Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands
The island was originally settled around 1500 BC by the Ciboney people. They were later replaced by the Arawaks and then the Caribs. Christopher Columbus sighted the island in 1493 on his second voyage to the "New World". The Caribs seem not to have survived the first decades of contact with Europeans, either due to disease or deportation and extermination. Pirates likely made use of the island as an occasional base in the next 150 years.
Danish Colonial Period
The Danish established a presence on Saint Thomas as early as 1666, and by 1672 had established control over the entire island through the Danish West India and Guinea Company . The land was divided into plantations and sugar cane production became the primary economic activity. As a result, Saint Thomas and neighboring islands of Saint John and Saint Croix became highly dependent on slave labor. In 1685 the Brandenburg American Company took control of the slave trade on Saint Thomas, and for some time the largest slave auctions in the world were held there. Saint Thomas boasted a fine natural harbor, known as "Taphus" for the drinking establishments located nearby. In 1691 the primary settlement there was renamed Charlotte Amalie in honor of the wife of Denmark's King Christian V. It was later declared a free port by King Frederick V.
While the sugar trade had brought prosperity to the island's free citizens, by the early 19th century Saint Thomas was in decline. The continued export of sugar was threatened by hurricanes, drought, and American competition. In 1848, slavery was abolished and the resulting rise in labour costs further weakened the position of Saint Thomas' sugar producers. Given its harbors and fortifications, Saint Thomas still retained a strategic importance, and thus in the 1860s the United States government considered buying the island and its neighbors from Denmark for $7.5 million, but failed to find domestic legislative support for the bid.
In 1917 St. Thomas was purchased (along with Saint John and Saint Croix) by the United States for $25 million, as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Carribean and the Panama Canal during the First World War. U.S. citizenship was granted to the residents in 1927. The U.S. Department of the Interior took over administrative duties in 1931. American forces were based on the island during the Second World War. In 1954, passage of the U.S. Virgin Islands Organic Act officially granted territorial status to the three islands, and allowed for the formation of a local senate with politics dominated by the American Republican and Democratic parties. Full home rule was achieved in 1970.
The post-war era also saw the rise of tourism on the island. With relatively cheap air travel and the American embargo on Cuba, the numbers of visitors greatly increased. Despite natural disasters such as Hurricane Hugo (1989) and Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn (1995), the island's infrastructure continues to improve as the flow of visitors continues.
The island is serviced by Cyril E. King Airport.
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