History of the 7 Flags

Since the European discovery of the Virgin Islands in 1493, seven flags have flown over this paradise.  The history of which is revealed by simply clicking each flag below.

Spain

On November 14, 1493, Columbus made his first visit to "Ayay" (as the Indians called St. Croix) and renamed it Santa Cruz. His reception by the Caribs gives testament to their violent character. Upon anchoring at Salt River, a small boatload of Spaniards approached the shore and encountered a small canoe carrying four men and two women. A battle ensued, which resulted from the Spaniards attempting to capture the natives. One Carib and one Spaniard were killed. The remaining Caribs were taken prisoner. This was the early beginning of what would soon be widely employed; slavery. In response to such conflict, Charles V of Spain declared that all Indians in the islands were enemies and should be eliminated.

A constant state of war existed between the Caribs and the Spaniards for nearly a century. By 1596, the islands were described as being wholly uninhabited. St. Croix was not a major port for the Spanish — San Juan, Puerto Rico was far more important. Due to Indian attacks, bad weather, and general poor luck, the Virgin Islands were unfortunately described as "the useless islands."

Great Britain

The Dutch and English are grouped together for they settled the Virgin Islands almost simultaneously — sometime in the early 1600′s. Each country settled a separate side of the island: the Dutch settled the east end and the English the west. Inevitably, conflict erupted, but the manner in which it did is interesting. According to the English: the English Governor Brainsby was murdered by the Dutch Governor Capoen, while visiting Capoen in his house. A newly appointed Dutch Governor tried to arbitrate with the English and was granted protection to travel to their side of the island. Immediately upon arrival, he was seized and shot. After numerous battles, the Dutch ended up abandoning the islands. The English controlled St. Croix until 1650. In that year the Spanish sent a fleet of 5 ships and 1,200 men to St. Croix from Puerto Rico and slaughtered everyone! After only 15 years of domination, the English were ousted. The Dutch made one foolhardy attempt to recapture St. Croix. Assuming it to be abandoned, they sent two ships from St. Eustatius island. The two vessels dropped anchor right in front of Fort Frederik and proceeded to land. Unknown to the Dutch, the Spanish had left 60 men to guard the fort. The moment the landing boats reached shore, Spanish muskets killed all but ten men.

Netherlands

The Dutch and English are grouped together for they settled the Virgin Islands almost simultaneously — sometime in the early 1600′s. Each country settled a separate side of the island: the Dutch settled the east end and the English the west. Inevitably, conflict erupted, but the manner in which it did is interesting. According to the English: the English Governor Brainsby was murdered by the Dutch Governor Capoen, while visiting Capoen in his house. A newly appointed Dutch Governor tried to arbitrate with the English and was granted protection to travel to their side of the island. Immediately upon arrival, he was seized and shot. After numerous battles, the Dutch ended up abandoning the islands. The English controlled St. Croix until 1650. In that year the Spanish sent a fleet of 5 ships and 1,200 men to St. Croix from Puerto Rico and slaughtered everyone! After only 15 years of domination, the English were ousted. The Dutch made one foolhardy attempt to recapture St. Croix. Assuming it to be abandoned, they sent two ships from St. Eustatius island. The two vessels dropped anchor right in front of Fort Frederik and proceeded to land. Unknown to the Dutch, the Spanish had left 60 men to guard the fort. The moment the landing boats reached shore, Spanish muskets killed all but ten men.

France

Later the same year, the French sent two vessels to capture St. Croix and succeeded. The Spanish rule of St. Croix was over almost as soon as it had begun. The French fared poorly during their first colonization attempt in 1651. Of 300 colonists, two thirds and two governors died of illness during the first year. Burning the local forest during the dry season was a common practice, supposedly to destroy what they suspected was the home of disease.

Knights of Malta

Ten years later the Governor of St. Kitts, De Poincy, bought St. Croix as his private estate and later deeded it to the Knights of Malta. The Knights of Malta were not true knights in the medieval sense but were a religious group also known as the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. The Order fared poorly and in general were considered to be rich young aristocrats who knew little about colonization. In 1665, the French West Indian company bought the island from the Knights. At last, St. Croix had proper management under its new Governor DuBois and flourished. In short time the island had 90 plantations. Crops included tobacco, cotton, sugar cane and indigo. After DuBois? death, bad administration, drought and sickness ended what advances had been made. From 1695 to 1733, St. Croix was considered abandoned.

