U.S. Virgin Islands Facts

Introduction

In the Caribbean, several islands and islets make up the U.S. Virgin Islands. The territory has verdant hills, white sand beaches, and reefs. The capital of the island is Charlotte Amalie. Towards the east lies St. John, home to the Virgin Islands National Park. To the south is the island of St. Croix and its historic towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted.

QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

  • Capital City: Charlotte Amalie
  • Largest City: Charlotte Amalie
  • Motto: United in Pride and Hope
  • Territory As of March 31, 1917: Organized, an unincorporated territory of the United States
  • Population (as of 2020): 106,290
  • Abbreviation: VI
  • Official bird: Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)
  • Official flower: White Cedar Flower
  • Total Size Of The State: 346.4 km2 (133.7 sq mi)
  • Official languages: English

Historical Background

The Arawaks people first settled on the three main islands that make up the United States Virgin Islands (USVI): St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. Most likely, they arrived from South America around the year 1000. For example, Puerto Rico’s Taíno people are associated with the Arawak tribe. In the 15th century, a warring tribe called the Caribs invaded the islands.

The Virgin Islands are a group of islands named for a Roman Catholic saint after Christopher Columbus arrived on the island that’s now called St. Croix in 1493. Caribs fought off explorers for over 60 years. Finally, King Ferdinand of Spain sent troops in 1555 to kill the natives and take over the territory. 

During the following century, European settlers arrived, forcing enslaved people from Africa to join them. Spanish, French, British, Danish, and Dutch countries competed over ownership so they could grow sugar, cotton, indigo, and other crops. The Danish West Indian Islands came under Danish control in 1754.

Slave trade between the Americas was conducted from these islands during this time. John Gottlieb, an enslaved laborer, led the General Buddhoe revolt on St. Croix in 1848. As a result of the uprising on July 3, 1848, slavery in the islands was abolished.

Denmark sold the islands to the United States in 1917. During World War I, the United States wanted to use the deep bays and the islands’ location to deploy its warships.

Nature & Name Origin

Located in the Atlantic Ocean’s deepest part, the Puerto Rico Trench, the USVI are tropical islands. In the USVI, the U.S. National Park Service manages five national parks, four of which are dedicated to the islands’ marine life.

The Virgin Islands National Park mainly covers St. John, and 40 percent of the park is underwater. There are over 500 species of fish in the park, including barracuda, nurse sharks, stingrays, yellow snapper, and kingfish, and Trunk Bay is a popular snorkeling site. The Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument is another underwater national park.

Known as the sugar bird because it drinks nectar, the bananaquit is the official bird of the islands. Land mammals are rare on these islands. However, six species of bats live on the islands, including the excellent bulldog bat, which catches fish for dinner. In addition, green sea turtles, leatherback turtles, and hawksbill turtles live here.

The Culture and Locals

The U.S. Virgin Islands is home to approximately 75 percent of Black people, descendants of the enslaved people forced over from Africa. The rest of the population is composed of people of European, Asian, and Latin descent.

There’s a popular dish in the USVI known as mushroom (FOON-jee), but it’s not mushrooms! Fungi are usually served with whole-fried fish from salted cornmeal, water, and okra. Pates (pah-TAYS) are fried dough filled with salted fish or beef and are the USVI’s equivalent to empanadas.

Steel drum bands, colorful costumes, and parades mark Carnival celebrations across the Caribbean. Carnival is celebrated on each island at a different time of the year: St. Thomas after Easter, St. John around the Fourth of July, and St. Croix during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Governance

The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States, meaning they follow U.S. laws but have local governments. In addition, not all of the U.S. Constitution applies to the residents. 

In 1932, Congress granted citizenship to all residents born in the USVI, but citizens were allowed to elect their governors in 1970. As a result, the USVI has executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government to make laws on the islands. A representative is elected by the people to serve in Congress and participates in congressional committees but isn’t allowed to vote.

Some Fun Facts About The U.S. Virgin Islands

  • In the 16th and 17th centuries, pirates such as Captain Kidd and Black Sam Bellamy raided the islands.
  • Of all the U.S. territories and states, only people drive on the left side of the road.
  • St. Croix was the home of Hamilton’s ancestors, who were born on the island of Nevis. Visit the island today for a tour dedicated to Hamilton’s life.
  • The novel Treasure Island is on a small island near St. John, where Robert Louis Stevenson lived.
  • Tim Duncan, former NBA star of the San Antonio Spurs, was born and raised in St. Croix.

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