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The Danish West Indies under company rule (1671-1754) with a supplementary chapter, 1755-1917 online

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Nielsen Schmit in the document, and is signed Erich Nielsen Smit.

^' It was granted on April 29, 1662, udi ruBrvmrende Aar.

"" Oresiindstoldregnskahct for 1663.

^' In Kirkehist, Sand., 5 R. II B., pp. 293 et seq. E. V. Lose quotes in extenso
the contract entered into between Schmidt and Kield Jensen Slagelse, the


a, cargo of provisions bound for tlie West Indies.^- Early in 1666
(February 15) he sent a small cargo containing three hundred
"rolls" of tobacco and one and one-half hhds. of sugar to Co-
penhagen.'^^ Not long thereafter, in the same year, he died at
St. Thomas. The Lutheran minister, Kjeld Jensen Slagelse,
seems to have succeeded him and to have returned to Denmark
with the remaining colonists. The last ship from the West
Indies recorded as passing through the Sound before the or-
ganization of the Company in 1671, and probably the one by
which the St. Thomas colonists came, sailed into Copenhagen
harbor on August 30, 1666, under Holger Freder's command.
The cargo contained 50,000 lbs. of pockwood, 20,000 lbs. of
sugar, and 70,000 lbs. of tobacco,^^ which may partly have been
bought on French or English islands.

Such then, in its main features, was that long train of cir-
cumstances that had attracted the interest of kings and sub-
jects of Denmark-Norway to the western world, and particu-
larly to those parts adjacent to the Spanish Main. The success
of those trading vessels that had returned with fair cargoes from
successful ventures in those distant tropical waters had at least
served to whet the appetites of Danish-Norwegian merchants
and skippers. They began to hope that by follomng the course
laid out by other western European states, notably the Dutch
and the English, they, too, might secure some share in that
commerce of which Spain was finding it increasingly difficult to
keep a monopoly. It remains to explain how Danish mer-
chants were able through a royally chartered commercial com-
pany to gain for the state a permanent foothold in those regions.

Lutheran minister who was to accompany him. A copy of the same is to be
found in the Bancroft Collection, but the date given is 1G55.

'- Oresundstoldregnskabet for 1G55.

" Ibid, for 1666.

6^ Ibid, for 1666.



By 1671, circumstances were more favorable to the establish-
ment of a Danish West India Company with broad powers and
considerable latitude of action than at any previous time. The
several expeditions already described gave sufficient encourage-
ment to suggest a more ambitious plan for getting into the field
of Caribbean commerce. An unoccupied island with an excel-
lent harbor had been found, the peaceful occupying and retain-
ing of which had become a more likely possibility as a result
of recent diplomatic developments in Europe. The newly
founded Board of Trade took on a new lease of life after the
accession to the throne of the new king, Christian V, in 1670.
On September 22 of that year the Board received its first official
instructions, and presently it was organized with Frederick
Ulrik Gyldenlove, the illegitimate son of the king, as its president
and Jens Juel, a statesman and diplomatist and a brother of the
famous admiral, as vice-president. The remaining members
included the well-known merchant Hans Nansen, Peter Peterson
Lerke, the Danish master of the mint, Andrew Timpf who had
held a similar position in Poland, Gabriel Marselis, a reputable
Dutch merchant, and as secretary, Melkior Rotlin, formerly
employed in Bergen as secretary of the Liibeck office.^ To these
men the king's trusted adviser, Peter Schumacher (created
Count Grifi'enfeld and made Chancellor in 1673) lent his en-
thusiastic support in all matters pertaining to the encourage-
ment of trade and industry.^ On November 20, 1670, the second
Danish East India Company was organized and given a charter
for forty years. On the eleventh day of the following March,

» K. Fabricius, Griffenfeld (Kobenhavn, 1910), IGO, 166. The contemporary
spelling of Lerke's name is Lerche.
\D. R. H., IV, 539.



the Danish West India Company received its charter from the
royal hand.^ In America and the Far East Denmark was
planning to enter into commercial competition with her enter-
prishig neighbors.

