Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands of the United States

The Virgin Islands of the United States (2010 pop. 106,405), 133 sq mi (344 sq km), are a U.S. territory. Although 68 islands comprise the group, only the three largest—St. Croix (80 sq mi/207 sq km), St. Thomas (32 sq mi/83 sq km), and St. John (20 sq mi/52 sq km)—are of importance. St. Thomas is mountainous and encloses many snug harbors and bays. Charlotte Amalie, the capital and the chief port, is on St. Thomas; it has one of the finest harbors in the Caribbean. Tourism, especially the cruise-ship trade, is the main source of income on St. Thomas. St. Croix, with less mountainous terrain, has an economy that depends in large part on tourism. Food crops are raised; sugarcane is no longer grown, but rum is still distilled. The towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted are on St. Croix. The Virgin Islands National Park covers much of St. John. Cattle are raised on all three islands. The Univ. of the Virgin Islands has campuses on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Under a law passed in 1954, the islands are administered by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. There is a 15-seat Senate, whose members are elected for two-year terms, and a governor, who is elected for a four-year term.

Settlement of St. Thomas was begun by the Danish West India Company in 1672; St. John was claimed by Denmark in 1683, and St. Croix was purchased from France in 1733. The islands became a Danish royal colony in 1754. In 1801, and again from 1807 to 1815, the islands were in British hands. They were purchased from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million because of their strategic position alongside the approach to the Panama Canal. Since 1927, residents have enjoyed U.S. citizenship, and since 1973 they have been represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by a nonvoting delegate. John deJongh was elected governor in 2006 and reelected in 2010.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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