The slave trade

The slave trade was an industry in itself. The Company created a system for this trade with forts on the Guinea Coast, transportation in slave ships to the Danish West Indies and sale at the Company’s auctions. When the State took over the Company in 1754 the slave trade was opened up and several companies were created that traded in enslaved Africans. For a period most of the enslaved Africans were bought by other nations’ traders, but in 1765 H.F. Bargum was granted a concession to operate the slave trade. Profits from this trade were very uncertain and could range from over 100% to a total loss.

H.F. Bargum went bankrupt in 1775, but other companies and new consortia were founded. Great profits were made and as many losses in this inhuman, morally degrading trade. In 1792 the King agreed to stop the slave trade in ten years’ time. The last consortium – Pingel, Meyer and Prætorius – devoted large investments to ensuring that as many new, suitable enslaved Africans as possible could be imported so the ‘stock’ could sustain itself when the ban came into force in 1803.

Peter Lotharius Oxholm had been in the Colony as a naval officer, but became an independent planter on St. Croix in 1778. In the period 1782 – 1805 he was also a slave trader. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars he returned to the Colony as Governor.

Oxholm protested strongly against the abolition of the slave trade and tried to get the trade extended beyond the ban of 1803.

After the Napoleonic Wars, and with the end of the transportation of slaves from Africa, the sugar boom began to deflate. The price of enslaved Africans rose and the price of sugar fell. For the intrepid investor there were still large potential profits to be made from sales to other colonies and the United States, after the prohibition of imports from Africa. From the 1830s, when the British emancipated their enslaved population, that profitable trade ended too. As Chresten Henriksen Pram said in 1792: “If the Negro trade did not provide its entrepreneurs with individual profits, one could assume that no one would be foolish enough to participate in it or even defend it.”

The Danish State’s involvement in the Colony was wholehearted, because the higher the turnover, the greater the duties and taxes that came to the State. Over the years the operating costs of the Colony rose because of the activities of the Government, which was responsible for among other things the judicial system, the military and general administration costs.

To safeguard merchant shipping, the absolute monarch sent the Navy along on the voyages to the Danish West Indies. In the years when Europe’s great powers were at war with one another, warships sailed in convoys to protect merchant vessels. Overall, however, it was a good investment for the State until 1820, for all the inhuman suffering that the period occasioned.