Next we'll give alittle history . . . Christopher Columbus came
upon St. Croix on November 14, 1493, during his second voyage to the
Americas. He sent a crew ashore at St. Croix's Salt River inlet in search of
potable water; there followed a brief confrontation with some of the island's
Taino inhabitants, resulting in deaths on both sides. The Great Admiral
promptly moved on to chart the numerous islands to the north, naming the entire
group including St. Croix the Virgin Islands, in honor of the legendary
virginal devotees of St. Ursula. He later christened the island Santa Cruz, or
As the Spaniards concentrated their early efforts in the
Caribbean on the Greater Antilles, St. Croix's native inhabitants may have
escaped the initial impact of the conquest. But in the early 1500s, when the
Spanish began to raid the island for slaves to work their gold mines in more
lucrative colonies, a renewed native resistance served as the justification for
the extermination of the Caribbean's indigenous peoples. By the early 1600s,
when the island was permanently settled, the Tainos Columbus encountered on St.
Croix had utterly disappeared.
The Dutch and English were among the first to establish
themselves on St. Croix; both powers had a presence on the island by 1625. The
Dutch shared their settlement with a handful of French Huguenots from nearby
St. Kitts. The two colonies coexisted without major incident until 1645, when
the island's Dutch governor killed his English counterpart. A skirmish ensued
between the two colonies during which the Dutch governor was mortally wounded.
The English colonists extended a conciliatory invitation to his successor;
however, upon his arrival at the colony, the Dutch official was arrested and
publicly executed. The Dutch were forced to abandon their colony and retire to
St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, while their French neighbors relocated to
Guadeloupe. The English solidified their claim on St. Croix and remained
unchallenged for the next four years.
In 1650, the English settlement was overrun by 1,200 Spanish
colonists from Puerto Rico. Dutch forces from St. Eustatius tried
unsuccessfully to recapture St. Croix. Later that year, Philippe de Lonvilliers
Poincy, Governor of the French West Indies, claimed possession of St. Croix in
the name of the French Crown. DePoincy, the leader of the Knights of Malta,
then purchased the island from the French king in 1651 and directed a group of
his fellow knights to colonize St. Croix. In 1653, he bestowed his private
holdings in the West Indies to the order and sent one Chevalier de la Mothe to
St. Croix with supplies. The unfortunate emissary met with a rather ignoble
fate as he was apprehended and shackled by some 200 rebellious French
colonists, who made off with his ship.
Two years later, a new governor was sent to restore order to the
colony. The knights, however, unaccustomed to the rigors of managing
plantations, failed to establish a viable economy on St. Croix. In 1665, the
French West India Company bought all the islands owned by the Knights of Malta,
and in 1674, the French king paid the company's debts, assuming ownership of
all its holdings. Unable to turn the colony around, the king ordered its
residents to relocate to Santo Domingo. Although still a French possession, St.
Croix was abandoned save for a few squatters until well into the next century.
The Danish West India and Guinea Company bought the island from
the French in 1733. Attracted by cheap land, planters, mostly English, flocked
to St. Croix from neighboring islands. But the company's impending bankruptcy
prompted the settlers to petition the Danish king for aid, and the island was
made a Crown Colony in 1755. The Danish influence, more lasting than that of
any other European power, is particularly evident today in the gingerbread
architecture of Christiansted and Frederiksted.
During the second half of the 18th century, the island enjoyed a
period of enormous economic prosperity based on the cultivation of sugar, the
production of rum, and the slave trade. The Danish West Indies served as a
central slave marketplace in the region, and despite the protestations of the
Danish Crown, St. Croix's planters relied heavily on slave labor. The Danish
government declared slavery illegal in 1792 but assisted planters in acquiring
slaves during a "transition" period; the slave trade was abolished in 1803.
However, St. Croix's slaves would not achieve independence until July 3, 1848,
when Governor-General Peter von Scholten roused from his bed in the wee hours
of the morning by the news of a slave insurrection ordered their immediate
The British recaptured St. Croix in 1807 and held the island
during the Napoleonic Wars much to the relief of St. Croix's English planters,
who had been chafing under trade restrictions imposed by the Danish Crown. But
the island reverted to Denmark in 1815, and the next 30 years brought drought
and widespread economic depression.
During the second half of the 19th century, St. Croix suffered a
series of natural disasters including a fire in Christiansted, an earthquake
and tidal wave and two hurricanes that exacerbated the colony's woes. The
economy did not fully recover until the middle of this century.
In 1917, the United States purchased St. Croix, St. John and St.
Thomas from the Danish government to prevent their becoming a German submarine
base during World War I. St. Croix first fell under the jurisdiction of the
U.S. Navy and was later granted Territorial status. A period of uneven economic
recovery continued until the 1950s, when tourists began to discover the island.
Since then, the industry and the island has seen steady growth.
Today, the U.S. Virgin Islands is an unincorporated Territory
with a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Although all
persons born here are U.S. citizens and taxpayers, they have no vote in
national elections. Islanders were granted the vote in local elections in 1936
and chose their first governor in 1970.