Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Islands In the Sun

Magnet #309: St. Thomas Seal

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Me

The Danish West Indies got a new name on this day in 1916. That was when they were purchased from Denmark by the United States, paving the way for them to become the US Virgin Islands. The territory was officially transferred on March 31, 1917 and the United States paid a whopping $25 million for the land, which would be around $390 million by modern standards.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover these islands in 1493 when he was blown off course during his second voyage. He named them after Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgin martyrs, as there were so many islets, cays, and rocks surrounding them and stuck with the religious theme when he gave the larger islands their names. He claimed the area for Spain, but didn't sat long, as he was attacked by the antagonistic natives, which the Spanish later wiped out. However, it was Britain and Denmark that went about settling the land in the 1600s. The Danish experienced some interesting events with their colony there - it was taken by the Spanish, who were driven out by the French who, in turn, sold it back to Denmark. For almost two centuries the Dutch would continue to build up their holdings there, trying to develop a lucrative trading center there. Around the turn of the century, the United States began to become very interested in the Danish holdings in the Virgin Islands. They feared that if Germany were to capture Denmark in a war, they would also take its territory in the Caribbean and might be able to endanger nations in the Americas, such as ours. Although the purchase wasn't able to take place before the outbreak of World War I, the US Virgin Islands had existed for a considerable time before World War II. And that was certainly a relief for this part of the world - who knows what the Nazis could have done if they had taken control of the islands? Since those times, the islands have developed into a popular tourist destination for cruise ships and can receive as many as two million visitors a year. Given the tropical atmosphere of them, I'm not sure if too many seals like the one on this magnet can be found there. But what can I say, when I saw this at a magnet store in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, of all places, I jumped at the chance to get it - after all, I didn't have any from the US Virgin Islands. And what better reason is there than that!

Nowadays, the Virgin Islands are split into two distinct entities - the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands, which are less than twice the size of the US holdings there. Of course, there isn't a huge amount of land in the US Virgin Islands, either - when combined, all of it is about double the size of Washington, D.C. While American Virgin Islanders are considered to be citizens of the United States and have been so since 1927, they are not allowed to vote in national elections and are not officially represented in Congress. But they have at least had a non-voting delegate there since 1972, and they've been able to elect their own Governor since 1968. Before then, that official was appointed. They've also adopted American traditions on occasion, albeit with their own twist. For example, the American Virgin Islanders celebrate Thanksgiving, but in their calendar, it's held slightly earlier, on October 25. Why the change? To celebrate the end of the hurricane season! Living on the East Coast, that sounds like a pretty good idea to me. I must admit, I haven't paid much attention to the US Virgin Islands over the years, but they come off as a pretty interesting place to visit. Best of all, if I go there, I won't need a passport. Sounds like this would be a great place to check out in the future.

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