Primary Source Report-MM

1. “Native Women Coaling a Ship at St. Thomas DWI (West Indies) (1903)” Shot by James H. White on his honeymoon cruise aboard the Prinzessin Victoria Luise in December 1902.

    (Links to an external site.) 

This is a film clip of the black laborers, mainly women, loading and off-loading baskets of coal at the St. Thomas coaling station. I include it as visually-recorded evidence of the hard manual labor performed by recently “free” black people, for pennies in wages.

2. “Loading Coal on a Steamer, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, 1864”, Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, accessed October 13, 2020, (Links to an external site.)m/873 

Contrast the film clip with the “artistic” depiction in this drawing.  I couple these images with quotes from narrative descriptions of the women found in travel diaries of white European and American passengers and crew members on ships passing through St.Thomas. Together these sources depict the women as, on the one hand, an efficient and cheap source of labor and, on the other, as “lithe” creatures in an imagined idyllic, (or perhaps more accurately hedonistic, Eden.

3. Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census, Sam. L. Rogers, Director, Census of the Virgin Island of the United States, November 1, 1917  Prepared under the Supervision of Eugene F. Hartley

This special census was commissioned by the U.S. Navy as part of the territorial purchase from Denmark to head off the Germans by creating a military outpost during World War I.  For my purposes it provides a detailed account of how the U.S. government assessed the material and geopolitical value of the territorial purchase.

4. Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, Thomas Trigge, Peter Lotharius Oxholm, James Hazzel, James Hazzel, Charles Shipley, Royal Engineers, et al., Diener, David, photographer. Hassel Island, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, VI. Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas United States Virgin Islands, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph.

These before-and-after maps depict the separation of the peninsula that was once a part of St. Thomas in order to create Hassel Island.  The channeling was authorized by the Danish imperial government to enable the through passage of ships, and supposedly in order lower the incidence of yellow fever and malaria.  I include this to convey the extent to which the harbor landscape was radically altered to accommodate commerce.  It is speculated that the separation might have also made the main harbor more vulnerable to damage from hurricanes. 

This is part of my analysis of whether and how Rob Nixon’s theory of “slow violence” offers a way to articulate a compelling narrative of environmental assault routinely committed in the name of “progress.”

5. “Danish West Indies,” The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966); Nov 4, 1916; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender, 12.

“POOR DANISH WEST INDIES,” The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966); Aug 12, 1916; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender, 12.

These two editorials, which appeared in one of the most widely circulated black-owned and operated newspapers, speculate that local opposition to the impending sale of the Danish West Indies to the United States stems from black islanders’ fear of being subjected to the then rampant Jim Crow segregation and lynching occurring on the U.S. mainland.

I include these to draw inferences about how the local black population felt about the sale of the islands to the U.S. for military purposes.

6. “THE WEST INDIES. Yellow Fever at St. Thomas–The West India Mail Company’s Service–News from the Windward and Leeward Islands, Jamaica and Hayti. From Our Own Correspondent.” New York Times, March 3, 1860

The author of this piece depicts the island as a disease-ridden backwater and questions its utility as a commercial port.

When compared to accounts in some of the (European white male) travelers’ dairies, the piece conveys how whether viewed as a leisure paradise or hell hole, the island was perceived as advancing some external conception of progress and prosperity.

7. Taylor, Charles Edwin. 1971. Leaflets from the Danish West Indies: Descriptive of the Social, Political, and Commercial Condition of These Islands. Westport, Conn: Negro Universities Press.

This collection by an English author, homeopath and physician who spent a major portion of his life on St. Thomas presents views of the natural landscape, local society and politics, and black people—especially women laborers—on the island.  

8. 19th Century Steam Dredger (Links to an external site.)

This is a drawing of equipment used by the Ohio-based Carmichael and The Osgood Company, with which the Danish colonial authorities contracted to undertake extensive dredging.  This entailed excavation of at least 24 feet from the harbor in order to accommodate ships.  

I include this to convey two major points: 1) the extent and duration of European and American commercial cooperation in manipulating natural environments in colonial territories; and 2) that violence was inflicted on the coastal landscape in the name of “progress.”  From the beginning the practice promoted rapid erosion and disturbance of the “natural equilibrium of the beaches over wide stretches,” increased water turbidity, damaged reefs, and destroyed the habitats of fish and other wildlife. In the process, the livelihoods of fisherman, and a major source of local nutrition were jeopardized.