Thursday, April 4, 2013

Immigrant Workers–19th Century St Croix Population-Part 2

image_thumb12In my last post, All Bahn Ya! - 19th Century St Croix Population, I showed this graph of the percentage of Crucians as compared to those born in other places throughout much of the 19th century.  I discussed the steady decrease in the numbers of residents from Africa in that post. 

As I explained, this was a direct result of the abolition of the slave trade in 1803 and the aging of those original slaves only to be replaced by a generation of native born Crucians.  This time I want to explore that other interesting feature: the rising “Other Caribbean” line. 

Understanding this feature sheds some light on not only the history of St Croix, but also gives some insight into the history and conditions on the other islands in the Caribbean.

Early Caribbean Immigrants to St Croix

Top 10 Island Birthplaces in the 1841 St Croix Census
St. Eustatius
St. Martin
St. Kitts
Puerto Rico
From 1835 to about 1857 the largest population of Caribbean immigrants came from the close-by British Virgin Islands, namely Anguilla and Tortola. Between 1830 and 1850, people from Anguilla comprised about 20% of the Caribbean immigrant population.  According to Wikipedia (the internet bastion of truth and accuracy), Anguilla was not a particularly prosperous place:
Attempts were made to develop Anguilla into a plantation-based economy employing slaves transported from Africa, but the island's soil and climate were unfavourable and the plantations were largely unsuccessful. Slaves were permitted to leave the plantations and pursue their own interests, and, with the British abolition of slavery in the 1830s, many plantation owners returned to Europe, leaving Anguilla's community consisting largely of subsistence farmers and fishermen of African descent. At this time Anguilla's population is estimated to have fallen from a peak of around 10,000 to just 2,000.
Apparently, the fertile Crucian soil attracted many to make the short trip in search of work.  The abolition of slavery on Tortola and an economic downturn made many there seek work off-island as well.

Caribbean Immigrants after 1860

By 1860 things had changed significantly in the Caribbean.  This is a graph of the contributions to the St Croix population from neighboring islands spanning 1857-1901 as a percentage of total Caribbean immigrants.  Note the huge increase in the numbers of immigrants from Barbados between 1860 and 1870.


Between 1860 and 1870 the number of Barbadians on St Croix increased from 335 to 1,624.  The total number of census records from those two years dropped from 23,008 to 22,658, a 1.5% decrease.  Clearly, something is going on in Barbados and in St Croix.

In 2005, Laurence Brown authored an article entitled “Experiments in indenture: Barbados and the segmentation of migrant labor in the Caribbean 1863-1865”  for the New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids [Vol 79, No 1&2 (2005)].  The journal is published by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.  The article stated that around 1860 rising sugar prices had encouraged the islands of Antigua and St Croix to look overseas for new sources of cheap labor. In September of 1860, agents from St Croix visited Barbados, offering free passage and signing bonuses to Barbadians who would come to work in St Croix.  Brown states that 200 workers came over.  The 1860 census, conducted a month later showed 335 Barbadians on St Croix, up from less than 20 in earlier censuses. [Note: the 1857 St Croix census records in the VISHA collection are sparse, so total inhabitant count is unreliable.  The 1855 census, which is more complete, showed 16 Barbadians.]

The government of Barbados put a stop to the agents, out of fear that they would create a labor shortage on Barbados.  So St Croix looked elsewhere, in particular, India.  The Indians sometimes described as “Coolies”, were brought from India to St Croix under indentures, with passage paid, guaranteed wages and employment, and guaranteed return passage in exchange for 3-5 years of service. The 1860 census showed no Indians on St Croix, however the 1870 showed 86. Many never returned home after their indenture periods were complete and remained to raise families on St Croix.  The 1911 census still showed 35.
Then in 1863 Barbados was suffering from overpopulation and drought. Crime was increasing as the local population couldn’t grow food and couldn’t find work. The drought was causing a state of emergency on the island.  The government needed to take action.  According to Brown:
Mass emigration from the island was seen as both a temporary safety valve to alleviate social discontent and as a destabilizing threat to plantation production.
Barbados invited the St Croix agents to return, and in fact held their own recruiting efforts on Barbados.  Between the months of July and August 1863, 1,091 workers (701 adult males, 304 adult females, and 86 children) emigrated to St Croix, an island of less than 20,000 people. Another 806 emigrated to Antigua. 

As the census shows, the Barbadian population grew slightly by 1870 before falling back somewhat. After the summer of 1863, the Barbadians remained second only to the Crucians as a percentage of the population.

Top 10 Island Birthplaces in the 1911 St Croix Census
1 Barbados
2 Antigua
3 Nevis
4 St. Kitts
5 Montserrat
6 St. Martin
7 St. Vincent
8 St. Eustatius
9 Puerto Rico
10 Anguilla, BWI

The table above shows the demographics of the Caribbean immigrant population as of the last Danish census in 1911.  The migrations of the Barbadians were still evident, even nearly 50 years later.  Of course, their children were Crucians.

Have you ever wondered why so many St Croix families actually trace their roots to Barbados?

1 comment:

  1. It makes sense in that Barbadians (or Bajans as they call themselves) are English-speaking. St. Martin, St. Eustatius, and at one time, St. Kitts, were Dutch or French. Language, religion, and culture are big issues in the islands. The last time I traveled to the VI, I was surprised to see a large number of store clerks that were *shock* Spanish-speaking Dominicans or French-speaking from some other island! The migration continues to this day. Those foreign-speaking workers tended to congregate among themselves on the job and were a constant source of irritation to their English-speaking Virgin Island co-workers. I had an interesting conversation with an American college student who was studying at the UVI and was working part time in a fast-food restaurant with a large number of French-speaking "down-islanders". She claims they refused to stop speaking French and delighted in telling jokes only they could understand.