THE WEST INDIES, SLAVERY, AND SWEDENBORGIANISM
by Anders Hallengren
“Västindien, slaveriet, och swedenborgianismen”
Väldarnas Möte:Nya Kyrkans Tidning
No. 4, 1994, pp. 128-142
Friday, December 12, 1999
What attention, what astonishment would it prompt if one of our cabinet members stated in
Parliament that Swedenborgianism was an appropriate doctrine to be taught in Swedish
congergations overseas, or in the isolated domestic ones, in the congregations at
Valdemarsvik or Spånga. This is about what happened when Councillor Anders Johan von
Höpken (1712-1789) explained to King Gustav III that Swedenborgianism was an appropriate
religion out in the colonies.
In his correspondence with New Church people, he justified this not only on the basis that
Swedenborgianism took care of the fear of death, but first and foremost because of its
emphasis on morality, because it was a perfect social doctrine, because it created honest
subjects "inasmuch as it taught that piety was a matter of life."
Höpken was a member of the first Swedenborgian society, The Exegetical-Philanthropic
Society, and in later times people have sometimes read a defensive tone into his proposal.
Why overseas, in the colonies, precisely?
Nowadays when one passes the bust of Swedenborg in the Maria marketplace, or perhaps
visits the meeting room and bookroom of the Lord's New Church at 60 Hornsgatan, about a
block from the place where Swedenborg lived, where he sat surrounded by his garden and
wrote his most significant work, right across the street, it provides a perfect
opportunity to reflect on the long road from then to here. The first Scandanavian
Swedenborgian group was not founded here in Sweden, or on Norway or Denmark, but on the
island of St. Croix in the West Indies, a hundred and fifty years ago. When we search all
the way through the earliest history of the New Church in the Nordic countries, we find
ourselves exploring the Danish Virgin Islands, a group of islands in the Lesser Antilles
in the Caribbean.
The Windward Islands
The island was named after the holy cross by Columbus on his second journey to Santa Cruz:
he thought of himself as a Crusader. Under French control it came to be known as St.
Croix, and it has kept this name even today, with an English pronunciation (actually under
American control ever since Danish times, when the official language became English). The
Danish West Indies also included St. Thomas and St. John. The principal city for most of
them was Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, named after the Danish queen (Charlotte Amalie,
1650-1714), but the formation of societies wound up taking place on St. Croix, where the
cities also bore names from the Danish court, Christiansted amd Fredriksted. They still
bear these names today.
When Columbus reached the Virgin Islands in 1493, the multitude of little islands made him
think of the legend of Saint Ursula, who, to atone for having thought of marrying a
heathen, went on a pilgrimage to Rome followed by 11,000 virgins. On the fourteenth of
November, Columbus's fleet anchored in a bay near St. Croix, later known as Krause Bay
after a famous German-Danish family. The name turns up later among followers of Swedenborg
in the area. In 1850, we find among the Swedenborgians in Christiansted a bookkeeper named
Gustavus Adolphus Krause, named after Sweden's most famous king, a man living in a simple
house on Fiskare Gade, Fisher Street, still today in an area where whites are allowed to
live. This is the Free Gut, the free colored section of the city since 1747, bounded by
Fisher Street, East Street, New Street, Queen Cross Street, and Little Hospital Street.
The Danish family name is misleading, since most of the people who bore it were colored,
as is still the case in the West Indies. This goes back to the days of slavery. Slaves
were named after their masters; some were adopted; there were many illegitimate children;
and freed slaves carried on the family names. Marriages for love, too, eventually
increased the number of mulattos in the West Indian colonies. The blacks, the colored, and
the whites constituted three social classes, with the middle group showing the most growth
over time and coming to constitute a rising middle class. In this way, I met in Gustavia
the titled restauranteur and cultural ambassador Marius Stackelborough, chairman of the
Swedish Friendship Society in our former possession, St. Barthelemy. A distant descendant
of the Finnish-Swedish governor of St. Barthelemy-Bernt Robert Shackelbert, born in the
same year that the island became Swedish-he belongs to the number of the French island's
The New Church in the Virgin Islands
On the twenty-eighth of June, 1846, a group gathered at the home of the lawyer Karl
Andreas Kierulff, at 31 Strand Gade in Christiansted for the first official Swedenborgian
worship service. However, twenty years earlier, individuals interested in Swedenborg had
gathered privately and secretly here and there in the Virgin Islands. The first adherents
were Vibe Kierulff on St. Thomas and Henning Gotfried Linberg on St. John.
