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

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is officially called just "Virgin Islands" and it is a British overseas territory situated in the Virgin Islands archipelago and is in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. The capital of this British overseas territory is its largest city, Road Town.

The country consists contains the islands of war Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada and more than 50 small islands and cays. Only fifteen of the islands are inhabited.

The official name of the territory is the Virgin Islands, but the word "British" is frequently prepended in order to keep people from confusing it with the U.S. Virgin Islands or the name of the island.

Christopher Columbus first sighted the Virgin Islands on his second journey in 1493, and he is the one who named the islands Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes, which means "Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, in honor of a Catholic legend about a princess and her 11,000 handmaidens, all of whom were killed by the Huns.

He is also the one responsible for naming the island Virgin Gorda, which means "the fat virgin," which was based on his erroneous belief that it was the biggest island in the island group. He claimed it for Spain but it was near settled by that country. When Ponce de León II settled Puerto Rico in 1508, he used that settlement used the Virgin Islands for fishing, but for nothing else. Sebastian Cabot and Thomas Spert stopped in the islands while returning from the exploration of the waters of Brazil, and Sir John Hawkins visited the islands three times, in 1532 and again in 1563 while accompanying a ship full of slaves on their way to Hispaniola. The third visit was with Francis Drake. Sir Francis came back without Hawkins , and the last time in 1595 on his last voyage, which he never finished due to his death.

Joost van Dyk, a Dutch privateer, established the first permanent settlements on Tortoli, in Soper's Hole.He grew cotton and tobacco and traded with the Spaniards in Puerto Rico.

The Spanish attacked Tortola in 1640, and again in 1646, and finally 1647 and massacred the Dutch in two of the larger settlements. The disheartened Dutch struggled to live there, as they were unable to grow more than they could eat. The Dutch West India Company realized that the settlements were a commercial failure and began looking to allow private parties to establish settlements on Tortola and Virgin Gorda so the company could turn its attention to support the slave trade in the area. To that end, they established began to import slaves from Africa.They sold the islands and ended their interested in the Virgin Islands.In 1672, England took control of the Virgin Islands and it has been of varying degrees of influence ever since. The Dutch held that Willem Hunthum put Tortola under the protection of English Governor-General of the Leeward Islands Sir William Stapleton, who reported having captured the territory just after the war began.

Colonel William Burt, who had been sent to Tortola to take the island, did not have enough men to occupy the the island, so before they left, he blew up all of the Dutch forts, moving all of their cannons to Saint Kitts.

The Treaty of Westminster of 1774 gave the Dutch the right to resume its possession of the islands, but before they could begin that process, they were at war with the French. In 1677, Stapleton got orders to keep Tortola and the islands that surrounded it.

In 1678, when the Franco-Dutch War ended, the Dutch tried again to work out a way to get Tortola returned to them. In 1686, after much debate, Stapleton signed a letter promising the return of the islands to the Dutch. He was finishing up his term in office and gave the letter to the Dutch Ambassador. Then Stapleton headed back to Britain since he was no longer going to be in office. But there were many questions the English wanted answered about how Stapleton went from following the order to hold on to the islands to signing a letter saying they should be returned to the Dutch.

As the Dutch waited for Stapleton to get home to Britain so he could explain, he fell ill and stopped in France to recover. But while he was there, he died. The Dutch ambassador knew that other territories had been restored to the Dutch after the war, he spoke to Stapleton’s replacement who told him that a letter with instructions to restore the islands to the Dutch would be sent to England.

But Tortola never was returned to them, and in 1696 a Rotterdam merchant claimed to have bought Tortola in June of 1695 for 3,500 guilders. In the end, it was ruled that because the King issued an order in 1694 which prevented foreign settlement in the Virgin Islands. In 1698, Britain announced hat it would entertain no further claims to the Islands.



Beef Island

Cooper Island

Jost Van Dyke

Little Thatch

Necker Island

Norman Island


Virgin Gorda



Recommended Resources

Search for British Virgin Islands on Google or Bing