Saint Croix ('Santa Cruz') is an island in the Caribbean Sea, and a county and constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), an unincorporated territory of the United States. It is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, being 28 by 7 miles (45 by 11 km). However, the territory's capital, Charlotte Amalie, is located on Saint Thomas.
Arawaks and Caribs inhabited Saint Croix prior to European colonization. Christopher Columbus visited there on November 14, 1493 at the Salt River. Columbus called the island Santa Cruz ("Holy Cross"). His initial visit led to a battle in which one Spaniard and one Carib were killed, the first recorded violent confrontation between Europeans and indigenous peoples in the Americas. This heralded warfare between the Spaniards and Caribs which lasted for over a century, until the Spanish abandoned the island. In the seventeenth century, Dutch and English settlers, who soon came in conflict with one another, settled the island. Eventually the Dutch abandoned their settlement. Next, the English settlement was destroyed by the Spanish, who retook the island in 1650. However, they in turn were immediately ousted by the French.
The island was owned by the Knights of Malta after being bequeathed by Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy, governor of the French colony of St. Kitts in 1660. However, they sold it to the French West India Company five years later. Under Governor Dubois, the colony became profitable with over 90 plantations established, growing such crops as tobacco, cotton, sugar cane, and indigo. After Dubois's death, the colony declined and Europeans abandoned the island until 1733 when it was sold to the Danish West India and Guinea Company. This company placed no national restrictions on colonists and soon attracted Spanish Sephardic Jews, Huguenots, and English settlers, the last of which came to dominate the island. Sugar cane became the major crop. Eventually, however, the development of the sugar beet in Europe undermined the economy of the colony.
Slavery was abolished in 1848, but in 1862, St. Croix received a shipload of East Indians that were indentured on the island for five years. There was a labor revolt by former slaves in 1878 when much of Frederiksted, one of the island's two towns, was burnt in a labor revolt now known as the "Fireburn". It was reportedly led by four women known as the "Queens" of the revolt, and a modern island thoroughfare is named after "Queen Mary" Thomas.
In 1917, the Danish West Indies were sold by Denmark to the United States of America for $25 million in gold. The U.S. feared the island would fall into German hands and be used as a base for attacks against the United States and its interests in the western hemisphere. In return, the United States backed Denmark's claim to Greenland.
St. Croix suffered major devastation on September 17–18, 1989 when Hurricane Hugo hit the island. The island then suffered a fair amount of damage during Hurricane Marilyn in September 1995. Hurricanes Georges and Lenny also struck the island in 1998 and 1999, but damage was minimal in comparison. There are still many buildings, especially on the outskirts of Christiansted, that still lie in ruins as a result of hurricanes.
Although the U.S. Virgin Islands remain under the U.S. flag, the islands are an unincorporated territory with a non-voting delegate to the United States House of Representatives. Residents are U.S. citizens, but have no vote in national elections and generally do not pay taxes to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, though taxes are paid, using U.S. law, to the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue.
There are two towns on the island; Christiansted with a 2004 population of 3,000 and Frederiksted with a 2004 population of 830. The total population of the island is about 60,000. The official 2000 census count was 53,234 , living on a land area of 214.66 km² (82.88 sq mi). Inhabitants are called Crucians and English is the most common language. Spanish is spoken by the large Puerto Rican and smaller Dominican (Dominican Republic) populations, and a French Creole is spoken by the large St. Lucian and Dominican (Dominica) populations. A native English-based dialect known on the island as Crucian, but formally known as Virgin Islands Creole, is also spoken by the majority of the population in informal situations.
Buck Island Reef National Monument preserves a 176 acre (71 ha) island just north of Saint Croix and the surrounding reefs. This is a popular destination for snorkelers.
There are several scuba diving companies operating from Christiansted. Off the north coast of the island, there are many good destinations for diving, featuring scenic coral reefs, clear water, and abundant tropical fish. Prominent among these are Cane and Divi bays along with Long reef which encompasses a large portion of the northern side of the island. The reef also serves as a natural barrier against sharks and jellyfish. However around other portions of the island, notably Frederiksted, hammerhead and tiger sharks can be seen. Shark attacks on the island are very rare.
St. Croix lies at : the easternmost point in the United States is considered to be Point Udall. The island has an area of a little over eighty square miles (207 km²). The terrain is rugged, though not extremely so. The highest point on the island, Mount Eagle, is 1,165 feet (355 m) high. Most of the east end is quite hilly and steep, as is the north side from Christiansted west. From the north side hills a fairly even plain slopes down to the south coast: this was the prime sugar land on the island. The trade wind blows more or less along the length of the island, and the hills of the western part of the island receive a good deal more rain than the east end; annual rainfall is on the whole extremely variable, averaging perhaps forty inches (1000 mm) a year. Fairly severe and extended drought has always been a problem, particularly considering the lack of fresh ground water and lack of freshwater streams, rivers, or bays on the island. The island does have a desalination plant, however most residential homes and businesses have a built-in cistern used to collect rainwater.
St. Croix is home to HOVENSA, one of the world's largest oil refineries. HOVENSA is a limited liability company owned and operated by Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp. (HOVIC), a division of U.S.-based Hess Corporation, and Petroleos de Venezuela, SA, the national oil company of Venezuela. Because of the presence of the oil refinery, gas prices have customarily been 50 cents cheaper than gas prices in the continental United States and the other Virgin Islands.
