Complete History & Timeline of St John

St. John of the U.S Virgin Islands has a fascinating history and culture starting from its fiery volcanic birth.

St. John was once the site of a thriving Taino culture, a lucrative plantation era based on sugar and slavery followed by the subsistence economy of hard-working and industrious small farmers, artisans, and fishermen.

Today, St. John, USVI, is the home of the Virgin Islands National Park and is one of the most popular tourist destinations of those in the know. Here is a complete history of St John.

St John History
Annaberg Plantation
100,000,000 B.C.Rocky core of St. John was first laid down on the
ocean floor as a result of subterranean volcanic activity
producing the same rocks found at Ram Head today.
15,000 B.C.Glaciers lower the sea level by more than 300
feet and St. John became connected to Puerto Rico and the
rest of the northern Virgin Islands. What is now an underwater
ocean shelf were grasslands, savannas, and scrub forests.
5,000 B.C.Melting of the glaciers results in the separation
of the islands.
2,000 B.C.People from the South American mainland begin
a migration to the islands of the Lesser Antilles.
1,000 B.C.First people arrive on St. John, surviving mainly
on resources provided by the sea. They establish a village
at Salt Pond Bay, collected and prepared seafood at Lameshur,
and made stone tools at Grootpan Bay.
500 B.C.The second wave of immigrants proceeds up the island
chain arriving on St. John in the first century A.D. The
original inhabitants are either killed or assimilated by
the newcomers. These new arrivals are the ancestors of the
Tainos, the culture that Columbus encountered when he arrived
in the Americas.
65 A.D.Amerindian Village established at Tutu on St. Thomas
180Village established near what is now Rothchild Francis Square on main Street on St. Thomas
600Villages established at Botany Bay, Magens Bay and Hull Bay, St. Thomas
1000The Taino culture that originated in Hispaniola
arrives on St. Thomas and St. John.
1000-1492Tainos live peacefully on St. John, planting
yucca, fishing, gathering wild fruit, fabricating ceramic
pottery, tools, and ceremonial objects. Having little need
for great technological advances or to defend themselves
from other human beings, their culture concentrates on religious
and spiritual development. The Tainos apparently disappear
from St. John sometime before 1492.
1493Part of Columbus’s fleet sails by St. John
his second voyage. The island is reported to be uninhabited.
1593-1717St. John is sparsely and intermittently inhabited
by small groups of Native Americans fleeing persecution,
pirates, fugitives of all sorts and colors, fishermen and
1595Sir Francis Drake stops in St. Thomas to rest his troops before their unsuccessful raid on San Juan, after which the famed privateer dies of dysentery.
1598The Earl of Cumberland stops in St. Thomas on his way to a successful raid on San Juan. He reports the Virgin Islands to be unpopulated at the time.
1665King Frederik III of Denmark grants permission to a consortium led by Erik Nielsen Smit to settle St. Thomas
1666First expedition sails to St. Thomas. The cast of characters included about 50 people of varying European nationalities. They are joined by Dutch refugees who had been living on Tortola, who had been driven out by British privateers. These early settlers began the construction of a fort on what is now called Bluebeard’s hill. The high mortality from disease, hunger, and raids by buccaneers who stole a ship and much of their supplies causes this first expedition to end in failure. Survivors sailed back to Denmark
1672Danes settle in St. Thomas. Construction of the Fort Christian (Christian’s Fort) begins along with other buildings, plantations, and an east west road. The high mortality rate and the unwillingness of Danes to settle St. Thomas led Iverson to encourage settlement by inhabitants of neighboring islands, most of whom were either Dutch or English
1673Danish West India Company, which held the monopoly on the Danish slave trade, brought the first Africans to St. Thomas as slaves.
1674Governor Iverson acquired the enslaved worker, Simon Lamare. A talented mason, Lamare is offered a contract to act as “clerk of the works,” overseeing the construction of Fort Christian. In return, Lamare is granted freedom after seven years of service, beginning, right from the start of the colony, the establishment a of free black and mixed race component of St. Thomas society
1678Soldiers at Fort Christian repel an attack by the French
1679 – 1686St. Thomas, under the governorships of the brothers Adolph and Nicolay Esmit and Gabriel Milan, has reputation for being a pirate haven
1680St. Thomas Governor Iverson resigns and leaves St. Thomas. Fort built and plantations begun. Population 156 whites and 175 blacks. 50 plantations and an east-west road.Population: 156 whites, 175 blacks, 50 plantations producing cotton, sugar, tobacco, indigo, and other tropical products
1683Iverson is reappointed as Governor but is thrown overboard on the voyage from Copenhagen to St. Thomas by mutineers, who also shot the captain, decapitated seven officers, and marooned the remaining representatives of the Company.
