About St. Croix
The first inhabitants of the island were the Arawaks and Caribs. Christopher Columbus visited Salt River on November 14, 1493, and named the island Santa Cruz, which means Holy Cross. At the same time, he named the larger group of islands to which Santa Cruz belonged “The Virgins” in reference to Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. Columbus’ first visit led to a battle in which lives were lost for both the Spaniards and the natives. Columbus moved on, but the fighting between the Spaniards and the natives would last another 100 years. By the late 1500s, the island was uninhabited.
The Dutch and English settled the island next, almost simultaneously, in the early 1600s. The two parties were soon in conflict with one another. The Dutch abandoned the island after numerous attacks, leaving the English to rule the island until 1650. It was then that the Spanish sent an army of 1,200 men to recapture the island. They slaughtered the English, but controlled the island for only a short time (less than a year) before the French ousted them. The French struggled in this first colonization attempt, losing two-thirds of the original 300 colonists and two governors to illness in the first year. Ten years later, the Governor of St. Kitts, Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy, bought the island and bequeathed it to the Knights of Malta, who also fared poorly on the island. In 1665, they sold the island to the French West Indian Company, who were finally able to flourish on the island. The colony became profitable under the leadership of Governor Dubois, with over 90 plantations growing crops such as tobacco, cotton, sugar cane, and indigo. The island rapidly declined after Dubois’ death due to drought, sickness, and a lack of leadership, and by 1695 it had been abandoned.
In 1733, the French government sold the island to the Danish West India and Guinea Company. Wisely, the company chose not to restrict immigration to the island, instead allowing people from any nation to settle there. Among those who came to St. Croix were Spanish Sephardic Jews, Huguenots, and English settlers. The English soon dominated the island, and theirs was the language spoken on the streets. Sugar cane became the major crop, and for more than one hundred years the island’s economy flourished. The development of the sugar beet in Europe spelt disaster for the St. Croix sugar industry.
Slavery was abolished in 1848, but the island’s economy was so bad that former slaves rioted in 1878, burning much of the town of Frederiksted.
In 1917, St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas were sold to the United States for $25 million. The islands are a US territory, with a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives. Residents of the islands are US citizens, but do not pay federal taxes and have no vote in national elections.
The island’s economy has been aided by the construction of an oil refinery in 1965 and an alumina plant in 1972 (closed in 2002). Since the 1950s, the tourism industry has also seen steady growth.