Above: Fort Christian was dedicated in 1678 and is one
of the oldest structures in the Virgin Islands. It was built
as part of the Danish colonial fortifications.
Below: Charlotte Amalie still has many Danish colonial buildings.
Above: A monument at Havensight recalls the days when Charlotte Amalie was an important trading port for
Below: A WPA era mural in the main post office in Charlotte Amalie also pays tribute to the island's maritime history.
Below: A statue of St. Thomas educator, historian and author J. Antonio Jarvis.
The earliest inhabitants of St. Thomas are believed to have
been the Ciboney Indians who settled there around 1500 BC.
They were displaced by the Arawak people who were in
turn conquered by the Caribs.
During his second voyage to the New World, Christopher
Columbus came across the islands and named them the
Virgin Islands in honor of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.
Contact with the Europeans was a disaster for the Caribs and
within a few decades very few were left on the island.
According to local legend, during the second half of the 16th
Century, English privateers led by Sir Francis Drake used St.
Thomas as a base for raiding the Spanish Treasure fleets
that were carrying gold home from Spain’s New World
colonies. Legend also has it that in the coming centuries the
island was a base for pirates.
In the 1657, the Dutch West India Company established a
post on the island. However, by 1666, Captain Erik Neilson
Smith with the support of the Danish King Frederick III was made the official governor of St. Thomas and by 1672 the Danish West India Company had acquired the entire island.
The Danish company’s plan was to bring Danish convicts to
the Virgin Islands to work on sugar plantations. These
convicts from Northern Europe proved unsuited for the heat
and disease of the tropics and so the Danes began to import
African slaves for the plantations. This unfortunate scheme
was successful and some 200,000 slaves were brought to the
Danish Virgin Islands. While the other nearby Danish
possessions of St. Croix and St. John maintained a plantation
economy, St. Thomas became an important center in the
slave trade holding some of the largest slave auctions in the
The island came under direct control of the Danish
government in 1754, becoming a Royal Danish colony. Its
port city, Charlotte Amalie, is named after the wife of King
In 1792, Denmark announced the cessation of the slave
trade. In part due to a slave revolt in St. Croix in 1833,
slavery was abolished in 1848. As a result of this and the
discovery of the sugar beet, the sugar cane plantations were
no longer viable and the economy of the islands went into
St. Thomas with its fine natural harbor did have strategic
value and the Danes entered into discussions with the
Americans to purchase the Danish Virgin Islands in the
1860s. Nothing came of these discussions until the outbreak
of World War I. Concern that Germany might acquire the
islands and establish a naval base there thus threatening not
only the Caribbean but also the Panama Canal, led the United
States to purchase St. Thomas along with St. Croix and St.
John for $25 million in 1917. The three islands along with a
number of smaller islands then became known as the United
States Virgin Islands.
Underscoring its strategic importance, St. Thomas was
administered by the U.S. Navy for more than a decade.
During this time, inhabitants of the Virgin Islands gained U.S.
citizenship (1927). In 1931, administration of the island
was shifted to the Department of the Interior. A few years
later, a legislature called the Senate was established.
In 1954, the U.S. Virgin Islands became an official territory
of the United States. Full home rule came in 1970 and the
islands elected the governor for the first time.
For more on cruising to St. Thomas
Visit our St. Thomas home page
Cruise destination - - St Thomas (Caribbean) - Brief History