St. Croix, considered one of the jewels of the Caribbean, has been inhabited for more than 2,000 years. The first inhabitants were the Ciboneys, followed by the Arawaks from South America about 100 A.D. The fierce Carib Indians came next, joined for a short time by the peaceful Tainos people, and followed by Europeans, pirates, Africans, and more from around the world.
On Columbus’ 2nd voyage in 1493, he landed on St. Croix in the Salt River, and named it Santa Cruz. A battle ensued between the Caribs and the Spaniards, who left quickly. The first European settlements appeared in the late 1500’s, and continued into the 1600’s, by the French, English, Spanish, Knights of Malta, and Dutch. The demise of the original peoples occurred during these times.
In 1685, St. Thomas was established as a slave-trading post. More than 200,000 slaves, primarily from Africa’s west coast, were forcibly shipped to the islands for the backbreaking work of harvesting cane, cotton and indigo. St. John and St. Croix maintained the plantation economies, but St. Thomas developed as a trade center.
In 1733, St. Croix was added to the Danish West Indian Company, and slaves attacked St. John’s Frederiksvaern in Coral Bay, stopping operations but only for a few months. Not until 1792 would the Danes cease their slave trade. Then it took until 1848 for emancipation to be granted – still 17 years before it occurred in the U.S. Danish influence is very obvious in the architecture of the two main towns on St. Croix, Christiansted and Frederiksted.
In 1917, the Dutch sold St. Croix, and the other 2 islands, to the US for $17 million (the US wanted a position to defend against German U-boat attacks in the Caribbean). In 1927, citizenship was given to Virgin Islanders. Island lifestyle didn’t change much, under US governance, until the 1960’s, when tourism supplanted sugarcane as the dominant force in the economy. Today tourism brings in 70% of the territory’s revenue and as large a percentage of its jobs.