Anyone who has ever visited the Virgin Islands has some sense of the evolution of this tropical island chain. Like most islands in the Caribbean the islands were first settled by natives mistakenly called “Indians” by Christopher Columbus. WhenColumbus discovered these islands back in 1493, he called them the Virgin Islands because he sensed they were virginal and ripe for the picking. Some sources use a myth about St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins as the source for naming the islands. With the Spanish intrusion, slaves were introduced and a lively slave trade conducted.
Diseases the Europeans introduced to the native population wiped out two thirds of the native Indians. A slave rebellion in July 1858 freed the slaves but also restricted labor for the plantations. As a result the islands economy soured and plantation life became a thing of the past. Conditions improved slowly. Three islands in the chain were purchased by the US In 1917 and became the US Virgin Islands. A fourth island was added in the 1990s. Britain possessed seventy islands in the chain and Spain possessed four islands in the chain. The whole Virgin island chain went through a period of depression brought on by natural disasters and changing economies in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
It wasn’t until the mid 1950s that a new tourist industry was developed out of the ashes of lost dreams of gold and prosperity. National Parks dedicated to preserving and restoring the natural beauty of the islands were a big draw. Tourism remains a multi-million dollar industry for the Virgin Islands.
US Virgin Islands
St. Croix celebrates their emancipation from slavery every July 3rd. US History is tied to this island in two ways. Alexander Hamilton, our first Secretary of the Treasury was born here. Many Americans can trace their ancestors here and it gave people of color an ideal for freeing themselves. Black history tours are very popular.
British Virgin Islands
Financial services and offshore companies reign here. Tourism is also a big draw. Most tourists visit Virgin Gorda for its spectacular boulder formation known as “The Baths.” Others may visit St. Kitts which is actually an independent island in the chain.
Spanish Virgin Islands
Actually the two islands named as the Spanish Virgin Islands, Vieques and Culebra are now considered part of Puerto Rico and belong to the US. They came a part of the treaty the US signed with Spain in 1898. These islands are known for their great fishing industries and activities.