The British Virgin Island’s rich history extends back to the first recorded settlements by the Arawak Indians who came from South America, in around 100 BC. The Arawak were peaceful farmers who inhabited the islands until the 15th century when the Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands drove the Arawaks away from the land. The Caribbean Sea is named after these people.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to journey to the BVI in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. Columbus named the islands after the alleged 11,000 virgins, followers of St Ursula, who were beheaded in the fourth century: Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins). The official name of the Territory is the Virgin Islands, though they have been referred to as the British Virgin Islands for the last 200 years.
The Spanish claimed the Territory though they did not settle it. The first permanent settler was Dutch privateer Joost van Dyk in 1615 in what is now Soper’s Hole, on the west end of Tortola. His lack of success with trading and constant battles with Spanish settlements in Puerto Rico ended his reign. In 1672 the English invaded Tortola during the Third Anglo-Dutch War and have been in control ever since. Though the Dutch originally brought African slaves to the BVI, the English grew the trade substantially in the mid-1750s when sugar production began. Slavery was a major part of the economy until it was abolished in 1834.
The Islands endured economic hardship and social disorder until the late twentieth century when the offshore financial services industry was introduced in the BVI. The International Business Companies Ordinance allowed for offshore companies to form in the BVI and be exempt from local taxes. This drastically improved the local economy. The British Virgin Islands now boasts one of the highest incomes per capita in the Caribbean.
The BVI’s rich history can be seen in forts, museums, plantations, and National Parks extended throughout the Territory. Visit these spots firsthand to learn more about the history and culture of the BVI. To see a full list of Historical sites visit the BVI Tourism Website.