The USVI in the Past and in the Present

From their tumultuous past to the tranquil present, the Virgin Islands have been much sought after

Photo credit: © Ramunas Bruzas |

The US Virgin Islands is a place rich in history and cultural tradition. The area's earliest inhabitants date back to a group of Stone Age hunters and gatherers called the Ciboney. Many other groups would become indigenous to the islands, including the Arawaks who arrived on the islands in about 500 A.D. and the Caribs, who were a ruthless clan that made its claim to the islands by destroying Arawak villages.


Between 1493 and 1496, Christopher Columbus landed in the U.S. Virgin Islands on St. Croix, which he called Santa Cruz. From there, Columbus charted the rest of the Virgin archipelago, which he named after the legendary Saint Ursula and her army of 11,000 virgins. After Columbus' findings in the Caribbean, the history of the US Virgin Islands became a dark and bloody story. Europeans doggedly began their efforts to convert the islands' aboriginal inhabitants to Christianity, which the majority of the Arawaks and Caribs rejected, causing their ultimate demise. The early Europeans also brought to the Caribbean infectious diseases that the native people were unable to fight off.

...a melting pot of cultures and languages...


As the colonies were being established during the 16th and 17th centuries, slave labor was used in the Virgin Islands to support agriculture and the exportation of cash crops, namely sugarcane. Because of the profitability of agriculture in the Virgin Islands, as well as in other Caribbean islands, many European countries, including Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands, fought to gain possession of these moneymaking islands, resulting in various treaties and wars of domination. Ownership of the islands was passed around among different countries, creating a melting pot of cultures and languages that continue to define the region to this day. After many slave revolts and disagreements on the issue of slavery, the practice was abolished in the early 1800s, and the plantocracy system diminished.


Now, the Virgin Islands are home to a blended heritage, but one that is primarily influenced by African and European ancestors. Various styles of music and dance, distinctive cuisine, and a number of different religions and spiritual practices enhance a still-thriving culture. English is the official language of the US Virgin Islands, and are now dominated by a flourishing tourism industry.


Once the European community had laid their claim on the Virgin Islands, the sugar cane industry, which was staffed by African slaves, was the dominant source of income for the islands. After the abolition of slavery, however, diversification was necessary lest the economy tank. This meant focusing on a broader range of agricultural pursuits, industry, and tourism. Today, the majority of jobs on the US Virgin Islands centers around the tourism industry, though grants and support from the United States aid in keeping the economy afloat.

Whether you take note of the islands' storied histories and cultural and economic influences or not, these aspects of the past and present all play an important role in making the Virgin Islands the interesting locale that draws millions of tourists in each year.


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