As directors of the West India Company the king named three
of the members ("assessors" or judges) of the Board of Trade,
Jens Juel, Peter Lerke, and the burgher, Hans Nansen,* the
last named on the nomination of Peter Schumacher,

This charter, like the usual seventeenth century commercial
company charters, conferred very broad powers upon the com-
pany. In describing it, reference will be made by way of com-
parison with an organization established just the year before,
the continuous existence of which from that day to this renders
it unique in the annals of chartered companies, namely, the
Hudson Bay Company, whose official corporate title was "the
governor and company of Adventurers of England trading into
Hudson Bay." The English had no company exactly corre-
sponding to the Danish company. The Royal African Com-
pany, founded in 167!2, made Guinea the main scene of its
operations, with the British islands in the West Indies the chief
market for what soon came to be their principal article of com-
merce, African slaves. But the Hudson Bay Company was,
like the Danish, intended for the exploitation of the New World
and offers at its inception, despite the different nature of its
sphere of action, some interesting resemblances to its con-

The charter issued by Christian V authorized the Danish
West India Company to occupy and take possession of the
island of St. Thomas "and also such other islands thereabouts or
near the mainland of America as might be uninhabited and

' C. P. Lucas, II, 5i, III, 67, mistakenly places the incorporation of the
company in 1734. For the second East India Company, see Kay Larsen, De
(Lansk-ostindiske Koloniers Hislorie (Kobenhavn, 1907), I, 43.

* P. Mariager, Historisk EJterretning over de Veslindiske og Guineiske Com-
pagnies Etablissemenfer tidi Vestindien og Guinea, p. 2. This manuscript work
by a bookkeeper of the Company is in the Royal Library at Copenhagen and is
of prime importance. (Cited hereafter as Mariager MS.)

Hans Nansen was also a judge on the Admiralty Board, and later became, as
his father had been before him, president of the city of Copenhagen (1688).


suitable for plantations, or if inhabited, then by such people
who have no knowledge concerning us." ^ Like the Hudson Bay
Company, it was authorized to build forts and lodges and to
take proper measures for its own defence in case of attack; it ad-
ministered justice to all in the Company's service or within its
immediate jurisdiction. Direct appeal to the Supreme Court at
Copenhagen was permitted by the Danish company; the Eng-
lish government granted the Hudson Bay Company final juris-
diction, merely stipulating that all causes should be judged and
local justice carried out by one of the local governors and his
council, where such authority was available, "according to the
laws of this kingdom." ^

The Danish king bound himself to issue no "seabriefs" or
passports to Danish captains navigating the Danish West
Indies and promised the Company the proceeds of all prizes
except the usual tenth part which was the perquisite of the
admiral of the realm. The Hudson Bay Company was origi-
nally empowered to seize the persons of English or any other
subjects who sailed into Hudson Bay or were found in the Com-
pany's territory without its permission. No such amazing
powers were conferred on the Danish company; and in any case,
there would have been no opportunity for their exercise. The
English company like the Danish had government officials on its
board of directors, but the association of government and com-
pany was far closer in Denmark than in England because of the
absolute, thoroughly centralized administration established by
Frederick III and continued by his son Christian V. The in-
ternal government of each company was managed by a general
assembly, or "general court," as the arrangement was called
in the English charter. The Danes were charged with the re-
sponsibility of converting the Indians, not a difficult task, as
only two or three are to be found in the entire period of the
Company's existence.^ We may judge of the success with which
this injunction was carried out by the fact that "John Indian,"

* /. e., Indians.

® Cawston and Keane, The Early Chartered Companies (London, 1896),
292 et seq. See Appendix C for translation of Danish charter.
^ Cf. Lucas, II, 138.


himself a large fraction of his tribe, finally was punished by the
loss of a leg for his various attempts at running away.^

Besides the three royally appointed directors, two of whom
were nobles, three were to be elected by the shareholders
("participants") from among themselves by a majority vote,
those chosen being required to have a minimum of 2,000 "Slet-
tedaler" invested in the Company's stock.^ A paragraph (1[13)
the consequences of which the promoters could not have fore-
seen was that which provided for the upkeep of the population
of the young colony by the promise of as many of the men
condemned in the home country to labor in irons or to serve in
prison as the company might deem necessary for its plantations,
and as many as they might wish of those women whose dis-
orderly lives had brought them into arrest in the "spinning
house" and other places. This was not the first time that
Europe deliberately planned to empty her jails on American
soil nor was it to be the last time, but on St. Thomas as in the
English colonies, the authorities soon learned that convicts
were not deemed good timber for plantations by the colonial
oflficials. Not like the English company, where the owner of
each block of stock worth £100 was entitled to vote, the Danish
company gave each shareholder one vote, and only one vote.
The minimum size of the shares was one hundred rixdoUars.
The Company received free use of rooms in the Copenhagen
Stock Exchange, and was provided with suitable pack house
quarters on "Holmen" near the present site of "Holmens"
church. The king, the queen, and Prince George, each sus-
scribed 3,000 Sletiedaler, while the total amount of this first
subscription was 64,300 sldl., which was to be paid in three

