St. Croix, Virgin Islands: Facts & History

The last of the Native Indian people to inhabit St. Croix were the Carib. Originally from the Guiana region of South America, the Carib people were not the first Indians on St. Croix. They had gained presence of the islands from the Tainos or Arawaks in the early 1400's. It was however the Carib that greeted Columbus on his second voyage through the islands.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus visited St. Croix on November 14th, 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Columbus named the island Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). The explorers anchored off a natural bay west of Christiansted, known today as Salt River. Some two-dozen armed men from Columbus' fleet went ashore to explore. These men were met by defensive arrows to which they retreated. The Salt River site is the first and only positively documented site associated with Columbus' exploration of the New World on what is today a U.S. territory.

The Caribs continued their existence on St. Croix for about a decade following Columbus' visit. During this period they had established an understanding of mutual coexistence with the Spanish on Puerto Rico. This understanding was concluded when a Spanish adventurer raided St. Croix for Carib slaves. The Caribs joined in an effort with the Tainos of Puerto Rico, against the Spanish. For their uprising they were condemned to be destroyed by the Spanish Crown. With 'legalized' extermination and military action imminent the Caribs permanently abandoned St. Croix.

Although Columbus landed on Croix in the name of Spain, the first to establish themselves on St. Croix were the Dutch and English with a small number of French Protestants. In 1625 both countries, Britain and the Netherlands, co-existed on the island. This mutually beneficial relationship of sharing St. Croix ended without question when the islands Dutch governor killed the English counterpart. The English retaliated, leaving the Dutch governor dead. Many years of battles over possession of the island followed between the two powers.

Dutch and French settlers slowly retreated leaving the English in power of St. Croix. The colony grew under British rule. The Spanish, on nearby Puerto Rico, were concerned by the growth. In a surprise attack the Spanish landed on St. Croix and killed many settlers and forced the others to leave. The French heard of the overthrow of the English and took the opportunity to move in themselves and take over St. Croix from the Spanish. This was around 1650. Philippe de Poincy, an official of the Knights of Malta, sent 160 of his best troops to capture St. Croix. He succeeded and then quickly sent some three hundred planters from St. Kitts to establish settlements on the newly captured colony.

French West India Company

Seeking to establish a stronger hold on St. Croix, Louis XIV decided that the French Crown should take over. In 1665 the French West India Company was formed and sent to St. Croix. The Company rule did not do very well and lasted only seven years. The King dissolved the Company and replaced it with Crown rule. The French Crown continued to claim ownership of St. Croix although they had basically abandoned the island. Most of the French settlers had left the island by 1695.

Danish West Indies Company

On June 13,1733 the Danish West Indies Company bought the island from France. The Danish West Indian Company wasted no time in sending settlers to St. Croix to form their new colony. Under the leadership of Frederik Moth, a new town at Christiansted was planned within the first year.

In 1747, St. Croix was given its own government, separate from St. Thomas and St. John. Under strict regulations, the planters soon became frustrated with company rule. In 1753 the planters of the three islands petitioned the King to buy out the company. In 1754 the islands became a royal colony. With the crown directly involved a long period of growth followed. The Crown designated the most lucrative of the islands - St. Croix - as the new capital for all three islands. Thus, the capital of St. Thomas and St. John was moved from Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas to Christiansted where it remained until 1871 when it was returned to Charlotte Amalie.

Sugar

For some time St. Croix was one of the wealthiest islands in the West Indies. The prosperity was due greatly to sugar cultivation, rum production and slave labor. St. Croix's economy existed through trade. The island exported five commodities; sugar, rum, cotton, molasses and hard woods and imported almost everything it needed.

The price of sugar in the world market was stable for the first decades of the 19th century and St. Croix's plantation owners were doing well. In 1803 the population of the island was 30,000 with 26,500 being slaves engaged in planting and processing sugar cane. Prosperity however came to a halt with the closure of Denmark's role in the slave trade. St. Croix had played an important role in the triangular trade route that connected Europe, Africa and the Caribbean in a trade of human cargo, sugar and rum. Around this same time competing beet sugar prices caused a sharp decline in the profitability of cultivating sugarcane. An increasing number of slave revolts motivated governor general of 21 years Peter von Scholten to abolished slavery in the Danish colonies on July 3rd, 1848. With all these factors playing a role St. Croix's economy by the end of the 1820's was nearing ruin.

The late 1800's was a period filled with changes, rebellions and progress. Some of the most famous leaders were Queen Mary, Bodhoe and David Hamilton Jackson. Their efforts and those of other residents were extolled for the good of the local population on issues like improvement of living conditions, freedom of press, education and labor laws.

United States Virgin Islands

In 1917 St. Croix along with the islands of St. John and St. Thomas were purchased by the United States of America from the Danish government for military reasons. In the late 1930's St. Croix's agriculturally based economy was not improving. Economic insecurity continued until the fifties, when tourism became a leading industry in the U.S.V.I.

Today St. Croix is U.S. territory with the main industries being tourism, agriculture and oil refinery. One of the most renowned attractions in the U.S.V.I., the Buck Island National Park is located a short distance from the St. Croix shore. Recently the first casino in the U.S.V.I. was built on St. Croix.

Note The information contained in this brief history was compiled from "Fateful Encounters Salt River 1493-1525, a National Park Publication dated November 14, 1993." and "Christiansted, National Historic Site published by the National Park Service, US Department of the Interior".



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