1684English thwart Danish attempts to settle St.
1685Brandenburg Company granted a 30-tear lease on land located on the western end of St. Thomas Harbor, St. Thomas became a transshipment point for slaves brought from Africa
1690Major earthquake and tsunami is recorded, possibly on the scale of the earthquake and tsunami of 1867
1697First recorded major hurricane. Danish West India Company takes over the slave trade from the Brandengburgers
1698Amnesty declared for pirates with the exception of Captain Kidd
1699Upon the arrival of Captain Kidd to St. Thomas, the Governor refused to give him protection and did not allow Kidd to come ashore.
1713Major hurricane recorded
1718March 23, Erik Bredal, the Governor of St.
Thomas publishes his intent to settle St. John. The next
day, March 24, Bridal accompanied by 20 planters, five soldiers
, and 16 enslaved Africans sailed from St. Thomas and landed in
Coral Bay.

On March 25, Bredal takes formal possession of
St. John in the name of the King of Denmark and the Danish
West India Company. He raises the Danish Flag and begins
the construction of a fort. The plantation era begins on St. John.
Using the labor of enslaved Africans, the forests are cleared,
hillsides are terraced, and land is planted in sugar, cotton
, and other tropical products.
1726Lutheran Pastor, Philip Adams Dietrich, performs the first Hurricane Intercessory Service in July and the first Hurricane Thanksgiving Service at the end of the hurricane season (July 25, Hurricane Supplication Day, and October 25, Hurricane Thanksgiving Day, are now official public holidays.
1728Population: 123 whites, 677 blacks on 87 plantations.
1733Population: 208 whites, 1,087 blacks on 109
plantations. St John is the victim of a severe drought, insect
plague, and devastating hurricane. September 5, a merciless
slave code was imposed. November 23, Africans from the Akwamu
Nation, who had been brought to St. John as slaves, revolted
against the owners and managers of the St. John plantations.
Capturing the fort in Coral Bay, the rebels proceed to take
control of most of the island, with the exception of Caneel
1734After several unsuccessful attempts to quell
rebellion, the Akwamus is finally defeated by specially-trained
French troops were sent from Martinique.
1738Major hurricane recorded
1742Major hurricane recorded
1739The plantation system on St. John returns to the
pre-rebellion levels, 208 whites, and 1,414 blacks on 109 plantations.
1742Major hurricane recorded
1755King Frederick of Denmark buys all the land,
slaves, estates, ships, factories, and everything else that
was owned by the Danish West India Company and brought company
rule of St. John and the rest of the Danish West Indies to
an end. He issues the Reglement of 1755, in which slave rights
were mentioned for the first time. (The document is never
published on St. John.)
1766St. John and St. Thomas are declared free ports
by the Danish Crown. Plans are made to begin the development
of a town. The land is divided up into town lots but hoped-for
development never materializes, and St. John remains primarily
rural until the recent growth of tourism.
1772Major hurricane recorded
1773Population: 2,330 slaves and 104 whites on
69 plantations, 42 of which are devoted to cotton.
1787School ordinance issued by the Danish Government marks the
the first attempt to provide public education for both free and enslaved
children in the Danish West Indies
1782H.M.S. Santa Monica hits a rock and is beached
at Round Bay, East End.
1783Moravians establish a mission at Emmaus.
1792Danes pass a law mandating the end the African
slave trade in ten years.
1793Major hurricane recorded
1800St. Thomas blockaded by British naval vessels
1801Three-month British occupation.
1802Law outlawing slave trade goes into effect
in the Danish West Indies, making Denmark the first European
nation to abolish the slave trade. 123,000 slaves had already
been brought to the D.W.I. from Africa. Slave trade continues
sporadically until the 1820s, when the law is more rigidly
1804Major fires sweep through Charlotte Amalie
1807-1815British reoccupy St. John.
