Virgin Islands, a group of small islands in the West Indies, just east of Puerto Rico, between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. There are more than 130 islands in the group, most of them uninhabited. Their total land area is 192 square miles (497 km2). The United States has jurisdiction over three of the largest islands—St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John—and about 60 others. The rest of the group is a possession of Great Britain.
|Facts in brief about the U.S. Virgin Islands|
|Capital: Charlotte Amalie (since 1917).|
|Government: U.S. Congress—one delegate in the House of Representatives who votes only in committees. Territorial legislature—a one-house legislature of 15 senators.|
|Area: 134 mi2 (347 km2). Coastline—117 mi (188 km).|
|Elevation: Highest—Crown Mountain on St. Thomas, 1,556 ft (474 m) above sea level; Lowest—sea level along the coasts.|
|Population: Current estimate—108,000; density, 806 per mi2 (311 per km2); distribution (2000 census), 93 percent urban, 7 percent rural. 2000 census—108,612.|
|Chief products: Agriculture—beef cattle, chickens, eggs, fruits, goats, hogs, milk, nuts, vegetables. Manufacturing—alumina, concrete products, electonics, petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, rum, textiles, and watches.|
|Flag and seal: The U.S. Virgin Islands flag, adopted in 1917, has a golden eagle with an olive branch in one claw and three arrows in the right claw on a white background. A yellow breast, the official bird of the islands, perched on the branch of a yellow cedar, the official tree, appears on the seal, adopted in 1991. The three major islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands—St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas—are also represented on the seal.|
The total area is 132 square miles (342 km2). Of volcanic origin, the islands are rocky and mountainous. The climate is generally mild and sunny, with an average annual temperature of 79° F. (26° C.). Trade winds from the northeast bring moisture to the windward shores but leave the lee shores fairly dry. Hurricanes sometimes occur during August, September, or October.
St. Croix, the largest island, has an area of about 84 square miles (218 km2). It is the least rugged of the islands. Along the northern coast are low, wooded mountains; in the south are fertile, rolling hills.
St. Thomas, covering 32 square miles (83 km2), has fine bays and beaches and a fringe of small islands offshore. The highest elevation in the United States islands is Crown Mountain (1,556 feet [474 m] above sea level) on St. Thomas.
St. John, with an area of about 20 square miles (52 km2), is rugged, with heavily forested hills. Like St. Thomas, it has deep bays and fine, white beaches. Virgin Islands National Park covers most of the inland area and includes much coastal water.
The islands have few natural resources. Much of the level land is too dry for farming, but can be used for pasture for livestock. St. Croix has the largest amount of land under cultivation. Sugarcane was once the most important crop but its importance has declined. Manufacturing is most developed on St. Croix, where rum, refined petroleum, and watches are produced.
Tourism is the islands' leading industry. St. Thomas and St. John are the chief tourist centers. Among attractions are the pleasant climate, beautiful scenery, and water sports. Other attractions are the free ports, which sell at bargain prices goods imported from all over the world.
The total 2000 population of the islands was 108,612. The population density was 822.8 persons per square mile (317.6 per km2), about 11 times that of the United States. Charlotte Amalie (on St. Thomas), the capital and chief port of the islands, had a population of 11,004. Christiansted and Frederiksted, on St. Croix, had 2,637 and 732 residents, respectively.
The people of the Virgin Islands are United States citizens. Most of them are of African ancestry; a few are of European descent. Several thousand persons from the United States live on the islands as permanent or part-time residents. There are also a large number of aliens, mainly black laborers from other Caribbean islands. The most widely spoken language is English.
School attendance is compulsory from age 5 through 16. The University of the Virgin Islands is in Charlotte Amalie.
The islands are under the supervision of the U.S. Department of the Interior, but are largely self-governing. The governor and lieutenant governor are elected for four years and members of the legislature, which consists of one house, for two. A delegate is sent to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Virgin Islands were inhabited by prehistoric peoples as early as 100 A.D. Christopher Columbus reached the islands in 1493. During the 17th century they were used as strongholds by buccaneers, and were held successively by Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark. In 1917 the United States bought the islands from Denmark for $25,000,000, and 10 years later granted the inhabitants full citizenship. After World War II the United States initiated public works projects and an economic development program. Beginning in the 1950's, tourism grew rapidly. In the 1980's, the islands were facing several problems, including increased unemployment and crime. In 1995 hurricane Marilyn caused widespread destruction, especially on St. Thomas.
The British islands are north and east of the United States islands. Their combined land area is 59 square miles (153 km2), and their population in 1991 totaled 16,749. Of the 16 inhabited islands, the largest are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke. The British Virgin Islands are governed by an administrator and executive council. The capital is Road Town, on Tortola.