Activity began as early as 1826 on the three islands. It was Swedenborg's work on True
Christian Religion particularly that adherents tried to win acceptance for, the work in
which Swedenborg summarized his "true Christianity", and a book in which the special
spirituality of Africans was emphasized. In a letter from the island of St. John, Henning
Gotfried Linberg wrote to pastor John Hargrove in the New Jerusalem Church in
Massachusetts that the lawyer Karl Kierulff on St. Croix had also succeeded in interesting
the pastor of an English Episcopal church on the island in this work of Swedenborg.
Linberg was spreading the writings among interested people on the island of St. John.
Vibe Kierulff was gathering an interested circle on St. Thomas. Linberg was soon moving to
St. Croix as judge of the court in Christiansted, where Karl Kierulff was lawyer. Vibe
Kierulff was becoming Procurator, later sheriff on St. Thomas. These were influential
people. One who joined them was the bookkeeper Andreas Birch, who began a collection for
the publication of Swedenborg's works, which proceeded with good success among certain
plantation owners, first and foremonst the shopkeeper John Meyer Johnson, later also
Doctor William Henry Ruan. Both of them would come to belong to Swedenborgianism's inner
circle on the islands. Andreas Birch, who was in London and made contact there with the
Swedenborg Society, saw to it that people in the islands of the West Indies had access to
the literature. During the 1830s, people ordered books and pamphlets from publishing
houses in London, Manchester, and Boston. In 1831, Birch wrote from St. Croix to the
Swedenborg Society that in the preceding year he had distributed letters of information to
six hundred interested individuals. Linberg traveled to Boston, Carl and Vibe Kierulff to
Boston and New York, where they loaded up with as many books as they could carry. None of
these individuals, though, the Kierulff, Borch, and Linberg families, were foreign
missionaries. They were residents of the islands, none of them coming from England or
America. But like many who sparked enthusiasm in the islands, they drew attention to
themselves from abroad, since they wanted theological instruction and leadership. From
1846 on, we can follow the course of events in a series of letters from the New Churchman
Elijah Bryan, who functioned as the Swedenborgians official priest in the Virgin Islands,
officiating at worship, baptism, communion, leading a Sunday School for a long sequence of
years, making a beginning without anyone who was at all authorized from any quarter. He
supported himself by working as a dentist. Elijah Bryan's name can be found in an American
New Church Almanac for 1889. There we can learn that Bryan was ordained by Pastor Solyman
Brown (in the Swedenborgian church in Boston or New York, therefore) in 1850, that he was
connected with the General Convention (1856-1867), and that he was active in the West
Indies until his death in 1867.
When Bryan came to St. Croix for the first time in 1846, he was surprised to find actual
Swedenborgians there, very well read, one of them being Andreas Birch, whom he described
as a "thorough New Church Man." Henning Gotfried Linberg had died by that time, but his
work was being caried on by his widow Mary Linberg, who lived in a colored district (she
is listed in the 1846 census as Mary Lindberg, 42 Queen CVross Street, widow, aged 60,
born on St. Thomas, "selling goods"). In Christiansted Carl Kierulff was still a central
figure, with a circle of some two dozen active Swedenborgian adherents around him.
Andreas Birch kept in touch with the eminent Swedenborgian James John Garth Wilkinson in
England. Bryan corresponded with Ralph Waldo Emerson's New Church reviewer, Professor
George Bush in Boston.
Carl Kierulff and his four children had already been baptized into the New Church while on
a journey to Boston and New York. A young man named Emanuel Swedenborg now strolled the
streets of Christiansted, and he had been baptized into the New Church. Kierulff had in
fact named his youngest son Emanuel Swedenborg Kierulff (1827-1881). Jakob Elias Kierulff
(1794-1842), a resident of St. Thomas like his brother Vibe, had also named a son Emanuel.
