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United States Virgin Islands

Related subjects: North American Geography

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United States Virgin Islands
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "United in Pride and Hope"
Anthem:  Virgin Islands March
and largest city
Charlotte Amalie
18°21′N 64°56′W
Official languages English
 -  Head of State George W. Bush
 -  Governor John de Jongh
Organized, unincorporated territory
 -  Revised Organic Act 22 July 1954 
 -  Total 346.36 km2 ( 202nd)
133.73 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.0
 -  July 2007 estimate 108,448 ( 191st)
 -  2000 census 108,612
 -  Density 354/km2 ( 34th)
916.9/sq mi
Currency U.S. dollar ( USD)
Time zone Q ( UTC-4)
 -  Summer ( DST) not observed ( UTC)
Calling code 1 340
ISO 3166 code US-VI
Internet TLD .vi
Trunk Bay, St. John

The United States Virgin Islands is a group of islands in the Caribbean that are an insular area 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 consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas, along with the much smaller but historically distinct Water Island, and many other surrounding minor islands. The total land area of the territory is 346.36 km² (133.73 sq mi). As of the 2000 census the population was 108,612.

Three of the main islands have nicknames often used by locals: "Rock City" (St. Thomas), "Love City" (St. John), and "Twin City" (St. Croix).


The Virgin Islands were originally settled by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. The islands were named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Over the next three hundred years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Denmark-Norway.

The Danish West India Company settled on Saint Thomas in 1672, on Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754, their name translating to Jomfruøerne in Danish. Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries, until the abolition of slavery by Governor Peter von Scholten on July 3 1848.

For the remainder of the period of Danish rule, the islands were not economically viable and significant transfers were made from the Danish state budgets to the authorities in the islands. In 1867 a treaty to sell Saint Thomas and Saint John to the United States was agreed, but the sale was never effected. A number of reforms aimed at reviving the islands' economy were attempted, but none had great success. A second draft treaty to sell the islands to the United States was negotiated in 1902 but was narrowly defeated in the Danish parliament.

The onset of World War I brought the reforms to a close and again left the islands isolated and exposed. During the submarine warfare phases of the First World War, the United States, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base, again approached Denmark with a view to buying them. After a few months of negotiations, a selling price of $25 million was agreed. The Danish Crown may have felt some pressure to accept the sale, thinking that the United States would seize the islands if Denmark was invaded by Germany. At the same time the economics of continued possession weighed heavily on the minds of Danish decision makers, and a bipartisan consensus in favour of selling emerged in the Danish parliament. A subsequent referendum held in late 1916 confirmed the decision to sell by a wide margin. The deal was thus finalized on January 17 1917, when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. The U.S. took possession of the islands on March 31 1917 and the territory was renamed the Virgin Islands of the United States.

U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927.

Water Island, a small island to the south of Saint Thomas, was not included in the original sale. It remained in the possession of the Danish West India Company until 1944, when it too was bought by the USA for $10,000. It was initially administered by the U.S. Federal government and did not become a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands territory until 1996, when 50 acres of land was transferred to the territorial government. The remaining 200 acres (0.81 km2) of the island were purchased from the US Department of the Interior in May 2005 for $10, a transaction which marked the official change in jurisdiction.


Map of the U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, about 90 miles (140 km) east of Puerto Rico. The territory consists of four main islands: Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and Water Island, as well as several dozen smaller islands. The combined land area of the islands is roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are known for their white sand beaches, including Magens Bay and Trunk Bay, and strategic harbors, including Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted. Most of the islands, including Saint Thomas, are volcanic in origin and hilly. The highest point is Crown Mountain, Saint Thomas (474m). Saint Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, lies to the south and has a flatter terrain. The National Park Service owns more than half of Saint John, nearly all of Hassel Island, and many acres of coral reef. (See also Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Christiansted National Historic Site, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.)

The Virgin Islands lie on the boundary of the North American plate and the Caribbean Plate. Natural hazards include earthquakes, tropical cyclones, and hurricanes.


Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Christiansted, the largest town on St. Croix

The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated United States territory. Even though they are U.S. citizens, Virgin Island residents cannot vote in presidential elections. Virgin Island residents, however, are able to vote in presidential primary elections.

The main political parties in the U.S. Virgin Islands are the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, the Independent Citizens Movement, and the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands. Additional candidates run as independents.

At the national level, the U.S. Virgin Islands elects a delegate to Congress from its at-large congressional district. However, the elected delegate, while able to vote in committee, cannot participate in floor votes. The current House of Representatives delegate is Donna Christensen (D).