*Even the negroes did not become the objects of serious missionary effort
until the arrival of the Moravian missionaries in 1732, and then the impetus
came from circles entirely outside of the oflBcial class.

" A Slettedaler = 64 Skilling; a rigsdaler (rixdollar) = 96 Skilling = 6 Mark.
1 pesos = 8 reals = 96 granos (or 48 stivers). A rixdollar was about equal to
a pesos or piece-of-eight, and to four kroner (1 Kr. = $0,275) in present day
coin. The purchasing value during the Company's career was perhaps two to
three times that of the present time in Denmark. On money values, see D. R. H.,
IV, 103, note; W. Scharling, Pen genes synkende Vwrdi (Kobenhavn, 1869);
Arent Bemtsen, Danmark og Norges Frugtbar Herlighed. (Kjobenhavn, 1656).


equal parts, the first to be available on June 11, 1671, the last
instalment on March 31, 1673.^° A proposal to require the
royal assent to the election of directors by the shareholders was
struck out by Peter Schumacher, who was responsible for the
arrangement by which two directors instead of six should have
the full power to attend to the Company's current business. ^^
As a sort of advisory body there was formed a group of those
who had invested not less then 1,000 rdl., and who were known
as the chief participants.^^ From this group a committee of four
was provided for,^two nobles and two burghers, who should
have the power to inspect the Company's books at any time,
and who audited the bookkeeper's accounts once in each year.
The first chief participants appointed were Admiral Kordt
Adeler and Frederik Poggenberg.^^ The former was by birth a
Norwegian and had distinguished himself in the Venetian navy
in the struggle with the Turks.

Such was the constitution of the Danish West India Company
whose corporate existence continued, although with a number
of changes, for eighty-four years. Under this charter and the
"reglement" which accompanied it, preparations for the settle-
ment of St. Thomas were begun in the summer of 1671. On
the nomination of Lerke, the directors selected George Iversen
as governor of the new colony. The new governor, though a
man but thirty-three years of age when he received his appoint-
ment, had led a life full of incident and of the sort of experience
that served to prepare him for his post.^^ His surname of Dyp-
pel, the modern Dybbol, testifies to a Schleswig origin, although
he was himself born in Elsinore, where his father was a baker.
Not long after his twelfth year, when his schooling was ended,
he was bound to service and sent to the West Indies by one of
those privately owned ships referred to above, perhaps by the

»" Manager MS., 14, 15.

" Fabricius, Griffenfeld, 169.

^^ See Reglsment of March 11, 1671 (C. P. Rothe, Christian V's Rescripter
Jor Norge ... II B.).

^' Mariager MS., 15.

^* This account of Governor George (Jorgen) Iversen's life is based mainly
on the excellent and exhaustive sketch by Fr. Krarup in the Personalhistorisk
Tidsskrift, II R. 6 B. (Kobenhavn. 1891).


ship that left Elsinore in 1654. It is at any rate certain that he
entered the service of an English merchant on St. Christopher
(St. Kitts), and that about 1660 he returned to Europe with a
Dutch merchant. There he joined a company including three
business men from Zeeland, of whom one John Basselaer, was the
leader; Iversen participated in the enterprise, holding one-sixth
of the capital. He was himself to accompany the ship to the
West Indies and to take charge of the trade there, of which he
was to enjoy one-half of the profits.

