About St. John

Archaeological discoveries suggest that Indians lived on St. John as early as the mid-700s BC, and the British claimed St. John in the 1600s, but no lasting settlements were in place until the 1720s, when Europeans attracted by the possibility of cultivating sugar laid claim to the island. A group of Danish planters from St. Thomas had the first permanent settlement in Coral Bay in 1718. In the next 15 years, the island was taken up by 109 cane and cotton plantations. Growing these crops was not easy, as the hills had to be cleared and terraced, and the soil was thin where the trees were cleared. The increasing number of plantations thus led to greater demand for slaves, many of which were brought from Eastern Africa.

In 1733, a harsh slave code and a summer of natural disasters led a group of strong-willed slaves to rise up against the plantation owners and against slavery. The revolt lasted 7 months and left many Europeans and Africans dead until French and Swiss soldiers from neighboring islands were able to help the Danes settle the revolt. Slavery continued on the island until 1848, when a revolt on St. Croix prompted the Governor to abolish slavery.

The end of slavery meant that most of the plantations were no longer profitable and had to cease operations. The island’s population declined by half as the economy shifted to small scale subsistence farming over the next 20 years. By the early 20th century, cattle farming and bay rum production had also become major industries.

The United States purchased the island in 1917, and by the 1930s word of this Caribbean paradise had spread on the U.S. mainland. In 1956, Laurence Rockefeller bought and donated land to the Federal Government to establish a National Park. Since then other donations have increased the size of the park to include 7,200 acres of land and 5,600 acres of underwater lands.

Today, St. John is a thriving tourist destination. A recent construction boom is changing St. John from a quiet, sleepy island to one with a little more traffic and development.

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