78.5 F
Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, December 3, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesWayne James Says He's Found a 4th Fireburn 'Queen'

Wayne James Says He's Found a 4th Fireburn 'Queen'

Aug. 4, 2004- A St. Croix historian says he has uncovered documentation in Denmark that there were four "queens" who played leading roles in the Fireburn uprising on the island in 1878, and not three, as the accounts familiar to most Virgin Islanders have it.
St. Croix-born lawyer, fashion designer and historian Wayne James said in a release from Copenhagen on Wednesday that the documents he unearthed in the Danish National Archives pertaining to the "queens" of the Fireburn of Oct. 1, 1878, will require a rewriting of V.I. history.
One 122-year-old document "details everything from the jewelry in the women's possession upon their arrival at the prison in Copenhagen on June 19, 1882, to serve out life sentences of hard labor to their occasional menstrual ailments to their fights with Danish inmates," James said. "Also detailed are their lives on St. Croix prior to Fireburn: the number of children that [they] had borne, their criminal records (if any) their religion, their ages, etc."
But probably the most historically significant detail, he said, "is the fact that the records now establish that there were in fact four, not three 'queens' of the Fireburn as had been previously written in the history books and previously believed."
The Fireburn was an economic uprising of former slaves who 30 years after emancipation were still barred from leaving the island and bound to the same plantations where they had worked when enslaved. Some 50 estates and half of the town of Frederiksted went up in flames, according to historical accounts. Groups of workers torched the town and plantations and made their way east toward Christiansted led by what have been described as three women – "Queen Mary" (memorialized in a traditional folksong dating from the 1880s) Thomas, "Queen Agnes" and "Queen Mathilda."
Accounts have referred to Queen Mathilda also being known as "Bottom Belly."
According to James, however, the records he has come upon show definitively that it was another woman who was known by that nickname.
"Queen Mathilda was a young Frederiksted girl in her mid- to late teens named Mathilda McBean," he said in the release, while the woman known as "Bottom Belly" was Susanna Abramsen, who was in her 40s at the time of the Fireburn.
James said he also found photographs of the Danish prison, which is no longer standing, including pictures of its cells during the era of the incarceration of the "queens." He said he also came upon a storybook used by the women and a host of other historically significant documents and photos.
Local historians expressed excitement at the news. "James has made a contribution in a significant way to a better understanding of our history," William Sissel, historian for St. Croix's National Park Service facilities, said.
Author and poet Richard Schrader said he looks forward to James's return in order to get a first-hand look at the documents. Schrader has 17 published books on life in the Virgin Islands, including a play titled "1878 Queen Mary an Dem," which he describes as "a work of fiction anchored in fact."
Harold Willocks, author of "The Umbilical Cord," a historical account of the Virgin Islands, said he felt "overwhelmed" at the news. Willocks stated that history needs to be updated periodically, "or else it becomes social commentary, rather than historical fact."
James said he plans to transfer the historical documents and his other findings to the people of the Virgin Islands formally at an appropriate ceremony at a time and place to be announced.
"It gives me great pleasure to once again contribute to the cultural heritage of the Virgin Islands," he said in the release. "Our understanding of ourselves today is inextricably linked to our knowledge of our past. I am proud to participate in the accurate reconstruction of that past."

Back Talk

Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.

Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.