The United States Virgin Islands (USVI; also called the US Virgin Islands or American Virgin Islands), officially the Virgin Islands of the United States, is a group of islands in the Caribbean and an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles.
The U.S. Virgin Islands consists of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, and many other surrounding minor islands. The total land area of the territory is 133.73 sqmi. The territory's capital is Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas.
Previously known as the Danish West Indies of the Kingdom of Denmark–Norway, they were sold to the United States by Denmark in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies of 1916. They are classified by the United Nations as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, and are currently an organized, unincorporated United States territory. The U.S. Virgin Islands are organized under the 1954 Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands and have since held five constitutional conventions. The last and only proposed Constitution, adopted by the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2009, was rejected by the U.S. Congress in 2010, which urged the convention to reconvene to address the concerns Congress and the Obama Administration had with the proposed document. The Fifth Constitutional Convention of the U.S. Virgin Islands met in October 2012 to address these concerns, but was not able to produce a revised Constitution before its October 31 deadline.
In 2010 the population was 106,405, and mostly Afro-Caribbean. Tourism and related categories are the primary economic activity, employing a high percentage of the civilian non-farm labor force that totaled 42,752 persons in 2016 (the total non-farm labor force was 48,278 persons). Private sector jobs made up 71 percent of the total workforce. The average private sector salary was $34,088 and the average public sector salary was $52,572.
In a May 2016 report, some 11,000 people were categorized as being involved in some aspect of agriculture in the first half of 2016 but this category makes up a small part of the total economy. (The islands have a significant rum-manufacturing sector.) At that time, there were approximately 607 manufacturing jobs and 1,487 natural resource and construction jobs. The single largest employer was the government. In mid-February 2017, the USVI was facing a financial crisis due to a very high debt level of $2 billion and a structural budget deficit of $110 million. Then early August 2017, the U.S. Virgin Islands government was rejected from the bond market.
The U.S. Virgin Islands were originally inhabited by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. The islands were discovered by the Spanish and named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Over the next two centuries, the islands were held by several European powers, including Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Denmark–Norway.
The Danish West India Company settled on St. Thomas in 1672, settled on St. John in 1694, and purchased St. Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754, named the Danish West Indian Islands (De dansk-vestindiske øer). Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Other plantation crops included cotton and indigo dye.
The Danish West India and Guinea Company are also credited with naming the island St. John (Danish: Sankt Jan). The Danish crown took full control of St. John in 1754 along with St. Thomas and St. Croix. Sugarcane plantations such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation were established in great numbers on St. John because of the intense heat and fertile terrain that provided ideal growing conditions. The establishment of sugarcane plantations also led to the buying of more slaves from Africa.
In 1733, St. John was the site of one of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World when Akwamu slaves from the Gold Coast took over the island for six months. The Danish were able to defeat the enslaved Africans with help from the French in Martinique. Instead of allowing themselves to be recaptured, more than a dozen of the ringleaders shot themselves before the French forces could capture them and call them to account for their activities during the period of rebel control. It is estimated that by 1775, slaves outnumbered the Danish settlers by a ratio of 5:1.
After a slavery rebellion in Saint Croix, slavery was abolished by governor Peter von Scholten on July 3, 1848, now celebrated as Emancipation Day. Although some plantation owners refused to accept the abolition, some 5,000 Black people were freed while another 17,000 remained enslaved. Over the following years, strict labor laws were implemented several times, leading to the 1878 St. Croix labor riot.