St. Thomas Island HistorySt. Thomas Island History
Like most of the Caribbean, St. Thomas island was first settled by South American natives. The Taino Indians were on St. Thomas island when Christopher Columbus reached what would become the US and British Virgin Islands in 1493. Columbus' observation of the area's many curving quays prompted him to name St. Thomas island and the others after Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.
The Spanish didn't stay long on St. Thomas island; leaving it sparsely defended allowed a mix of European settlers to stake claim there throughout the seventeenth century. St. Thomas island, along with its neighbors St. John and St. Croix, was bought by the Danish government in 1733 from the Danish West India Company. As its soil was ill fit for agriculture, St. Thomas island became a bustling economic port through which products from the rest of the Caribbean were traded, and was renowned for its beautiful and easily accessible harbor of Charlotte Amalie. St. Thomas island flourished during this time, in part, because Denmark remained neutral during many European conflicts, leaving St. Thomas island unaffected as a bargaining tool in their squabbles. A prosperous merchant class grew during this time, a legacy that remains on St. Thomas island in the form of its well-developed shipyards.
St. Thomas island remained under Danish rule until 1917, when it was bought as a precaution by an American government that was fearful of German infiltration in the Caribbean during
World War I. The names of St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas island were kept but, from that point on, they were known collectively as the US Virgin Islands (USVI).
The first resorts were built on St. Thomas island in the mid-twentieth century which, with the beginning of direct flights from the North American mainland, quickly made tourism the most important element of the St. Thomas island economy. A flood of settlers over those years has increased St. Thomas island population enormously, many of whom come seeking better economic opportunities -- the USVI claims the highest per capita income in the West Indies. Today, 50,000 people of varying ethnicity call St. Thomas island home, 10% of whom are employed in the tourist industry.
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