Now there was an effort to arrange public lectures and worship. Andreas Birch and Elijah
Bryan went to the police chief in Christiansted to request permission, but met with a
summary refusal: the chief said, "No new doctrines." Carl Kierulff and some ten prominent
Christiansted individuals, including the plantataion owners already mentioned, turned to
the governor with a letter, but he (the liberal Peter von Scholten) could not because of
the struggle against the law and the decision of the Danish government. Kierulff decided
to go further, to the government in Copenhagen, and therefore letters to the authorities
turn up a number of times in the ensuing year, but no one would ever grant public
authorization, any approval for meeting. In the meantime, Peter von Scholten allowed them
to be held without interference over the years until the emancipation in 1848, after which
Von Scholten was recalled to Denmark.
On the island of St. Croix, with about the same population as at present (about 30,000,
that is), there were by custom five well known churches. There were historical reasons for
this, resting in the different nationalities on the island. When the Danes took control of
the islands from the French, Catholicism was predominant. In addition to the Catholic
church there was the Lutheran, which was the state religion of Denmark. The Anglican or
Episcopal church came in with the English, the core of the islands' well endowed
plantation owners. Then there were the Hutterites, originally from Germany, and the Jewish
community, both of which had been sanctioned since the end of the eighteenth century.
Bryan provides in passing a remarkable bit of information. He notes in his diary that a
majority of the Jews are converting to Christianity, largely because of New Church
pamphlets. He reports this on the basis of a conversation on religious questions with with
several of the followers of Moses in Christiansted. Among Swedenborg's works, it was
especially True Christian Religion which made it clear that the paradox of the trinity was
of no benefit for a rational religion. At the same time they had won some sympathy among
both Anglicans and Protestants, with a beginning even among the priests; but that was
before the emancipation, the abolition of slavery. Thereafter there was a reaction against
the rising tide of proselytes, of protestants and Anglicans who more and more associated
themselves with the New Church. One of the leading Swedenborgians, who worked most
energetically for the official approval of the New Church, the plantation owner William
Henry Ruan, was attacked on the street and knocked down for his treachery, his subversive
activity, by F. L. Hawley, pastor of the Episcopal church.
1846 saw the death of Andreas Birch, born in Denmark but a resident of the Virgin Islands
since his boyhood, and likewise the deaths of the Kierulff brothers. Carl Lierulff died in
1849. New names come forward. The influential Wright family on St. Thomas comes into the
picture, the Dawson family, and German-born Johannes Zimmermann. In Christiansted, more
and more families turn up with a colored strain, with names like Carty, Benners, Moorhead,
Rogiers, Hatchett, Muller, Canvane, and Heliger. The influential adherent Claudius von
Beverhoudt, who married a colored woman, also named his son Emanuel. Emanuel Swedenborg
emerged more and more as a bridge between cultures.
A Glance at Other Islands
Toward the end of the 1840s, Swedenborgianism had succeeded in spreading to several of the
islands. On a voyage to Trinidad, Bryan met a Swedenborgian named Thomas Shirley Warner
from the island of Cedros near Port of Spain, and another named Francis Burke from the
island of Montserrat. But outside the Danish Virgin Islands there was only one lone
organized Swedenborgian society and that was on Jamaica, where there was a group of a
dozen individuals who met in the coastal town of Lucea. The year was 1846, and that was
the same year in which the association was founded on St. Croix.
The circle had sprung up around Alexander Chambers, who died about 1842, and his son John
Carr Chambers, who died in 1870. Meetings were held in their house in Lucea from 1840 on,
a little circle of adherents and preachers, mostly among Africans. It is clear from may
letters in the archives of the Swedenborg School of Religion in Newton, Massachusetts,
that this was and remained a religion among the black population.
The Chambers family, which had settled in on Jamaica as early as 1640, was among the
world's first Swedenborgians, but also had early connections with Freemasonry. In 1789,
they participated in the Swedenborgians' foundational General Conference in London. A
total of eight delegates were from Jamaica. This New Church activity can be understood as
a parallel to that in the Virgin Islands, but apart from Elijah Bryan's visit to Lucea in
1841, they went on without contact with each other. The New Church movement in Jamaica had
its roots in England. The movement in the Virgin Islands drew its inspiration from both
England and the United States. In neither instance was there a question of direct
missionary effort, but rather of the islanders' contacts with overseas countries.
