Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands

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St. John
Nickname: Love City
Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands is located in the Virgin Islands
Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Location Caribbean Sea
Coordinates 18°20′N 64°44′W / 18.333°N 64.733°W / 18.333; -64.733Coordinates: 18°20′N 64°44′W / 18.333°N 64.733°W / 18.333; -64.733
Archipelago Virgin Islands, Leeward Islands
Area 19.61 sq mi (50.8 km2)
United States
Insular area United States Virgin Islands
District St. John
Largest settlement Cruz Bay (pop. 2,706)
Population 4,170 (as of 2010)
Density 82.09 /km2 (212.61 /sq mi)
Map of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

St. John (Spanish: San Juan ; Dutch: Sint Hans; French: Saint-Jean ; Danish: Sankt Jan) is an island in the Caribbean Sea and a constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), an unincorporated territory of the United States. St. John is located about four miles east of Saint Thomas, the location of the territory's capital, Charlotte Amalie, and four miles southwest of Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands. It is 50.8 km² (19.61 sq mi) in area with a population of 4,170 (2010 census).[1] Because there are no airports on St. John, the only access to the island is by boat. The ferry service runs hourly from St. Thomas and daily from Tortola; regular ferries also operate from Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada. Approximately 60% of the island is protected as Virgin Islands National Park.


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 Caribs. Extensive archaeological work has been undertaken from 1996 to the present at Cinnamon Bay. The artifacts from this dig are being studied and should yield more detailed information on pre-Columbus civilization in the US 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 Virgenes", or Eleven Thousand Virgins, in honor of the feast day of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who were martyred with her.

The Danish West India and Guinea Company represented the first Europeans to settle the island in 1718. They are also credited with naming the island St. John (Danish: Sankt Jan). 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, which provided ideal growing conditions. The establishment of sugar plantations also led to the importation of more slaves from Africa. St. John was the site of one of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World in 1733, when enslaved Akwamu rebels from the Gold Coast took over the island for six months.

The Danish were able to defeat the enslaved Africans with help from the French in Martinique. Instead of allowing themselves to be recaptured, more than a dozen men and women shot themselves before the French forces could capture them. It is estimated that by 1775, slaves outnumbered the Danish settlers by a ratio of 5:1. The indigenous Caribs and Arawaks were also used as slave labor, to the point of wiping out their entire population. Slavery was finally abolished in St. John on July 3, 1848.

In 1917, the United States purchased the U.S. Virgin Islands for $25 million from the Danish government in order to establish a naval base whose purpose was to prevent German expansion in the Western Hemisphere. They also agreed to recognize Denmark's claim to Greenland, which they had previously disputed.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. U.S. Virgin Islanders are U.S. citizens, although they cannot vote in presidential elections and have only non-voting status in Congress. A federal lawsuit in the District Court of the Virgin Islands is currently[timeframe?] pending to provide US Virgin Islanders with the fundamental right to be represented in Congress and vote for U.S. President. The case is Civil No. 3:11-cv-110, Charles v. U.S. Federal Elections Commission. The case alleges it was racial discrimination present in an all-white and segregated Congress of 1917 that was the impetus to deny the right to vote to a majority non-white constituency. Since 1972, they have elected their own governor. They enjoy a large degree of self-rule through a local 15-seat legislature that covers all three of the islands.

In 1956, Laurance Rockefeller donated most of the land he had acquired on the island to the United States' National Park Service, under the condition that it must 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 (e.g., Peter Bay, Maho Bay) reduce the actual land the park owns to 60%. However, much of the island's waters, coral reefs and shoreline are protected via their inclusion in the park. This protection was expanded in 2001, when the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument was created.


Districts and subdistricts of the US Virgin Islands

Saint John is divided into the following subdistricts (with population as per the 2010 U.S. Census):

  1. Central (pop. 779)
  2. Coral Bay (pop. 634)
  3. Cruz Bay (pop. 2,706)
  4. East End (pop. 51)

Government and demographics[edit]

Residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands elect a legislature of 15 delegates every four years. Of these 15, seven are from St. Croix, seven are from St. Thomas and St. John, and one is elected at-large, but must be a resident of St. John. This assembly is responsible for deciding most of the islands' internal affairs. The Islands also elect a governor every four years.

St. John itself has no local government; however, the Governor appoints an administrator for the island. Having no official powers, this figure acts more as an advisor to the Governor and as a spokesperson for the Governor's policies.

