About St. Croix
(1) INTRODUCTION Virgin Islands of the United States, group of 3 islands and about 50 islets, most of which are uninhabited, in the Lesser Antilles chain of the West Indies, east of Puerto Rico and lying between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The three islands, with their areas, are Saint Thomas (83 sq km/32 sq mi), Saint John (52 sq km/20 sq mi), and Saint Croix (207 sq km/80 sq mi). The capital is Charlotte Amalie (population, 1990, 12,331), on Saint Thomas. Other communities in the group are Christiansted and Frederiksted, both on Saint Croix. The total area is 344 sq km (133 sq mi), and the total population (1990) is 101,809.
Christiansted: One of two towns on the island, and a National Historic Site, Christiansted was once the Capital of the Danish West Indies, and was founded in 1734. The architectural quality of the town is remarkable, with cobblestone walkways shaded by large arched galleries. The Danes discovered how to adapt18th Century-style buildings in the West Indies to reduce heat, maximize breeze, and withstand tropical storms. Trey ceilings let warm air rise in the days before ceiling fans and air conditioning, and cross ventilation is enhanced by rectangular shaped buildings. In fact, even today, many buildings and homes on St. Croix are not air conditioned thanks to this ingenious practical design. The buildings were constructed from cut coral blocks (look closely, you'll wonder how they were ever harvested!) and Danish brick brought as ballast. Thick walls keep the interiors cool, and courtyards and arcades provided shaded retreats. Narrow streets were wide enough for the mule carts of the 1800s! This area, once prestigious residences and mercantile shops of the wealthy Danes, today forms the shopping and restaurant district. Ongoing interest continues and plans are underway for the historic restoration of old buildings on the outskirts of town.
Frederiksted: Victorian Gingerbread, wide streets, and a picturesque waterfront the full length of the town make Frederiksted one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean. Freedom City, as it is known, has a rich history. Smugglers and pirates of the mid-1700s necessitated the construction of Fort Frederik in 1752. The city was destroyed by fire in 1758, and rebuilt in the Victorian style of the era. Time seems to have passed the city by, but the beautiful park, and open air vendors mart comes alive on the days the sleek cruise ships dock at the new pier. On those evenings, Harbour Night turns Strand Street into a festival, with mocko jumbie stilt dancers, steel pan bans, and street vendor offering local food and drink. Navy ships and subs from the US and foreign fleets dock here often for R&R and frequently give tours of the vessels.
(2) LAND AND RESOURCES
The islands are generally hilly to mountainous. Crown Mountain (474 m/1556 ft) on Saint Thomas is the highest point. The climate is tropical, moderated by prevailing trade winds. The average annual temperature is 26.7° C (80° F). Vegetation is luxuriant and diverse. Mineral resources are lacking, although sand and stone are mined for local construction.
Tourism is vital to the economy of the Virgin Islands. Some 32 percent of all paid employees are engaged in retail sales or in services provided by recreation, motels, hotels, and restaurants. The number of tourists visiting the islands rose from about 200,000 in 1960 and 1961 to some 1.5 million in 1986; in the same period, spending by tourists grew from $26 million to more than $500 million. Products manufactured in the islands include rum, watches, textiles, and pharmaceuticals. The islands also have petroleum and alumina processing plants. The annual budget in the late 1980s exceeded $303.5 million.
The islands form the easternmost outpost of the United States. The United States Marine Corps maintains an air base on Saint Thomas and an airfield on Saint Croix.
(4) EDUCATION AND GOVERNMENT
Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5y and 16. Free schooling is provided in elementary and secondary schools. In the late 1980s the islands' 70 public elementary and secondary schools had an annual enrollment of about 29,000 pupils. The College of the Virgin Islands (1962), a public institution on Saint Thomas, had an annual enrollment of about 2550 students.
From 1917, when the United States acquired the Virgin Islands, to 1931 the islands were governed by the Department of the Navy. In 1931 jurisdiction was transferred to the Department of the Interior, and a civil governor was appointed by the president. Since 1970 the governor has been popularly elected. The unicameral legislature is elected for two-year terms and is composed of 15 senators, 5 each from Saint Croix and Saint Thomas, 1 from Saint John, and 4 at large. Executive power is vested in an elected governor and lieutenant governor, an attorney general appointed by the governor, and other officials. The government comptroller is appointed by the secretary of the interior, and the judge of the district court is appointed by the president of the United States.
Christopher Columbus discovered the Virgin Islands on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493. He named the islands for Saint Ursula and the other virgin martyrs associated with her. Columbus attempted to land at Saint Croix in November 1493 but was driven away by fierce Carib Native Americans who inhabited the island. The Carib Native Americans were annihilated, but no permanent settlements were made. The Virgin Islands remained a Spanish possession throughout the 16th century.
(A) First Settlements Denmark colonized Saint Thomas in 1666. The Danish West Indies Company controlled the group until 1755, when Frederick V, king of Denmark, bought the islands. In 1800, during the Napoleonic Wars, Britain blockaded Saint Thomas and in 1801 occupied the island. In 1802 Saint Thomas was returned to Denmark. From 1807 to 1815 the British again occupied the Danish West Indies; in 1815 the islands were once more restored to Denmark.
(B) Danish Rule During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Virgin Islands flourished as a center for the slave trade and as a producer of sugar. To harvest the sugar, the Danes began to depend on slavery and started importing slaves from Africa in 1673. The slave trade was prohibited by the Danish government in 1792. A slave revolt on Saint Croix in 1848 led to the slaves' immediate emancipation. The slaves had the tacit support of the Danish governor of the islands, Peter von Scholten, who was opposed to slavery. After the emancipation of the slaves, the economy of the Virgin Islands disintegrated. The population of the islands dwindled. It was not until the 1940s that the economy began to recover.
(C) American Colony During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Union began to negotiate with Denmark for the purchase of the Virgin Islands in order to establish naval bases in the Caribbean. Nothing came of the negotiations, however, until World War I (1914-1918). In 1917 the United States bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark for $25 million and built a naval base in order to protect the Panama Canal and to prevent Germany's seizure of the islands.
Virgin Islanders have been U.S. citizens since 1927. After World War II (1939-1945), the Virgin Islands began to prosper again. Federal aid, local industry, and the growth of tourism helped improve the islands' economy. In 1946 William Henry Hastie became the first appointed black governor of the islands. The Organic Act, which was passed in 1954, created a 15-member senate. Then in 1968 the Congress of the United States passed a law granting the people of the Virgin Islands the right to elect their own governor. Melvin Evans, appointed in 1969, was the first native-born black governor of the territory and in 1971 became its first elected governor; he served until 1975. In 1975 Cyril E. King became governor and served until his death in 1978. King was succeeded by his lieutenant governor, Juan Luis. Luis was elected governor in the 1978 and 1982 elections. Alexander Farrelly was elected in 1986 and again in 1990. Roy Schneider became governor after the 1994 elections.