A trace of Swedenborgianism in the new world can be seen in our colony of New Sweden and
in the rest of Swedish America, from Delaware to Minnesota. Nicholas Collijn, pastor of
the Swedish church in Philadelphia, had met Swedenborg personally. On the Swedish island
of the West Indies, St. Barthélemy (a Swedish possession from 1784 to 1877), the first two
governors, Salomon Mauritz von Rajalin and his adjutant and successor Pehr Herman Rosén
von Rosenstein, both very religiously inclined men, had Swedenborgian connections.
Rajalin resigned his position in 1787, we find him later as governor of another Swedish
island-Gotland-and as organizer of a Swedenborg society there as well as member of the
Swedenborgian foundation Pro Fide et Charitate in 1796. We also find there members of the
Fåhreus family, which was likewise involved in the affairs of St. Barthélemy. Rosenstein,
equally religious-minded, ended his days in 1799 among Freemasons in Finland, in the upper
St. Andreas Phoenix Lodge. We know from Christopher Carlander's published travel diary
from 1788 that he had Swedenborgian visitors in St. Barthélemy. As the recently deceased
Jan Arvid Hellström shows in his excellent study of religious institutions in the Swedish
colonies (Åt alla christliga förvanter, 1987), there developed on the initiative of these
first two governors a religious freedom without parallel in their homeland. When Rajalin
prematurely left St. Barthélemy in 1787, never to return, the abolition of the slave trade
already stood first on the agenda of Swedenborgians worldwide, owing especially to the
Norrköping meeting of 1779, and it is not unlikely that a connection was made here with
the trade in the free harbor of Gustavia which was encouraged by the king's order. Here
our primary source material is wanting, and we must be careful about drawing conclusions e
silentio. The exiled Swedish priest Carl Andreas Kierrulf's intensive activity as pastor
of the Swedish church on St. Barthélemy in 1795-6, for instance, has no connection
whatever with the many West Indian Swedenborgians named Kierulff (with various spellings)
who came along later, other than a remote family relationship (an ancestor from Jylländ, a
different branch of the family). During the decade from 1792 to 1892 our sources are
particularly poor as regards St. Barthélemy, most of them destroyed or lost.
We run across Swedenborgianism later in Trinidad-Tobago, the target of one of the earliest
Swedish colonisation projects in the West Indies, where there are also said to be old
Swedish tombs whose location is unknown. This is just where a native adherent by the name
of Ishmael Samad planned to start a reading circle, where later Divine Providence happened
to come to his attention, but he was unaware of his precursors of earlier times.
We find Swedenborg also in Haiti, the island of Santo Domingo, in the 1810s, where King
Christophe, a black man who fought in the slave rebellion of 1794, tried to introduce
Swedenborgianism as the state religion after having received a consignment of the writings
by means of the extensive book distribution program of the American New Churchman William
Schlatter. The president's religious reform, like his own life, came to an abrupt end in
1820. His fate was described in a play by the modern French author Aimé Césaire of
Martinique, in which the tragic hero Christophe dies as a passionate champion for the
downtrodden negroes' deliverance from their oppression and for the dignity of their
country (Väldarnas Möte 4/1991, pp. 151-152; report from General Convention in
Swedenborgianism is represented in the old sugar island of Cuba up to the 1950s,
especially under American influence, and disappears when that influence does.
In the West Indies, Swedenborgianism was introduced by white immigrants from the United
States, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. But in most quarters, the adherents were drawn from
the colored population. On St. Croix in the 1860s, as in Jamaica at the same time, black
Swedenborgian preachers crop up.
West Africans of the West Indies
When we look at this historical development in its global context, we find obvious points
of connection with the war over Africa. The whole economy of the West Indies was based on
West Africa, a fact which was also underscored by the people who opposed slavery,
Wilberforce and others, among them Charles Wadström. The latter's vast project in West
Africa in the 1780s, the idea of a free state for freed slaves, the foundation of the city
of Freetown, resulted in his being regarded as the spiritual father of Liberia and Sierra
Leone, and his involvement rested initially in his reading of Swedenborg's writings. This
can be seen in the remarkable volume of the New Jerusalem Magazine for 1790, where the
situation in West Africa is the dominant subject. New Church pioneers, among them August
Nordenskiöld and Anders Johansén, colored Swedenborgianism's reputation from the outset
and gave it a distinctive direction. This is reflected not only in work for Africans in
Africa and the West Indies but also in American history leading up to the abolition of
slavery in 1861 and in Russia leading up to the abolition of serfdom in the same year.
