HISTORY is what this island has an abundance, of going back several thousand years. Back then, the Amerindian population that had migrated her South America called it Ay Ay. A tribe known as Caribs lent their name to the region and was encountered at Salt River in 1493 by the first Europeans. The 17 -ship fleet of Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the new world. He claimed the islands for Spain and called it Santa Cruz, Spanish version of its present name.
Over the following centuries, many European nations started exploiting the Caribbean archipelago, with the British, Dutch, and French joining Spain in taking possession of the rich resources. But agriculture, in the form of sugar cane cultivation, turned out to be a winning formula, as sugar, and its by-product run were incredibly valuable crops.
Under changing ownership by the Dutch, British and French, including a brief ownership by the Knights of Malta, this island did not prosper, and it was sparsely colonized. The French that owned it from the mid-1600’s and gave it its present name, actually abandoned it around 1700 having failed at developing a viable plantation economy. For over 30 years St. Croix returned to its natural state, when a business enterprise of the little Scandinavian nation of Denmark, that since 1666 had taken possession of St. Thomas and later St. John to the north of St, Croix, in 1733 made the decision to expand and purchase this island from the French.
Known as the Danish West India and Guinea Company, it excelled in sugar cultivation and export made possible by slave trade from West Africa, a necessity for developing a large-scale operation of sugar cane harvests, for which this island was ideally suited thanks to its terrain and rainfall.
In no time, the island was transformed, with forests giving way to planted sugar cane fields by thousands of enslaved persons who, after being brought here under horrific conditions, toiled in the fields under the hot sun. The island’s cane fields and accompanying estate structures were owned by an assortment of nationalities, with the English, Scots and Irish dominating, but the military and administration was run by Danes, after the island ownership was conferred to the Danish king in 1771.
Soon, a lot of money was made here, but at a high cost of human life. The island posed health risks from tropical diseases and poor hygienic standards and opposition to the cruel treatment of the enslaved eventually brought about emancipation in 1848, several years after the British-owned islands had initiated it. But the fact that cane sugar was not so valuable since beet sugar now competed with it made conditions worse, and a revolt in 1878 led to further decline.
So the islands of the Danish West Indies, as the three were called, were a sad sight and, in the early 20th century when WW1 was underway, the United States took interest in us for our strategic location, particularly as the Panama Canal had just been completed, and Germany was threatening to take possession of us. At a price of $25 million in gold, the transfer of the islands, to be known as the United States Virgin Islands, took place on March 31,1917. And, the rest is History, of a different kind.
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