and the years of child bearing. The generation numbers are from my Ahnentafel Report.

Numbers of Children by Generation 1759-1940






Claudius and Gertruyd




Johannis and Amey McNobney




Johannes and Mary Quickly




Claudius and Adelaide




Hester and Andreas




Ludvig and Olga



Another, not so minor effect, was emigration. After Emancipation in 1848, freedmen continued to live and work under strict contracts that severely limited their mobility. Following the Fireburn insurrection of 1878, islanders, both white and colored, were much more free to move about as they pleased, and many were pleased to leave.  The island’s economy was based on the sugar cane industry, but cane sugar was becoming replaced with beet sugar and the economy was in a steady decline.  Property values fell and unemployment surged.  Many people left the island in search of work, just as had occurred on other islands, like Barbados some 30 years earlier.  The economy had become so weak that the Danish crown was supporting the islands rather than profiting from them.  This led to discussions with the US about purchasing the islands as far back as the 1860’s.  In fact, the US and Denmark negotiated treaties in 1867 and another 1900 for purchase, which were never ratified. (The Danish VI Consulate website has a 1902 poem by Julius Reuter on this called “The Bride and the Bridegroom, or Sam and Amalia”)
With the availability of steamships in the latter part of the 19th century, there was a significant and steady emigration from the island in  the years up to and beyond transfer (1917) many islanders, including many of my family, emigrated to the US and other countries.  Significant numbers of Cruzans moved to New York and surrounding areas, and their families live there today.  I have read suggestions on’s Virgin Islands message board that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) should move their collection of Danish West Indies records, Record Group 55 (RG 55), to the New York Regional Office since most of the Virgin Islanders in the US live there.  As for me, I like them just where they are, College Park, MD, about 15 miles from my house!
The next item I will look at is how the rates of legitimacy changed over the study period.  More surprises (at least for me)!


  1. Dear Dave,
    The Panama Canal may have been a significant factor in the loss of population (especially male). This is from a Danish website:

    "From the 1870s and for the rest of the Danish period economic conditions worsened. Each year there was a substantial deficit in the public budgets of Saint Croix, as well as those of Saint Thomas with Saint Jan. The deficits had to be met by the Danish state. At the same time the population decreased slowly but surely from 38,000 in 1870 to only 26,000 in 1917. The decrease was partly caused by high mortality due to illness, bad housing conditions etc., and partly by emigration. While the Danish West Indies in the early nineteenth century had attracted many immigrants from throughout the region, the situation had become the opposite by the close of that century when emigration from the Danish West Indies was predominant as a response to inequitable land distribution and industrial down-sizing. Many Virgin Islanders found work cutting sugar cane in other islands in the Caribbean, or as seamen, or were recruited for work in constructing the Panama Canal."

    The website is:

  2. That's a very interesting point. I have some evidence that relatives and associates did, indeed, leave the island for work building the canal. Seems unemployment was a major driver. With the closing of Hovensa, it may yet be again.