by Nina York
Unlike our neighbor Puerto Rico, which became United States property in 1898 resulting from the Spanish-American War, our little island paradise of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John was duly purchased in 1917 from Denmark at a cost of $25 million. For over 200 years the Danes had run what started as a very profitable enterprise of sugar cane plantations but tainted by the slavery practice it entailed. The Danish West Indies, as our islands were called, were administered with thorough documentation of all official activities.
We have just received word from Denmark that a website has been established that will eventually (by March 31, 2017, the centennial of the transfer to the U.S.) have available for viewing and research purposes all the 5 million records dealing with the Danish West Indies that are stored in the Danish National Archives. The website already holds a great deal of information that would be of interest to not just historians but the general public. www.virgin-islands-history.org is in Danish and English, and from the home page you can click on various sections on the toolbar to take you to a large assortment of interesting material, from old maps to personal biographies of West Indians.
This extensive project of digitizing so many documents reaches far beyond the capability of the regular personnel of the National Archives in Copenhagen. As a result, an appeal has gone out to the general public for assistance by volunteers in entering selected data having to do with family history. If you know of anyone familiar with Danish who would be interested in taking on such a task, the person can contact https://cs.sa.dk/
When completed, this project will be a unique and wonderful gift to the people of the Virgin Islands from Denmark and will allow not just Virgin Islanders but the entire world to access a legacy from former days of impressive magnitude. There will be no cost involved to users, and it is hoped that many young people from our islands will want to deepen their knowledge of our history. The records are inclusive and sometimes present an ugly picture of a grim rule and inhuman treatment of the enslaved, but there will also be fascinating stories about many courageous persons who inspired their fellow men and women. Allow yourself a look at this impressive resource, and send Denmark a thank you for this generous gift.