In 1807, the Slave Trade Act was passed which prohibited slavery within the British Empire, this was the first legal document that eventually led to the total abolishment of slavery. The act specifically prohibited the transportation of enslaved Africans within the British Empire. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed which made slavery illegal within the British Empire. Though the acts were passed, a system of apprenticeship was created for all enslaved people over the age of six, the apprentices were still enslaved and used as a labor force for the enslavers. The apprenticeships were officially ended in 1848 granting the enslaved Africans a brief moment of freedom. The Apprenticeships came to an end as a result of the continued protest by the enslaved African people in the Danish West Indies. After the enslaved Africans were freed, they were forced to sign contracts that basically reenslaved them to the plantations they were previously bound to.
The protest started on the Island of Saint Croix on October 1st of 1878, or “Contract Day”, as the African people gathered to protest the horrible working conditions they were forced to endure. Fredricksted was the site of the protest on the Island of Saint Croix. The gathering began as a peaceful protest against the inhumane treatment the African people faced, soon rumors of an African person being critically injured or killed by a Danish soldier spread quickly leading to the African people throwing stones at the soldiers. The soldiers opened fire upon the Africans before fencing themselves in a fort for protection. The Africans attempted to take over the fort but were unsuccessful,l so they began taking over and burning down around fifty plantations, homes, businesses, and more. Queen Mary, Queen Agnes, and Queen Mathilda were three of the leaders of the Rebellion. The rebellion is known as “The Fireburn” because the queens helped to burn down more than half of the city of Frederiksted. The Three Queens inspired their fellow African people to gain their freedom by any means.
The Danish fought the African people for two weeks to suppress the rebellion. The African people fought long and hard behind the leadership of the Three Queens, many lives were lost but the rebels were able to burn over nine-hundred acres of plantation land before the Danish suppressed the rebellion killing over one-hundred Africans. The Danish quickly established a rigged court system designed to determine the fate of over four-hundred rebels who were captured. Of the four-hundred Africans captured, twelve of them were killed by a firing squad, thirty-four of them were sentenced to hard labor for an extended amount of time, five of the rebels including the Three Queens were sentenced to a life of hard work in prison. A year after the rebellion the Danish forced the African people to sign new contracts that did not improve the working conditions for the Africans.
In 1882, Queen Mary was around the age of forty when she was shipped to a prison in Copenhagen, Denmark, before being sent back to Christiansted to serve her prison sentence until her death. Queen Mary was the most well-known of the Three Queens, she is said to be linked to every rebellion on the island of Saint Croix and was adamant about the rebels being committed to gaining their freedom. There isn’t much information about Queen Mathilda and Queen Agnes, we do know Queen Mathilda was only twenty-one years old when she joined the rebellion, she along with Queen Mary was the mother of three children. In 2005, the memory of the Three Queens was captured in the form of a memorial fountain called the “Three Queens Fountain” that overlooks Charlotte Amalie City on the Island of St. Thomas. These three remarkable women valued their lives, their freedom, and their people. They were willing to leave their families to fight for their freedom and the freedom of their people. To the Three Rebel Queens of the Fire Burn, Queen Mary, Queen Mathilda, and Queen Agnes, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!!
Click Here to join our mailing list