Aviva Directory » Local & Global » North America » Caribbean Islands » Islands » Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands is the name for a group of islands in the West Indies. It consists of approximately 90 small islands, cays, and islets in the West Indies. They are the western island group of the Leeward Islands in the northern part of the Lesser Antilles. There are three political jurisdictions in the Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands is a British overseas territory, and it consists of the primary islands of Tortola, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda, as well as more than 50 smaller islands, islets, and cays, only 15 of which are inhabited. According to the 2010 census, the British Virgin Islands had approximately 28,000 inhabitants with 23,500 of them living on Tortola.

United States Virgin Islands is an unincorporated territory of the United States and consist of Saint Croix, Saint Thomas, and Saint John along with numerous nearby smaller islands. In 1916, the Virgin Islands, formerly named the Danish West Indies of the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway, the islands were sold to the United States by Denmark for $25 million in gold, per the Treaty of the Danish West Indies, formally called the Convention between the United States and Denmark for cession of the Danish West Indies.

Spanish Virgin Islands used to be referred to as the Passage Islands. It is the easternmost islands of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico which is itself an unincorporated territory of the United States. It consists primarily of two islands: Culebra and Vieques.

The Arawak, Carib, and Cermic Indians were the inhabitants of what is now the Virgin Islands when Christopher Columbus dropped anchor at is now called Salt River Bay on the north shore of St. Croix in 1493. He sent a landing party to find food and water, but they did not get far before a shower of arrows coming from the Carib. The landing party retreated to the ship and left the island in the direction of Puerto Rico, but Columbus found more of the islands in the chain, and he named the Virgin Islands "Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes," which translates to "St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins," which is a reference to a very old Roman Catholic legend about Princess Ursula who, along with her 11,000 virginal handmaidens, set out on a sea voyage and pilgrimage. They were on their way to Cologne when they were set upon by Huns and the handmaidens (virgins) were beheaded. The leader of the Huns later killed Ursula with a bow and arrow.

Columbus claimed the Virgin Islands for Spain, though Spain was much more interested n the Greater Antilles, so they did not colonize the Virgin Islands.

The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain sent troops to defeat the Caribs, claimed the territory for Spain, and ordered that all of the natives be slain. That order was pretty much satisfied by 1596, when those natives who were not dead, left the islands.

In 1625, the Dutch and the English founded footer outposts o St. Croix, and for the next twenty years, they had sporadic skirmishes for control of the island until finally, the English took control. In 1650, Spanish troops from nearby Puerto Rico took over the English garrison, and in short order, the Knights of Malta wrested control from them. It was the Knights of Malta who named the island St. Croix. They did not adapt well to life on the sugar plantation, and they quickly went deeper and deeper into debt.

In spring of 1671, the Danish West India Company sent a team to settle St. Thomas. They sent two ships, though only one of them made it to the Caribbean. When the Pharaoh arrived at the islands, two-thirds of its crew was with it.

Approximately 156 Europeans and their slaves as well as Sir Francis Drake, Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Bluebeard. and numerous other famous pirate were living on St. Thomas in 1679, indicating it had indeed been settled. Soon, slave ships were docking in the harbor.

Meanwhile Tortola's Dutch settlers continued to be attacked by the English and it was 1672 when England finally wrested the whole archipelago to its empire.

The islands changed hands between 1672 and today too many times to count.

In modern days, water was scarce in the islands, and Virgin Islanders had been dependent on imported water aboard barges, their cisterns, and their wells. In 1965, the Virgin Islands Water and Power was established. They assembled the first-in-the-western-hemisphere flash-type evaporator for desalination of sea water.


British Virgin Islands

U.S. Virgin Islands



Recommended Resources

Search for Virgin Islands on Google or Bing