St. Thomas History and Location

St. Thomas Claims a Rich History

Location

The island of St. Thomas is geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and they are located on the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. St. Thomas, USVI is located in the Atlantic Ocean, 40 miles east of Puerto Rico and west of the British Virgin Islands.

Early History

St. Thomas and the other US Virgin Islands have a long and fascinating history that is filled with many colorful characters. Christopher Columbus is credited with “discovering” the islands in 1493, but they had already been inhabited by indigenous people for approximately 3,000 years.

The first settlers were the nomadic Ciboney Indians, who were originally from South America and lived a simple life off the land. Later, the Arawak Indians arrived from Venezuela and occupied the islands for around 500 years. They were wiped out by the cannibalistic Carib Indians in the 15th century, who worked them to death as slaves or ate them. These tribes were completely destroyed when the European explorers arrived and brought new diseases.

Colonial History

Christopher Columbus sighted the islands on his second voyage to the New World and he named them “Las Once Mil Virgenes” after the 11,000 martyred virgins of the Christian St. Ursula. Spain claimed the Virgin Islands but decided not to colonize them, leaving them open to other European powers. Both the English and the Dutch established opposing outposts on St. Croix and struggles for control of St. Thomas and the other Virgin Islands continued for approximately 20 years.

In March 1671, the Danish West India Company attempted to settle St. Thomas. They sent over two ships but only one, The Pharaoh, survived the journey. Eventually, reinforcements arrived, and by 1679, there was a small colony of Europeans living on St. Thomas. This is the era during which some of the most famous Caribbean pirate legends such as Blackbeard, Sir Francis Drake, and Captain Kidd used St. Thomas as their base for maritime raids in the area.

St. Thomas and the other islands of St. John and St. Croix were purchased from the Danish by the United States in 1917 under the Treaty of the Danish West Indies. The U.S. wanted the islands for their strategic position in World War I. In 1927, U.S. citizenship was granted for all residents of the US Virgin Islands, including St. Thomas.

The USVI received an increase in tourism after the U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1959. Today, St. Thomas and the U.S. Virgin Islands are a popular vacation destination for visitors from all over the world.

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