1878 St. Croix Labor Riots

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The 1878 Labor Riot on St. Croix, also known as Fireburn was a labor riot on St. Croix started on October 1, 1878, led by four women.

Events Leading to the Riot[edit]

Thirty years after slavery ended in the Danish West Indies, black laborers were being paid a pittance for their labor. They had been forced, by law, to sign a contract which bound laborers and their families to the plantations on which they worked. The terms laid out in those contracts made the laborers of the Danish West Indies slaves in all but name.[1]

Contract Day[edit]

In October, 1878, laborers gathered in Frederiksted to protest. Though initially peaceful, the crowd began to become violent after rumors circulated, including a rumor that a laborer had been hospitalized, but was mistreated and died in police custody. The rioters threw stones and the Danish soldiers retaliated with gunfire. As violence escalated, the soldiers barricaded themselves in the forts and rioters looted the town and used torches to burn many buildings and plantations, causing the protest to become known as "Fireburn".[2]


A year later, in October 1879, new contracts were written which would increase wages for laborers. However, this ordinance did not actually improve conditions much.[3]


  1. ^ Lewishon, Florence (1964). Divers Information on The Romantic History of St. Croix: From the Time of Columbus until Today. Dukane Press. pp. 48–57. 
  2. ^ Potter, Susanna. "Danish West Indies after emancipation". 
  3. ^ Jensen, Peter (1998). From Serfdom to Fireburn and Strike: The History of Black Labor in the Danish West Indies 1848-1917. Christiansted, St. Croix: Antilles Press. p. 139. "The liberalization of labor conditions in the 1879, then, did not necessarily guarantee improvements in the laborers' conditions, on balance, since it was obtained on the planters' and not the laborers' terms."