The U.S Territories (St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix) and the British Virgin Islands (to the north and east) are among the most beautiful geographical areas in the world, blessed with powdery beaches and sun-drenched weather.
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 islands to be sighted by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage westward. He then sailed northeast, passing St Thomas, St John and Tortola and called them collectively Las Vierges.
After his visit, the islands went back to sleep for more than a hundred and fifty years. They woke to find the flag of Denmark planted on St. Thomas, the French Tricolor on St. Croix and the Union Jack flapping over Tortola (where it still flies). The Arawak Indian population had disappeared. Denmark later claimed St. John, bought St. Croix and built the Danish West Indies into thriving sugar cane and trading islands.
Slaves were imported early to work the growing number of sugar plantations. The islands were also used as a base for re-shipment of slaves to other areas. After the Danish abolished 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 (now the American Virgin Islands) on march 31, 1917. 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 (15 members from all three islands) has operated since 1852 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, residents have no vote in national elections. Nor does the Washington representative have a vote on the floor of the house.
Historical Postcard Collection Courtesy of Ron Lockhart