Cruz Bay has become the principal town on the island since the ferry service from St. Thomas became the main route of entry to the island. Previously, Coral Bay was the hub of economic activity on the island, as its natural port offered protection to the sailing vessels of the day as well as an easy sail that involved minimal tacking to the nearby British Virgin Islands. In fact, until the late 20th century the residents of Coral Bay and East End had easier and more frequent access to Tortola than those of either Cruz Bay or St. Thomas.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, St. John has a resident population of 4,170 people, most of whom live in either Cruz Bay or Coral Bay on the eastern end of the island. However, being a U.S. territory, its population is not included in the overall U.S. population count.

The waters surrounding the US Virgin Islands are patrolled by United States Coast Guard cutters out of Miami, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.[2]

Tourism and sites[edit]

Natural-colour satellite image of St. John.
Entrance to Mongoose Junction, a popular shopping center in Cruz Bay.

St. John is well known for its well-preserved natural beauty and attractive beaches. Restricted development and preservation in St. John contrasts heavily with such adjacent and overdeveloped islands as St. Thomas and St. Croix. St. John is a travel and honeymoon destination with two main resorts and one of the top ten beaches in the world.[3] It is also considered to be the wealthiest and most expensive of the U.S. Virgin Islands, attracting a high level of affluent tourists. The island's high level of affluence has earned it the distinction of being the "Beverly Hills of the Caribbean".[4] Cruz Bay on the western coast of the island is St. John's principal port. From there, a ferry operates throughout the day to and from Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook in St. Thomas. It is also home to (among other things) car rental locations, several bars and restaurants, day charters, and shopping areas of which the three main ones are Mongoose Junction, the Marketplace, and Wharfside Village. Coral Bay on the eastern side of the island is the other (smaller) town on St. John, and offers very limited amenities.

Two-thirds of St. John is owned by the National Park, so most of the island is undeveloped. Some of the most picturesque beaches in the Caribbean are located along the island's north shore. The most spectacular and well-known of these is Trunk Bay, which has consistently been voted one of the "Ten Best Beaches in The World" by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, has received similar recognition from other publications and is rated a Blue Flag beach. Since the beaches are located on National Park land, they are all open to the public with the exception of Caneel Bay Caneel Bay (resort on the north shore, which lies on Rockefeller’s former personal estate). The remaining coastal land, mostly in the north and in the east, is private property, and contains many secluded private villas and cottages. The National Park Service also offers two campgrounds on the island's beaches at Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay. The reefs near St. John's beaches are also world-famous for their snorkeling. In some areas, such as Trunk Bay and nearby Cinnamon Bay, signs identifying various marine flora and fauna have been placed by the National Park Service among the many offshore coral reef to assist visitors. There are also sailing charters available that tour the island, as well as tours around the British Virgin Islands. Boats are available at Gallows Point, Connections or The Guide Booth in Mongoose Junction.

The beaches on the south side of St. John are mostly pebble and coral beaches, are considerably wilder and are also more remote. Some are only accessible by hiking through natural terrain.

Tourism starts late October and runs through June, when The St. John Festival starts. The off-season is considered to be the hot summer months with the heat peaking during August–September.

Popular culture[edit]

At the end of John Grisham's best selling novel The Pelican Brief the heroes escape to St. John: specifically, a small cottage in Maho Bay, along the North Shore of St. John.

National protected areas[edit]


St. Thomas-St. John School District operates schools for the island residents. On St. John, there is one public school, Julius E. Sprauve (JESS). Private and parochial schools include Gifft Hill School (formerly Pine Peace and Coral Bay), St. John Christian Academy, St. John Methodist School, and the St. John Montessori School. The only school that incorporates a high school is Gift Hill along with their programs in elementary and middle school. The only other middle school on the island is at 'JESS' which also has an elementary program. Other schools are either age 3-3rd grade or k5-6th grade.


The main export of St. John used to be sugar cane, which was produced in great quantity using African and Indian slave labor. However, this industry all but fell apart in the 19th century after the island's slaves were given their freedom. The economy of St. John is now almost entirely founded on tourism and tourism-related industries, real estate development, guest houses, and hotels.



  1. ^ "2010 Census U.S. Virgin Islands, United States Census Bureau". Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ Erik Ackerson (October 26, 2012). "Fast Response Cutter Visits St. Thomas". St John: St John Source. Archived from the original on February 8, 2013. Ship Commander Herb Eggert said, “We can expect the occasional visit by the new FRC’s out of San Juan and Miami as assignments in this area are intelligence driven.” 
  3. ^ "Travel Interests". Travel Channel. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  4. ^ "United States Virgin Islands travel guide and United States Virgin Islands tips". tripwolf. May 21, 2012. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 

External links[edit]

Official sites
News and media

Further reading[edit]

  • Rankin, D.W. (2002). Geology of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands [U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1631]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.