We find here also the background-and this is no coincidence-to the fact that most of the
Swedenborgians in the world today are Africans (they live in West Africa as well as in
The background is historical, and the grounds are theological. How did all this happen,
what was it in particular that people took note of in Swedenborg and were inspired by?
The theological grounds for this pragmatic-political reform effort can be summarized under
several main points:
the emphasis on freedom as an inalienable human quality; free will as the foundation of
morality, responsibility for oneself
all human beings are equal before God: there is no predestination or _______ punishment
the emphasis on goodness, love of the neighbor, that action is more significant than
belief. The supreme importance of ethics
the Neighbor is society, the country, the human race in its entirety
the teaching of the profound spirituality of Africans
a doctrine of spirit that connected with African primal religion and readily appealed to
Persecution on the Island of Holy Cross
Kierulff's house at 31 Strand Gade had become too cramped, and was sold toward the end of
his life. In their private quarters, the members could make arrangements for meeting
places that at most accomodated assemblies and worship of seventy persons, and many were
turned away for lack of space and remained standing outside. The Swedenborgians looked for
new quarters, but everywhere met resistance from the church and from the authorities.
After the end of the 1840s, the number of members increased sharply. The original nucleus
of idealists and humanists of European ancestry was succeeded by people of African origin.
They held large meetings in secret in a school.
In a letter to Thomas Worcester of Boston, written on August 17, 1852, Elijah Bryan
reported that it was the New Church Society on St. Croix that wanted Worcester to ordain
him so that he could return and function fully as a minister there. But ever since the
first organizational meeting on June 28, 1846, he had at Kierulff's behest conducted
worship according to the liturgy of the English New Church and the principles of the
General Conference. The society was poor, he said: of the fifty who were baptized, only
three were well to do. These were plantation owners-primarily Ruan, Henderson, and
Johnson. Further, one has a glimpse of the growing number of colored families, with simple
artisans, seamstresses, cobblers, and firemen. New Swedenborg names step to the front.
After the emancipation, it was not merely the fact that protestants and Anglicans were
beginning to show interest in Swedenborg's teachings that roused further resistance. It
was not just adult baptism, communion, and Sunday Schools that Swedenborgians were
involved in. They had also begun to hold funeral services. One finds many Swedenborgians
buried out on plantations in the countryside, not in churchyards. Elijah Bryan's burial of
Mary Johnson, from an Anglican family, led to an overt schism with the English church.
Pastor Hawley was furious over the dentist Bryan's theft of a soul, in this instance for
The Danish pastor of the Lutheran church, Hother Hänschell of Church Street, also called
the New Church activity into question, as is evidenced by letters from 1851. Dr. Bryan's
lay spiritual activity came under attack, with all the greater determination to put a stop
Pastor Hawley roused the Anglicans against the Swedenborgians and said that he needed only
a sign to tear Bryan into ten thousand pieces! "I warn you," he said to Bryan, "never to
set foot on St. Croix, for if you do, I cannot an-swer for your safety," and he incited
his flock against the Swedenborgians, whom he called wolves in sheep's clothing.
The business man Zimmermann was driven from his shop and had to leave the island after the
man who held his loan became aware that he was a Swedenborgian and therefore had no right
to take out a loan. It was the Anglican church that lay behind this, and a member of the
church council warned anyone who converted to Swedenborgianism that "if they wish to have
nothing to do with us, we will have nothing to do with them."
Under Hawley's leadership, the Episcopal church even attacked Bryan physically, but after
protests from members of the society who increasingly turned against their leader's
aggressiveness, he began to cast suspicion on Swedenborgianism, stressing its illegality,
wrongfulness, and destructive immorality-and here the Anglican pastor made use of
quotations from the book on Marital Love (the second section) as proof. Opponents, then,
were also reading Swedenborg's writings, albeit with hostile intent. The fact was,
further, that Swedenborg's better known theological works were readily accessible in the
Virgin Islands, and Swedenborg's followers from the old families, the ones who were well
educated, were also very well read, to which Bryan bears witness in his reports.
