GROSS, Andreas Gelius (born 1819). WATERCOLOUR ALBUM OF THE DANISH WEST INDIES AND VENEZUELA. [ca, 1848-1849].
4to., (8 4/8 x 6 4/8 inches). Manuscript title-page in Danish stating that this album of "Briggen Gnin", or Ship Drawings, was started in January of 1848 and finished in April 1849. Fine double-page watercolour of a ship off a mountainous coastline, another of the Port at St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, the Fort at Porto Cabello in Venezuela, and another of the bay at Porto Cabello, 20 full-page watercolours of ships and views, 17 of people, and 52 graphite and watercolour sketches of ships (some edges a bit frayed and reinforced at an early date). Modern half green cloth, marbled paper boards.
This album of superb watercolours and sketches is a fascinating testimony to the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean Islands in 1848.
The drawings and watercolors include portraits of Danish, English, American, and Spanish ships, views taken in Christiansted, St Croix and the Danish free port Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, the coast of La Guaira, Venezuela, sailors at Porto Cabello (Puerto Cabello, Venezuela), includes exuberant scenes of free people dancing, plantation scenes, soldiers, forts, and coastal profiles.
The figure studies and subjects are contemporary and closely similar to the drawings of the Danish artist Fritz Melbye and the Charlotte Amalie native Camille Pissarro in St Thomas in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
The album is exactly contemporary with the abolition of slavery in the then Dano-Norwegian colony. A triangular trade had existed, exporting firearms into Africa in exchange for slaves to work the sugar plantations in the West Indies, with rum and sugar then exported from the islands to Denmark and Norway. The trade collapsed with the official abolition of slavery in the islands in 1848. The islands (St Thomas, St John and St Croix) were eventually sold to the United States in 1917, becoming the US Virgin Islands.
Denmark "was the first nation that prohibited transatlantic slave transport, in 1803. But Denmark was far from the first to abolish slavery itself. It continued for decades in the Danish colony in the West Indies for those who had already been shipped there and for their children after them.
"After other nations had abolished slavery in their Caribbean colonies, for example the British in 1833, there were also forces that worked for a gradual abolition of slavery in the Danish colony. Not least of these was the colony’s Governor-General, Peter von Scholten, who implemented several reforms that eased conditions for the slaves. See the fate story about Peter von Scholten. In 1843, for example, the slaves were given Saturday off, just as they already had Sunday off. It meant that they could work for themselves, save money and perhaps even buy their freedom.
"The question of emancipation of the slaves was often discussed at the Assembly of the Estates of the Realm in Denmark in 1844. It was in 1847 it was decided that the children that were born to slaves in the future would be free, and that slavery would entirely cease in 1859.
"The following year, 1848, revolutions broke out in several places in the world. France experienced the February Revolution, and revolutions also broke out in Haiti and Venezuela. The disorders there spread to Martinique and Guadeloupe. The desire for freedom also spread to the slaves in the Danish colony in the West Indies. On July 2, they rose up in an initial rebellion on St. Croix. Plantations were burned down, and the city of Frederiksted was besieged by rebels, so only the city’s fort, Fort Frederiksværn, remained in Danish hands.
"When Peter von Scholten came the following day to Frederiksted, the situation was about to get completely out of control. Scholten was under heavy pressure and chose to declare slavery abolished with immediate effect. He called out over the enraged slaves: “Now you are free, you are hereby emancipated.”" (Danish National Archives online).