Remembering Emancipation: Von Scholten’s Mistress Played Important Role in Emancipation

Anna Heegaard (photo courtesy of Ancestry.com).
Anna Heegaard (photo courtesy of Ancestry.com).

First Published Feb. 19, 2016

Anna Heegaard, the consort of Gov. Gen. Peter von Scholten for 20 years, played an important part “behind the curtains” in bringing about emancipation on July 4, 1848, according to a descendant visiting St. Croix this week.

Frederik Heegaard, who shares Anna Heegaard’s great-great-great-great grandfather Christian Steffensen Heegaard, is visiting St. Croix with his family and shared with the Source some of his research about the “free-colored” woman who shared von Scholten’s life and values.

“The most important thing to show in our tale is Anna Heegaard was an important person working behind the curtains in close coordination with Peter von Scholten, doing her best to bring about emancipation. As in those days women didn’t stand in front like Hillary Clinton, but behind the curtains,” Frederik Heegaard said.

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According to Heegaard and the St. Croix Landmarks Society, Anna Heegaard was born in January 1790, the daughter of a “free mulatto woman,” Susanna Ulytendahl from St. Croix. Her father was Jacob Heegaard, a Danish bureaucrat who played no part in her life, marrying a white woman around the time Anna was born.

Anna Heegaard and von Scholten met shortly after he arrived on St. Croix in 1827, while she was living with Capt. H. C. Knudsen, on the north side of the island at his plantation Belvedere. Von Scholten, the new governor-general, was entertained in grand fashion and met the wealthy planter, Knudsen, and his mistress on several occasions. The friendship grew with Knudsen on the sidelines, as a friend to both.

A year later, Heegaard and Knudsen were reportedly cohabiting in the Gjellrup house in Christiansted and a year later he travelled to Copenhagen with a list of social reforms prepared with Heegaard for the Danish King Frederik V. He also traveled with Heegaard’s promise to live with him upon his return.

The so-called von Scholten/Heegaard Proposition was approved by the king on Apr. 10, 1830, and a commission to carry out the plan was appointed upon von Scholten’s return in 1832.

According to Thorkild Hansen’s “The Islands of the Slaves,” the proposition called for the establishment of schools for enslaved children between the ages of 6-12; the conversion of straw huts to concrete dwellings for slave housing; and separate buildings on all plantations for the sick, elderly and mothers with babies. Sunday was designated as a day free from work and the word “unfree” would be used instead of “slaves.” In return, plantation owners would receive more favorable lending rates if the plan were followed voluntarily.

Heegaard kept her word and the couple moved into William Newton’s plantation and in 1834 into their own plantation, Bulowsminde, west of Christiansted.

It is not clear how she came by her wealth, perhaps from her mother, but records show that Anna Heegaard owned the furniture at Belvedere, had purchased a house in Christiansted and even owned 15 slaves at one time. According to Frederik Heegaard’s research, von Scholten signed a promissory note to Anna for half ownership of Bulowsminde, which she eventually returned to him.

On July 3, 1848, when von Scholten was called to Frederiksted to deal with the slave uprising, Heegaard stayed at home and undoubtedly helped craft or at least read the famous proclamation delivered July 4 by the governor general:

–          All Unfree in the Danish West India Islands are from today emancipated.

–          The estate Negroes retain for three months from date the use of the houses and provision grounds, of which they have hither-to been possessed.

–          Labour is in future to be paid for by agreement, but allowance is to cease.

–          The maintenance of old and infirm, who are not able to work, is until farther determination to be furnished by the late owners.

As a result and with the help of John Moses Gottleib, “General Buddhoe,” the leader of the well-planned rebellion, no shots were fired and there were no injuries during the revolt.

King Christian had already declared emancipation in 1847, when he proclaimed babies born after July that year would be declared free. However, anyone else had to wait 12 more years for their freedom.

Von Scholten did not have the authority to change the date and his proclamation was unpopular with plantation owners and local officials. According to Frederik Heegaard’s research, von Scholten was reported by a Lt. Irminger to the king for attempting a coup and committing a state crime.

According to Virgin Islands History.org, von Scholten, the last governor general of the territory, suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to Copenhagen shortly after Emancipation.

Because he was no longer in the king’s favor, and some said was even put on trial, he was unable to help Buddhoe who was arrested and sent to Trinidad. Nothing more is known of Buddoe’s fate and little of his life.

Von Scholten died in 1854 in Germany and never saw Anna Heegard again.

Although rumored, it is “absolutely not true” she had children, Frederik Heegaard said, but adopted two half sisters and raised them at Bulowsminde. She died on St. Croix in 1859.

Frederik Heegaard has been studying Anna Heegaard’s life for years. He recently sold his company with 1,0000 employees to Wyndham Resorts and is semi-retired and plans to continue reading his search for information. He also spends time as the chairman of the board of Nova Sol, the Danish maker of New York beer that will be introduced to the U.S. this year.

Heegaard traveled to St. Croix with his wife, children and grandchildren to celebrate his birthday. One of the youngest grandchildren is a 4-year-old beauty with golden curls named Anna.

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