St. Croix History


Estate Whim, St. Croix History

Wind mill at Estate Whim, St. Croix; credit USVI Tourism

St. Croix History

St. Croix was inhabited by the Arawak Indian tribe as early as 800 AD, followed by the Carib Indian tribe about a centoury before Columbus arrived. The Arawaks were a peaceful tribe in the various islands they inhabited. Fierce opposites, the Caribs were regarded as war mongers and cannibals by other Native Indian tribes. The Spanish word for Carib or “carribales” essentially means cannibals. With such fearsome neighbors, the Arawaks were often forced to live on larger islands where they could retreat into the hills when attacked. At a minimum, they paid tribute to the Caribs and begged to keep their lives. Just goes to show, bad people exist in every race.

On 14 November 1493, Columbus made his first visit to “Ayay” (as the Native Indians called St. Croix) and renamed it Santa Cruz. He was not welcomed by the Caribs. Upon anchoring at Salt River, a small boatload of Spaniards approached the shore and encountered a small canoe carrying four men and two women. A battle ensued, some were killed or maimed on both sides. Remaining Caribs were taken prisoner or enslaved. Shortly afterwards, King Charles V of Spain painted a very broad bruch by declaring all Indians in the islands (their native lands) as enemies to be eliminated.

War continued between the Caribs and Spaniards for nearly a century. As late as 1596, was not a major port for the Spanish chose to settle San Juan, Puerto Rico rather than St. Croix due to Carib attacks.

In the early 1600s, the Dutch and English cooperated to settle the Virgin Islands. Each country settled a separate side of a island. Inevitably, conflict over resources or boundaries or mishaps. After numerous battles, the Dutch abandoned St. Croix, leaving it to English controll until 1650 when the Spanish sent a fleet from Puerto Rico to slaughter everyone. With the English ousted, the Dutch mistakenly believed it to be abandoned and attempted to recapture St. Croix. Sending two ships from St. Eustatius who dropped anchor in front of Fort Frederik and proceeded to land. But the Spanish left 60 men to guard the fort. The moment Dutch anchors were dropped, Spanish artillery killed all but ten men.

Later in 1650, the better prepared French sent two vessels to capture St. Croix and succeeded. But the French fared poorly during their first colonization attempt in 1651. Two thirds of the colonists and two governors died of illnesses. Ten years later the Governor of St. Kitts bought St. Croix as his private estate and later deeded it to the Knights of Malta religious group. Then in 1665, the French West Indian Company bought the island from the Knights and the new Governor DuBois’ stewardship triggered the gorup of 90 plantations. Cash crops included tobacco, cotton, sugar cane and indigo. But After DuBois died, poor administration, drought and sickness from 1695 to 1733 ended advances had for St. Croix.

In 1733, the French sold St. Croix to the Danish West India & Guinea Company. The Danes cleverly allowed multi-national immigrants to purchase or work plantations. The English soon dominated and the sugar plantations flourished gain. One invention, however, throttled the sale of cane sugar to Europe. Between 1820 and 1840, the sugar beet became a feasible source of sugar throughout Europe. Since the sugar beet could be grown in Europe, it made no sense to send ships across the Atlantic for a more expensive product. The impact of this new source of sugar was catastrophic to Caribbean sugar economies even though it lead to abolishing slavery on the island in 1848. Economic condition on the island was so bad that former slaves rioted in 1878.

Denmark sold the Virgin Islands to the United States of America in 1917 for $25 million. St. Croix is now a U.S. Territory, along with the other U.S. Virgin Islands — St. Thomas and St. John. The island’s residents are U.S. citizens. The last sugar harvest took place in 1966. St. Croix’s economy then turned to the newly built oil refinery and the alumina plant. Since then, the economy has become more and more dependent upon tourism.

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