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St John

 Saint John is the smallest of the three main United States Virgin Islands (USVI), a United States territory. St. John is located in the Caribbean Sea about 4 miles east of Saint Thomas and 4 miles south and west of Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands. It is roughly 20 square miles in area and has a population of 4,157. There is no airport on St. John, so access to St. John is by boat. Ferry service runs hourly from St. Thomas and daily from Tortola; regular ferries are also available from Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.

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St. John was first settled by the Arawak Indians who had migrated north from coastal Colombia and Venezuela around AD 300. The Arawaks inhabited the island until around the year AD 1300 when they were driven off by the more aggressive and warlike Carib Indians. Extensive archaeological work was done from 1996 to the present at Cinnamon Bay and the artifacts from this dig are just now being studied and should yield more detailed information on pre-Columbus civilization in the Virgin Islands (Taino).

Christopher Columbus is credited with being the first European to see the Virgin Islands during his Second Voyage to the New World in 1493. He named the island group "Once Mil Virgins", or Virgin Islands, in honor of the feast day of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who were said to have been martyred with her.

The Danish West India and Guinea Company was the first to settle the island in 1672. They are also credited with naming the island St. John. The Danish Crown took full control of the colony in 1754 along with St. Thomas and St. Croix. Sugar plantations, such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation, were established in great numbers on St. John because of the intense heat and fertile terrain. The opening of sugar plantations also meant the importation of slaves from Africa. By 1775, it is estimated that slaves outnumbered the Danish settlers 5 to 1. The indigenous Caribs and Arawaks were also used for slave labor to the point of wiping out the entire population. Slavery was finally abolished in St. John on July 3, 1848.

The United States of America bought the Virgin Islands in 1917 in order to establish a naval base to prevent German expansion in the western hemisphere. The U.S. government paid $25 million for the three islands. They also agreed to recognize Denmark's claim to Greenland, which had previously been disputed.

Virgin Islanders are now U.S. citizens, although they are not able to vote in U.S. presidential elections and have only non-voting status in Congress. The Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory of the US and, since 1972, have elected their own Governor and have a large degree of self-rule through a small, 15-seat local legislature.

In 1956, Laurence Rockefeller donated most of the land he had acquired on the island to the United States National Park Service under the condition that it be protected from future development. The remaining portion, the Caneel Bay Resort, continues to operate on a lease arrangement while the park owns the actual land. The Virgin Islands National Park borders encompass 75% of the island, but various in-holdings within the park boundary (eg. Peter Bay, Maho Bay) reduce the actual land the park owns to 60%. However, much of the islands waters, coral reefs and shoreline are protected by inclusion within the park and this was expanded with the creation of the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument in 2001.


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