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 one of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea and a constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), an unincorporated territory of the United States. The smallest of the main US islands, St. John is located about four miles east of Saint Thomas, the location of the territory's capital, Charlotte Amalie. It is 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] As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the total population of the island territory was 106,405,[2] comprising mostly persons of Afro-Caribbean descent.

Because there are no airports on St. John, the only access to the island is by boat. A ferry service runs hourly from St. Thomas and daily from Tortola; regular ferries also operate from Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada. Since 1956, approximately 60% of the island is protected as Virgin Islands National Park, administered by the United States National Park Service. The economy is based on tourism.


St. John was first settled by Arawak Indians who migrated north from coastal areas of present-day Colombia and Venezuela around AD 300. The Arawak inhabited the island until around the year AD 1300, when they were driven off by the more aggressive and warlike Carib. Extensive archaeological work has been undertaken from 1996 to the present at Cinnamon Bay. The artifacts from this dig are being studied and are expected to yield more detailed information on pre-Columbian civilization in the US Virgin Islands.

Explorer Christopher Columbus, traveling on behalf of the Spanish Crown, is credited with being the first European to see the Virgin Islands in 1493, during his second voyage to the New World. A Catholic, he named the group of numerous islands as Once Mil Virgenes (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 Saint John (Danish: Sankt Jan). The Danish crown took full control of this and nearby colonies in 1754, including those founded on the similarly named islands of Saint Thomas and Saint Croix. Sugar cane plantations, such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation, were established in great numbers on St. John; the intense heat and fertile soil provided ideal growing conditions. The establishment of sugar plantations created a high demand for labor. The indigenous Carib and Arawak were used as slave labor but their population was quickly decimated by new infectious diseases.

The planters imported many slaves from Africa in an established slave trade dominated by Portugal in the early years, but which Britain also entered. In 1733 St. John was the site of one of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World. Enslaved Akwamu from the Gold Coast rebelled and took control of the island for six months before being defeated by a combination of better armed forces.

The Danish defeated the enslaved Africans with help from French colonists of Martinique. Instead of submitting to captivity and slavery, more than a dozen men and women shot and killed themselves before the French forces reached them. It is estimated that by 1775, slaves outnumbered the Danish settlers on St. John by a ratio of 5:1. Denmark finally abolished slavery in St. John and its other islands on July 3, 1848.

In 1917, during the Great War, the United States purchased the U.S. Virgin Islands for $25 million from the Danish government in order to establish a naval base. It was intended to prevent expansion of the German Empire in the Western Hemisphere. As part of the negotiations for this deal, the US agreed to recognize Denmark's claim to Greenland, which they had previously disputed.

During the 20th century, private investors acquired properties on the island, redeveloping some plantation houses as vacation resorts, such as Laurence Rockefeller's Caneel Bay Resort. The islands became popular and tourism and related service jobs developed as a major part of the economy.

Geography and population[edit]

Saint John is 50.8 km² (19.61 sq mi) in area with a population of 4,170 (2010 census).[1] As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the total population of the US Virgin Islands territory was 106,405,[2] comprising mostly persons of Afro-Caribbean descent.

Status and government[edit]

Since 1917, the U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. Its residents are U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote in presidential elections.

Until 1970, governors of the territory were appointed by the US President. Since that year, residents of the island have elected a territorial governor and lieutenant governor, and fifteen senators to the legislature, representing all three islands. Seven are elected from the district of Saint Croix, seven from the district of Saint Thomas and Saint John, and one senator at-large (who must be a resident of Saint John) are elected for two-year terms to the unicameral Virgin Islands Legislature.[3]

Residents of the Virgin Islands also elect a delegate to the US Congress, who has non-voting status in that body.[3]

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

The main political parties in the U.S. Virgin Islands are the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, the Independent Citizens Movement (ICM), and the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands. Additional candidates run as independents.[3]

Voting rights challenge[edit]

Activists filed a lawsuit on September 20, 2011 in the federal US District Court of the Virgin Islands seeking the right to be represented in Congress and to vote for U.S. President. The case is Civil No. 3:11-cv-110, Charles v. U.S. Federal Elections Commission et al. The case alleges the 1917 Congress, with all-white members, denied the right to vote to island residents due to racial discrimination, as the island had a majority of people of color. The case was dismissed on August 20, 2012.[4]

Virgin Islands National Park[edit]

In 1956, Laurance Rockefeller donated his extensive lands on the island to the United States' National Park Service, under the condition that the lands had to be protected from future development. The remaining portion, the Caneel Bay Resort, operates on a lease arrangement with the NPS, which owns the underlying land. The boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park include 75% of the island, but various in-holdings within the park boundary (e.g., Peter Bay, Maho Bay) reduce the park lands to 60% of the island acreage. Much of the island's waters, coral reefs, and shoreline have been protected by being included in the national 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)

Communities and demographics[edit]

Cruz Bay has become the principal town on the island as it has the landing for the ferry service from St. Thomas, which became the main route of entry to the island. Previously, Coral Bay was the hub of economic activity on the island. Its natural port offered protection to the sailing ships of the day. In addition, it was an easy sail by smaller boats, with minimal tacking, to the nearby British Virgin Islands. Until the late 20th century, the residents of Coral Bay and East End had easier and more frequent access to Tortola than did 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.[5]

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 natural beauty and attractive beaches. The policy of restricted development and preservation in St. John contrasts strongly with 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.[6] It is considered to be the wealthiest and most expensive of the U.S. Virgin Islands, attracting affluent tourists. The island has been described as the "Beverly Hills of the Caribbean".[7]

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 a smaller town, offering limited amenities.

Two-thirds of St. John is within 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. Trunk Bay has consistently been voted one of the "Ten Best Beaches in The World" by Condé Nast Traveler magazine; it is rated as a Blue Flag beach. Located on National Park land, the beaches are all open to the public with the exception of the one at Caneel Bay resort, which is restricted by a lease with the NPS.

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 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 reefs. Sailing charters tour the island, and others tour 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. They are less developed and are more remote. Some are accessible only by hiking through natural terrain.

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

Represented in popular culture[edit]

  • In John Grisham's novel The Pelican Brief, the heroes escape to St. John: specifically, a small cottage in Maho Bay, along the North Shore.
  • Hawksnest Bay was the filming location for the Alien beach scene towards the end of the movie Contact.

National protected areas[edit]


St. Thomas-St. John School District operates schools for the island residents. St. John has one public school, Julius E. Sprauve (JESS). Private and parochial schools include Gift 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 includes 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 declined after the abolition of slavery, when it became dependent on free labor. In addition, in that period, it had to compete with sugar produced in other areas, including by the use of sugar beets in northern locations.

The economy of St. John is now almost entirely founded on tourism and tourism-related industries, real estate development, guest houses, and hotels.



  1. ^ a b "2010 Census U.S. Virgin Islands, United States Census Bureau". Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b 2010 Population Counts for the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. Census Bureau.
  3. ^ a b c "Elections in the United States Virgin Islands", World Public Library, accessed 28 February 2015
  4. ^ Charles v. U.S. Federal Election Commission et al, Docket Alarm, 2012-2015
  5. ^ 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.” 
  6. ^ "Travel Interests". Travel Channel. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  7. ^ "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.