A beautiful idyllic setting, St. Thomas is one of four main islands that make up the United States Virgin Islands chain, located in the beautiful waters of the northern Caribbean and just west of the Atlantic Ocean. Home to over 60,000 residents, the island is 13 miles long and only 4 miles wide. It is thought to be the most the most vibrant and sophisticated of the islands with its abundance of shopping, activities and its cosmopolitan atmosphere. Charlotte Amalie (pronounced A'-mal-yah), the territorial capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is also the largest population center on St. Thomas and home to the distinct reputation as being the #1 cruise ship capital in the world! The other islands, St. John, St. Croix and Water Island, each have their own unique personality and flair.
While the island of St. Thomas was once home to the Ciboney, Taino or Arawak, and the Carib native groups, it is now largely a mixture of local natives and peoples from the United States, various Caribbean islands, as well as Europe, the Middle East and South America. It is this diverse human potpourri, and mixture of life and lifestyles that has created such a rich culture throughout the Virgin Islands.
In 1493 Christopher Columbus is credited with identifying St. Thomas while on his second voyage to the New World. During the two centuries that followed, the Greater and Lesser Antilles were the scenes of battles between English, Dutch, Spanish and French Admirals, pirates and privateers, all attracted first by rumor of Spanish treasure and later by the region's highly profitable products of cotton, sugar, rum, indigo and spices. Struggle for control of all the islands continued - particularly for the island of St. Croix - until 1733 when France sold St. Croix to the Danish West Indian Company. By 1755 Denmark created the Crown Colony, developing sugar, molasses, rum, hardwoods and cotton on St. Croix, farming and sugar plantations on St. John, and using St. Thomas as the main port from where goods from the islands were shipped in and out by both legitimate companies and by smugglers and pirates. With Charlotte Amalie's superb harbor, St. Thomas soon found its destiny as a trading center and shortly thereafter was recognized as a free port. Many of the present-day shops found on Waterfront and Main Street were once merchants' warehouses with their back doors facing the beaches and harbor. Danish influence can be seen everywhere throughout the islands; from the elegant 18th century neo-classical Danish West Indian architecture seen on buildings such as Fort Christian to exotic street names like Dronningen's Gade (pronounced Gaa-dah) which is also known as Main Street.
It was during these early years that romantic stories of pirates like Blackbeard and Bluebeard began to emerge and are still retold today.
The first shipments of African slaves arrived in 1673, and in the 1700's sugar became a popular crop on the plantations making slave trading a popular business venture. Slavery was later abolished in the Danish West Indies in 1848.
The U.S. began efforts to purchase the islands in 1871, but were not successful until threat of the Panama Canal being taken over by the Germans during World War I brought serious negotiation to the table. On March 31, 1917, The United States purchased the Virgin Islands for $25 million, whereby free port status was retained in the sale treaty and is still in effect today.
The last operating sugar factory on St. Croix was closed in 1966, however the islands' signature Cruzan Rum is still being produced on island. Now, the economic structure of the islands are largely based on tourism, light and heavy industry, and an influx of a mixture of immigrants from many other islands and states.
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