File No. 859d. 00/9
Vice Consul Zabriskie to the Director of the Consular Service
St. Thomas, D. W. I. , February 24, 1916 .
Sir: * * * I find that there has been much speculation here during the past four months, especially, regarding the probable purchase of these islands by the United States, and the wildest rumours are almost daily afloat along these lines. Last week the people were freely stating that ex-President Roosevelt had been delegated to these parts for the express purpose of concluding arrangements for the proposed sale, and during the past few days rumours have filtered out that I had been sent here for the same object. A notice that appeared today in one of the daily newspapers of St. Thomas, Lighibourn’s Mail Notes, concerning the desire of the Danish Government to dispose of the islands, consequent upon the labor troubles in St. Croix, appears to confirm these extravagant impressions. Naturally, all this is most distasteful to me, but I try to pass it off as best I can, and I am citing these facts to the Department now in the event that there might be need of referring to them later on.
I might add that an eager desire on the part of the great majority of the native element to see the American flag waving over the islands can be noted on all sides, the only negative voices in the matter coming from a specially privileged few who have received valued favors from the Danish authorities.
Laborers’ Strike in the Island of St. Croix
Conditions in the Island of St. Croix have arrived at the acute stage. The laborers, who are mostly negroes, under the direction of one D. Hamilton Jackson, who has displayed qualities that have [Page 602] brought him a decided leadership over the Santa Cruzian blacks, and who has visited Copenhagen recently and secured a certain foothold in Government circles, and especially among the socialists there, decided several months ago upon the general strike that was put into operation just a few weeks ago, or at a time when the harvesting of the sugar-cane crops was about to begin. The cause of this strike is said to be due to the starvation wages that have been paid to the black laborers, and is continued because the plantation owners and managers refuse to comply to the laborers’ demands (which are reported by various reputable parties to be no more than what is reasonable).
On December 8, 1915, the Danish Cruiser Valkyrien was sent to St. Croix to preserve order, and has been stationed in these waters ever since, and the Governor of these islands has been permanently stationed at St. Croix for a considerable period. The Governor has been placed in the position of mediator between the two contending factions—employers and employees—but in spite of repeated attempts towards a settlement of their differences, no arrangement has as yet been concluded. Jackson is said to have exercised a wonderful influence over his followers. He has persuaded them to give up drinking, and has preserved a semblance of orderliness up to date, in spite of the fearful predictions of his adversaries. Owing to his fearless and independent attitude, he has incurred the displeasure of the Governor, who stoutly refuses to have anything further to do with him as the laborers’ representative, but who appears to be powerless to crush him. This may be due, as some say, to Jackson’s powerful backing in official, and socialistic circles in Copenhagen, or, as others aver, because of his strong hold over the Santa Cruzians, whom the authorities fear would bring devastation and ruin throughout the island were their leader to be interfered with.
Jackson publishes a daily newspaper, and is bitter in his denunciations of the Governor and others who have thwarted the designs of the laborers; but in this work, in his public utterances, which are frequent, and in his other activities he is said to take care to keep just within the limits of the law. He counsels his followers against any unlawful demonstrations, such as the firing of the cane crops, or wanton destruction of any private or public properties, which he states, is precisely what the enraged planters desire, in order that they may have a legitimate (?) excuse for shooting them up. Matters appear to be reaching a climax, however, as the extensive and valuable cane crops are likely to become practically worthless if they are not harvested within two weeks. In fact, the February 23d edition of the West End News, which is reputed to be the Government newspaper of Frederiksted, St. Croix, concludes an urgent appeal to the Cruzian laborers by urging them to return to the fields “in order to save their island from ruin and thus preserve it for the Danish Crown.” Futhermore, a St. Thomas daily paper, Lightbourn’s Mail Notes, to-day publishes a news paragraph reported to originate from Copenhagen, stating that
The strike of the negroes in the Danish West Indies revives the proposition to sell the West India Islands to the United States of America, if the American Government is willing to pay more than four million dollars for them.
It is not proven that the laborers have as yet gone beyond bounds, although a yesterday’s dispatch from St. Croix affirms that eleven fires were started the day before on one of the large estates, which were finally extinguished by the marines from the Valkyrien and the local gendarmes. A rumour has just reached here that one of the large plantation owners, now in Copenhagen, has cabled his willingness to sell out his entire holdings for a price approximating what his last year’s harvest yielded him.
Should an opportunity offer, where a real or pretended outrage on the part of the blacks might furnish a fancied pretext for retaliation, it is believed by many that the large estate owners, agents, etc., who include a few Irishmen and a large number of Danes, and who are well supplied with arms and ammunition, assisted by the local gendarmes and guns from the Valkyrien, would show no mercy to their foes, and that a frightful carnage would be the result.
The West Indian Company, Limited, of St. Thomas, D. W.I.
Referring to a recent cable from the Department, making enquiry regarding The West Indian Company, or The East Asiatic Company of St. Thomas, which I feel was insufficiently and perhaps inaccurately, answered by the consulate (and also to another late cable regarding a contract for fifteen thousand tons of coal made here by the Earn Steamship Company of Philadelphia), I have to report that interest is thereby directed to the most interesting institution of the Island of St. Thomas, since The West Indian Company, Ltd., has by far the most powerful foothold of any other concern here, and may prove to be stronger than all of the other concerns combined. I have become acquainted with the local manager of this company, Captain H. P. Berg, and he has already extended certain courtesies tome. I now hope to have a complete report concerning all the interests and activities of this powerful corporation to submit to the Department within a short while.
According to my present understanding, The West Indian Company, Ltd., is a corporation organized under the laws of Denmark, with head offices at St. Thomas. I am persuaded to believe that considerable of the stock of this corporation, if not the majority, is held by Germans. This company acts as the local agent of The East Asiatic Company, whose head offices are in Copenhagen, which acts, in its turn, as the Copenhagen representative of The West Indian Company. The present prospects point to this company enjoying a practical monopoly over shipping, and other affairs in St. Thomas, including the coaling, water and other supply business. It owns and operates the electric light plant of the place, which has taken the place of an unsatisfactory gas light company, which is now practically extinct, and there is a possibility of it monopolizing the village water supply in the not distant future.
About one and a half million dollars have already been expended on their harbor, etc., works, and another half million will be expended before the work is entirely completed. The Govenor of the Island, Mr. L. C. Helweg-Larsen, is the chairman of the board of directors of this corporation.* * *
I have [etc.]