Freedom Fighters Day hike to mark 1733 revolt

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ST. THOMAS - Friday is Virgin Islands Freedom Fighters Day, and a group of people will be making the 29th annual pilgrimage to commemorate the 1733 St. John slave revolt.

The event is designed to educate and inspire participants by recounting the journey to freedom that many Virgin Islands slaves took on Nov. 23, 1733, when they rose up against their owners.

As it does each year, the daylong tour will visit several plantation ruins where the revolt took place while local historians and storytellers educate and entertain.

The tour begins in Cruz Bay, followed by visits to an old steam mill at Estate Adrian, a restored sugar mill at Catherineberg and a steep hike to Fortsberg in Coral Bay.

In the 1730s, deteriorating conditions, including rampant illness, a lack of adequate food and water and brutal punishments for slaves in the Danish West Indies caused tensions to come to a head. In 1733, a plague of locusts, a drought and a fierce hurricane tested the limits of the slaves' endurance.

Taking matters into their own hands, the slaves in the territory revolted for their independence.

The revolt's leaders, the Akan people of present-day Ghana, stashed weapons in loads of firewood and overtook the Danish fort at Fortsberg.

During the following weeks, they took control of all of St. John, with the exception of Durloo's Plantation. They left most of the island's crops and existing structures intact, intending to use available infrastructure to establish their own nation.

It took the combined efforts of Danish, British and French forces, along with the Free Negro Corps, until May 1734 to quash the rebellion.

While the people had their freedom only for about six months, they established a government and an economy and elected leaders. They even had plans to expand the revolution and new nation to neighboring Tortola and St. Thomas.

In 1999, the V.I. Legislature passed a bill commemorating Nov. 23 as Virgin Islands Freedom Fighters Day. The annual commemorative St. John hike is conducted by the St. John African Slave Revolution Committee and the Pan-African Support Group.

"It is open to the community. We encourage everyone to attend this historic moment in our Virgin Islands history," event organizer K. Leba Ola-Niya said.

A safari taxi will take the group from site to site, but participants should be prepared to hike up the steep hill to get to the top of Fortsberg.

The tour group will depart to Cruz Bay from the Red Hook ferry terminal at 9 a.m. sharp. Organizers recommend coming early to meet up with the group's tour guides before boarding the ferry.

Cost is $27 for adults, $12 for children under 11 and includes the price of the ferry and land transportation. Ola-Niya said the group expects to be on the 5 p.m. ferry heading back to St. Thomas.

Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable clothing and shoes and to bring a lunch and plenty of water.

For more information call 344-3556 or 998-1792.

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