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From Enslaved Laborer To Master Butcher And Planter: The Story Of Moses Elias Williams

 

Denmark was a colonial power in the Caribbean from 1672 until 1917. In the Danish West Indies, chattel slavery was practiced from around 1650 until July 3, 1848, when the governor issued an emancipation proclamation. Still, the Danish government went on to make rules that kept people enslaved by contracts for another two years.

This made life difficult for many enslaved people after gaining freedom. However, some were able to overcome the status quo and succeeded in spite of a system that was against them. After having gained their freedom, they went on to live prosperous lives acquiring wealth and status. Moses Elias Williams was one of them, despite his tragic end.

Born a slave in November 1841 on the plantation Castle Nugent on the island of St. Croix, his mother, who was known as Catherine, was an enslaved laborer on the plantation. His father, Augustus Williams, was a house slave from the plantation Boetzberg, located north of Castle Nugent. By 1843, Moses was sold with his mother, grandmother and siblings to another plantation which was located eight kilometers from Castle Nugent, according to Virgin Islands History.

Internal slave trade in the Danish West Indies was still ongoing at the time until 1848 when enslaved men and women including Moses and his family were freed. Having had it rough, many of them now had to start rebuilding their lives. Moses and his family did not do badly. By 1850, Moses’s father Augustus was working in his former owner’s butcher shop while living in a house with the rest of his family in Christiansted.

Augustus became an independent butcher with his own shop in five years. Moses followed in his footsteps. After helping his father in his shop, he also got registered as a butcher at just 19 years old. In 1865, Moses, then 24, obtained a certificate of citizenship as a butcher in Christiansted.

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In three years, Moses was doing great as he purchased the estate The Sight, which was located about five kilometers east of Christiansted. The property at the time produced cattle and sheep and a little cotton. After purchasing it, Moses converted the production to only cattle, sheep and goats, according to the report by Virgin Islands History.

It was during that same period that Moses married Lucretia Wilhelmina Stridiron, the daughter of an enslaved woman and a free colored man who was also born a slave on Cotton Valley on St. Croix. The couple settled at The Sight alongside workers to run the enterprise. Between 1878 to1888, records show that Moses bought some properties in Christiansted as his business grew. And thanks to the rental income from the properties, he was able to expand his commercial interests.

Now a wealthy man who was very respected in the business community, Moses became one of the few men who were entitled to vote in the elections for the Colonial Council, St. Croix’s highest authority.

Despite his fame and fortune, Moses was not a happy man. Seven years after his marriage to Lucretia, she died. Some months after her death, their only daughter also died. She was just two years old. Moses remarried after a few years. Sadly, after five births, from which two children survived, that woman also died in childbirth. This was after her last birth in May 1889.

Moses’s heart was broken after the loss of his second wife. Her death shattered his world. History says he never married again, and his business and cattle herd “wasted away”. In 1894, he sold his estate. Then the worse happened on February 9, 1895. That day, the St. Croix Avis newspaper reported that famous butcher Moses had shot himself in his home on Company Street in Christiansted.

The reason, to date, is unknown.

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Written by PH

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