US Virgin Islands – A US Territory
The Caribbean is home to more than seven hundred islands. They are all unique in their own way but there is one thing they have in common. They are all stunning!
Whether they have a volcanic base or a coral one, they are all beautiful. Among these islands are the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands; they’re politically separate but have close cultural ties. The US Virgin Islands are an unincorporated organized US territory.
What is an Unincorporated US Territory?
The US has thirteen territories, designated ‘unincorporated’; some are classified as ‘organized’ while others are ‘unorganized’.
An unincorporated territory is the one where the US constitution is either not applicable at all or partially applicable but the territory falls under the control of the federal government.
What is an Organized Territory?
An organized US territory is one for which an organic act has been passed by the US congress. In other words, US laws passed by congress have to be followed.
History of the US Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands are an ancient archipelago, considered to be the home of the ‘Arawaks’, ‘Ciboney’ and the ‘Caribs’ dating back to 1000 B.C. These islands were first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 during his second voyage.
The Spanish established their first settlement in 1555. The English and the French came to these islands in the year 1625 but it was the Danish that took considerable interest in the region and as result, the Danish West India Company established their control on all three islands between 1672 to 1754.
From 1733 to 1848 the islands witnessed slave rebellions which ultimately compelled Peter Von Scholten, the governor of Saint Croix to abolish slavery in 1848. This day is celebrated today as ‘Emancipation Day’.
The US started taking interest in it before World War I; many negotiations between the Danish and the Americans failed but eventually in 1917, the United States of America purchased all the islands (except Water Island from the Danes) for a price of 25 million dollars in gold coins.
The islanders were granted US citizenship in 1927-1932 while the first organic act was passed in 1936 and revised in 1954, paving the way for establishing a local government. A fourth island ‘Water Island’ was purchased from the Danish in 1944 and added to the US territory in 1996.
Land, Terrain & Geography
The US Virgin Islands are volcanic or coral in origin, giving the terrain a cavernous and rugged look. It’s loaded with forests, corals, beaches and mountains. They consist of four main islands: St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island. In addition to these, there are dozens of mini islands.
The US Virgin Islands are situated in the Atlantic Ocean and shouldn’t be confused with the British Virgin Islands. The US Virgin Islands lie to the east of Puerto Rico and to the west of the British Virgin Islands. They have a total area of 737 square miles, out of which 133 square miles is land while 603 square miles is water. 11.5 % of the land is agricultural. The US Virgin Islands have a coastline of 116 miles; it is the only US territory to have two coastlines, one in the Caribbean and the other in the Atlantic.
US Virgin Islands Population
As of July 2020, the total population of the US Virgin Islands stood at 106,235. 76% of the population is African American in origin, while the remaining comprises whites, Asians and others. Above 70% of the people speak English language and 17.2% speak Spanish; many are bilingual. The capital Charlotte Amalie has a population of 52,000 people.
Like many other Caribbean islands, the US Virgin Islands have a subtropical climate but they are relatively less humid. Little or no variation is witnessed in temperatures throughout the year. The rainy season usually lasts from September to November and average annual rainfall varies from 40-47 inches. It is mostly sunny and that is why it’s a dream paradise for beach-goers.
Trade & Economy
Tourism contributes more than 60% of the economy. About 50% of the population works in tourism. The islands earned a whopping $339 million from tourism in 2012. Most of the businesses here are service-oriented. Rum distillation is another notable sector. In 2012, the Hovensa oil refinery was closed down which resulted in widespread unemployment.
The US Virgin Islands are home to over 140 species of birds, more than 300 fish species, 22 species of mammals and 7 species of amphibians. Six land mammals (all 6 types of bats) thrive in these forests. The leatherback turtle can be found crawling these islands. Large populations of other wild animals are found in abundance.
A US Virgin Islands Vacation
The Virgin Islands National Park is one of the most famous travel destinations in the US Virgin Islands. More than one million tourists visit it every year. The park includes underwater sea gardens, stunning beaches, bays, hiking trails and ancient petroglyphs. You can have a great time enjoying snorkelling and swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Trunk Bay beach. It has white sand that makes it look amazing; it’s one of the most famous beaches in the Caribbean.
Buck Island in St. Croix is another famous tourist attraction. With beautiful underwater sea gardens and corals, it is home to a huge marine sanctuary. It is also considered to be one of the top dive sites. Magens Bay is another very beautiful beach. It is famous for water sports and activities.
Another popular travel destination is Cruz Bay, also known as ‘Love City.’ Located in St. John, the town is famous for dining, shopping and its museum. The capital of the US Virgin Islands is Charlotte Amalie; it happens to be one of the most famous cruise ports. Named after a Danish queen, it boasts the best restaurants, jewellery shops and boutiques. Its beaches are famous for swimming and snorkelling. You can climb up the 99 steps of the Blackbeard’s Castle, visit the famous St. Thomas Synagogue and explore Fort Christian which is considered to be the oldest man-made structure in the island. Other landmarks and places worth visiting include the Emancipation Garden, Frederick Lutheran Church, Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, Heritage Trail, etc.
Fun Facts About the US Virgin Islands
•US citizens and nationals do not require any visa for visiting the US Virgin Islands.
•Columbus named them ‘Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes’ after the legend of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 British Virgins.
•The oldest tree in the Caribbean, a baobab tree which can live for thousands of years, graces the island of St. Croix.
•The 25 million dollars that the US paid in gold coins for purchasing these islands is worth more than $578 million dollars in today’s time.
•During the 17th-century these islands were considered a safe haven for pirates who established trade relationships with the then Danish governor.
•The Salt River Bay in St. Croix offers the experience of bioluminescent water.
•The Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton spent his childhood in St. Croix.