St. John Real Estate » History, Demographics and General Information
St. John of the US Virgin Islands
Saint John is the smallest of the three main United States Virgin Islands (USVI), a United States territory.
St. John is located in the Caribbean Sea about 4 miles east of Saint Thomas and 4 miles south and west of
Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands. It is roughly 20 square miles in area and has a population of 4,157.
There is no airport on St. John, so access to St. John is by boat. Ferry service runs hourly from St. Thomas
and daily from Tortola; regular ferries are also available from Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.
* Government and Demographics
* Tourism and Sites
* Other Information
History of St. John
St. John was first settled by the Arawak Indians who had migrated north from coastal Colombia and Venezuela
around AD 300. The Arawaks inhabited the island until around the year AD 1300 when they were driven off by
the more aggressive and warlike Carib Indians. Extensive archealogical work was done from 1996 to the present
at Cinnamon Bay and the artifacts from this dig are just now being studied and should yield more detailed
information on pre-Colombus civilization in the Virgin Islands (Taino).
The Danish West India and Guinea Company was the first to settle the island in 1672. They are also credited
with naming the island St. John. The Danish Crown took full control of the colony in 1754 along with St. Thomas
and St. Croix. Sugar plantations, such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation, were established in great
numbers on St. John because of the intense heat and fertile terrain. The opening of sugar plantations also
meant the importation of slaves from Africa. By 1775, it is estimated that slaves outnumbered the Danish
settlers 5 to 1. The indigenous Caribs and Arawaks were also used for slave labor to the point of wiping out the
entire population. Slavery was finally abolished in St. John on July 3, 1848.
The United States of America bought the Virgin Islands in 1917 in order to establish a naval base to prevent
German expansion in the western hemisphere. The U.S. government paid $25 million for the three islands. They
also agreed to recognize Denmark's claim to Greenland, which had previously been disputed.
Virgin Islanders are now U.S. citizens, although they are not able to vote in U.S. presidential elections and have
only non-voting status in Congress. The Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory of the US and,
since 1972, have elected their own Governor and have a large degree of self-rule through a small, 15-seat
In 1956, Laurence Rockefeller donated most of the land he had aquired on the island to the United States
National Park Service under the condition that it be protected from future development. The remaining portion,
the Caneel Bay Resort, continues to operate on a lease arrangement while the park owns the actual land. The
Virgin Islands National Park borders encompass 75% of the island, but various in-holdings within the park
boundary (eg. Peter Bay, Maho Bay) reduce the actual land the park owns to 60%. However, much of the islands
waters, coral reefs and shoreline are protected by inclusion within the park and this was expanded with the
creation of the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument in 2001.
Government and Demographics of St. John
Residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands elect a legislature of 15 delegates every four years. Of these 15, seven
are from St. Croix, seven are from St. Thomas and St. John and one is elected at-large, but must be a
resident of St. John. This assembly is responsible for most of the islands' internal affairs. The Islands also
elect a governor every four years.
St. John itself does not have any local government; however, the Governor appoints an island Administrator. He
has no actual authority and acts more as an advisor to the Governor and a spokesperson for the Governor's
Cruz Bay, has become principle town on the island since ferry service from St. Thomas became the main entry
to the island. Previously, Coral Bay was the hub of economic actitivy on the island as its natural port offered
both protection to the sailing vessels of the day, and an easy sail with minimal tacking to the nearby British
Virigin Islands. In fact, until the late twentieth century, residents of Coral Bay and East End had easier and
more frequent access to Tortola than with either Cruz Bay or St. Thomas.
According to the 2000 US Census, St. John has a residential population of 4,157 people, most of whom live in
either Cruz Bay or Coral Bay on the eastern end of the island. It should also be noted that althought
demographic information is recorded in U.S. Census, like other U.S. territories the information is not counted
towards the total population count.
Tourism and Sites on St. John
Cruz Bay on the western coast of the island serves as the principle port of St. John. From there, a ferry runs
throughout the day to and from Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook in St. Thomas. It is also home to (among other
things) a small shopping center, car rental locations, several restaurants, and a supermarket. Coral Bay on the
eastern side of the island is another town which offers most of the same amenities.
Most of St. John is National Park land, so the majority of the island is undeveloped. Some of the most popular
beaches in the Caribbean are located along the island's north shore. The most spectacular and well known of
these is Trunk Bay, which has consistently been voted one of the "Ten Best Beaches in The World" by Condé
Nast Traveler magazine and has received similar recognition from other publications. Since the beaches are on
National Park land, they are all open to the public and are not home to any hotels or resorts. One notable
exception to this is the Caneel Bay resort on the north shore, which lies on Rockefeller's former personal
estate. The remaining coastal land, mostly in the north and in the east, is private property and is home to 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 beaches of St. John are also world famous for their snorkeling, making them a popular cruise ship
destination. In some areas, such as Trunk Bay and nearby Cinnamon Bay, signs identifying the different sea life
have been placed by the National Park Service among the many offshore coral reefs to assist visitors.
Economy of St. John
The main export of St. John used to be Sugar Cane, which was produced in abundance using African and Indian
slave labor, however, this industry all but fell about in the 19th century after the island's slaves were declared
free. The economy of St. John is now almost entirely built on tourism and tourism-related industries such as
real estate development and hotels.
St John History