1819Major hurricane recorded
1834Emancipation of slaves in the British Virgin
Islands offer St. John slaves an excellent escape opportunity
to nearby Tortola.
1836Major hurricane recorded
1839Governor-General Peter von Sholten put forth a proposal
to provide free, compulsory education for children of enslaved
workers in the colony. Classes are taught in English.
1840Major escape to the British Virgin Islands by slaves from Leinster Bay and Annaberg Plantation. It’s followed a few days later by slave escape from Adrian, Brown Bay, and Hermitage.
1841 – 1850The maritime industry and related businesses thrive on St. Thomas. Undersea cable is laid between Britain and St. Thomas, a coaling station and shipyard are established on the island.
1841St. John’s population reaches it’s (pre-modern
day) high point of 2,555. St. Thomas becomes a hub for the distribution of mail, money, and passengers to and from other Caribbean islands.
1841An agreement is reached between the Moravian Church and the Royal
Council of St. Thomas and St. John to provide free compulsory education for all free-colored children. Classes are taught at both the Bethany and Emmaus missions.
1844Construction of the Annaberg Country School.
1845First Country School on St. John is completed at Beverhoutsberg
1846Population: 2450, 1790 slaves, 660 free (including
1847Annaberg Country School was completed, but left vacant due to a lack
of funds and opposition of the planter class.
1848On July 3, the emancipation of slaves in the Danish
West Indies is established. July 4, news reaches St. John. On July 5, a police placard is posted in Cruz Bay prohibiting the “freed” from
leaving the island. On July 10, police placard posted in Cruz
Bay compelled the freed to sign labor contracts with their
former owners.
1849Labor Act forced freed slaves to stay on plantations.
1850 – 1917Economic decline due to competition from sugar beets and islands better suited to sugar cane production, labor problems, and natural disasters
1852Moravians open a school on the East End to service the growing
population there
1853Cholera epidemic kills 1,865 people Malaria kills 100
1854Cholera epidemic kills 218.
1855Population declines to 1,715.
1856Classes begin to be taught at the Annaberg Country School. Two more cholera epidemics ravage the population.
1859Moravians stop baptizing children born out
of wedlock.
1862East End School was constructed.
1865St. Thomas Gas Company begins to provide illumination for streetlights, stores, and offices. Construction begins on Government House supervised by black Virgin Islander John Wright. Construction was completed in 1867
1866Cholera epidemic kills 1,300
1867Devastating hurricane followed by an earthquake
severely damages estates and crops, effectively ending the
plantation system and discouraging U.S. plans to purchase
the islands.
1868205 Danish West Indian voters unanimously support a U.S. purchase
of the islands. U.S. rejects the purchase of St. Thomas and St.
John from Denmark for $7.5 million.
1871Major hurricane recorded
1878Mary Thomas (Queen Mary) led the rebellion of
disgruntled workers on St. Croix. Carolina Plantation in Coral Bay was acquired by William Henry Marsh.
1879Labor Act amended to allow contract negotiation. Bandstand erected at Emancipation Park
1880Widow George rents rooms by the night at in
her house at Newfound Bay. Population declines to 994.
1885Royal Mail Steam Packet Company moves headquarters to Barbados
1898Major hurricane recorded
1900Population 925.
1902Denmark rejects U. S. offer to buy St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix for $5 million.
1907J.P. Jorgenson writes the Short Guide to St. Thomas and St. Jan, a travel guide written in English.
1914West India Company Ltd introduces electric lighting.
1916Major hurricane recorded
1917March 31, the official transfer of Danish West Indies to U.S. for $25,000,000. Virgin Islands are put in charge of the U.S. Navy.
1918Reef Bay factory closing ends sugar production.
1921United States Virgin Island flag designed and approved by U.S. Navy brass is adopted.
1924Major hurricane recorded
1927Virgin Islanders were granted American citizenship.
1928On his solo flight from Paris to the United States, aviator Charles Lindbergh landed on a field near what was then called Mosquito Bay. The bay was renamed was subsequently renamed Lindbergh Bay to commemorate the occasion. Major hurricane recorded
1929Erva and Paul Boulon Sr. buy Trunk Bay and 100 additional acres of land for $2,500.
1930Population of St. John is 756. The first automobile
arrives on St. John. St. Thomas Daily News was founded. Navy
rule ends. Average wage in Virgin Islands is 40 cents a day.
