This article was adapted by Lindsay Negrello, Librarian at the University of the Virgin Islands, from the St. Croix Avis’s title essay first published in Chronicling America

The St. Croix Avis (sn84037526) began publication in 1844 under the direction of editor and publisher Richard Hatchett in Christiansted, St. Croix (VI). It is a successor of the Royal Danish American Gazette (sn84037521), the first known newspaper published in the Virgin Islands. R. Hatchett published the Avis until the 1860s, under the authority of the Danish West Indian Government. The first digitized issue confirms that on January 3, 1865, the newspaper was edited by Hans Hatchett, and that it “published every Tuesday and Friday for the proprietress”. The masthead includes a printed note in Danish during this time “Udgiver: Hans Hatchett – Trykt I Enken Harriet Hatchett’s Bogtrykerri” which translates to “Publisher: Hans Hatchett – Printed in the widow Harriet Hatchett’s printing house”. 

Throughout its publication, issues of the Avis were formatted into three columns and were typically four pages in length, with an occasional addition of a fifth or sixth “supplemental” page. From its inception until 1917, the Avis published a considerable amount of its content in Danish, indicative of the island’s Danish-speaking population of the time. Common Danish-language sections included Bekendtgorelse (Announcement), Proklama (Proclamation), Auktion (Auction), and Ansaettelser (Appointments). The Danish translation went first, the English second. As seen in the 1914-1915 financial year extract of the accounts for the Municipality of St. Croix.

The Avis‘s journalists often compared what was happening in the European governed territories regarding slavery on the island and its management, reflecting more on the economic advantages that are critical to understanding the “why” of slavery.

A serialized essay from the Edinburg Review entitled “The West Indies as They Were and Are” published in increments throughout 1865, questions the financial wisdom of the emancipation of enslaved people in the West Indies. This type of material makes clear that the paper was written for and from the colonial viewpoint.

From its inception, the St. Croix Avis reported on local weather and natural disasters. It frequently printed records of rainfall on the island, and coverage of hurricanes and their damage, not only as they occurred, but also on the anniversary of major events to acknowledge and observe past disasters and the damage left in their wake. In this supplement from November 4th, 1867, the writer wonders why there has been no official coverage of what was obviously a devastating hurricane that hit St. Thomas.  Reports of natural disasters extended beyond the Virgin Islands and often included coverage of their impact throughout the Caribbean.

The transition towards an English-language publication gained momentum after the United States acquired the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917. By 1919, the Danish translations ceased entirely, clearly indicating a surge of patriotism within the newly established United States Virgin Islands. This shift is exemplified in a report from St. Thomas Mail Notes, which documented the celebration in observance of Citizenship Day on St. Thomas.

The Avis featured no illustrations until the 1920s, when they started to appear in artful advertisements like these Saturday ads for “Nuxated Iron.”  Saturday, March 6th, 1920. 
Saturday February 28th, 1920
Friday, January 16th, 1920

The content of the St. Croix Avis offers a critical reflection of its unique importance as the first newspaper of the United States Virgin Islands. Initially, the paper catered to, reflected, informed, and represented the interests of the colonizing nation, Denmark. However, as time went on, the paper began to reflect the experiences of native Virgin Islanders.  

By December of 1941, the motto of the paper was clearly displayed, “Champion of Public Right and Justice.”

Beginning in July 1947, the outline of the three islands making up the U.S. Virgin Islands was added to the masthead with the words “Strength in Unity” on the right and “More than a Century Old, Established 1844” on the left.

Perspectives are many and varied: from the delightful excursion into the social media of the day when library books were recalled through newspaper announcements, employees disputed termination causes in the media, to editorials on issues that are relevant to Virgin Islanders today, such as this 1963 front-page headline and article on the privatization of beaches on St. Croix.

The paper provides a rich diversity of reporting picked up from national and international correspondents and the Avis’s own contacts in Cuba, Latin America, and Europe. These reports demonstrate the anxieties of residents, preoccupations of the U.S. mainland with social and economic conditions, and challenges in the territory. By virtue of the longevity of the Avis, researchers can track the changes in the power dynamics of the Virgin Islands as well the changes in readership and cultural focus.

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