Welcome to the U.S. Virgin Islands!
The Virgins–many American, others British–are part of the curving Antilles chain that separates the Caribbean and Atlantic. Among the most beautiful geographic areas in the world, they are blessed with powdery beaches and sun-drenched weather. Islanders represent many nationalities and backgrounds with the majority of African descent.
The islands lie in the path of soft tradewinds blowing direct from Portugal, which perhaps accounts for the fact that “Santa Cruz” was among the first of the islands to be sighted by Columbus on his second voyage westward. He made landfall at Salt River on the north shore of the island. He then sailed northeast, passing St. Thomas, St. John and Tortola and called them collectively Las Virgenes.
After that excitement the islands went back to sleep for more than a hundred and fifty years. They woke to find the French Tricolor on St. Croix, the flag of Denmark planted on St. Thomas and the Union Jack flapping over Tortola (where it still flies). The Arawak Indian population had disappeared. Denmark later bought St. Croix, claimed St. John and began to build the Danish West Indies into thriving sugar cane and trading islands.
Slaves were imported from Africa early on to work the growing number of sugar plantations. The islands were also used as a base for reshipment of slaves to other areas. After the Danish abolition of slavery in 1848, planters began to abandon their estates and the population and economy dwindled.
Threatened by German expansion during World War I, the U.S. bought the Danish West Indies March 31, 1917 and made them American territories. Even then the islands were expensive real estate–almost $300 an acre. In 1927, residents were granted U.S. citizenship. Until 1931, the islands were administered by the U.S. Navy. Then they were placed under the Department of the Interior with a governor appointed by the President. A locally elected legislature of 15 members from the three U.S. Virgin Islands has operated since 1954 but it wasn’t until 1970 that islanders could vote for their own governor and, in 1972, a delegate to the U.S. Congress. Though U.S. citizens and taxpayers, residents cannot vote for the President of the United States. And the Washington representative votes in committees only, having no vote on the floor of the House.
Since 1960 the U.S. Virgin Islands have nearly tripled in population. Estimates put the figure at 60,000 on St. Croix, 50,000 on St. Thomas and 2,900 on St. John.
Largest of the islands (28 miles long, 7 miles wide) St. Croix is one of the most beautiful resort areas in the Caribbean. Once an island of planters–Alexander Hamilton spent his boyhood here–it is dotted with the ruins and restorations of over 100 sugar mills and great houses. Much of its charm lies in gently rolling hills, stretches of beach and a variety of landscapes from dry cacti-covered areas to a dense rain forest. The historic past can be glimpsed at Estate Whim, an eighteenth century plantation great house and outbuildings, restored by the Landmark Society. The present is represented by elegant resort hotels, golf courses, tennis courts, wonderful snorkeling and scuba diving. Residents are known as Cruzans.
St. Thomas (13 miles long, 3 miles wide), half the size of St. Croix, is capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands and it is there that the governor and legislature conduct their business. Charlotte Amalie’s deep-water harbor, once teeming with four-masted trading ships, now plays host to visiting cruise ships and an impressive fleet of sail and power boats. Dozens of mini islands and cays encircle St. Thomas and St. John and add to the impressive scenery. Some are merely points on navigational charts, others have snippets of history and a few are populated.
Two-thirds of the island of St. John (9 miles long, 5 miles wide) is a National Park donated to the U.S. government by Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1956. One of the most beautiful of the Virgins, it is also the most serene, surrounded by shimmering bays and beaches
Climate: The weather in the US Virgin Islands averages a temperature of 82 degrees, and most days are warm with a cooling breeze.
Currency: The U.S. dollar.
Where are the US Virgin Islands located?
For more information on the US Virgin Islands please visit:
US Virgin Island department of tourism website: http://www.visitusvi.com/