The West India and Guinea Company

The establishment and operation of the Colony for the first 150 years is the story of big investments, big profits and immense human suffering. The bonanza that investment created was entirely based on the unpaid labour and suffering of the enslaved Africans worked to death in the cotton and sugar fields. Investors in slaving, shipping and sugar production also made huge profits from the wars of the period, which kept France and England in particular heavily engaged, but enriched those who dared to sail despite the dangers.

This chapter focuses on some of the personalities whose buildings and properties made a lasting impression on the Danish built heritage because of the vast fortunes they made in the Colony.

From its inception in the 1670s until the acquisition of St. Croix in 1733, the incentives for investment came from those in the top rank of Danish society who believed in the project. They speculated hugely, and their gamble paid off. Nevertheless the desire of the Danish population to invest in plantations was limited. The Company initially had to sell land at low prices, and in many cases to other Europeans than Danes, who had little inclination to face the risky conditions in the Colony.

The shareholders and investors in the West India and Guinea Company received dividends from 1700 on. At that time the Company had established a fort, warehouses and plantations on St. Thomas, which produced luxury goods for the Royal Family, the nobility and the bourgeoisie in Denmark. The plantation was east of Charlotte Amalie, where the Company and later the Crown, then the East Asiatic Company, and today a local pension fund, have all owned the land behind Havensight, where cruise ships come into port.

The first investors of the capital necessary to found the Colony included King Christian V and his Queen, Charlotte Amalie. The King’s brother Prince Jørgen invested too. He married the English Princess (later Queen) Anne as ‘Prince George of Denmark’; his bastard half-brother, known as ‘His Excellency Gyldenløve’, also invested. Noble investors included the King’s adviser Count Conrad Reventlov and Count Frederick Ahlefelt – the latter was married to Christiane Gyldenløve, a daughter of the King by his official mistress. The King’s mistress’ name was Sophie Amalie Moth and she was the daughter of the Royal Surgeon. She bore the King five children. Her brother, Mathias Moth, also invested in the colony.

Sophie Amalie Moth’s nephew, Frederik Moth, became Governor of the Danish West Indies and founded Christiansted on St. Croix in 1734.

Danish kings recognized the children of their mistresses by naming them all Gyldenløve. They are recognized as being related through the paternal, but not the maternal line.

Baron Jens Juel – the brother of the naval hero Niels Juel – also invested money in the founding of the Colony. The highest ranks of society along with many members of the bourgeoisie and lesser nobility assured the establishment of the Colony.

The Company planned the infrastructure of the colony on the basis of the goods produced on the plantations, which were shipped home to be sold in Denmark. There were also investments in the plantation’s production facilities, purchases of slaves, the recruitment of overseers and managers etc. The plantations were offered for sale by the Company and were mainly bought by Dutch and English families with colonial experience, but many Danish investors also appear among those whose names recur on the map of plantation owners, including the name Moth.

The management of the West India and Guinea Company consisted of a president and some directors who were the major investors in the colonial project. The list of directors from 1670 to 1750 includes Jens Juel – 1670, Mathias Moth – 1690, Charles Ahlefeldt – 1703, Danneskiold Laurvig – 1723, von Plessen – 1735, Andreas Bjørn – 1747 and A.G. Moltke – 1750.