All went on smoothly until 1665, when Iversen returned to
Europe and there learned that war had broken out between
England and the Netherlands. This information was brought
in upon him in a way that was not to be mistaken, and he paid
dearly for his instruction. His ship and cargo were seized
by an English privateer. The skipper himself went to Copen-
hagen hoping to obtain restitution through diplomatic channels.
Admiral Henry Bjelke procured him an audience with Fred-
erick III. The king not only acceded to Iversen's desire that
Charles II of England be petitioned to deliver over to the in-
jured party his share of the damages, estimated at 3,000 rdl.,
but had Iversen come to him three times to tell him concerning
life in the New World and of his personal experiences there.
Inasmuch as the Danes appeared to show too much sympathy
with the Dutch, and particularly since the failure of the Danes
to cooperate with the English fleet in capturing the Dutch
East Indiamen in Bergen harbor, Iversen's petition came to
nothing. Although he kept up his connections with his Zeeland
partners, he appears to have remained in Denmark during the
years following. In 1670, the year of the embassy of Essex, he
was married "in the house," a distinction which indicates a
fairly high social position, and with other evidences, shows him
still to have been a man of some means, despite his severe

The newly elected governor invested 1,000 rdl. in the West
Indian enterprise at the start. He also took charge of fitting
out two ships provided by the new king. Christian V, for the
use of the Company. About 20,000 rdl. were expended in the
outfitting. Captain Arent Henriksen, a Dutch skipper, took


the yacht, The Gilded Crown, and set sail on August 30, 1671.'^
He was to look over the ground, for it was not entirely certain
that the English might not have occupied it. On the failure of
the Fero to arrive within the time expected, Captain Hen-
riksen returned to Denmark with ship and cargo, only to find
that the Governor had left on February 26,^^ after having been
delayed in Bergen since November 20, because of a leaky ship.
The passenger list of the Fero makes interesting reading. Be-
sides the crew, which totaled only twelve men, those who had
bound themselves to service and engaged themselves as em-
ployees of the Company numbered one hundred and sixteen.
The remaining sixty-one had been selected, as the charter had
permitted, from the convicts in Bremerholm and other places.
Several culprits had escaped at Bergen, but were promptly re-
placed by others equally unpromising.

With this motley throng, to manage, an assemblage that was
to form the nucleus of the new colony. Governor Iversen would
have abundant opportunity to show of what stuff he was made.
After leaving Bergen, and especially on the approach to the
warmer latitudes, the toll of death began to be taken in earnest.
Eighty-six persons of both sexes died on the journey or had es-
caped in Bergen. One of the victims was Kjeld Jensen Slagelse,
the minister, who had accompanied Erik Schmidt on his voyage
in 1665.

The ship, with a cargo valued at 18,172 sldl. arrived in St.
Thomas harbor on May 25, 1672,^^ just three months after its
departure from Bergen. The pioneer band went ashore on the
following morning, raised the Danish flag, and took formal
possession. They found an island that seemed to them, as the
governor expressed it, well suited and large enough for their
purposes. No one was there to dispute ownership, the English
who had occupied it, having left six or seven weeks earlier, after
burning off the roof of the storehouse.'^ The land had to be
cleared of bush and forest before it could be planted ; pockwood

" Mariager MS., 15.

'« Manager MS. has it February 29 (p. 16).

" Mariager MS.. 16, 18.

w IMd., 18.


was sufficiently in demand in Denmark to furnish a profitable
ballast for returning ships during the earlier years of the colony.
The problem of securing cane for the newly cleared patches of
plantation ground was solved by the aid of the English, who had
recently seized Tortola, a little island just northwest of St.
John, from the Dutch. The English officer ^^ in charge there
generously gave the Danes full permission to use anything they
found on the island, and they made no find more precious than
the shoots of sugar cane.

The new masters had scarcely begun settlement, before
colonists of various sorts began to seep in. The greater number
of them belonged to the Dutch nation, and were seeking the
protection of a state that they supposed to be on friendly terms
with the English, who were harrying the Dutch wherever they
dared. Some of these, as John von Beverhoudt, became plant-
ers of distinction and even founded influential families; others,
like Carl Baggaert, an absconder from Middelburg, became
trouble makers who soured the life of the governor and those in
authority with him. Although French, Germans, English, and
Jews were among these early settlers, Dutch became the pre-
vailing language from the beginning.

