U.S. Virgin Islands History

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This territory of the United States was a territory of Denmark from the 1600s until 1917. The U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas) were purchased from Denmark on January 17, 1917. They are about 60 miles east of Puerto Rico, in the northeast Caribbean Sea, helping to separate the Caribbean from the North Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. Virgin Islands lie southwest of the British Virgin Islands. In Danish records they are called Dansk Vestindien or De Danskvestindiske Øer.

The early economy centered around cane sugar plantations worked by African slaves. Slaves were emancipated in 1848. Sugar cane lost its competitive advantage by the 1800s. Now, tourism has become the major industry.

Pre-Colombian St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas

The Caribs Historically warring cannibals. "The hair of these savages was long and coarse, their eyes were encircled with paint, so as to give them hideous expression. Bands of cotton were bound firmly above and below the muscular parts of the arms and legs, so as to cause them to swell to a disproportionate size.”

The Arawaks – generally peaceful

To the Spanish 1493, Virgin Islands were deemed the “useless islands”.

Timeline

Settled by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks.

1493 Spanish Arrival
1625 Dutch Settlement on St. Croix (abandoned by 1645)
1650 Spanish occupation on St. Croix (abandoned).
1651 French Settlements
1672 The Danish West India & Guinea Company settle on St. Thomas.
1694 The Danish West India & Guinea Company settle on St. John.
1695 The French abandon St. Croix.
1733 The Danish West India & Guinea Co. purchase St. Croix from the French.
1754 The Virgin Islands were proclaimed a Royal Danish Colony.
1792 Slavery outlawed (effective 1803)
1801 - 1802 British occupation (Napoleonic Wars).
1807 - 1815 British occupation (Napoleonic Wars).
1820's - 1840's Economic depression as sugar beet production in Europe replaced the need for sugar cane.
1848 Slaves Freed
1878 Frederiksted is burned (social revolt)
1917 The Danish government sells the Danish U.S. Virgin Islands to the United States Government.

Reference: World History at KMLA

Historic Economic Activities

  • Tobacco
  • Indigo
  • Sugar (from sugar cane)
  • Last Sugar harvest 1966
  • Oil (St.Croix)
  • Tourism

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