History in Virgin Islands

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Columbus Finds Beautiful Women

Columbus found the Virgin Islands on his way to India in 1493 and he named the islands “The Virgins” after St Ursula and her 11,000 virgins that were considered to be the most beautiful women in the world. European settlers came in 1652 and found that the native's Columbus had found were no longer there and had probably given in to the aggressive people of neighboring island and died or fled elsewhere.

The Danes Become Aggressive

The Danes claimed the island of St. John in the 1680's, but the British on nearby Tortola believed they had rights to the island and became extraordinarily aggressive. Eventually they allowed Danes to settle on St. John in order to maintain a good relationship with Denmark. They had already acquired St. Thomas and then purchased St. Croix in 1733. This formed the Danish West Indies.

Resources and Slaves

St. John was known for its plantations and used African slaves to farm cotton and sugar cane and process it into sugar. In 1733 a revolt was waged against plantation owners because they practiced slavery. It started in Fortsberg when 14 slaves stole into the city with knives hidden in bundles of wood. They killed 6 men in the garrison and took over the fort firing the cannon as a sign to the other slaves. The revolt went on for 7 months until soldiers from another island helped to settle the dispute. Almost a quarter of the island's population had been killed. In 1848 Governor Peter von Scholten, in direct opposition to an order by the King, declared all slaves free and slavery was abolished. Unfortunately plantation owners were reluctant to accept this and strict labor laws forced some plantation owners to abandon their land and the economy on St. John and other Danish ruled islands went into a period of decline. Boosting this bad luck was famine and a few hurricanes that devastated the area.

Here Comes the United States

The United States bought the three islands in 1917 for $25 million in gold. This purchase was an effort to improve military positioning during World War I and the three islands became US Virgin Islands. Residents were not granted American citizenship upon transfer and this caused some dissension. The Organic Act was passed in 1936 putting the islands under the jurisdiction of the US President making residents are US citizens.

St. John Today

St John is the home to 5000 acres of land used as a National Park. It was given to develop as a park in 1956 by Laurance Rockefeller and almost two-thirds of the island are devoted to this park.

Tourist trade started in the mid 1900's. Hotels, restaurants, and shops began to be built near the beach. St. John is now a premier vacation destination for people all over the world a far cry from the land of plantations it was in the beginning.

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