Loading Coal on a Steamer, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, 1864

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Image Reference

John Codman, Ten months in Brazil (Boston, 1867), facing p. 20. (Copy in Library Company of Philadelphia)

On a voyage from New York to Brazil in late 1864, the author's ship stopped at St. Thomas. Steamers there took on coal, and although slavery had been abolished in the Danish West Indies in 1848, the scene he describes could have taken place in the later years of the slave period. "The work upon coal at St. Thomas is done exclusively by women . . . When we were ready for our coal . . . these women threw into the hold on the first day over three hundred tons. Each of them brought upon her head a basket of the average weight of eighty pounds. They came in a single file, in one continual stream . . . . As they dumped the contents of their baskets, they passed around the hatchways, and returned to the dock by the other plan of the stage, avoiding those who were coming on board" (pp. 17-18). In 1839, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company decided to start sending steamers to St. Thomas, although regular steamer traffic to the island from other sources did not come until the 1860s. See E. Gobel, Shipping through the Port of St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, 1816-1917, International Journal of Maritime History, vol. 6 (December 1994), pp. 155-173; thanks to Dan Hopkins for bringing this article to our attention.