St. Croix is also home to the Cruzan Rum Distillery, makers of Cruzan Rum and other liquors such as Southern Comfort. The Cruzan Rum Distillery was founded in 1760, and for many years used locally grown sugar cane to produce a single "dark" style rum. The distillery now imports sugar cane molasses from other Caribbean islands, primarily from the Dominican Republic. In recent years Cruzan Rum, along with Bacardi from Puerto Rico and Gosling's from Bermuda, has also contributed to the resurgence of "single barrel" super-premium rum. Examples of this are Cruzan Estate Diamond Rum (aged 5 years in American oak barrels) and Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum (aged 12 years in American oak barrels).
Puerto Rican migration was prevalent in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, as many Puerto Ricans relocated to St. Croix to cut sugar cane after the collapse of the sugar cane industry in Puerto Rico. In addition, the U.S. Navy purchase of two-thirds of the nearby Puerto Rican island of Vieques during World War II resulted in the eviction of thousands of agricultural workers, many of whom relocated to St. Croix because of its similar size and geography as Vieques. There is a local holiday, Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands Friendship Day, that has been celebrated since the 1960s on the same date as Columbus Day. Puerto Ricans in St. Croix today, most of whom removed from Puerto Rico by at least a generation, have kept their culture alive while integrating into the mainstream Crucian culture as well. For example, many Puerto Ricans in St. Croix today speak a unique Spanglish-like combination of Puerto Rican Spanish and the local Crucian dialect in informal situations. The Puerto Rican presence on the island is so extensive that St. Croix has sometimes been described by scholars as being as much a part of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean as it is a part of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Migration from "down-island", a Virgin Islander colloquial term for Caribbean islands east and south of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, occurred mainly throughout the 1960s and 70s, when agriculture died out as a main industry on St. Croix to be replaced by tourism and oil refining. Jobs were plentiful in these industries and down-islanders came to St. Croix by the thousands to fill these jobs. Many down-islanders made St. Croix their permanent home, while others eventually returned to their native islands. Most down-islanders came from St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia and Dominica, but people from every British West Indian island can easily be found on St. Croix.
Continental Americans (mainly White), although small in number in comparison to Caribbean immigrants, have also been part of the St. Croix community. Most reside on the East End of St. Croix, although continental Americans can be found in many other areas of the island. Continental Americans, however, are sometimes seen by the locals as imposing their customs and way of life without respect for the traditions, heritage and culture of the island.
Arab Palestinians have been an influential part of the local economy since the 1960s, when they first started to migrate to St. Croix to set up shops. Like many other Caribbean islands, today, most gas stations and supermarkets on St. Croix are owned by members of the local Arab population.
St. Croix's history of migration has sometimes caused tensions among immigrants and those Crucians whose ancestry on the island dates back for generations. While these tensions have subsided to some extent in recent years mainly due to intermarriage among Crucians and other Caribbean peoples, in the late 1990s an attempt was made to legislate the definition of a "native Virgin Islander" as anyone who could trace their ancestry to 1927, the year in which Virgin Islanders were given U.S. citizenship. This effort, by a select group of nationalist senators, eventually failed after much public outcry, considering the fact that most born Virgin Islanders would not qualify as "native" under the proposed legislation (but, ironically, thousands of Danish citizens would, the legislation being so poorly worded).
Christianity is the dominant religion on St. Croix. Protestant denominations are the most prevalent, but there is also a significant Roman Catholic presence due to St. Croix's large Hispanic population as well as Irish influence during the Danish colonial times. Like many other Caribbean islands, various strains of Rastafarianism are prominent on the island. Islam is prevalent among the small local Arab population, and there is a small Jewish presence, as well.
There is a public bus service called Virgin Islands Transit VITRAN, operated by Department of Public Works.
In addition to taxis and buses, St. Croix has shared taxis, locally known as "taxi buses" (these are also found on the other U.S. Virgin Islands). Taxi buses are full-sized vans which follow a predefined route from Frederiksted to Christiansted. These taxi buses are privately owned and operated; they do not follow a regular schedule, and there are no pre-specified stops. Instead, people simply wait by the side of the road until a taxi bus approaches, then flag the driver down by waving. Passengers can be dropped off anywhere along the taxi route. Taxi buses charge a flat rate for the trip, regardless of where a rider gets on and off. Taxis to specific locations are much more expensive and are mostly used by tourists. They are not metered and are required by law to charge a flat fare that varies by destination.
The Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport services St. Croix with regular flights from the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico, and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean. Seaplanes, operated by Seaborne Airlines, also service the island, taking off and landing in Christiansted Harbor. Ferry service to St. Thomas runs from Gallows Bay. Although St. Croix is a U.S. territory, travelers to the continental United States and Puerto Rico need to pre-clear U.S. customs and present a passport or proof of U.S. citizenship or nationality, because the USVI is maintained as a "free port" in a separate customs zone. The immigration status of non-U.S. citizens may be checked during this process as well.
Along with other nearby islands, locals celebrate what is known as a full-moon party at the end of every month when there is a full moon in the sky. The annual Agricultural and Food Fair is held in mid-February.
A local festival, termed "Crucian Christmas Festival", is celebrated on St. Croix throughout late December and early January. Every year the Saturday before Mardi Gras there is a local Mardi Croix parade and a dog parade through the North Shore. Several times a year, there is a nighttime festival in Christiansted called "Jump-Up" and a monthly event called "Sunset Jazz" in Frederiksted, where local jazz musicians play along the Frederiksted waterfront.
The St. Croix Half Ironman Triathlon is held in the first week of May. The Triathlon includes a 1.4 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run. Because the bicycle route includes a ride up the incredibly steep hill called "The Beast", this triathlon is often nicknamed "Beauty and the Beast".