[graphic] Historic Places in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
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The Virgin Islands comprise about 100 islands in the Caribbean Sea. St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John--the three U.S. Virgin Islands--proved to be an integral part of the colonial slave and sugar trades. Christopher Columbus sighted St.Croix, called Ay Ay by the inhabitants, on November 14, 1493; he sent out a small landing party to the island, but a small group of Carib Indians attacked Columbus's men. This is believed to be the first recorded armed conflict between the Caribbean natives and Europeans. Columbus claimed the group of islands he named Las Virgines for Spain. Spain's claim remained unchallenged until the beginning of the 17th century, when British, French and Dutch colonists attempted to settle St. Croix. The island eventually was purchased by the Danish West India and Guinea Company in 1733. The first Danish attempt to settle St. Thomas, in 1666, failed, but in 1672 they established a presence on St. Thomas and on St. John in 1717. Under Danish rule, the plantation-based islands' economy prospered. Sugar cane was cultivated and processed into molasses and rum then shipped to Europe and North America. The labor of slaves imported from Africa made the process profitable. Competition with the sugar beet industry during the mid-19th century in addition to the 1848 Emancipation of the slaves hastened the decline of the islands' plantation economy. Many of the islands' sugar plantations ceased production and turned to raising other crops or cattle. In 1917, the United States purchased the three islands from Denmark. Today, the many remaining sugar plantation buildings and ruins recall the islands' earlier plantation history.


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