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The United States Virgin Islands is a group of islands in the Caribbean that are an insular area of the United States. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles.

The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas, along with the much smaller but historically distinct Water Island, and many other surrounding minor islands. The total land area of the territory is 133.73 square miles (346.4 km2). As of the 2000 census the population was 108,612.[2]

The main islands have nicknames often used by locals: "Twin City" (St. Croix), "Rock City" (St. Thomas), "Love City" (St. John), and "Small City" (Water Island).

History

The Virgin Islands were originally settled by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. The islands were named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Over the next three hundred years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Denmark-Norway.

The Danish West India Company settled on Saint Thomas in 1672, on Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754, their name translating to Jomfruøerne in Danish. Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands′ economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries, until the abolition of slavery by Governor Peter von Scholten on July 3, 1848.

For the remainder of the period of Danish rule, the islands were not economically viable and significant transfers were made from the Danish state budgets to the authorities in the islands. In 1867 a treaty to sell Saint Thomas and Saint John to the United States was agreed, but the sale was never effected.[4] A number of reforms aimed at reviving the islands′ economy were attempted, but none had great success. A second draft treaty to sell the islands to the United States was negotiated in 1902 but was narrowly defeated in the Danish parliament.[4]

The onset of World War I brought the reforms to a close and again left the islands isolated and exposed. During the submarine warfare phases of the First World War, the United States, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base, again approached Denmark with a view to buying them. After a few months of negotiations, a selling price of $25 million was agreed. The Danish Crown may have felt some pressure to accept the sale, thinking that the United States would seize the islands if Denmark was invaded by Germany. At the same time the economics of continued possession weighed heavily on the minds of Danish decision makers, and a bipartisan consensus in favor of selling emerged in the Danish parliament. A subsequent referendum held in late 1916 confirmed the decision to sell by a wide margin. The deal was thus finalized on January 17, 1917, when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. The U.S. took possession of the islands on March 31, 1917 and the territory was renamed the Virgin Islands of the United States.

U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927.

Water Island, a small island to the south of Saint Thomas, was initially administered by the U.S. Federal government and did not become a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands territory until 1996, when 50 acres (20 ha) of land was transferred to the territorial government. The remaining 200 acres (81 ha) of the island were purchased from the US Department of the Interior in May 2005 for $10, a transaction which marked the official change in jurisdiction.

VIRGIN ISLANDS COUNTIES


Saint Thomas

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