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Young People, History Buffs Gather to Remember 1733 Uprising

Nov. 23, 2007 — As they have every year for two dozen years, a group led by UVI professors Gene Emanuel and Gilbert Sprauve on Friday honored those enslaved people who rose up against their owners in 1733 at Fortsberg, St. John.
While many people call it a revolt, it was really a revolution, said St. Thomas resident Sele Adeyemi, addressing nearly 50 people gathered at the foot of the hill leading to the old fort.
"If the revolution was successful, St. John would be an independent African state," St. Thomas resident K. Leba Ola-Niyi added later.
In a series of questions, Ola-Niyi asked the mostly youthful group how they would feel if someone raided their village, branded them, packed them into a ship like sardines and sold them at Emancipation Garden on St. Thomas.
"If you were a man, you'd get the highest price," he said, adding that youths like themselves brought the lowest price. He also asked them how they would feel if they had to work from sunup to sundown with a whip across their backs.
"Bad," was the answer to each of the questions.
The Africans who fomented the revolution originally gathered at the plantation just across the road from where the group gathered on Friday, Adeyemi said.
"But when the Danes took the fort, they moved to Bordeaux," he said. "It was even higher."
The Africans came ashore on St. John in the area where the Shipwrecking Landing restaurant now sits, St. Thomas resident Larry Sewer said after the ceremony. He said his family still owns land in that area, located outside Coral Bay. Sewer's family traces its last name to Ghana, where most V.I. residents descended from enslaved people can also trace their ancestry.
"In Ghanian, it's Sowah" instead of "Sewer," he said.
Jah Weh David of St. Thomas read an original poem about the inspiration she feels from those who rebelled long ago at Fortsberg.
"I see you watching us, guiding us along the way," she said.
Friday's program brought out youthful groups from the Human Services Department's Right of Passage program, the V.I. History program at Eudora Kean High School and other youths, as well as a handful of members of the St. John Historical Society, including Peter Burgess.
"This is the most historical event that occurred on St. John," he said.
Mohammed Maftahi, a Moroccan native teaching biology at UVI, said he attended to learn about this important event.
Sprauve said he plans to ask for assistance from Gov. John deJongh Jr. to get Christian Oldendorp's book on the history of the Virgin Islands, Geschichte der Mission der Evangelische Brüder auf den caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan, translated from German, because the contents are important when it comes to understanding V.I. history. Oldendorp gathered information for the book in the 1700s while serving as a Moravian missionary.
The day's events also included stops at several former plantations and the hike up the hill to Fortsberg.
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