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U.S Virgin Islands - Danish West Indies (1798-1842)

Dansk i Vestindien

Last modified: 2003-06-14 by dov gutterman
Keywords: virgin islands | denmark |
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blue ensign
by Chrystian Kretowicz, 7 Febuary 2003

blue pennant
by Chrystian Kretowicz, 7 Febuary 2003

white ensign
by Chrystian Kretowicz, 7 Febuary 2003

See also:


According to Dr. Henning Henningsen (Flag Bulletin # 207, Sept-Oct 2002) there were distinctive flags flown by the Danish in West Indien (Dansk i Vestindien) Dr. Henningsen provides documentation of the usage of those flags in the period between 1798 and 1842 (at least). There were three flags: blue, white and blue pennant. Also, in 1914 the Coat-of-Arms was designed, but because of the World War I, it was never implemented. And in 1917, the little Danish paradise in the Caribbean was sold to the Americans, who promptly renamed it United States Virgin Islands.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 7 Febuary 2003

I would appeal for some caution here before proclaiming this set of flags to be ensigns and pennants of the Danish West Indies. It is by no means certain that all of them are connected with the Danish West Indies and there is great need to be specific about what kind of flags they were, or in other words what kind of function they had. Labelling the blue and white flag with the Dannebrog in canton as ensigns of the Danish West Indies may be interpreted to the effect that they were used instead of the normal Danish ensign, which was almost certainly not the case.
I was a bit surprised to see this short article appear in The Flag Bulletin. The reason is that neither the author (who will be 92 later this year) nor the editor seems to be aware of the most thorough scholarly treatment of these flags. I am thinking of the article "Dannebrog i blått på danske og norske skip" by Jan Henrik Munksgaard published in Sjøfartshistorisk årbok, Bergen, 1985 (in Norwegian, but with captions and a summary in English) [mun85]. I would be very surprised if Henningsen does not know this work and it makes me wonder when the short article in The Flag Bulletin was actually written.
The white flag with the Dannebrog in the canton is the one with the weakest connection to the Danish West Indies. As connected with the Danish West Indies it is only known from the flag book by Gabriel Hesselberg (by Munksgaard dated by the contents to have been made sometime between 1802 and 1808, Henningsen in The Flag Bulletin gives the date 1805). However, the white flag with the Dannebrog canton and the word "LODS" added in the fly was authorized for use on Norwegian pilot boats in 1805.
As for the blue pennant with the Dannebrog, Munksgaard has found more than 30 illustrations of it in Norwegian sources alone, covering the period 1798 to 1833. It was used on larger ships in foreign waters, some marine paintings show its use on vessels in Mediterranean ports, the pennant flying from the tallest mast. However, it was also used on smaller boats in Norwegian costal waters. From available sources, it is difficult to see in what way the pennant is associated with the Danish West Indies. According to Munksgaard, the varied use makes it difficult to identify any particular purpose or function for this pennant.
As for the blue flag with the Dannebrog canton I might mention that I already reported this one in April 1997. First of all, it is important to note that no official legal description authorized the flag. It is known from illustrations in paintings or drawings and from a limited number of flag books or manuscripts. Munksgaard investigated the available sources, ten paintings/drawings and three flag books/manuscripts, showing this flag. He points out that the flag is usually shown flying on the foretopmast of the ships and that is does not fly at the stern as an ensign. This place is reserved for the Danish ensign. The foretopmast position was usually, Munksgaard tells us, reserved for ship owner flags or for flags showing the destination of the ship. As most of the paintings are of ships either in Danish/Norwegian waters, or of ships depicted in ports elsewhere in Europe, it does not appear correct to say that this was a flag used by the Danish in the West Indies. Munksgaard's conclusion is that the blue flag with the Dannebrog canton was possibly used as a courtesy ensign used by ships sailing for the Danish West Indies.
Also note that this 1914's CoA proposal was a private one, never an official project.
Jan Oskar Engene, 9 Febuary 2003

I wouldn't argue at all with the educated facts presented by Jan Oskar, but I want to add to the confussion with a story I recalled from the visit to the islands in 1968. Browsing in the old books' store in Charlotte Amalie I spotted a painting showing the ship flying the white flag but with the Danish Naval Jack (swallowtailed)in the canton. I had asked the store owner what that flag represented (and he seemed to be well read in the history of the islands), to which he answered it used to be an unofficial flag (or ensign, I don't remember clearly) of the Danish West Indies. I made the hand drawing of that flag for my collection and it is still in my files. Granted, I doubt the man was an authority on the subject, but,otherwise, he did impress me with his knowledge of the local history and the great enthusiasm for it.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 9 Febuary 2003

This combination - the Danish war ensign (which is also used as the jack) in the canton of a white flag - is not mentioned in any of the sources known to me, so it is indeed a new flag as Chrystian says. It would be very interesting to know the name of the ship, the location, the date the painting was made, the artist, etc. so that the flag can by analyzed further. Until more is known, I for my part will not pass any conclusions.
Jan Oskar Engene, 10 Febuary 2003

Flags According to Steenbergen Book (1862)

by Jaume Ollé, 16 March 2003

No. 371 - Danish Antillas.
Source: [stb62]
Jaume Ollé, 16 March 2003