While many Caribbean-island nations have a holiday called Emancipation Day, there are somewhat different histories behind each of these holidays. The 3 July Danish West Indies Emancipation Day observed in the US Virgin Islands is a rather unique story.
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The Danes began colonising their half of the Virgin Islands in the mid-1600s, and by the 1670s, they were heavily involved in the slave trade. Slave labour was used to run the island’s sugarcane plantations, and slaves were treated very harshly. This led to a series of slave rebellions on the islands. For example, a revolt in 1733 lasted for six full months before being put down.
Finally, a “peaceful revolt” where slaves refused to work broke out in 1848. Finally, the governor, named Peter Von Scholten, declared all the slaves freed on 3 July. Thus, the slave population essentially forced the government to finally relent by making slavery impractical through constant revolts and the threat of revolt.
Emancipation Day celebrations are observed enthusiastically throughout the US Virgin Islands every 3 July. The whole week before Emancipation Day is now celebrated as Freedom Week. Saint John Festival and US Independence Day also blend into the overall time of celebration. This is a time of singing, dancing, historical re-enactments, parades, feasts, patriotism, and family togetherness.
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