The 1878 Labor Riot on St. Croix was also known as #Fireburn. The riot occurred on October 1, 1878. There were 3 women leaders of the riot who became known as the “Queens of the Fireburn.” In July 1848, the laborers of Danish West Indies staged a protest and gained their freedom, but their freedom was short-lived. Plantation owners began devising new regulations quickly. The free laborers were now forced by law to sign contracts which bound them and their families to the plantations were they worked. By signing these contracts the laborers became slaves again.
Laborers gathered in Frederiksted the day the contract was to be signed to demand higher wages and better working conditions. At first the gathering was peaceful, but it didn’t last long. The crowd grew angry and violent, rumors circulated that a laborer had been hospitalized due to mistreatment by the police. Rioters threw stones and the Danish soldiers retaliated with gunfire. But the violence just escalated, and the soldiers barricaded themselves inside a fort. Unable to scale the gates to access the fort, the rioters turned their focus on the town and began looting the town, using torches to burn many buildings and plantations.
On October 4, 1878 the British, French, and American warships arrived and offered to help stop the riot. By the time the riots were over, great destruction to the islands had occurred. Over 879 acres were burned, and the damage caused was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars. The prominent leaders of the riot were three women, Mary “Queen Mary” Thomas, “Queen Agnes”, and “Queen Mathilda.” The three women were sentenced to prison time, and served their terms in Denmark. There were many casualties due to the riot which included the deaths of 60 #Black laborers and two soldiers, and 14 women who died in an explosion. In addition, 12 laborers were condemned to death and hanged.