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Danes Uncover Slave Ancestry, Search for V.I. Relatives

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March 23, 2008 — In Denmark, where nearly everybody has straight blond hair, Jacqueline Tuxen Wissing wanted to know why her brother’s hair was curly. Her grandmother’s explanation ignited a journey across an ocean and a trip back through time.
A diary written by Tuxen Wissing’s ancestor held the unexpected answer. Wilhelm Bartholin Tuxen, a Danish soldier, had served on St. Croix, where according to records he and a woman of "African race" named Caroline Amalie Maduro had a child in 1888.
In 1897, Wilhelm and his son, Bartholin Christian Maduro Tuxen, went back to Tuxen’s native Denmark where they remained, and were joined in 1900 by Caroline. Caroline was to die only two years later.
The son eventually married and had children, and his Danish descendants are now uncovering his story and their roots.
Tuxen Wissing is one of a group of Danes who have traveled to the territory to learn more about their Virgin Island roots and their slave ancestry. The group will be looking for their ancestors’ homes and workplaces, checking out local records and hopefully seeking out lost family members.
With the help of an antique map owned by Ron Lockhart, president of the St. Thomas/St. John Friends of Denmark Society, the group has located some of the areas where their relatives had lived.
Anne Walborn, the group’s leader, became interested in her family history when she inherited a locket with a picture of a dark-skinned, curly-haired ancestor. "She looked unusual — she didn’t look Danish," said Walborn.
Walborn’s ancestor came to St. Croix from Denmark in 1816, and had two children, whom he later legalized in Denmark. That their mother did not emigrate to Denmark with her children intrigued Walborn.
Her questions to relatives about the children’s mother were met with such vague answers as "Oh, she was a black beauty, she was kind of exotic." After reviewing church records from the period, Walborn realized that the children were born slaves.
Learning about her slave heritage surprised Walborn. "It is so far away from the Danish way of thinking, that it gave me a shock," she said. "I never thought slavery could be part of my family history."
Ann and Pia Anthony also said they had known little of their slave heritage. "Our name came from a slave, and that was all we knew," said Ann Anthony.
Their father employed a professional genealogist to research their family history. The research found that their great-great-great grandfather, Fredrik Ludvig Anthony, was a slave born in 1784 who was brought on a ship to Denmark where he was sold to a Danish baron.
Ludvig worked as a butler for the baron, and the sisters believe that he had a good life. They have a photograph of an oil painting of Ludvig. Records show that Ludvig had enough money to buy an armoire from the baron, and at his death, Ludvig’s will directed that the furniture was to be returned to the baron.
There are many such stories emerging in Denmark.
The women agreed that the history their generation learned in Danish schools did not cover Denmark’s slave-owning past. Gurli Skorup Koefoed-Olsen said that in her opinion, "The Danish government has been quiet about this part of our history. I don’t think they are proud of the slave history."
Now, though, the group said that media attention and the school curriculum in Denmark is bringing the past to light.
Koefoed-Olsen and her sister, Jonna Skorup Christensen, are descendants of William Stephen and his wife, Katherine George, a freed slave from St. Croix. Hoping to meet long-lost relatives while she is in the territory, Skorup Christiansen said, "If any of you know the George and Stephens family in St, Thomas, tell them that I would like to meet them. Tell them also that I am their cousin, looking for them."
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