There is evidence for ths also in a meeting of the noted American diplomat John Bigelow
with Vibe Kierulff on St. Thomas in 1853, a meeting which changed Bigelow's life and made
Swedenborg his life companion. At breakfast in a hotel, the strangers got into a
conversation about Abraham and the Bible, with Kierulff immediately referring to a passage
from Arcana Coelestia in his argument. He brought out the work and let Bigelow himself
read it. Later, he loaned Bigelow a whole bag of books for his trip to America, a voyage
which Bigelow recounts with appreciation and gratitude in his book, The Bible that Was
Lost and Is Found.
Bryan noted that New Church meetings were both public and private at one and the same
time. Permission had never been granted: it was just that they were not hindered by the
authorities. They continued as long as this was the case, and this held until the middle
of the 1850s. After that, they withdrew more and more. In spite of the new Danish
constitution of 1849, with its decree of religious freedom, they never received approval.
The opposition in their surroundings did not relax, so little by little the steam went out
of the whole meeting program. The only church with which they were in good standing was
the Hutterite Moravian church, which paid particular attention to schools and spiritual
care for the black population. Like Swedenborg himself during his period of spiritual
upheaval, the Swedenborgian church had friends among the Hutterites. In a sermon at the
Central Moravian Church, Pastor Hartine preached to his congregation of black working folk
about the new religion that had come to the island: "There is a New religion come into the
Island, but it is a Good religion."
Why did the meeting happen on St. Croixx right in the middle of the 1840smore precisely,
in the year 1846, and why did they meet in spite of the fact that it was forbidden? There
is something special about this point in time. At this time slavery had become such a
burning issue that the public temper was near the boiling point. In 1847, slavery was
abolished on St. Barthélemy. In 1848, slavery was abolished in the Virgin Islands.
Meetings attracted more and more participants. On St. Croix there were as many African
adherents as there were European, and on St. Thomas they were in large measure colored.
The original little white group had grown to a society that was predominantly colored.
When the controversial governor Peter von Scholten (1784-1854: he had a lifelong
relationship with a colored woman, and allowed the Swedenborgians to carry on) was
recalled to Denmark after the 1848 emancipation proclamation, many of the followers met
and wrote to the Danish king.
In the Eye of the Hurricane
We move ahead to the 1860s. The Swedenborgians had never gained official permission to
secure themselves a site for public meetings. All plans in this direction had failed. And
after the climax surrounding the emancipation year 1848 and for a few years thereafter, in
the 1850s, activity seemed gradually to fade away, partly because of opposition, partly to
lighten the load. Andreas Birch had moved his activity to St. Thomas. His health was
The time of frustration had begun when violent riots broke out in the 1870s. the sugar
plantations were no longer profitable with a decently paid working force. The whole sugar
economy, which had begun when Columbus brought sugar cane to the West Indies on his second
voyage (there had been none there previously) presupposed slavery. At the same time, in
the middle of the nineteenth century, the price of sugar was gradually falling on the
world market. The sugar beet, which was increasingly cultivated in Europe, heated up the
competition. The West Indies would never recover: today there is still the debris of
welfare in the slums, of devastated nature and expensive imports, with the source of
income being tourism. Voltaire, and after him Esaias Tegnér, summed up this whole epoch in
a few words. Tegnér wrote in 1848,
The negroes are lashed to death, alas!
To sugar your tea.
When I was searching through some archival material in the Whim plantation in the middle
of the island, I found some remarkable reminiscences in a tattered diary written by an
active, radical, humanitarian advocate of equality of the 1860s, Rachel Wilson Moore. It
showed that she and her husband, J. Wilson Moore, were acquainted with the Henderson
family of planters, known in Swedenborgian circles and numbered among the friends of von
Scholten. The plantation owner James G. Henderson was among those who signed letters both
to the governor (concerning the official recognition of the New Church) and to the king,
requesting von Scholten's pardon and return to the island.
I also read in these papers that Rachel Wilson Moore met R. G. Knight, owner of the Whim
plantation where I was sitting and reading the diary.