Denmark

The Dutch West India Company established a post on Saint Thomas in 1657. The first congregation was the St. Thomas Reformed Church, which was established in 1660 and was associated with the Dutch Reformed Church.

The Danish conquered the island in 1666, and by 1672 had established control over the entire island through the Danish West India and Guinea Company. The land was divided into plantations and sugar cane production became the primary economic activity. As a result, the economies of Saint Thomas and the neighboring islands of Saint John and Saint Croix became highly dependent on slave labor and the slave trade. In 1685, the Brandenburgisch-Africanische Compagnie took control of the slave trade on Saint Thomas, and for some time the largest slave auctions in the world were held there.

Saint Thomas was known for its fine natural harbor, known as "Taphus" for the drinking establishments located nearby. "Tap Hus" translates as "rum shop" or "tap house" referring to the drinking establishments. In 1691, the primary settlement there was renamed Charlotte Amalie in honor of the wife of Denmark's King Christian V. It was later declared a free port by Frederick V. In December 1732, the first two of many Moravian Brethren missionaries came from Herrnhut Saxony in present-day Germany to minister to them. Distrusted at first by the white masters, they lived among the slaves and soon won their confidence.

A small Jewish community was set up in Charlotte Amalie and established a historic synagogue Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the United States.

While the sugar trade had brought prosperity to the island's free citizens, by the early 19th century Saint Thomas was in decline. The continued export of sugar was threatened by hurricanes, drought, and American competition. Following the Danish Revolution of 1848, slavery was abolished and the resulting rise in labor costs further weakened the position of Saint Thomas' sugar producers.

Given its harbours and fortifications, Saint Thomas still retained a strategic importance, and thus, in the 1860s, during the American Civil War and its aftermath, the United States government considered buying the island and its neighbours from Denmark for $7.5 million, but at the time failed to find domestic legislative support for the bid.

United States

In 1917, St. Thomas was purchased (along with Saint John and Saint Croix) by the United States for $25 million in gold, as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during the First World War. The transfer occurred on March 31, 1917, behind Fort Christian before the barracks that now house the Legislature of the U.S Virgin Islands. The baccalaureate service for the transfer was held at the St. Thomas Reformed Church as it was identified as the American church in the Danish West Indies.

Percival Wilson Sparks, a U.S. Naval officer, designed the flag that now represents the United States Virgin Islands. Sparks married a local U.S Virgin Island woman, Grace Joseph Sparks; when Sparks' superior, Rear Adm. Summer Ely Wetmore Kitelle, commissioned the design for the flag, P. W. Sparks asked his wife and her sister, Blanche Joseph (later Sasso), to sew the first flag. That flag was used until such time as a factory-produced flag could be acquired.

The flag's inspiration came from the U.S. Presidential seal. Sparks decided to have the eagle facing the olive branches (which represented peace) rather than the arrows (which represented the three islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John). (At the request of Emilie Rose Sparks Gray, a daughter of P.W. Sparks and Grace Sparks, so that the family would have clear and undeniable proof, this piece of history was entered into the Congressional Record in Washington, D.C., on April 30, 1986, by the congressional delegate, Ron de Lugo.) Every year Transfer Day is recognized as a holiday, to celebrate the acquisition of the islands by the United States in 1917.

U.S. citizenship was granted to the residents in 1927. The U.S. Department of the Interior took over administrative duties in 1931. American forces were based on the island during the Second World War. In 1954, passage of the U.S. Virgin Islands Organic Act officially granted territorial status to the three islands, and allowed for the formation of a local senate with politics dominated by the American Republican and Democratic parties. Full home rule was achieved in 1970.

The post-war era also saw the rise of tourism on the island. With relatively cheap air travel and the American embargo on Cuba, the numbers of visitors greatly increased. Despite natural disasters such as Hurricane Hugo (1989) and Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn (1995), the island's infrastructure continues to improve as the flow of visitors continues. Hotels have been built from the West End to the East End, including the newest called "Paradise Cove" at Estate Nazareth.

¹ Sources: Seven Flags: The History of St. Croix, Wikipedia