John is the smallest of the three main United States Virgin
Islands (USVI), a United States territory. St. John is located
in the Caribbean Sea about 4 miles east of Saint Thomas and
4 miles south and west of Tortola, part of the British Virgin
Islands. It is roughly 20 square miles in area and has a population
of 4,157. There is no airport on St. John, so access to St.
John is by boat. Ferry service runs hourly from St. Thomas and
daily from Tortola; regular ferries are also available from
Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.
Search Here For St John Vacation Packages
John was first settled by the Arawak Indians who had migrated north from coastal
Colombia and Venezuela around AD 300. The Arawaks inhabited the island until around
the year AD 1300 when they were driven off by the more aggressive and warlike
Carib Indians. Extensive archaeological work was done from 1996 to the present
at Cinnamon Bay and the artifacts from this dig are just now being studied and
should yield more detailed information on pre-Columbus civilization in the Virgin
Christopher Columbus is credited with being the first European
to see the Virgin Islands during his Second Voyage to the
New World in 1493. He named the island group "Once Mil
Virgins", or Virgin Islands, in honor of the feast day
of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who were said to have
been martyred with her.
The Danish West India and Guinea Company was the first to
settle the island in 1672. They are also credited with naming
the island St. John. The Danish Crown took full control of
the colony in 1754 along with St. Thomas and St. Croix. Sugar
plantations, such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation,
were established in great numbers on St. John because of the
intense heat and fertile terrain. The opening of sugar plantations
also meant the importation of slaves from Africa. By 1775,
it is estimated that slaves outnumbered the Danish settlers
5 to 1. The indigenous Caribs and Arawaks were also used for
slave labor to the point of wiping out the entire population.
Slavery was finally abolished in St. John on July 3, 1848.
United States of America bought the Virgin Islands in 1917 in order to establish
a naval base to prevent German expansion in the western hemisphere. The U.S. government
paid $25 million for the three islands. They also agreed to recognize Denmark's
claim to Greenland, which had previously been disputed.
Virgin Islanders are now U.S. citizens, although they are
not able to vote in U.S. presidential elections and have only
non-voting status in Congress. The Virgin Islands are an organized,
unincorporated territory of the US and, since 1972, have elected
their own Governor and have a large degree of self-rule through
a small, 15-seat local legislature.
In 1956, Laurence Rockefeller donated most of the land he
had acquired on the island to the United States National Park
Service under the condition that it be protected from future
development. The remaining portion, the Caneel Bay Resort,
continues to operate on a lease arrangement while the park
owns the actual land. The Virgin Islands National Park borders
encompass 75% of the island, but various in-holdings within
the park boundary (eg. Peter Bay, Maho Bay) reduce the actual
land the park owns to 60%. However, much of the islands waters,
coral reefs and shoreline are protected by inclusion within
the park and this was expanded with the creation of the Virgin
Islands Coral Reef National Monument in 2001.