St. John Virgin Islands in the 1970s: The White Continentals

For many of the white continentals who had the good fortune to experience St. John in the 1970s, that time and place holds a special place in their hearts and souls. The St. John continentals of those days immersed themselves in the physical beauty and simple life style of St. John and became incorporated into the very fabric of St. John culture.

The fact that the uniqueness of this small subculture was something real and not just a satisfying self-perception was shared by none other than Edward A. O’Neill who wrote the book “The Rape of the American Virgins” in 1972.

This is a book was highly critical of greedy continental business interests and corrupt Virgin Islands government officials, resulting in a short-sighted development of the islands having unhealthy economic, ecological and social  consequences.

Moreover, Mr. O’Neill’s overall assessment of the Virgin Islands’ white continental residents  was, shall we say, unsympathetic.

Nonetheless, when the theme turned to the continentals of St. John his tone changed dramatically. In the chapter dealing with St. John, the author wrote:

“Up to now, development (on St. John) has produced little change in the island’s society. The small continental population, about 175 of the island’s present 1,700 residents, has had to become a real part of st. Johnian life – a not too difficult adjustment since the kind of people from the mainland who have settled on St. John came exactly because of the island’s isolation and simplicity, which they strongly want to preserve. Despite their small number, these relative newcomers (few have been here for more than twenty years) play an important local role. Unlike their fellow continentals on St. Thomas and St. Croix, whose attitude generally is “leave it to the natives,” these people, in their shorts and tennis shoes and shifts over bikinis, have been  vigorously working to preserve the unspoiled birthright St. John….”

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