To keep such a variously confused assemblage in reasonable
restraint while the necessary pioneering work was being done,
was the new governor's task. That Iversen should succeed in
laying the foundation of a civil government out of the crude
materials that he had at hand was in itself a creditable per-
formance, and something for which his masters had reason to
be grateful. But in putting through this pioneer work one is not
surprised to find that he gained for himself a reputation for
severity that made the directors declare that Governor Iver-
sen's brutal management "has given the Company such a bad
reputation among the common people in Denmark that they
are of the opinion that if they should serve in the West Indies
they would be worse off than if they had served in Barbary."
There was indeed considerable ground for such a belief, and the
fault did not all lie with Iversen's government.

" Spoken of by Krarup {Jorgen Iversen, 28) a» Burd.


Besides the eighty-nine who died on board the Fero, seventy-
five died not long after landing. The Pelican, which arrived in
St. Thomas March 29, 1673, lost seven of its people en route and
fifty- three after landing, out of a total of only sixty-seven. The
galliot St. Thomas, which arrived at the island June 2, 1675, lost
five out of nine men; and the Merman, which arrived on May 12,
1675, lost thirty -four out of fifty-eight persons. There were
enough survivors, however, to spread reports which required no
exaggeration to give the West Indies the reputation of being a
veritable charnel house. The resulting depletion was made
good by further recourse to convicts and nondescripts, immi-
grants against whom the governor never ceased to rail. "Un-
controllable fellows, whom neither Holmen -° nor the penitentiary
could improve," "lazy, shiftless louts, who were of no use at
home," "vagabonds and idlers," are terms employed by Iversen
in describing various of his former charges, even after several
years had intervened. To obtain honest or capable employees
under these circumstances became well-nigh impossible. The
knotty problem of securing suitable ministers reflects the pre-
vailing difficulties. After Kjeld Jensen's death on the outward
voyage in 1672, George Jensen Morsing was appointed minister,
but he dropped dead on April 23, 1673, just as he was about to
take possession of the house assigned to him. The Schleswiger,
Theodore Christensen Risbrich (Theodorus Christianus Hol-
satus), who succeeded to the post, quarrelled with the governor
from the beginning, called him a tyrant, and insisted on preach-
ing in German, to the governor's disgust. He was finally per-
mitted, in fact urged to leave the land in October, 1677. In
1679 he brought a damage suit against the Company, and met
its counter-charge of drunkenness by explaining that such a
state "was easily brought about by the terrible stuff they
make in that land," — referring to the young rum called "kill-
devil" because of its reputed powers.

The Danes were obviously passing through the most difficult

pioneering period in the founding of plantation colonies, and

learned, in common with other plantation pioneers, whether

Spanish, English, Dutch or French, that the first serious prob-

^^ Holmen: workhouse for prisoners in Copenhagen.


lem clamoring for solution was that of labor supply.^^ As early
as the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the Spanish
government began to concern itself with the preservation of the
aborigines, who proved unadaptable to severe labor, African
slaves had been resorted to as a substitute for native and white
labor. ^- White convict labor was cursed at in Virginia, Barbados
and Martinique as heartily as at St. Thomas. Indentured
servants were among those who accompanied Governor Iversen
on the initial voyage; but fevers, climate, and careless living
killed them off faster than they could be replaced. This labor
difficulty seems to have been anticipated in the charter to some
extent when provision was made for absorption of the African
company of Gliickstadt into the West India Company.-^ The
union was in fact complete November 28, 1674, when Christian V
issued an edict allowing the Danish West India Company to
trade on the Guinea coast.-^ Meanwhile the African company
had sent over a ship to Guinea in 1673 which added one hundred
and three slaves to the St. Thomas labor supply; ^^ some smaller
purchases were made from local dealers, and another voyage
was taken by the Cornelia in the summer following, probably for
the same company.-®

In 1675 a Portuguese bark was found wrecked on the shore
with a slave cargo, from which were secured twenty-four
wretched negroes, of whom ten survived long enough to be
entered on the books of the Company. The Dutch traders
seemed peculiarly gifted with the power to scent a bargain from
afar, whether in slaves, sugar, or silks. A certain Landert van

^^ See Mima, Colbert's West India Policy, p. 283, for a statement of the con-
ditions in the French islands; also Pierre Heinrich, La Louisiane soua la Com-
pagnie des Indes, pp. 32 ei seq.

** G. Scelle, La traite negriere aux Indes de Castille (Paris, 1906), I, 123-125,

-* See If 16 of octroi.

^* Krarup, Jorgen Iversen, 31. Christiansborg Castle, near Accra on the

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