|Its all about ships
St. Thomas is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the
Caribbean. It is known primarily for its duty-free shopping and for
its beaches. 1.5 million cruise ship passengers visit St. Thomas
The island along with St. John, St. Croix and 65 smaller islands
make up the United States Virgin Islands, which is an organized
unincorporated territory of the United States. Residents are United
States citizens and the U.S. dollar is the currency.
Tourism is the largest component of the island’s economy.
Accordingly, the island is well-developed for tourism.
Charlotte Amalie is the capital and urban center. It sprawls around
a fine natural harbor on the south side of the island. In addition to
cruise ships, the bay is usually populated by numerous sail boats and
St. Thomas is volcanic in origin. Vegetation-covered hills rise up
abruptly a short distance from the sea.
Although the island was under Danish rule for centuries, everyone
St. Thomas enjoys summer-like weather all year round with
temperatures ranging from 73 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit. The island
does not receive much rain but brief tropical showers are not
uncommon, particularly in May and August through November. It is
in the hurricane belt. Such storms are most likely in August and
September although the season officially is from June through
OVERVIEW AND HISTORY..........................................................Page One
CRUISE PORT.................................................................................Page Two
SHOPPING AND GETTING AROUND..........................................Page Three
PLACES OF INTEREST (BEACHES).............................................Page Four
PLACES OF INTEREST (Outside Charlotte Amalie)......................Page Five
PLACES OF INTEREST (In and Around Charlotte Amalie)...........Page Six
The earliest inhabitants of St. Thomas are believed to have
been the Ciboney Indians who settled there around 1500 BC.
They were displaced by the Arawak people who were in
turn conquered by the Caribs.
During his second voyage to the New World, Christopher
Columbus came across the islands and named them the
Virgin Islands in honor of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.
Contact with the Europeans was a disaster for the Caribs and
within a few decades very few were left on the island.
According to local legend, during the second half of the 16th
Century, English privateers led by Sir Francis Drake used St.
Thomas as a base for raiding the Spanish Treasure fleets
that were carrying gold home from Spain’s New World
colonies. Legend also has it that in the coming centuries the
island was a base for pirates.
In the 1657, the Dutch West India Company established a
post on the island. However, by 1666, Captain Erik Neilson
Smith with the support of the Danish King Frederick III was
the official governor of St. Thomas and by 1672 the Danish
West India Company had acquired the entire island.
The Danish company’s plan was to bring Danish convicts to
the Virgin Islands to work on sugar plantations. These
convicts from Northern Europe proved unsuited for the heat
and disease of the tropics and so the Danes began to import
African slaves for the plantations. This unfortunate scheme
was successful and some 200,000 slaves were brought to the
Danish Virgin Islands. While the other nearby Danish
possessions of St. Croix and St. John maintained a plantation
economy, St. Thomas became an important center in the
slave trade holding some of the largest slave auctions in the
The island came under direct control of the Danish
government in 1754, becoming a Royal Danish colony. Its
port city, Charlotte Amalie, is named after the wife of King
In 1792, Denmark announced the cessation of the slave
trade. In part due to a slave revolt in St. Croix in 1833,
slavery was abolished in 1848. As a result of this and the
discovery of the sugar beet, the sugar cane plantations were
no longer viable and the economy of the islands went into
St. Thomas with its fine natural harbor did have strategic
value and the Danes entered into discussions with the
Americans to purchase the Danish Virgin Islands in the
1860s. Nothing came of these discussions until the outbreak
of World War I. Concern that Germany might acquire the
islands and establish a naval base there thus threatening not
only the Caribbean but also the Panama Canal, led the United
States to purchase St. Thomas along with St. Croix and St.
John for $25 million in 1917. The three islands along with a
number of smaller islands then became known as the United
States Virgin Islands.
Underscoring its strategic importance, St. Thomas was
administered by the U.S. Navy for more than a decade.
During this time, inhabitants of the Virgin Islands gained U.S.
citizenship (1927). In 1931, administration of the island
was shifted to the Department of the Interior. A few years
later, a legislature called the Senate was established.
In 1954, the U.S. Virgin Islands became an official territory
of the United States. Full home rule came in 1970 and the
islands elected the governor for the first time.
Above: The waterfront in downtown Charlotte Amalie.
Below: The Legislature Building built in the 1870s is
the home of the Senate of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Downtown Charlotte Amalie is
commercially-oriented but it also
contains places of architectural or
cultural significance. Alleys run
past picturesque colonial
warehouses that have been converted
into shops, residences and cafés (left
The town has several historic
religious sites including the
Frederick Lutheran Church built in
1820 (right). Indeed, the St. Thomas
Synagogue (Beracha Veshalom
Vegmiluth Hasidim) built in 1833 is
the oldest synagogue in continuous
use under the American flag.
Government House, built in the
1860s, is the administrative
headquarters for the USVI. (below
Emancipation Park memorializes the
abolition of slavery on the island in
1848 (below right).
Cruise destination guide - - photo tour - - St. Thomas - - page 1
Above: Fort Christian was dedicated in 1678 and is one
of the oldest structures in the Virgin Islands. It was built
as part of the Danish colonial fortifications. Today, its is
a museum open to the public.
Below: A monument at Havensight recalls the days when
Charlotte Amalie was an important trading port for
* This photo tour and the accompanying commentary should only be viewed as a general guide that is based upon one writer's research
and experiences. Accordingly, readers should do their own research prior to their journey. Beyondships is not affiliated with any of the
entities depicted or mentioned herein and assumes no responsibility for their actions and for the products and/or services they provide.
Nor is inclusion in this photo tour a recommendation of the entity shown, its products, services or facilities.
Above: Tourism became of increasing importance to the
island in the second half of the 20th Century. By 1991,
major cruise ships were calling in St. Thomas on a regular
basis including Holland America's Rotterdam of 1959,
which is now a museum (center ship).
Below: By the turn of the millennium, even larger ships
Iguanas (left) are a common
sight in St. Thomas even in
Charlotte Amalie. Outside of
town, the island is covered with
Pissaro was born in
St. Thomas. His
birthplace is now an
art gallery in