The Vibrant Culture of St. John, USVI

The Island of St. John is a Caribbean Paradise with gorgeous beaches and the perfect tropical climate. The island is a haven for nature lovers, offering camping and hiking adventures and unforgettable views. You will find a unique blend of cultures on the island, including French, Dutch, African, Danish, and American traditions. 

St. John is the smallest of the three main islands that make up the US Virgin Islands. Its location is about four miles east of Saint Thomas and four miles southwest of Tortola. The largest settlement on the island is Cruz Bay with a population of 2,700 people. The island has a thriving economy that revolves around the tourism industry. Saint John has an area of approximately 19.61 square miles and a total population of about 4,170 people. 

History and Origins of St. John 

The island of Saint John has a fascinating and colorful history. Artifacts found at Cinnamon Bay indicate that it was occupied by the Taino from about 700 until the late 1400s. Christopher Columbus sailed past the island in 1493, but he never came ashore. The island remained unoccupied until 1671 when it was resettled by the Danish West India company. An African slave market was also established on the island in 1673.  

Annaberg Sugar Plantation

In 1717, Danish planters came to the island and began growing crops like sugar cane and cotton. The Annaberg Sugar Plantation was built in 1731, and it was one of the islands largest sugar producers during the 1800s. All in all, thee were a total of 109 plantations on the island by 1733, and in 1754, the islands became a crown colony.

A slave rebellion was started on St. John in 1733. The slaves killed the soldiers that occupied the Danish fort and began a revolt that lasted for six months. French troops had to come from Martinique to put an end to the rebellion. Many slaves made the choice to end their own lives rather than being forced back into slavery. Many of the island’s plantations were eventually abandoned after Denmark freed the slaves 1848. The last sugar factory on the island closed its doors in 1908. 

The United States purchased the US Virgin Islands from the Danish during World War I in 1917 to establish a naval base there. Private investors began buying properties on the island and have since redeveloped many of the plantations, turning them into high-end resorts. As the islands have gained in popularity, tourism has become a significant part of St. John’s economy. 

Virgin Islands National Park 

Laurence Rockefeller donated his land on the island to the US National Park Service in 1956. This land is still protected from development and is now known as Virgin Islands National Park. The park occupies about two-thirds of the island. Most of the island’s shoreline, reefs, and waters are also protected as part of the park. The Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument was created in 2001 and included under the park’s protection. 

Island Food 

The island offers a wide variety of traditional foods from many cultures. One of the most popular is callaloo, which is kind of like a gumbo made from salted meat, okra, spinach, and fish. Red grout is a traditional island dessert of Danish tapioca with spices, sugar, and guava. Other favorite island foods include pumpkin fritters and potato stuffing.

Callaloo

Holidays and Carnival 

The first Carnival was held in 1912. Carnival is now a three to four-week-long celebration that is held on St. John in June and July. It’s the second largest festival held in the Caribbean. During Carnival, the islanders fuse customs from Europe with African traditions that include parades, fireworks, street shows, boat races, and much more. It’s also a great time to see local artwork and enjoy traditional island foods.  

Three Kings Day is a religious celebration that takes place throughout the islands on January 6. The festival commemorates the Three Wise Men’s visit to Bethlehem to see the baby, Jesus. It’s a time of church and family feasts. The children leave grass in a shoebox under their beds, and the legend says the Wise Men come in the night to swap the grass out for presents. 

Dancing and Music 

Dancing and music are a huge part of island culture. Quelbe is a traditional style dance and music that blends African slave beats with folk melodies from the Caribbean. The quadrille is the official dance of the US Virgin Islands that originated during the 18th century in France. 

As you can see, Saint John has so much more to offer than pristine beaches and island sunsets. It’s an island of natural beauty, delicious food, fascinating history, and rich culture.