Coal Token

$150.00

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Description

The crowd was so thick, it had to be penned in by the militia. As the morning’s steamships docked at St. Thomas harbor awaiting fuel, 200 coal carriers had marched down Main Street to the ship offices brandishing sticks and machetes. At their helm was Queen Coziah, a bamboula dancer known for her biting lyrics, leading the protesters in singing and shouting at the police station, the governments secretary’s office and the Big Market at Market Square to demand a pay raise. They were crowded into two blocks by police and armed soldiers equipped with two cannons who threatened to fire. But by the time a heavy rain pelted the crowd at noon, the steamship workers had conceded to the coal women’s demands, agreeing to pay them “dollar for dollar” in Danish money instead of the coal tokens circulating widely throughout the economy. A 19th-century newspaper described Sept 1, 1892 as an “eventful day” and concluded that it was “seldom in the history of St. Thomas that such a scene has been witnessed”.

During the “coaling era” from 1840-1935 women flocked to the ships in numbers to be coal carriers because there were few jobs available. They walked back and forth up gangplanks to the shipyard at West Indian Company, toting a minimum of 800 tons of coal a day, balanced in baskets on their heads, taking home a salary of approximately $1 per day for their efforts. They worked 9 hours per day 6 days a week. “It was back-breaking work going from the pier itself to the ship with this load,” said Edward Thomas, President and CEO of The West Indian Company which still exists to this day.