U.S. Virgin Islands
|The price the U.S. paid for the islands--compared to Alaska--shows waterfront property always costs more.|
The British and Dutch came, looked and didn't stay long. The French took control in 1650, laying out town sites, plantations and forts, but left by the end of that century.
However, the French did start one curious custom on St. Croix: having the hands and feet of newborn babies dyed indigo blue as an indication of wealth and to attract good fortune.
By 1733, the Danes controlled the islands, with the intent of turning sugar into gold, and lots of it. St. Croix, the largest and flattest island, was a natural for cultivation and became the leading sugar cane producer by 1750. Slaves were imported to work the fields in 1763.
Sugar brought St. Thomas and St. Croix great wealth, and the planters commissioned the elaborate, great houses you still see standing today. Few other islands can boast such attractive and durable structures.
When the sugar economy failed, the Danish West Indies became a financial drain instead of a valuable asset. The United States was interested in buying St. Thomas and St. John in 1867, shortly after the Civil War.
Denmark was agreeable but then the U.S. Congress was not. The U.S. made an offer for the islands in 1902 but that attempt also failed.
During World War I, the U.S. feared that Germany might capture the area and turn St. Thomas into a submarine base.
In 1917 the Danes accepted an offer of US$25 million. It was an expensive sale for its time, coming out to about $300 per acre. By comparison, Alaska cost about 2 cents an acre.
Through this purchase, the U.S. Virgin Islands became the first territory under the U.S. flag actually discovered by Columbus.
Driving, however, remains on the left.