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The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) is also called the US Virgin Islands. This Caribbean island chain is a United States territory. The islands are part of the Virgin Islands archipelago, in the Leeward Islands.

The islands include St Croix, St John, and St Thomas. However, if you include the other surrounding minor islands, the total land area is 346 square kilometres. The capital is Charlotte Amalie, on the island of St Thomas.

History

The original islanders were the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. When Christopher Columbus subsequently named his “newly discovered” islands in 1493, he honoured Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. During the next two centuries, different European powers held control of the island chain. These included Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, France and finally, Denmark–Norway.



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Sugar plantations

Sugarcane drove the Islands’ economy while the European colonialists lived there. Fortunately, the continuous sunshine and fertile terrain provided ideal growing conditions. However, sugar became more challenging to produce when the abolition of slavery (thankfully) came into effect in 1848. Previously, the colonialists relied entirely on slave labour, using both indigenous people and imported African slaves.

Over the following years, strict labour laws led planters to abandon their estates. Therefore, this created a significant drop in population and the overall economy. The remaining years of Denmark’s rule left the region without a viable income. The Danish tried to revive the islands’ economy but without success.

United States intervention

The onset of World War I stopped all attempts to reform the US Virgin Islands. Consequently, they were left isolated and exposed to attack. The United States feared that Germany might seize the region as a submarine base. Eventually, the US paid $25 million in gold to buy the island chain. Denmark and the US signed the Treaty of the Danish West Indies in August 1916. The islands were on their way to become the USVI. In 1927, US Virgin Islands residents gained American citizenship.

Modern USVI

The population of over one million people is mostly Afro-Caribbean. Tourism, construction and farming provide the income for the majority of residents.

Holidaymakers enjoy the US Virgin Islands because of their white sandy beaches, including Magens Bay and Trunk Bay. The year-round sunshine makes the islands a favourite place to celebrate an American Christmas on the water. Yacht charter tourism creates a considerable portion of the region’s economy.

The deep turquoise sea creates natural harbours along the Anegada Passage, including at Charlotte Amalie. Like many Caribbean islands, the US Virgin Islands are mainly volcanic and rocky. St. Croix, however, is coral in origin. Consequently, St. Croix’s vibrant coral reef is protected as one of the National Parks in the region.

Climate

The USVI enjoy a tropical climate, with little seasonal change throughout the year. Rainfall is usually concurrent with the sunniest months of May to October. Northeast trade winds prevail in the winter months.

In September 2017, a double hit of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria slammed the U.S. Virgin Islands. Category 5 storms caused extensive damage and took out the island’s power. The aftermath caused 3,200 Virgin Islanders to move to the US mainland for better job opportunities and more stability.

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