Seven facts about the US virgin islands
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1. THE ISLANDS WERE DANISH-OWNED FOR ALMOST 300 YEARS. The Danish West Indian Company began settling St. Thomas in 1665, then staked out St. John in the 1680s. The company bought St. Croix—then a French colony—in 1733, creating the three-island Danish West Indies.
2. THE U.S. WANTED TO MAKE THE ISLANDS A TERRITORY FOR A LONG TIME. As early as 1863, Denmark and the U.S. started talking about a transfer of the islands. However, the U.S. Senate did not ratify the proposal, and the negotiations halted until 1914, when the United States started to become concerned about Germany getting a foothold in the Caribbean—and access to the Panama Canal—as World War I progressed. The Treaty of the Danish West Indies was signed in 1916, and Denmark and the United States closed the deal in early 1917.
3. THE CAPITAL’S ORIGINAL NAME MEANT “TAP HOUSE.” Settled by the Danish in 1666, the capital city today known as Charlotte Amalie, located on St. Thomas, was home to so many taverns that it was originally given the name Taphus, or “Tap House”. After nearly 30 years and much merriment, the Danes changed the name to honor King Christian V’s wife, Charlotte Amalie.
4. ST. JOHN WAS THE SITE OF A FAMOUS SLAVE REBELLION. Slavery was a major industry in the Virgin Islands for more than two hundred years. For a brief period, though, the brutal institution was turned on its head. In 1733, enslaved individuals belonging to the Amina peoples of Ghana’s Ashanti empire, including several tribal leaders, defeated a garrison of Danish soldiers stationed at a fort on Coral Bay. The action sparked an uprising, and for 6 months St. John’s slaves controlled the island. In May 1734, French troops arrived and regained control.
5. At a couple spots throughout the Virgin Islands, the water lights up at night as if electrified. Known as bioluminescence, this rare phenomenon is caused by the blooming of millions of tiny plankton called dinoflagellate. Conditions have to be just right, and one of the best places in the world to find them is Salt River Bay, located on St. Croix. There, outfitters offer night tours, often in glass bottom boats so tourists can get a close look at the light show.
6. Approximately 75% of the population of the island are descendants from African ancestors who came to the Caribbean as slaves in order to work on the sugar plantations. The rest are immigrants from Puerto Rico, North America, The Dominican Republic, Europe, the Middle East, India and other countries.
7. In the late 17th century the Virgin Islands, and particularly St. Thomas, were known as a haven for pirates. Adolph Esmit, an early governor of St. Thomas, helped establish this reputation by offering safe harbor in exchange for favorable trade. In 1683, he helped the infamous Jean Hamlin escape capture by English forces, and even secured a getaway boat for the French pirate.