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Saint Thomas

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

The island of Saint Thomas was originally settled in 1,500 BCE by the Ciboney culture. They were later replaced by the Arawaks who were replaced by the Caribs. The island was sighted for Europeans for the first time by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. The island would never be inhabited by the Spanish and it would not be until 1657 when the Dutch West India Company established the first colonial outpost on the island.

The first church constructed on the island was the St. Thomas Reformed Church which was established in 1660 and connected to the larger Dutch Reformed Church. The island was eventually conquered by the Kingdom of Denmark in 1666 and in 1672 granted control over the island to the Danish West India and Guinea Company to be turned into a profitable colony.

In order to develop the plantation economy on the island the land was divided into plantation lots and sugar cane became the primary crop which was fueled by slave labor. The economies of neighboring Saint Croix and Saint John developed in a similar fashion. In 1685 the slave trade on Saint Thomas was controlled by the Brandenburgisch-Africanische Compagnie and some of the largest slave auctions in the entire world were held there.

Charlotte Amalie

One of the biggest reasons for the success of Saint Thomas was the presence of a natural harbor known as Taphus which referenced the taverns and great bars located just nearby. The primary settlement based around this harbor was officially named Charlotte Amalie in honor of the wife of King Christian V of Denmark. The port was later declared free by Frederick V. In December of 1732 the Moravian Brethren missionaries came from Herrnhut Saxony in present-day Germany to minister over the religious practices of the city. They were distrusted at first by the white slave masters so they lived among the slaves and quickly cultivated their favor.

In 1796 a small Jewish community began to develop in Charlotte Amalie and led to the construction of a historic synagogue known as Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim which is the oldest in continuous use in the United States.

Fort Christian

British Empire

The first British invasion of the Danish West Indies occurred at the end of March in 1801 as part of the Napoleonic Wars when the Royal Navy arrived in Saint Thomas and led to the islands being surrendered by the Danish without a fight. The British forced the Danish to cede them the islands according to the Articles of Capitulation which lasted until April of 1802 when they were returned to the Danish.

The British would invade the island of Saint Thomas again on 22 December of 1807 as part of the Second Napoleonic War along with Santa Cruz on 25 December. The Danish again did not resist and the British occupied the islands until 20 November 1815 when they were once again returned to the Danish. During all of the wars of Europe the economy of the Danish West Indies had been solely focused on the sugar trade and slavery which came to hurt the island overall throughout the early 19th century.

United States of America

During this era the export of a single cash crop was threatened by American competition along with hurricanes and drought. Following the Danish Revolution of 1848 slavery was abolished on the island which forced labor costs to rise and weakened the economic standing of the plantation owners and sugar producers on the island. The economic situation on the island was not looking good however, it still remained a strategic fortress given its harbor and fortresses and fortifications so the United States considered buying the islands from Denmark.

The first attempt of the USA to purchase the island of Saint Thomas and the rest of the Danish West Indies was in the 1860s following the Civil War for about $7.5 million USD. Congress failed to pass the legislation through and the purchase ultimately never happened. However, the islands were being poorly managed by the Danish and a local islander named David Hamilton Jackson became key in lobbying the United States to purchase the islands.

In 1915 Hamilton Jackson traveled to Denmark and attempted to convince the king to allow freedom of the press on the islands. Successful, he started the first newspaper on the island known as The Herald. Following this he organized labor unions among the islanders for improved working conditions. Even to this day he is a celebrated figure on the island and there is an annual celebration of him.

Finally, in 1917 the United States purchased the island of Saint Thomas along with neighboring Saint Crox and Saint John for $25 million in gold. This was part of the American strategy to control the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during WWI. The official transfer occurred on 31 March 1917 behind Fort Christian before the barracks that are currently home to the Legislature of the U.S Virgin Islands.

as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during the First World War. The transfer occurred on March 31, 1917, behind Fort Christian before the barracks that now house the Legislature of the U.S Virgin Islands. The baccalaureate service for the transfer was held at the St. Thomas Reformed Church as it was identified as the American church in the Danish West Indies. Percival Wilson Sparks, a U.S. Naval officer, designed the flag that now represents the United States Virgin Islands. Sparks married a local U.S Virgin Island woman, Grace Joseph Sparks; when Sparks' superior, Rear Adm. Summer Ely Wetmore Kitelle, commissioned the design for the flag, P. W. Sparks asked his wife and her sister, Blanche Joseph (later Sasso), to sew the first flag. That flag was used until such time as a factory-produced flag could be acquired. The flag's inspiration came from the U.S. Presidential seal. Sparks decided to have the eagle facing the olive branches (which represented peace) rather than the arrows (which represented the three islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John). (At the request of Emilie Rose Sparks Gray, a daughter of P.W. Sparks and Grace Sparks, so that the family would have clear and undeniable proof, this piece of history was entered into the Congressional Record in Washington, D.C., on April 30, 1986,[8] by the congressional delegate, Ron de Lugo.) Every year Transfer Day is recognized as a holiday, to celebrate the acquisition of the islands by the United States in 1917. U.S. citizenship was granted to the residents in 1927. The U.S. Department of the Interior took over administrative duties in 1931. American forces were based on the island during the Second World War. In 1954, passage of the U.S. Virgin Islands Organic Act officially granted territorial status to the three islands, and allowed for the formation of a local senate with politics dominated by the American Republican and Democratic parties. Full home rule was achieved in 1970. The post-war era also saw the rise of tourism on the island. With relatively cheap air travel and the American embargo on Cuba, the numbers of visitors greatly increased. Despite natural disasters such as Hurricane Hugo (1989) and Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn (1995), the island's infrastructure continues to improve as the flow of visitors continues. Hotels have been built from the West End to the East End.

Kingdom of Denmark

Danish West Indies

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