The United States Virgin Islands is a group of islands in the Caribbean that are an insular area of the United States. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles.
The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas, along with the much smaller but historically distinct Water Island, and many other surrounding minor islands. The total land area of the territory is 346.36 km² (133.73 sq mi). As of the 2000 census the population was 108,612.
Three of the main islands have nicknames often used by locals: "Twin City" (St. Croix), "Rock City" (St. Thomas), "Love City" (St. John), and "Small City" (Water Island).
The Virgin Islands were originally settled by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. The islands were named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Over the next three hundred years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Denmark-Norway.
The Danish West India Company settled on Saint Thomas in 1672, on Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754, their name translating to Jomfruøerne in Danish. Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries, until the abolition of slavery by Governor Peter von Scholten on July 3 1848.
For the remainder of the period of Danish rule, the islands were not economically viable and significant transfers were made from the Danish state budgets to the authorities in the islands. In 1867 a treaty to sell Saint Thomas and Saint John to the United States was agreed, but the sale was never effected. A number of reforms aimed at reviving the islands' economy were attempted, but none had great success. A second draft treaty to sell the islands to the United States was negotiated in 1902 but was narrowly defeated in the Danish parliament.
The onset of World War I brought the reforms to a close and again left the islands isolated and exposed. During the submarine warfare phases of the First World War, the United States, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base, again approached Denmark with a view to buying them. After a few months of negotiations, a selling price of $25 million was agreed. The Danish Crown may have felt some pressure to accept the sale, thinking that the United States would seize the islands if Denmark was invaded by Germany. At the same time the economics of continued possession weighed heavily on the minds of Danish decision makers, and a bipartisan consensus in favor of selling emerged in the Danish parliament. A subsequent referendum held in late 1916 confirmed the decision to sell by a wide margin. The deal was thus finalized on January 17 1917, when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. The U.S. took possession of the islands on March 31 1917 and the territory was renamed the Virgin Islands of the United States.
U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927.
Water Island, a small island to the south of Saint Thomas, was initially administered by the U.S. Federal government and did not become a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands territory until 1996, when 50 acres of land was transferred to the territorial government. The remaining of the island were purchased from the US Department of the Interior in May 2005 for $10, a transaction which marked the official change in jurisdiction.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, about east of Puerto Rico. The territory consists of four main islands: Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and Water Island, as well as several dozen smaller islands. The combined land area of the islands is roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are known for their white sand beaches, including Magens Bay and Trunk Bay, and strategic harbors, including Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted. Most of the islands, including Saint Thomas, are volcanic in origin and hilly. The highest point is Crown Mountain, Saint Thomas (474m). Saint Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, lies to the south and has a flatter terrain. The National Park Service owns more than half of Saint John, nearly all of Hassel Island, and many acres of coral reef. (See also Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Christiansted National Historic Site, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.)
The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated United States territory. Even though they are U.S. citizens, Virgin Island residents cannot vote in presidential elections. Virgin Island residents, however, are able to vote in presidential primary elections.
The main political parties in the U.S. Virgin Islands are the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, the Independent Citizens Movement, and the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands. Additional candidates run as independents.
At the national level, the U.S. Virgin Islands elects a delegate to Congress from its at-large . However, the elected delegate, while able to vote in committee, cannot participate in floor votes. The current House of Representatives delegate is Donna Christensen (D).
At the territorial level, 15 senators—seven from the district of Saint Croix, seven from the district of Saint Thomas and Saint John, and one senator at-large who must be a resident of Saint John—are elected for two-year terms to the unicameral Virgin Islands Legislature.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has elected a territorial governor every four years since 1970. Previous governors were appointed by the President of the United States.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has a District Court, Superior Court and the Supreme Court. The District Court is responsible for federal law, while the Superior Court is responsible for Virgin Islands law at the trial level and the Supreme Court is responsible for appeals from the Superior Court for all appeals filed on or after January 29, 2007. Appeals filed prior to that date are heard by the Appellate Division of the District Court. District Court judges are appointed by the President, while Superior Court and Supreme Court judges are appointed by the Governor.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The manufacturing sector consists of petroleum refining, textiles, electronics, rum distilling, pharmaceuticals, and watch assembly. The agricultural sector is small, with most food being imported. International business and financial services are a small but growing component of the economy. Hovensa, one of the world's largest petroleum refineries, is located on Saint Croix.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are permanently on Atlantic Standard Time and do not participate in daylight saving time. When the U.S. is on Standard Time, the U.S. Virgin Islands are one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. When the U.S. is on daylight saving time, Eastern Daylight Time is the same as Atlantic Standard Time.
The islands are subject to tropical storms and hurricanes. In recent history, substantial damage was caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. The islands were also struck by Hurricane Bertha in 1996, Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Hurricane Lenny in 1999, but damage was not as severe in those hurricanes.
There were 40,648 households out of which 34.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.2% were married couples living together, 24.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.5% were non-families. 30.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.64 and the average family size was 3.34.
In the territory the population was spread out with 31.6% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 27.1% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 8.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males. The annual population growth is -0.12%.
The median income for a household in the territory was $24,704, and the median income for a family was $28,553. Males had a median income of $28,309 versus $22,601 for females. The per capita income for the territory was $13,139. About 28.7% of families and 32.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 41.7% of those under age 18 and 29.8% of those age 65 or over.
The districts are:
|Sub-districts of Saint Croix:|
|Sub-districts of Saint Thomas:|
|Sub-districts of Saint John:|