A bunch of bloggers on FreethoughtBlogs have decided to write blogs somewhat related to slavery or social justice on Juneteenth. This is my entry.
Growing up in Denmark, slavery as a subject was never really addressed much, and if it was, it was treated as something that either happened a long time ago, or happened outside Denmark, or was spun in such a way to show how progressive Denmark was – e.g. Denmark was the first country in Europe to ban the slave trade (more on that later).
The truth is, of course, that Denmark has a long history of slavery. During the Viking age, slavery was widespread, and historical records show that Vikings did heavy slave trading at especially the markets at Hedeby and Bolghar, near the Volga River. While Christianity reduced slavery, the Code of Jutland, from 1241 still contained rules about slaves. In order to downplay the slavery part of the Viking ages, we were taught to call them ‘thralls’ rather than slaves, and made to believe that they were more like indentured labour, which they of course weren’t (this is similar to when Southern racists try to pretend that slaves that served in mansions were treated as “part of the family”).
After the Viking ages, there was a long time where Denmark had nothing directly to do with slavery. That is, until the 17th century, where Denmark became a (minor) colonial power.
This adventure started in November 19 1620, when Tranquebar (now Tharangambadi) became a Danish trading post and fort. After this, from 1659 forward, Denmark created several trading posts and forts in what was called the Gold Coast in Africa (now part of Ghana), and between 1672 and 1733 Denmark, took over, what was know as Danish West Indies, – Saint Thomas, St. John and Saint Croix.
Together these colonies formed the backbone of the Danish involvement in slavery.
Tranquebar was a modest trading post, which doesn’t seem to have been used during slave trade, but the forts on the Gold Coast, on the other hand, were major ports and trading posts for slaves, going to the West Indies. It is estimated that 100,000 slaves passed through these forts, and on to the Caribbean. Before anyone tries to downplay the Danish involvement in the actual slave transportation, it is estimated that 80,000 of those people were transported on Danish merchant ships.
When it became clear that England was heading towards a ban of slave trading (it came in 1807), Denmark decided to give the Danish plantation owners time to prepare, and in March 1792 it was decided to ban slave trading in Danish territories – but not until 1803, and in the mean time, the slavery trade was intensified in order to bring over enough slaves, in order to create a large enough population to keep up with the needs of the plantations. Also, worth noting, the slavery trade ban only banned selling new people into slavery, it didn’t ban plantation owners from selling their current slaves, and their descendants.
In 1847, the Danish king declared that people born after July 28, 1847, were free, while people born before that date, had to serve another 12 years as slaves, before being freed. This obviously wasn’t acceptable for the slaves, and they revolted. As a direct result of the revolts, acting governor general Peter von Scholten 3 July 1848, emancipating all slaves in the Danish West Indian Islands. Something which more or less ended slavery in the Danish territories, though any Danish slaves outside the islands, would still have to serve another 11 years before being free, according to the law.