Century of Change
Part 12 in a series
Excerpts from "Divers Information on The Romantic History of St. Croix" by Florence Lewison, 1963, St. Croix Landmarks Society.
St. Croix in the 19th Century experienced a great period of social change; much for the better on the human level, worse on the economic. It was a time of alternating violence and quiet decline.
At the turn of the century the island was still in a period of upswing. This was marked by the abolition of the slave trade effective in 1803, thus beginning the long, slow progression toward freedom for all. There was soon an Edict of full equality between the free colored and the white people; later another Edict set up free compulsory education for all children.
Denmark, which had so long remained neutral in most of the European conflicts, found herself and her colonies deeply involved during the Napoleonic Wars. The English took St. Croix in April of 1801 and held it for about a year. Then there were five years under the Danes again until the British came back in 1807 and stayed for eight years. Little is known of this period of British occupation here. It has been surmised that since most of the planters were English, it may actually have been to their advantage to be out from under what they called restrictive trade laws imposed by Denmark.
St. Croix was returned to Denmark by treaty. The next decades would have been difficult ones under any ownership. A period of increasing depression set in throughout the Caribbean from 1820 on, influenced by European wars and failing economies with a general slump in sugar, rum, tobacco, coffee and other markets. This was reflected in mounting debts in all the islands.
Denmark tried to help St. Croix by making it open to free trade in 1833, a move the planters had long hoped for. Thus began here the free port system which still exists.
Then there came on the scene in St. Croix an energetic, ambitious and capable man who was to influence this island as few others had. GOVERNOR-GENERAL PETER VON SCHOLTEN. This dynamic man was not new to the Danish islands. He had come out first at age twenty as a young Danish ensign. Later he returned as a Captain and as the "Royal Weigher." In less than ten years he moved up the ladder of government posts to be Governor of St. Thomas, and was made a Danish Court Chamberlain. Then for eight years he was the acting Governor-General of the three islands.
The outstanding quality in von Scholten was his ability to keep harmony among the diverse groups on the islands. He was considered the best Governor St. Thomas had ever had. While there he learned the Creole language of the Negroes, and became a great helper of the slave population.
It was about the time of his acting Governorship that he fell in love with and took as mistress the lovely free-colored woman, Anna Elisabeth Heegaard. She served as his hostess both for private and public functions and shared his life for twenty years.
Peter and Anna built a gracious mansion at Bulow's Minde high on the ills overlooking Christiansted. There is some evidence that she paid most of the cost of the house, and the deed was in both their names.
ANNA HEEGAARD was the source of much speculation and conflicting history. We know that she was the daughter of a freed woman as well as herself free. At one time she owned fifteen slaves, only to give most of them their freedom. She also owned considerable property in Christiansted, inherited from her mother. She was the mistress of at least three other white men before she joined von Scholten in their long relationship, which was terminated only by the misfortunes of history. At that time the Danes forbade marriage between white and colored, and it was very much the custom of the times for government officials, whose wives stayed behind in the home country, to form other relationships.
We know also that Anna must have had a deep influence on von Scholten and his attitude and relationship to her people. He asked the home government many times to consider giving the slaves their freedom. The Danish government did consider this, but delayed it because of uncertain economic conditions and because many planters protested against it.