Record ID: 158

Site Name

Virgin Islands




group of about 100 small islands, West Indies, E of Puerto Rico(P.R.), divided politically bet. the U.S. and the U.K.; 18�00'N 64�40'W. Although constituting the westernmost part of the Lesser Antilles, the V.I. form a geological unit with P.R. and the Greater Antilles; they are of volcanic origin overlaid with limestone. Subject to occasional hurricanes bet. Aug. and Oct. and prone to light earthquakes. The water supply is almost completely dependent on rainfall and is preserved in cisterns; some also comes from desalinization plants. The tropical climate, with its cooling NE trade winds, and the picturesque quality of the isls., enhanced by their Old World architecture, have encouraged a large tourist trade. But the predominantly Afro-Caribbean pop. remains poor. The isls. were 1st visited by Europeans when Columbus landed on St. Croix in 1493. The U.S.V.I. (area: 133 sq miles; 1990 pop. 101,809) were purchased from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million because of their strategic position alongside the approach to the Panama Canal. St. Thomas is mountainous and encloses many snug harbors and bays. Charlotte Amalie is noted for one of the finest harbors in the Caribbean. St. Croix, with less mountainous terrain, has an economy that is dependent upon mfg., tourism, and agr. Food crops are raised; sugarcane is no longer grown but rum is still distilled. Cattle are raised on all 3 isls.The Virgin Islands National Park covers most of St. John. Settlement of St. Thomas was begun by the Dan. West India Company in 1672; St. John was claimed by Denmark in 1683, and St. Croix was purchased from France in 1733. The isls. became a Dan. royal colony in 1754. In 1801, and again 1807�1815, the isls. were in Br. hands. Immediately to the NE are the Br. V.I., Br. crown colony (area: 59 sq miles; 1990 pop. 16,115); (cap.) Road Town, on Tortola. There are over 30 isls.; 16 are inhabited. The principal ones are Tortola, Anegada, and Virgin Gorda. Tourism and offshore banking are the most important economic activities. Britain acquired the isls. from the Dutch in 1666.