1931First civilian governor, Dr. Paul M. Pearson.
1934Eleanor Roosevelt wrote an article about her trip to St. Thomas and the Caribbean in “Women’s Home Companion.” Government-run Bluebeards Castle Hotel opens.
1935Edna St. Vincent Millay spends summer in St. Thomas in house at the top of the 99 Steps. The locally made mahogany “charge desk” at the Enid M. Baa Public Library on dedicated to the eminent poet.
1936First Organic Act passed by U.S. Congress giving political power to the local Virgin Islands government. Danish West India Company opens Caneel Bay Resort.
1939St. John, mentioned by Harold Huber of the National Park Service in the N.P.S. report as a possible park. The onset of World War II caused the plan to be shelved.
1946Robert and Nancy Gibney come to St. John on Honeymoon.
1948First jeep was brought to the island on a sloop from St. Thomas.
1950St. John’s population declines to 746. Robert and Nancy Gibney bought property at Hawksnest, now called Gibney Beach.
1953Fourteen Jeeps registered on St. John; Island administrator proposes “limiting the number and size of vehicles on the island (annual report of the administrator 1953).
1954Laurance Rockefeller begins acquiring land on St. John, including the Annaberg Estate and 2,000 acres of north shore land transferred by the heirs of Herman O. Creque. Revised Organic Act passed, giving more power to the people and government Virgin Islands
1955Only 56 acres out of 12,160 acres in cultivation on St. John, 85% second-growth forest. Rockefeller addresses the Senate Subcommittee on Territories and Insular Affairs and testifies that St. John has the most superb beaches and views and is the most beautiful island in the Caribbean.
1956Virgin Islands National Park opens with 5,000-acre gift of Jackson Hole Preserve. Caneel Bay Plantation reopens. Twenty-four-hour electrical service inaugurated. Fifty-three Jeeps, 31 trucks, five station wagons (annual report of the administrator 1956).
1957Gibneys sell a parcel of beachfront land to J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the Father of the Atomic Bomb.”
1959Virgin Islands National Park acquires Trunk Bay from the Boulon family.
19625,560 acres of submerged lands are transferred to the jurisdiction of the National Park. First commercial jet lands in St. Thomas (Pan Am). First seawater desalination plant.
1963Sewage system eliminates the use of “night soil tins” sewage disposal in which human waste is placed in pails, brought to the street, and collected by trucks
1966Pan Am begins direct flights to the U.S. mainland.
1967Antilles Airboats begin seaplane service with
flights to St. John.
1969Project Tektite in Great Lameshur Bay (Underwater Habitat).
1971Melvin Evans first African-American Virgin Islander to be elected governor. Virgin Islands are the first U.S. state or territory to observe Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday as a legal holiday.
1978Mongoose Junction opens.
1989Hurricane Hugo (September).
1990Population of St. John 3,504.
19941,200,000 visitors to St. John National Park.
1995Hurricane Marilyn (September) ten killed in Virgin Islands, $1.5 billion in damages. Seaplane service to St. John is discontinued due to damages sustained and subsequent announcement by the National Park Service saying they will no longer allow the use of seaplane ramp.
1997Dr. Donna Christian Green first woman to be elected Virgin Islands delegate to U.S. Congress.
1988The Friends of Virgin Islands National Park incorporated
2000Population of St. John 4,197. Cruz Bay 2,743,
central district 746, Coral Bay 649, East End 59.
2003St. John gets its own phonebook.
2004Coral Bay School gets accreditation and celebrates its first graduating class.
2005Enighed Pond ferry project completed. Coral Bay School opens new campus
2006Enighed Pond ferry port is up and running.
2007Trust For Public Land acquires majority interest in Estate Maho Bay, preventing the development of the land by private interests. The land is to be donated to the National Park, and Maho Bay is now one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
2008The most powerful earthquake in 20 years occurred on October 11, measuring 6.1 on Richter Scale, with no injuries and no significant damage reported.
2009Financial woes halt Sirenusa and Pond Bay Club construction projects. A new supermarket, “St John Gourmet, opens”
2010St. John trails and overlooks are in excellent condition thanks to National Park Trail crews and the volunteer work of Jeff Chabot and the company. Cruz Bay Roundabout is completed.
You can learn more about the island with our about St. John page or find out about the best places to stay in St. John.