About Virgin Gorda
Columbus is often credited with discovering the Virgin Islands, but the first people to come to the islands were actually Amerindians. Igneri, Taino, and Carib Indians were the first inhabitants of Virgin Gorda from about 900 BC.
Columbus did come across the islands on his second voyage to the New World in 1493, and he named them the Virgin Islands after Ursula and her 11,000 virgins for their untouched beauty and numerous cays. Legend has it that he saw the shape of a reclining pregnant woman in Virgin Gorda, or “Fat Virgin.” As there wasn’t any gold on the Virgin Islands, they were ultimately passed by until pirates and privateers of the 17th century discovered their many sheltered coves. Blue Beard, Black Beard, and many others are said to have launched theirs raids from the British Virgin Islands’ shores.
The first permanent settlement arrived on Virgin Gorda in 1680, when British planters arrived from Anguilla. Despite the island’s rocky soil and steep terrain, plantations were quickly established to grow cotton and sugar. The island’s population reached an all-time high in 1812, with many plantations producing sugar cane, indigo, ginger and cattle, as well as the mining of copper.
The emancipation of slaves in the British Virgin Islands in 1834, coupled with a hurricane and a few other natural disasters, led to the fall of the plantation economy. In addition, the copper mines became depleted, thus the island’s economy faltered. Many of the planters returned home, leaving nobody behind with the expertise to govern the island. Crown Colony government was established in 1867, and elections were abolished. Five years later, the British Virgins were placed under the control of the Federation of the Leeward Islands. Economic activity practically ended.
The 20th century brought hope, as programs were developed to revive sugar and cotton production and to build the livestock industry. In 1950, the legislative council was restored, and a few years later the Leeward Islands Federation collapsed, strengthening local legislative control.
The 1960s brought change to the British Virgin Islands as Laurence Rockefeller developed Little Dix resort on Virgin Gorda, and Charlie Cary created a marina complex on Tortola. These acts spurred the islands’ tourism industry, which is today a major source of income for the islands.