St. John was first settled by the Arawak Indians who had migrated north from coastal Colombia and Venezuela around AD 300. The Arawaks inhabited the island until around the year AD 1300, when they were driven off by the more aggressive and warlike Caribs.
Christopher Columbus is credited with being the first European to see the Virgin Islands during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. He named the island group “Once Mil Virgenes”, or Eleven Thousand Virgins, in honor of the feast day of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who were martyred with her.
The Danish West India and Guinea Company represented the first Europeans to settle on St. John in 1718. They are also credited with naming the island St. John (Danish: Sankt Jan). The Danish crown took full control of the colony in 1754, along with St. Thomas and St. Croix. Sugar plantations, such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation, were established in great numbers on St. John because of the intense heat and fertile terrain, which provided ideal growing conditions. The establishment of sugar plantations also led to the importation of more slaves from Africa. St. John was the site of one of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World in 1733, when enslaved Akwamu rebels from the Gold Coast took over the island for six months.
The Danish were able to defeat the enslaved Africans with help from the French in Martinique. Instead of allowing themselves to be recaptured, more than a dozen men and women shot themselves before the French forces could capture them. It is estimated that by 1775, slaves outnumbered the Danish settlers by a ratio of 5:1. The indigenous Caribs and Arawaks were also used as slave labor, to the point of wiping out their entire population. Slavery was finally abolished in St. John on July 3, 1848.
In 1917, the United States purchased the U.S. Virgin Islands for $25 million from the Danish government in order to establish a naval base whose purpose was to prevent German expansion in the Western Hemisphere. They also agreed to recognize Denmark’s claim to Greenland, which they had previously disputed.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. U.S. Virgin Islanders are U.S. citizens, although they cannot vote in presidential elections and have only non-voting status in Congress
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article “St. John”, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.
The St. John Historical Society undertakes to promote an appreciation and deeper understanding of the history and cultural heritage of the island of St. John in the U. S. Virgin Islands