VIRGIN ISLANDS Latitude and Longitude:

18°12′N 64°48′W / 18.2°N 64.8°W / 18.2; -64.8
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Virgin Islands
   Spanish Virgin Islands (of Puerto Rico)
LocationCaribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates 18°12′N 64°48′W / 18.2°N 64.8°W / 18.2; -64.8
Archipelago Leeward Islands
Insular area United States Virgin Islands
Insular area Puerto Rico
Overseas territory British Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands ( Spanish: Islas Vírgenes) are an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. They are geologically and biogeographically the easternmost part of the Greater Antilles, [1] While the British Virgin Islands are officially designated as “The Virgin Islands”, the name is most often used to refer to the entire international grouping of the British and United States Virgin Islands together with the Spanish Virgin Islands, which, contrary to their name are in fact officially part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, itself an unincorporated territory of the United States. Geographically, the northern islands lie along the Puerto Rico Trench. St. Croix is a displaced part of that same geologic structure. Politically, the British Virgin Islands have been governed as the western island group of the Leeward Islands, which are the northern part of the Lesser Antilles, and form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago is separated from the true Lesser Antilles by the Anegada Passage and from the main island of Puerto Rico by the Virgin Passage.

The islands fall into three political jurisdictions:


The locations of the US and UK Virgin Islands
Rigobert Bonne: Map of the Virgin Islands, 1780

Christopher Columbus named the islands after Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins ( Spanish: Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes), shortened to the Virgins (las Vírgenes). The official name of the British territory is the Virgin Islands, and the official name of the U.S. territory is the Virgin Islands of the United States. In practice, the two island groups are almost universally referred to as the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


The Virgin Islands were originally inhabited by the Arawak and Carib, many of whom are thought to have perished during the colonial period due to enslavement, foreign disease, and war brought about by European colonists. [2]

European colonists later settled here and established sugar plantations, at least one tobacco plantation, and bought slaves from Africa. The descendants of the enslaved people remain the bulk of the population, sharing a common African-Caribbean heritage with the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean.

Like mainland Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands that belonged to Spain were ceded to the United States in 1898. The United States took possession of the islands after the signing of the armistice that put an end to military operations in the Spanish–American War.

A 1916 treaty between the United States and Denmark (not ratified by the United States until 1917) resulted in Denmark selling the Danish Virgin Islands to the United States for $25 million in gold.

Historical affiliations

The Virgin Islands have been under the sovereignty of several nations and groups throughout history. Below is a table which represents the affiliation of the various islands:

Rule began present day U.S.V.I. present day British V.I. present day Spanish V.I. (P.R.) Rule began
St. Thomas St. John St. Croix Tortola Virgin Gorda Anegada Jost Van Dyke Culebra Vieques
New Spain

New Spain

New Spain

New Spain

New Spain

New Spain

New Spain

New Spain

New Spain
1580 Puerto Rico (ES)* Puerto Rico (ES)* 1580
1625 Dutch Virgin Islands British Leeward Islands** Dutch Virgin Islands** 1625
Puerto Rico (ES)**
1628 Dutch Virgin Islands 1628
1648 Dutch Virgin Islands Dutch Virgin Islands 1648
1650 1650
1651 Danish West Indies Knights Hospitaller 1651
1664 French West Indies 1664
1671 Danish West Indies 1671
1672 British Leeward Islands 1672
1680 British Leeward Islands 1680
1684 British Leeward Islands 1684
1685 Brandenburg-Prussia*** 1685
1689 Brandenburg-Prussia 1689
1693 Puerto Rico (ES) 1693
1698 Danish West Indies 1698
British Leeward Islands** French West Indies** Danish West Indies** Scottish Darien Company
1699 1699
1718 Danish West Indies 1718
1733 1733
1750 British Leeward Islands 1750
1754 1754
1801 British Leeward Islands 1801
1802 Danish West Indies 1802
1807 British Leeward Islands 1807
1811 1811
1815 Danish West Indies 1815
1816 British Virgin Islands 1816
1833 British Leeward Islands 1833
1898 Puerto Rico (US) 1898
1917 United States Virgin Islands 1917
1958 British Virgin Islands 1958

* Largely under control of pirates.

** Coexisting claim.

*** Leased/shared territory.


The total population of the Virgin Islands is 147,778: 104,901 in the U.S. Virgin Islands, 31,758 in the British, and 11,119 in the Spanish. Roughly three-quarters of islanders are black in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, while the majority of inhabitants in Culebra and Vieques are Puerto Rican of European descent, with a significant Afro-Puerto Rican community. The main languages are English and Virgin Islands Creole in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Spanish in the Puerto Rican territory. St. Thomas is the most populous island, with St. Croix close behind (51,634 and 50,601, respectively).

Name Sovereign State Subdivisions Area
(2005 est.)
Population density
(per km2)
British Virgin Islands United Kingdom Districts 153.0 31,758 207.6 Road Town
Spanish Virgin Islands ( Puerto Rico) United States Barrios 165.1 11,119 67.3 San Juan, PR
United States Virgin Islands United States Districts 346.4 104,901 302.8 Charlotte Amalie
Total 664.5 147,778 222.4

Traffic control

Motor vehicles are driven on the left-hand side of the road in both the British and the U.S. Virgin Islands, although the steering wheels on most cars are located on the left side (as is the norm for drive-on-the-right localities). In the Spanish Virgin Islands, vehicles are driven on the right-hand side of the road.

See also


  1. ^ Lazell, James (2005). Island: Fact and Theory in Nature. University of California Press. p. 382. ISBN  9780520931596.
  2. ^ Pereña, Luciano (1992). Genocidio en América. Madrid: Editorial MAPFRE. p. 351. ISBN  84-7100-453-4.

General sources

  • Colin Thomas, J.; Allard, William Albert; Wolinsky, Cary (February 1981). "Paradise Comes of Age: The U.S. Virgin Islands". National Geographic. Vol. 159, no. 2. pp. 225–243.