The Fire Burn of 1878

Retrieved from Illustreret Tidende (November 1878)

Retrieved from Illustreret Tidende (November 1878)

Jamell Christian

Anger, frustration. That’s what lured you there. You felt frustrated as Queen Mary stirred the hearts of those around you in fiery passion. You didn’t realize, however, that this story would be told for generations.

In this short essay, I’ll tell you what happened, the cause, and why.

Growing up, I’ve always admired my culture. The cultural dress, the energetic and vibrant music, the tasty foods. But what captured me the most was the stories of long ago. The one in particular was the story of the Fire Burn. It tells about the slaves questioning their leader where should they burn to which their leader replied that their next stop was at Basin Jailhouse which was known as Fort Christianvaern today. I wanted to learn more about what happened that night so I’ve done some research.

In 1878, the slaves of St. Croix in what was known as the Danish West Indies (DWI) were promised renewable contracts and higher wages to support their families.
The cause of the riot is pretty simple. They were being denied their basic rights. Every day we see so many riots. Some are for human justice, civil rights, women’s rights, etc. All are to bring awareness to a problem that needs to be solved. In this case, the problem was that they were underpaid so they needed new contracts with higher wages.
And finally, on the why. Put yourself in the shoes of a slave. You’ve been working your whole life, you for a few years, and would want more from your employer. You would want to be paid fairly for your services to meet your needs just as much as you would give an honest day’s work. But all this time you were denied, or put off. Frustration would often times lead to anger, and anger would lead to hostility. According to one source, “The laborers burned much of the town of Frederiksted, many surrounding plantations, and the central sugar factory (Bennet).”
If you would stand on a hill back then and looked over to the west, you would see a huge plume of smoke rising into the twilight.  As a result, the Danish government renewed their contracts and raised their wages 1.5%, which was doable at that time.

In closing the Fire Burn of the Virgin Islands happened because they were denied new contracts and higher wages, and to hold truth to power, they performed one of the most precipitous yet efficient act that would be recorded in the history books for all time.