1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Virgin Islands

15058411922 Encyclopædia Britannica — Virgin IslandsWilliam Ray Manning

VIRGIN ISLANDS (see 28.126). The group of the Virgin Is. formerly known as the Danish West Indies was purchased by the United States from Denmark in 1917 for $25,000,000, the formal transfer taking place March 31 of that year. This group consists of the islands St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, together with about 50 smaller ones, most of them unnamed and uninhabited. These and the islands Vieques and Culebra ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898 now compose the Virgin Is. of the United States. The language of the people is English, although the islands had been under the Danish flag for 245 years. The total area of the three principal islands is about 132 sq. m.; St. Croix, the largest, had, according to the U.S. census of 1917, a pop. of 14,901; St. Thomas had 10,191; and St. John, 959, a total of 26,051, of which 7.4% were white, about 80% negroes and the remainder of mixed races. Illiterates constituted 24.9% of the pop. 10 years of age and over. The largest city in the islands, Charlotte Amalie, on the island St. Thomas, had in 1917 a pop. of 7,747. The other towns, Christiansted and Fredericksted on the island of St. Croix, had pop. of 4,574 and 3,144 respectively; these three towns embrace approximately 60% of the total population.

The principal industry, the production of sugar, rum and molasses, is confined to St. Croix. The importance of St. Thomas is due to its magnificent harbour, where the repairing and provisioning of vessels constitute practically the sole industry. In 1920 the U.S. Shipping Board completed an oil-fuelling station here with a capacity of 110,000 bar. St. John and St. Thomas produce the finest bay oil and bay rum in the world. In 1918 exports of bay rum amounted to 26,531 gal. valued at $29,101, and in 1919 these returns were more than doubled. There were, in 1917, 430 farms containing an area of 69,892 ac., which was 82.4% of the total land area. There were 6,084 persons, or 41.6% of the working population engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry, and 380 persons in fishing.

The total trade of the islands in 1919 was valued at $4,196,037, compared with $3,141,775 in 1918. Exports advanced from $1,249,346 in 1918 to $1,919,525 in 1919, while imports increased from $1,892,429 to $2,276,512. The major portion of this commerce was with the United States, being in 1918 more than seven times as great as with all foreign countries, and in 1919 about four times as great. The total exports of the islands to the United States in 1918 were valued at $1,137,501, 82% being sugar, compared with $1,593,13 in 1919, of which sugar constituted 88% Of the other exports to the United States the chief were rum, hides and skins, and cabinet woods. Of exports to foreign countries in 1919, spirituous liquors to Denmark constituted about 44% and bay rum about 18%. The principal imports from the United States are breadstuffs, meat and dairy products, iron and steel products, cotton manufactures and coal. Since 1918 fuel oil from Mexico has constituted a large proportion of the imports. Many of the provisions imported are resold as ships' stores, while nearly all of the coal and fuel oil imported are used for bunkering ships at St. Thomas.

Since the transfer of the islands from Denmark, their administration has been under the U.S. Navy Department. The first governor was Rear-Adml. James H. Oliver, who was relieved April 8 1919 by Rear-Adml. Joseph W. Oman, U.S. navy. The latter was succeeded in April 1921 by Capt. Sumner E. W. Kittelle. When the United States took over the islands educational facilities were limited, but steps have been taken to improve conditions. Improvements have been made also in the municipal hospitals and along sanitary lines generally, especial attention having been paid to infant welfare work.

(W. R. Ma.)