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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeCommentaryState of the Territory | St. Jan 1733: Echoes of Defiance

State of the Territory | St. Jan 1733: Echoes of Defiance

In her bi-weekly column, “State of the Territory,” former Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw delves deeper into issues of concern for V.I. residents and for the month of March, Women’s History and V.I. History.  

Once upon a time, in the spring of 1734, amid the azure waters and sun-kissed shores of St. Jan, a clandestine uprising unfolded, shrouded in the mists of history yet etched in the annals of defiance. But to understand this saga, we must journey back to a time when the Akwamu, proud and mighty, reigned over the Guinea Coast of Africa. Theirs was a realm of strength and sovereignty until the tides of fate swept them into the vortex of bondage, sold into servitude by erstwhile rivals.

Bound by chains but unbowed in spirit, the Akwamu found themselves transported across the seas to the distant shores of the Caribbean, where they toiled under the scorching sun, their dreams of freedom flickering like distant stars in the night sky. Among the emerald isles of the Danish West Indies, St. Jan stood as a bastion of oppression, its soil stained with the sweat and blood of the enslaved. Here, the Akwamu, alongside countless others, labored under the yoke of tyranny, their spirits yearning for liberation.

In the shadows of plantation life, whispers of rebellion stirred, fueled by the harsh realities of existence. The island’s rocky terrain, devoid of sustenance, offered little respite to its weary inhabitants, while the fortresses erected to safeguard colonial interests stood as hollow monuments to European ambition. As the years wore on, discontent simmered beneath the surface, a tinderbox awaiting the spark of revolution. It was amidst this cauldron of despair that the seeds of defiance took root, nurtured by the Akwamu and their brethren, who dared to envision a world untainted by the shackles of bondage.

Then came that fateful day when the embers of resistance burst into flame. In the predawn hours of November 23, 1733, the enslaved souls of St. Jan rose as one, their cries of liberation echoing through the corridors of power. With blades sharpened and hearts afire, they stormed the bastions of oppression, seizing control of the Danish fort in Coral Bay. But amidst the chaos and the clash of arms, unity proved elusive, as fear and mistrust fractured the ranks of the insurgents. While the Akwamu led the charge, many chose the safety of silence, leaving the rebels to face their fate alone.

Yet, for a fleeting moment, hope blossomed like a desert flower in the rain. Plantation after plantation fell to the might of the enslaved as the winds of change swept across the island, heralding a new dawn of freedom. But alas, the forces of colonial oppression rallied with relentless fury, marshaling their armies and invoking aid from distant shores. In the end, the Akwamu uprising, though valiant, faltered beneath the weight of overwhelming odds.

And so it was that in the spring of 1734, a few dozen souls, weary and depleted, sought refuge upon a cliff at the southern tip of St. Jan. Exhausted and starved, they chose death over captivity, leaping into the abyss rather than face the specter of torture at the hands of their oppressors.

Their sacrifice, though shrouded in tragedy, would not be forgotten. For in the heart of every Virgin Islander, every St. Johnian the spirit of the Akwamu lives on, a beacon of resilience and defiance against the tides of history. And as the winds of change continue to blow, their story echoes through the sands of time, a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit.

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