At the territorial level, 15 senators—seven from the district of Saint Croix, seven from the district of Saint Thomas and Saint John, and one senator at-large who must be a resident of Saint John—are elected for two-year terms to the unicameral Virgin Islands Legislature.

The U.S. Virgin Islands has elected a territorial governor every four years since 1970. Previous governors were appointed by the President of the United States.

The U.S. Virgin Islands has a District Court, Supreme Court and Superior Court. The District Court is responsible for federal law, while the Superior Court is responsible for Virgin Islands law at the trial level and the Supreme Court is responsible for appeals from the Superior Court for all appeals filed on or after January 29, 2007. Appeals filed prior to that date are heard by the Appellate Division of the District Court. Judges are appointed by the President and the governor respectively.

The United States Congress has never organized local referendums to aid in the self-determination. As with Puerto Rico, the residents have been given the choice of independence, status quo, or statehood via local plebiscites not validated or approved by the U.S. Congress. However, these measures have failed to attract sufficient civic interest or voter turn-out to produce even a noteworthy plurality, much less a majority, and thus the islands will retain their current territorial status for the foreseeable future.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.


Magens Bay, St. Thomas

Tourism is the primary economic activity. The islands normally host 2 million visitors a year, many of whom visit on cruise ships.

The manufacturing sector consists of petroleum refining, textiles, electronics, rum distilling, pharmaceuticals, and watch assembly. The agricultural sector is small, with most food being imported. International business and financial services are a small but growing component of the economy. Hovensa, one of the world's largest petroleum refineries, is located on Saint Croix.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are permanently on Atlantic Standard Time and do not participate in daylight saving time. When the U.S. is on Standard Time, the U.S. Virgin Islands are one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. When the U.S. is on daylight saving time, Eastern Daylight Time is the same as Atlantic Standard Time.

The islands are subject to tropical storms and hurricanes. In recent history, substantial damage was caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. The islands were also struck by Hurricane Bertha in 1996, Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Hurricane Lenny in 1999, but damage was not as severe in those hurricanes.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is the only part of the United States where traffic drives on the left, though almost all vehicles are left hand drive (as they are imported from the United States).


As of the census of 2000, there were 108,612 people, 40,648 households, and 26,636 families residing in the territory. The racial makeup of the territory was 76.19% Black or African Descent, 13.09% White, 7.23% from other races, and 3.49% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13.99% of the population.

There were 40,648 households out of which 34.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.2% were married couples living together, 24.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.5% were non-families. 30.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.64 and the average family size was 3.34.

In the territory the population was spread out with 31.6% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 27.1% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 8.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males. The annual population growth is -0.12%.

The median income for a household in the territory was $24,704, and the median income for a family was $28,553. Males had a median income of $28,309 versus $22,601 for females. The per capita income for the territory was $13,139. About 28.7% of families and 32.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 41.7% of those under age 18 and 29.8% of those age 65 or over.

Districts and sub-districts

Districts and Sub-districts of the U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are administratively divided into two districts and subdivided into 20 sub-districts.

The districts are:

  • St. Croix
  • St. Thomas/ St. John/ Water Island

Sub-districts of Saint Croix:

  1. Anna's Hope Village
  2. Christiansted
  3. East End (St. Croix)
  4. Frederiksted
  5. Northcentral
  6. Northwest
  7. Sion Farm
  8. Southcentral
  9. Southwest

Sub-districts of Saint Thomas:

  1. Charlotte Amalie
  2. East End (St. Thomas)
  3. Northside
  4. Southside
  5. Tutu
  6. Hassel Island
  7. West End

Sub-districts of Saint John:

  1. Central
  2. Coral Bay
  3. Cruz Bay
  4. East End (St. John)

The fourth U.S. Virgin Island is Water Island, formerly a district of St. Thomas.


The Cyril E. King International Airport serves St. Thomas and St. John and the Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport serves St. Croix. The U.S. Virgin Islands are the only area of the United States which drives on the left. It is not known the exact reason for this, but theories range from British influence in the 1800s to the donkey's preference to walk on the left side of the road when donkey carts were used instead of cars. There are problems with this, though, as most cars on the road are left hand drive, and therefore the driver sits to the outside of the road. This is because many of the cars are imported from the mainland United States.


Virgin Islands Department of Education serves as the territory's education agency.

Two school districts operate schools: St. Thomas-St. John School District of St. Thomas and St. John and St. Croix School District of St. Croix.

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