Source Information

Ancestry.com. Danish West Indies, Records Relating to Enslaved People, 1625-1904 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2021.
Original data: Kilder til historien om den danske koloni i Vestindien. Danmark: Rigsarkivet.

About Danish West Indies, Records Relating to Enslaved People, 1625-1904

This collection contains sensitive information about enslaved people, as well as outdated terminology describing race.

General Collection Information

This collection contains a wide variety of records relating to enslaved individuals in the Danish West Indies between 1625-1904. The Danish West Indies was a Danish colony in the Caribbean consisting of the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. 

The types of records you may find in this database include the following:

  • Property and Land Register - These forms are also referred to as “slave lists” because most of the content is names of the enslaved people who lived on the islands.
  • Plantation Reports - These include weekly reports on the condition of enslaved laborers, as well as the supplies on each plantation. Also included are monthly police and hospital reports that detail punishments and illnesses.
  • Labor Lists - Lists information about the work of enslaved laborers including their names, work type, health status, and a description of weekly tasks.

Some information contained in these records hasn’t been indexed, which means that it isn’t searchable. But this information can be valuable when researching family history. Some relevant details that aren’t indexed include proclamations related to slavery and reports on enslaved individuals owned by the West India Company.

Using this Collection

To begin your search, it’s helpful to know the name of the enslaved person and the slave owner, as well as where they lived. You can search the index or browse by record type and date range.

Records often have a status field indicating whether a person was enslaved or free. In Danish, words beginning with “Fri” or “Frie” (For example, Frimand or Fridomestik) indicate a free person.  The word Ufrie translates to “unfree” in English.

The information available on these records includes:

  • Name (usually only given names are used for enslaved persons)
  • Gender
  • Work function
  • Religion
  • Physical condition
  • Status

Categories were used on land records to determine taxes paid by the slave owners for each enslaved individual. These terms can also be found in other records and can help you determine whether a person was enslaved or free.

  • Capable – adult and fully able-bodied
  • Manquerons – entirely or partially disabled
  • Half-grown – adolescents between 12 and 16 years of age
  • Children – children under 12 years of age
  • Busals – an enslaved person living in the colony for less than a year

Some records in this database aren’t indexed, but you can browse the images by record title and year range. When browsing the collection it can be helpful to be familiar with common terms. The Danish National Archivescom provides a useful Danish to English translation guide.

History of the Collection

Denmark annexed the Caribbean island of St. Thomas in 1672, and St. John in 1718. In 1733, St. Croix was purchased from France to establish sugar cane plantations. An estimated 120,000 enslaved Africans were imported to provide labor for the islands’ plantations. Though the slave trade in the Danish West Indies was outlawed by 1803, it would take 45 years for slavery itself to be abolished on the islands.

When the islands were sold to the U.S. in 1917, the majority of the Danish West Indian archives were to be sent back to the Danish National Archives (known as the Rigsarkivet) in Copenhagen. The collection proved too large to transport back to Denmark in its entirety, so the portion left behind became the property of the United States.

Ancestry has partnered with Rigsarkivet to bring our customers 5 million pages of digitized content from the Danish West Indies.

Bibliography

The Danish National Archives - Rigsarkivet. "History." The Danish West-Indies.  Last Accessed December 3, 2020,  https://www.virgin-islands-history.org/en/history/.

The Danish National Archives - Rigsarkivet. “The West Indies.” Last Accessed December 2, 2020, https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/en/collection/theme/8.