by Anders Hallengren

translated from
“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

colored minority.

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

Philadelphia, 1817).

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

South Africa).

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

its people.

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

to it.

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

instances) color.

contact phil at for any problems or comments