Located 1635 miles SE of New York and 1100
miles ESE of Miami, St. Thomas is the most cosmopolitan of the 50 odd
islands, islets and keys that form the United States Virgin Islands. St.
Thomas is 13 miles long and 4 miles wide comprising 33 square miles. Crown
Mountain is the tallest peak at 1550 feet.
St. Thomas is a part of a submerged land band
that, with Cuba, Jamaica, Hispanola, Puerto Rico, St. John and the BVI's,
is known as the Greater Antilles. A two mile trench separates St. Croix and the
other islands of the Caribbean which are known as the Greater
St. Croix was among the first of the islands
sighted by Columbus on his second westward voyage in 1493. As he sailed
northwest he encountered the rest of the islands and gave them the collective
name, Las Virgins after St. Ursula and her 11,000 martyred virgins. Ursula was
the daughter of an early English king who, upon returning from a pilgrimage to
Rome with her maidens, were murdered by the Huns at Cologne. She was later
named a Catholic saint.
The islands were populated with two very
different tribes of Indians: the peace loving agrarian Arawaks and the warlike
Caribes. By the mid 1600's when the European community took an interest in the
islands the Indian population had all but disappeared. Today a small tribe of
Carib Indians still lives on Dominica.
The first settlers in the area were pirates.
Captain Kidd, Blue Beard, Anne Bonny and Black Beard (Edward Teach) are still
famous for their residency and their names are still prevalent throughout the
area. Drawn by the potential of a lucrative crop of sugarcane and it's ever
popular by-product, rum, many European countries set out to colonize the
islands. After many false starts, in 1671 the Danish king Christian V supported
an expedition chartered by the West Indian Company . They established a
stronghold in St. Thomas' deep water harbor and named it after the Danish queen,
Charlotte Amalie. The West India company also laid claim to St. John and worked
hard to develop its agricultural potential. In 1733 Denmark purchased St. Croix
from the French and with all three islands the West India Company held a
powerful share of the trade for this region. By 1794 the Danish government,
under pressure from the regions smaller plantation owners and merchants ,
bought out all the shares in the West India Company and introduced free trade in
the crown colonies . During the turbulent Napoleonic wars in the early 1800's
the British briefly occupied the islands and the disruption began a decline in
the islands' importance in trade and sugar cane production. In 1867 the United
States had an agreement with Denmark to purchase the islands for $7.5 million.
However, 1867 was a bad year for the Virgin Islands. A cholera epidemic
struck, then a devastating fire swept through Charlotte Amalie burning most of
the wood warehouses and offices. In October a hurricane hit the islands and if
that were not enough, only 20 days later a 27 foot tidal wave destroyed the
harbor and what was left of the town. Not surprisingly, the United States
Senate declined ratification of the agreement and purchased Alaska instead.
Finally, in 1917, in response to the First World war, the US approached Denmark
again and on January 17th the sale for $25 million was finalized .
Today Charlotte Amalie stands again as a
commercial center for the islands. Rebuilt by stone and coral, the old
warehouses still stand, only now they are housing local art and duty free
goods. There are bargains galore and it is a wonderful place for shopping for
jewelry, souvenirs and, of course, rum! Before we leave for the British Islands
or when we return, it is easy to find time from your charter yacht to shop in
this historic marketplace.