August 30, 2012

The Virgin Islands: An American Territory


The Basics 

The US Virgin Islands are an unincorporated territory of the United States.  The US bought the islands from Denmark in 1916 and named them the US Virgin Islands.  Before that, the islands were called the Danish West Indies and were controlled by Denmark since the 17th Century.  America paid $25 million in pure gold for the US Virgin Islands!  One of the reasons that America purchased the islands was to ensure that they could not be taken over by Germany as a submarine base.  Denmark was just too far away to protect the islands, and so America wanted to take over the job itself.

The US Virgin Islands is a collection of islands – over 50 in total (some of those are tiny).   The main islands are Saint Thomas, Saint Croix and Saint John.  The Virgin Islands are in the Caribbean Sea, in between Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands.     Most of the islands were made by volcanoes, making some of them hilly and rocky.  But, they all have one thing in common – nearly perfect white sand beaches!

Like many of the other American territories, the US Virgin Islands has its own Constitution.  In addition, it has its own government that looks quite similar to our federal government.  The people elect a Governor and representatives to its Legislature.  In addition, its courts  our similar to our federal judicial system.


Its Claim to Fame

Buck Island is near St. Croix – it is an uninhabited island that is also an underwater national monument.  Buck Island and the coral reef that surrounds it are home to many different species of animals, plants and fish.  Buck Island is home to three different kinds of sea turtles, some of which are endangered species.  There are underwater trails in Buck Island, making it easy to explore if you are snorkeling!

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas is home to the famous 99 Steps, which lead from the harbor up to the oldest part of town.  It is unclear why these steps were made by the Danish – some think that it was a way to use the bricks that were stored in the bottom of the ships (they served as a ballast – keeping the ship upright in rough waters).  Some people think that they were built to follow orders from Denmark that the town be created in an orderly, grid-like fashion.  Either way, the steps are hundreds of years old and quite a work out!  If you count them, you will find that there are actually 103 steps!


What Makes it Tick

The culture of the US Virgin Islands is a combination of native and African influences.  The native people, called the Carib, controlled the islands until the Europeans took them over.  Denmark used the islands as a slave trading post, bringing slaves over from the western coast of Africa.  These slaves worked on the island plantations, which grew the labor intensive crops of sugar cane, cotton and indigo.

Sometimes, the US Virgin Islands are two hours ahead of the rest of America!  The islands are on Atlantic Standard Time, which is one hour ahead of the East Coast.   But, the US Virgin Islands but do not observe daylight savings time (neither does Puerto Rico).  As a result, from the months of March to November, the US Virgin Islands are two hours ahead of New York!


If You Visited

If you visited the US Virgin Islands, you would probably spend a lot of time at the beach!  The islands are known for their sandy white beaches.  And, the water is fairly calm, thanks to a number of reefs surrounding the islands.

You may hear the traditional island music, “Quelbe.”  Quelbe was created by African slaves who lived on the islands.  It is a mixture of African and European music and dance.  During the plantation days, the Danish would not allow African instruments or dance.  As a result, the slaves would create their own instruments, such as bamboo flutes, steel triangles, and dried gourds.  The slaves also copied the popular European dances, changing them to include some of their African culture.


Want to Know More? 

Check our US Virgin Islands scrapbook for information we received from the Governor and Board of Tourism.

Have you ever visited US Virgin Islands? If so, we want to hear from you!!  Post a comment at the end of this page.  Do you have any photos of the US Virgin Islands to share? Email them to: Or, post them to our Facebook page:

Our tour includes just a few things that are interesting and special about the US Virgin Islands.  Visit these websites to learn more:

Fun Recipes –