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Ambassador, Local Leaders Make Transfer Day Call for More Ties with Denmark

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March 31, 2008 — The Danish ambassador came to St. Croix Monday for the 91st Transfer Day celebration.
Transfer Day commemorates Denmark's sale of the Virgin Islands to the United States on March 31, 1917. For the past 11 years, the green and shady grounds of the Lawaetz Family Museum — an old colonial plantation on Ethel McIntosh Drive — has played host to Danes with St. Croix connections, Crucians with Danish connections, and Danish and V.I. dignitaries.
Bill Bass, the president of the Friends of Denmark Society, served as master of ceremonies and spoke about the history of the transfer. Negotiations went on for decades. Treaties of sale were drafted in 1867 and again in 1902, but were not concluded, he said.
"World War I heightened U.S. interest in acquisition of the islands," he said. "In September 1916, the U.S. signed a revised treaty, and three month later, on Dec. 21, 1916, it was ratified. Then, at 4 p.m. March 31, 1917, all three islands transferred over."
The importance of growing commercial, cultural and educational links with Denmark linked the speeches of Delegate Donna M. Christensen, Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Torben Gettermann, the Danish ambassador.
It's beneficial to have the exchanges, programs in architectural preservation and sharing of archival material, but more can be done, deJongh said.
"We must also talk about economic opportunities going forward," he said.
Getterman agreed.
"Ninety-one years later, it is a very different world than 1917," he said. "Even so, it is our duty not only to preserve our shared heritage and history, but also our future together."
Anne Walbom, president of the Danish West Indian Society, spoke of her discovery in the 1970s that she had slave ancestors. She had already known of a great-grandfather who returned to Denmark from St. Croix, bringing children with him.
"One child was my grandmother, Anne," she said.
Her family had a story about "this black and exotic beauty," and there was a locket with a single photo of one of the children.
Walbom began research and found her ancestor had two children out of wedlock, who he took to Denmark. The woman later married and had other children, but records suggest her great-grandfather and the St. Croix woman remained friends.
"He returned to St. Croix and bought her a house," she said. "The documents don't lie. They must have been friends."
Since finding this out, Walbom has returned to the Virgin Islands more than 25 times.
"This is so far from Danish thought," she said. "A Dane with slave relatives? Since then I have been researching my West Indian relations. It's really exciting."
After the benediction, the Pearl B. Larsen School Dancers danced quadrille and a line queued up to buy lunch. In one of the property's ruins, a large flat-screen television showed a short Landmarks Society video with historical photographs, drawings and paintings. St. Croix author and historian Richard Schrader read from some of his published works of poetry and prose. Many in the crowd stayed to listen, mingle, eat and tour the grounds of the old plantation.
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