When, during her period of lectures and revival meetings, she looked for suitable quarters
for her talks, she met everywhere with excuses. The governor had heard that she was
driving around and talking about religion as well as about justice, politics, and morality
and was generating some heat among people with a strong social and spiritual message. He
had heard that she was a pastor from the Society of Friends in Philadelphia, and therefore
a Quaker. Governor Sharston warned her against holding meetings out in the open, to keep
the crowds from becoming impossible to control, and he warned her against talking about
wages, since wages had to be determined by circumstances.
She turned to the liberal Hutterites, the Brethren, Zinzendorf's oldest church in America,
which had for a long time carried on humanitarian work among the colored population and
was concerned with spiritual (but not social) liberation, to ask whether they could
provide space for her lectures, but the pastor refused, advising her that permission from
the authorities was not to be had. Ultimately, she received help from an unexpected
source, from a colored man who led a Swedenborgian circle, Among them she was neither
subversive nor strange. The remnant among the colored seemed still to be alive. One name
drops up-Aarenstrup. It is Danish, but the family circle she encountered was colored. The
Aarenstrups lived in Christiansted at 22 Kings Cross Street, that is, in the neighborhood
called Free Gut or Neger Gotted.
With the friendship of the Swedenborgians, Moore could arrange her own meetings. She
comments, "Our ideas about liberation rouse opposition among some, whereas for others they
are the most uplifting ideas in the world." Further, she began to attend their meetings.
On February 21, 1864, she attended a Swedenborgian meeting. This was almost forty years
after Swedenborgianism first began to spread on the island, and this is the last trace I
have found of organized activity. Ten years later, it all seems to have faded away. She
They are a little company, the master of which was the kind man who invited us to hold a
meeting in his commodious parlor, when we could obtain a place nowhere else. I felt it a
duty, and gave them, at the close some suitable counsel, which was kindly received.
Despite good will from many quarters, the economic conditions for social reform on the
islands were almost non-existent. The Moores were witnesses of the general decline both on
the plantations and in the cities where the destitute black population now began to
gather. Then came several years of drought in the 1870s, which eventually triggered revolt
and looting. When one of the Kierulff family was dispossessed of his house and shop in
1878 and the house was set ablaze on the night between the first and the second of
October, along with large sections of the city of Fredriksted, all hope ceased, and a
historical silence fell over the past years of struggle. Moore visited the Hanna's Rest
plantation in Fredriksted, where the Swedenborgian Ruan family lived and where the workers
were paid, but she saw decline there as well. In Christiansted and Fredriksted, Moore
paints a picture of "poverty, distress, and wretchedness," what in our own times are
called the poorhouses of the United States, and the hope of countless black families on
the islands rested on vouchers.
In the course of the revolution of 1878, Vibe Kierulff's widow died, the beautiful Susanna
Kerney Yackes, born in Bermuda in 1802. She was buried with her husband in the Lutheran
churchyard on St. Croix. He had died in 1874. Their many children (fifteen or sixteen, of
whom seven reached adult age) make it clear how the inheritance has been scattered, and
the Swedenborgian tradition has now disappeared from the islands. Their daughter Rosamunde
Vibe Kierulff died in 1900 in Colorado Springs, unmarried. Their daughter Cathrine Rebekka
Kierulff died in California in 1901.
Emanuel Swedenborg Kierulff and his son Emanuel have long since been deceased. However,
through the Kierulff family we have been able to follow the traces of Swedenborgianism for
three generations. Emanuel Swedenborg Kierulff's birth year, 1827, gives an indication of
how early this current reached the islands.
One can also trace the Lindberg (Linberg) family back to the islands. Supreme Court
Justice Jacob Lindberg (1745-1791) married Anna Caroline Heyliger (Krause), born in St.
Eustasius, died in 1788. They lived on the Annaberg plantation on St. Croix, owned by the
Krause family of Kings's Quarter, where Jacob Lindberg is also buried. His son was Henning
Gotfried Lindberg (born in 1874). married to Mary Lindberg, née Mary Mac Lachland. This
Swedenborgian couple became the first generation who were born Swedenborgians in the
Virgin Islands, quite certainly through their collaboration with Samson Reed of the New
Jerusalem Church in Massachusetts. In the 1830s, "Henning Gotfried Linberg" was a widely
known intellectual leader, known even to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who read Linberg's
translations of the lectures of the eclectic French philosopher Victor Cousins.
