Danish West Indies

If the European imperialist designs for Africa that occurred in the late Nineteenth Century are called, because of its frenzied quality, the scramble for Africa, then the colonization of the West Indies that occurred in the early Seventeenth Century could be called the scramble for sugar. Sugar cane and beet are not native to Europe and cheap sources of sugar fueled the colonization of the new world (and with it workers to grow and process the sugar-slaves). Great Britain largely won this first scramble (as they did the one for Africa) and had a score or more of plantation colonies from Antigua to St Vincent. The French took what they could and tiny Denmark, not to be outdone, established its own sugar colony on the island of St Thomas in what came to be called the Danish West Indies. The history of this plantation colony under the Danes was no better or worse than most of the other West Indies colonies-local Carib Indians were killed off by disease and slavery, followed by thousands of black slaves who were quickly worked to death and replaced (the life expectancy of a slave after arrival in the new world during the heyday of sugar production was eighteen months-millions died). When worldwide revulsion over slavery (and a sugar glut which depressed prices) ended chattel slavery in the early nineteenth century the Danish West Indies languished. World War I piqued US interest in the islands as they occupied the strategic geographic position of protecting the Panama Canal from German predators. Accordingly, the United States purchased the islands in 1917 and replaced the indigenous stamps with American ones. The stamps that the Danes issued for the island are now collected by US collectors as a Possession and they provide a fun, completable and interesting adjunct to US collecting.

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