An International Port
The wharf area of Christiansted once played an important role in the mercantilist system that linked Europe, West Africa, the West Indies, and North America.
From 1734 until 1803, it was part of the infamous Triangular Trade. Slaves were acquired for cheap manufactured goods at “factories,” or slaving forts, along the Guinea Cost of West Africa, and shipped to the West Indies via the inhuman “Middle Passage.” Along the way, slaves and crew alike faced starvation, disease, and shipwreck . At Christiansted, the slaves were auctioned off, and the ships cargoes replenished with local exports bound for Europe and North America.
Building materials, agricultural supplies, household furnishings, livestock, and foodstuffs were imported to help St. Croix meet the needs of its vigorous plantation economy. In turn, the island exported sugar, molasses, rum, cotton, and tropical hardwood. Especially between 1760 and 1820, wealth derived from sugar, rum, and slaves enabled an extravagant (almost legendary) life style among the upper class of St. Croix society.
St. Croix’s access to foreign markets was interrupted during the two British occupations in the Napoleon Wars (1801 and 1807-1815). With the resumption of international trade in 1815, the United States market increased in importance, accounting for approximately 75% of St. Croix’s agricultural exports by 1830. The sale of the Danish West Indies to the United States in 1917 only formalized an economic relationship that had long existed between the Virgin Islands and the mainland.
Did You Know?
Slaves were indispensable for the “muscle” needed for construction and the loading and unloading of cargoes. Free Blacks practiced many of the same trades as the whites, and were especially skilled as builders.