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Come experience the
magic of St. Thomas - a favorite among travelers
from around the world because of its lush island
surroundings, beautiful beaches and tranquil
evidence suggests that St. Thomas was once home to
natives of the Ciboney tribes, the Taino or Arawak
tribe and the Caribs. Indian habitation in what is
today the Virgin Islands was recorded in journals
kept by settlers and explorers in the late 1500s. By
the 1600s however, the Indian populations had
plummeted due to disease brought by Europeans, raids
by Spanish settlers from neighboring islands and
immigration to other islands of the Caribbean. These
indigenous groups no longer exists in the Virgin
Christopher Columbus is credited with "discovering"
St. Thomas during his second voyage to the New World
in 1493. He apparently was not impressed, as he
didn't stay long, instead sailing on to Puerto Rico.
The island was left unguarded by the Spanish and
soon its sheltered bays were called on by ships from
other nations, captained by men the Spanish would
come to consider pirates. St. Thomas' existence
would continue as home to pirates and small
settlements long before a European power decided to
pursue a permanent settlement.
In 1671 the Danish West India Company received its
charter from King Christian V to occupy and take
possession of St. Thomas and islands thereabouts
that might be uninhabited and suitable for
plantations. Part of the charter indicated that the
Danish government would supply the company with as
many male convicts as necessary for working the
plantations and as many women, who were under
arrest, as needed. Authorities would soon learn that
convicts did not make good workers! The officials in
St. Thomas would quickly welcome colonists from
other neighboring islands and rely on African slaves
The first two
ships that set sail to settle St. Thomas headed out
on August 30, 1671 and arrived three months later on
February 26,1672. The original crew included 116 men
engaged by the company and 61 convicts. The first
months and years of colonization were costly in
terms of lives. Of the first two ships that sailed
89 people died on one ship and 75 died after
landing. A third ship with 67 passengers on board
sailed to St. Thomas in 1673; 7 died on board and 53
after landing! With these grim numbers the little
Danish settlement on St. Thomas grew slowly. Many
Dutch settlers seeped in from neighboring islands;
consequently from the very beginning Dutch was the
dominant language. In 1673 a ship of 103 slaves was
sent to St. Thomas, another 24 added in 1675 and 16
in 1678. These were the first of many slaves brought
to the island.
The population in 1680 was
156 whites and 175 blacks. The settlement included
one fort, one road running through the island and
about 50 plantations (of which 46 were occupied).
Neighboring islands around St. Thomas, like Buck
Island and Water Island, were used as pastures for
goats and sheep; intended to feed the settlers on
After some time passed the
government realized that much of St. Thomas' future
lay in the development of the area around the
natural harbor. Soon Taphus was born! Taphus,
meaning beer houses or halls, was the name of what
is today Charlotte Amalie. The latter name used in
honor of King Christian V's wife. When the governor
gave licenses to residents to develop the area
around the harbor, taverns quickly sprung up as did
seafarers who enjoyed Taphus.
Seafarers... pirates! Under the Esmit Brothers, who
served as the 2nd and 3rd governors of St. Thomas,
the island gained the image of being a pirates den.
This is not surprising considering the Esmit
Brothers are said to have illegally and openly
traded with freebooters and allowed them to use St.
Thomas as a refuge. Romanticized stories of piracy
on St. Thomas are common; stories of pirates
Blackbeard and Bluebeard are the most well known.
In 1685, after several
years of poor management, the Danish West India
Company signed a treaty with the Brandenburger
Company allowing them to establish a slave trading
business on St. Thomas. Despite the slave trade
being big business, Bradenburger reports indicate
that their prosperity was impeded by difficulties
with the Danish hosts and conflicts with the Dutch
West India Company.
St. Thomas was made a free
port in 1815 and in the years following it became a
shipping center and distributing point for the West
Indies. Charlotte Amalie flourished commercially.
Large and small importing houses, belonging to
English, French, German, Italian, American, Spanish,
Sephardim and Danish owners, were thriving. A large
part of all West Indian trade was channeled through
the harbor. Of the 14,000 inhabitants, many of them
free, only about 2,500 (mostly slaves) gained their
living on plantations. A substantial segment of free
Blacks worked as clerks, shop keepers and artisans.
The population and atmosphere was very cosmopolitan,
particularly in comparison to its sister island of
St. Croix where plantation life was the norm. It is
on St. Croix that a slave revolt in 1848 prompted
the abolition of slavery in the Danish West Indies.
With the increase of
steamships in the 1840's St. Thomas continued
forward by becoming a coaling station for ships
running between South and North America. Shipping
lines made Charlotte Amalie their headquarters.
Later advancements in steam and political climate
made it possible for Spanish and English islands to
import directly from producers, therefore skipping
St. Thomas. By the 1860's the end of prosperity
loomed in the horizon. Coaling however, would
continue until about 1935. Coaling ships was an
occupation largely filled by women.
In the late 1800s through
early 1900s, several major natural disasters
including hurricanes, fires and a tsunami left
Charlotte Amalie wanting for major re-building.
Years passed before the old warehouses that once
stored goods for trade would be rebuilt to house the
fancy boutiques and stores that line the streets
today. On St. Croix, plantations were suffering with
labor issues and low market prices on sugar. The
Danish West Indies became more and more dependant on
Denmark, and its treasury, during these difficult
Negotiations between the
United States and Denmark were initiated on several
occasions between 1865 and 1917 when the final deal
was struck and the United States bought the Danish
West Indies for $25 million.
The United States flag was
hoisted on the three ''Virgin Islands of America' on
the 31st of March 1917. The islands remained under
US Navy Rule until 1931; during that time several
major public works and social reform projects were
undertaken. Governors were appointed from 1931 until
1969 when the first elected governor took office.
The capital of the island group is Charlotte Amalie,
on St. Thomas.
As air and sea travel
increased in the 1950s prosperity returned to
Charlotte Amalie and St. Thomas. Tourism continued
to grow in the years thereafter. The island saw an
increase in population as immigrants from other
Caribbean islands came in hopes of finding work in
the developing tourism industry.
St. Thomas moved into the
21st century maintaining its prominence as one of
the Caribbean's top vacation destinations and
Charlotte Amalie as a favorite cruise ship port of
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