St. John History

The first inhabitants of the Virgin Islands, arriving in the first century from South America, were the peaceful Arawak Indians.  1300 years later, the fierce Carib Indians took control.  When Christopher Columbus dropped anchor on St. Croix on 1493, he received a harrowing greeting from this cannibalistic tribe.  Not easily put off, Columbus named the islands Las Virgines in honor of the 11- thousand virgins martyred with St. Ursula.  Spain declared ownership of the entire West Indies by right of discovery, and, in true European fashion, enslaved the natives.  In 1572, along came Englishman Francis Drake, who conquered Panama.  Drake returned to England with two ships loaded with silver and gold, causing other fortune-seeking adventurers to salivate.  This heralded the colorful era of piracy in the region, with Drake basing his own opportunistic flotilla at Coral Bay, St. John.  The most infamous pirate of the time was Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, and you’ll hear mention of his exploits while you’re in the USVI.
In 1625, the Dutch and English colonized nearby St. Croix, and the French West Indies Trade Company was born.  Denmark established settlements on St. Thomas and St. John, while the British claimed Tortola.  Ownership of the islands changed hands as the Europeans entered into a power struggle over sugarcane production and rum made from the crops.  Slavery was key to the prosperity of the industry.
The islands become part of the “triangle trade” route.  North American ships visited the islands to buy rum, then continued to Africa to sell rum in exchange for slaves.  On the return trip, the ships stopped in the Caribbean again to purchase more rum and sell some slaves before returning to North America, to again sell rum and slaves.
This all changed in 1834 when slavery was abolished on the Danish islands of St. Thomas and St. John.  Soon after, sugar beet was introduced in Europe, making sugarcane less desirable.  Island sugar plantations failed and their owners returned to Europe, leaving the islands in the hands of freed slaves.
Finally, in 1917, Denmark sold St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix to the United States for $25 million.  In 1927, the U.S granted citizenship to residents of these three islands.  And in 1972, islanders elected their first non-voting member of Congress.
Today, St. John welcomes visitors with West Indian charm and natural splendor.  Even better, you’ll find an exotic paradise where everyone speaks English and your U.S. dollar will always be happily accepted.
Welcome to St. John, US Virgin Islands!