Little Bits of History

Virgin Territory

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 31, 2012

US Virgin Islands

March 31, 1917: The US takes possession of lands purchased from Denmark. The Danish West Indies were sold to the US for $25 million ($493.75 million in 2009 USD). The sale itself was concluded with the exchange of signed treaties on January 17, 1917. Danish administration ended and the US took possession of the renamed US Virgin Islands (USVI) on this day. This grouping of islands contains Saint Croix, Saint John, Saint Thomas, and Water Island along with numerous minor islands of the Virgin Island archipelago. They are part of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. The latter is also called the Caribbees because of its location in the Caribbean Sea.

With the transfer of ownership, the islands became a US Territory. The residents were granted US citizenship in 1927. The islands cover a combined total of 133.73 square miles. The real estate therefore cost $186,943.80 per square mile. The Louisiana Purchase cost $15 million for 828,800 square miles or $18.10 per square mile. The Alaska Purchase cost $7.2 million for 586,412 square miles or $12.28 each. The biggest concern in the Caribbean was not real estate. During World War I there was fear the Germans might seize the islands if they invaded Denmark and then use them as submarine bases.

The islands themselves were inhabited by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks long before Europeans “discovered” them. Christopher Columbus “found” them on his second voyage and named then for various saints. For the next three centuries they were ruled and used by a variety of European colonialists. Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, and finally Denmark-Norway. The Danish West Indies Company took over St. Thomas in 1672, St. John in 1694, and St. Croix in 1733. The economies were based on sugarcane crops. Being labor intensive, the crops were grown by slaves.

Today the islands are home to about 109,750 people. Most (74%) are Afro-Caribbean while 13% are Caucasian, 5% are Puerto Ricans and the remainder are classified as “other.” The capital is Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. It is also the largest city with a population of ≈ 19,000. The Governor is John de Jongh and head of state is President Barack Obama. Although US citizens, residents cannot vote in presidential elections although they can vote in primaries. The economy is based on some manufacturing but the major economic activity is tourism.

Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves. – Derek Walcott

I love Caribbean food. It’s a great melting pot of so many cultures including the Native Americans. – Bob Greene

I think the Caribbean countries face rising oceans and they face increase in the severity of hurricanes. This is something that is very, very scary to all of us. – Steven Chu

Let us work toward greater cooperation with all Caribbean Countries, whether we speak English, Dutch, French or Spanish, whether we are independent or not, and whether we be island or continental territories. – Said Musa

Also on this day:

Equality – In 1886, Abigail Adams pleads with her husband to include women as voting adults.
How TALL Are You? – In 1889, the world’s tallest structure was inaugurated.
Spring Forward – Fall Back – In 1918, DST was first used in the US.

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