History of St. Thomas

Like many of the US and British Virgin Islands, St. Thomas was believed to originally be inhabited by tribes of Indians that lived on and cultivated the land until the arrival of European settlers. Also, like many of the other Virgin Islands, St. Thomas was discovered and quickly passed over by Christopher Columbus in 1493. For many years after its discovery ships from around the world would visit the island freely, creating small settlements along the coast.

In 1671, the Danish West India Company received a charter to take control of St. Thomas and create a settlement with plantations on the island. The first ship was sent out with over 120 people and a little over half of them died before ever reaching St. Thomas. Once the remaining settlers reached the island they did not last long before 50 more died. The deaths continued with the next three Danish ships that were sent to the island and caused the colony to grow at a very slow rate. Eventually, after several slave ships were sent to the island the number of plantation workers exceeded the number of settlers. By 1680 there were over 50 operating plantations on the island.

The officials of the settlement decided the most promising area of the island was in and around the harbor. They began to build Taphus which today is known as Charlotte Amalie. The name Taphus, meaning "beer house" seemed to inspire the inhabitants of St. Thomas and soon there were taverns lining the coast and drawing in all sorts. Some of the more frequent visitors to Taphus were sea travelers and pirates. St. Thomas became known as a meeting ground for traveling pirates all over the Caribbean and where many of today's popular pirating stories come from.

In 1685 a slave trading business was officially established on St. Thomas and by the 1700's the island was thriving on plantation slave trade and sugar. During this time the population also hit its peak jumping from 944 to 3,589. In 1717 the island felt a need for expansion so a group of soldiers was sent to claim St. John and St. Croix. Soon after St. Thomas became a free port in 1815, which allowed more opportunity for trade and business with other countries.

By the early 1900's the United States and Denmark met on several occasions to discuss the purchasing of the Danish West Indies. In 1917 the US was officially in control of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. In 1969 Charlotte Amalie was named the capital of all three islands and is a cruise ship destination stop to this day.

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