March 31 – Transfer Day on U.S. Virgin Islands

Posted on March 31, 2014

It's getting close to a century since the U.S. Virgin Islands were transferred from Denmark to the United States on this date in 1917.

Of course, before the Virgin Islands were sold to the U.S., they weren't called “the U.S. Virgin Islands”!

I don't know what the original peoples (the Arawaks and Caribs) called their island homes, but when Christopher Columbus discovered this group of medium-to-small islands, he named them Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes, or “Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins.” That's definitely too long a name – I think we can all agree about that! – and so the name was quickly shortened to just “the Virgins.” When various European nations colonized the New World, the islands were settled by three groups: Britain colonized the easternmost islands; Spain colonized the westernmost islands, the ones closest to its larger island colony, Puerto Rico; and Denmark colonized the middle group.

Today, the British Virgin Islands are still overseas territories of Great Britain, and the Spanish Virgin Islands are still part of Puerto Rico – although, after 400 years of Spanish rule, Puerto Rico is now an unincorporated territory of the United States. The Danish islands, often referred to as the Danish West Indies, were sold to the United States for $25 million in gold.

Here are some of the larger U.S. Virgin Islands:

Saint Croix

Saint Thomas

Saint John

Water Island

Did you know...?

  • The U.S. dollar is the official currency on the British Virgin Islands as well as on the U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands.
  • In Britain, cars are driven on the left-hand side of the road, and steering wheels are on the right-hand side. In the U.S., cars are driven on the right-hand side of the road, and steering wheels are on the left-hand side. This means that drivers in both countries are closest to oncoming traffic – which I think is a very good thing!

    But on both the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, cars are driven on the left-hand side of the road, but steering wheels are on the left-hand side. I wonder why on earth this is a good idea? So drivers from everywhere else will be confused?

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