Persecution in the Virgin Islands led to Swedenborgianism on St. Croix gradually going
underground and disappearing. When the Danish era ended in 1917, its time was wholly past.
In the American Virgin Islands, one Swedenborgian or another has surfaced from time to
time. In 1952, the General Convention sent a contact person to the colored perople there,
Randolph Cruser in Christiansted, now disappeared. But there is no more collective
activity among the resident population, and all the books and writings have vanished as
individuals emigrated, blown away by the roaring hurricanes that invade this quarter of
the world at regular intervals, sinking boats and river houses, shattering human
destinies. Not one full year of any of the old newspapers has come to light in the
Swedenborgianism in the West Indies is intimately bound up with one era in this turbulent
The Linberg, Kierulff, and Birch families, originally of Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish
stock, who were at the head of New Church activity in the Danish West Indies, did not
import their faith from Scandanavia or receive it indirectly from the New Church abroad.
August Nordenskiöld had published his work, Församlingsformen i det Nya Jerusalem in
Copenhagen a half century earlier. But the Danish New Church Society, with its center in
Copenhagen, goes back no further than 1871, and is therefore coeval with the New Church in
Sweden. The first Danish New Church Society-therefore the first among Scandanavians-was
the one that was founded in the West Indies and that began its official activity on June
28, 1846, in the house of Carl Kierulff at 31 Strand Street in Christansted.
From a long historical distance, we can now glimpse the revolutionary spiritual and social
power and meaning which Swedenborgianism had among people of various backgrounds in a
period of transition; we sense this in its life of destiny in the remote West Indies, far
from the sites of their forefather's earthly homes.
In his 1852 hstory of the New Church, the Lund theologian and Swedenborgian Achatius Kahl
remarked about Anders Johan von Höpken that "it was worth noting that the great statesman
did not suggest Swedenborg's religious doctrines as appropriate for the state church in
Sweden, but only as suitable for the colonies of emigres from the motherland." The reason
was, Kahl thought, that Höpken recognized "the obstacles which in the eighteenth century
lay in the way of any dogmatic or liturgical improvement, however slight, in our church
Against the background of what we now know, Counsellor Höpken's proposal to the king of
Sweden two centuries ago appears in a new light.
Literature on the subject is almost completely lacking: the history of the New Church in
the West Indies is an unknown chapter. The preceding is merely a preliminary sketch
focusing on the formation of the society on St. Croix and based on an extensive collection
of documents. Printed material consists of notices and reports in contemporary New Church
publications, especially The Intellectual Repository and other periodicals published by
the General Conference in England and the General Convention in the United States. Baron
C. Dirckinck-Holmfeld's rare pamphlet, Den nye-christilige Kirke og dens Menighed paa St.
Croix: Med inledning og Notiser om Swedenborg (Copenhagen, 1853), refers to the
application of the West Indian society for official sanction for public worship activity
and argues at length in support of it, but unfortunately offers no information about the
society. The meeting between John Bigelow, as surprising as it was significant, is
described largely in Bigelow's own terms by Margaret Clapp in Chapter 8 of John Bigelow:
Forgotten First Citizen. That the Swedenborgian mentioned was actually Procurator Vibe
Kierulff is my own (highly probably) conclusion.
The above study rests primarily on field interviews and archival studies. I am gratefully
indebted to many local historians, archivists, and others with special knowledge or
interest in my cconstantly confusing questions, who were willing to help me in my quest.
Foremost among them are Carol Wakefield of the St. Croix Landmarks Society in Whim, Erik
and Frits Lawaetz in Christiansted and Fredriksted, Curator William F. Cissel of
Christiansværn, Louise Woofenden and Jonathan Mitchell of the Swedenborg School of
Religion in Newton, Massachusetts, where one may also find manuscript material from
Jamaica that has not been studied, Carroll Odhner of the Swedenborg Library in Bryn Athyn,
Pannsylvania, Nancy Dawson of the Swedenborg Society in London, who granted me access to
many of A. C. Birch's letters in the original and in copies. Last but by no means least I
should like to mention the patient and generous staff of the State Archives in Copenhagen,
who let me freely handle the immense, handwritten Folketællinger of the Virgin Islands for
the 1840s, which give information about the people named in this account-their
occupations, years of birth, addresses, baptismal faiths, children, and (in some