The history of the
Virgin Islands started with Christopher Columbus’ second voyage in 1493. The
first island he saw was St. Croix, which he named Santa Cruz. After sailing
further North, he found may more islands which he named Las Islas Virgenes – The
After his visit
nothing much happened other then an occasional passing pirate or explorer. In
the 1600’s European powers continued to claim the Caribbean islands.
In 1671, Denmark
clearly ruled St. Thomas, establishing the first permanent settlement there. In
1685, the Danes signed a treaty which allowed the Brandenburg American Company
to start a slave-trading post on the island. At about the same time, St. Thomas
became a pirate refuge. But piracy ceased to be a factor in the island’s economy
in the early 19th century and the slave trade continued until 1848.
From 1700 to 1750
trade was on the rise and prosperous merchants replaced the pirates on
Dronnigens Gade (Main Street) in Charlotte Amalie.
By 1718 the Denmark’s
settlements expanded to St. John. A fort was constructed in Coral Bay, one of
the safest harbors in the Caribbean. Remains of the fort are still there. In
1733, Denmark purchased St. Croix from France, uniting the three Virgin Islands,
Water Island was recently added making four US Virgin Islands. St. Thomas was
known as a paradise for pirates and buccaneers, who looked for approaching ships
through spyglasses. The most famous was Edward Teach, known as
The Danes declared
St. Thomas a free port in 1724. Throughout the 18th century the islands
prospered with sugar plantations and St. Thomas became a major trading center
until 1848 when Denmark abolished slavery.
The United States
bought the islands in 1917, as part of its military defense, for $25 million.
The US wanted to prevent the islands from becoming a German sub base. In 1927
were residents granted U.S. citizenship. After World War II, St. Thomas became
the tourist attraction it is today.
On of the latest
signs of the islands’ growth was the addition of Water Island to the US Virgin
Islands in 1996. It is located just south of St Thomas. The island is a tranquil
retreat with secluded beaches and resorts, making it a lovely addition to the
The people in the
Virgin Islands come from all over the world. There are African descendants, the
French, who have emigrated from French islands, Puerto Ricans, and transplants
from the U.S. Also living here are many “down islanders” and a sizeable number
of East Indians.
Each of the islands
has its own celebration. St. Croix’s is in December, St. John’s is over July 4th
and St. Thomas’ is in April. Carnival dates back to when Africans first arrived
on the islands. Today Carnival is celebrated with colorful parades, elaborate
costumes, music, dancing children, fabulous floats, stilt walking mocko jumbies,
food fairs filled with West Indian dishes, all-night partying, calypso music and
steep pan competitions, beauty pageants and more.
The origin of Mocko
Jumbies has been traced to the 13th and 14th centuries. It comes from a central
African language meaning “healer.” In the English language it means “to mock”,
meaning imitation, as in false spirits. Mocko Jumbie, the traditional symbol of
Carnival, is the “elevated spirit” on 10 to 20 foot stilts, dressed in bright
colors that you see throughout the parade. The origins of mocko jumbies come
from the traditions of West Africa. When the enslaved Africans were brought to
the Caribbean, their religious traditions and observances came with them. But
they were forbidden by the European slave masters to practice their religious
customs, so they transferred it into a festive context, to disguise it, so to
speak. But it was just a camouflage for its true religious meaning.
West Indian food
includes kallalo, fungi, saltfish, lobster, red beans and rice, plantains,
curried chicken, patés, stewed mutton, conch fritters and johnny
You can listening to
Calypso, Reggae or steel pans. Also popular are the Scratch Bands. From the
“make do” era when instruments were scarce, musicians use gourds, washboards,
ukuleles and flute-like instruments. The traditional folk dance of the Virgin
Islands, the Quadrille, dates back to the 18th century.