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Slavery records shine light on families' history

A COLLECTION of slavery records newly available over the Internet may help thousands of people trace their families back to Africa through St Croix, a former slave-trading hub in the Caribbean.

The records, which went online on Thursday at, already have helped American Susan Samuel discover the story of an ancestor who was freed after persuading officials that she had been illegally sold into slavery.

"Even though she came from a very horrible situation, she decided not to be defined by it," Samuel said of her great-great-great-great-grandmother, Venus Johannes, who was captured as a 12-year-old girl in what is now Senegal in West Africa.

More than 50,000 enslaved Africans were taken to St Croix during the island's Danish colonial rule, said George Tyson, who led a seven-year effort to gather documents from archives in the Virgin Islands, Washington and Copenhagen.

Many of the slaves spent their lives toiling on the island's sugar plantations. Others continued on to slavery in such places as Cuba and the United States, which bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917.

Johannes' story comes partly from an account she gave to authorities that helped persuade them to free her.

After marrying an American sea captain on Goree Island, a holding area for slaves off the African coast, she agreed to join him on a voyage to the New World with the understanding she could later return.

But Johannes was sold off as a domestic servant as soon as they reached St Croix.

Johannes won her freedom in 1815 after three decades in slavery, Tyson said. She had remarried by then and borne four children.

A slave uprising on St Croix led the colonial governor to finally ban slavery across the Danish West Indies in 1848.


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