Blog Schedule

I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Little History

I thought I'd start sharing a bit of history about the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. They have a richer past than most people realize and I've come to believe their story has a lot to do with who I am.

To the north of the Caribbean archipelago is the Atlantic Ocean, to the south the Caribbean Sea. They "mix" at a place called Pillsbury Sound, a three mile streach of water between St. Thomas and St. John.

The Virgin Islands, along with the whole archipelago, is part of a huge mountain chain. The islands are the tops of those mountains sticking up out of the ocean. The mountains were formed through volcanism and plate tectonics. In fact, the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate meet up just north of the islands at a place called the Puerto Rico Trench which is the deepest point of the Atlantic at 28,374 feet. There are still many active volcanoes within the Caribbean chain. Soufriere Hills on Montserrat, has been erupting since 1995 and has devastated about half of the island. Mont Pelee on Martinique did a Mt. Vesuvius in 1902, burying the city of Saint-Pierre and killing over 30,000 people. In fact, only two people survived.

There is archaeological evidence of people inhabiting the islands that goes back to A. D. 1. About A. D. 700 the Taino (also known as the Arawak Indians) were living on St. John at Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay and Lameshur. The Taino were agrarian and peaceful, while the Caribs, for whom the archipelago is named, were war-like and cannibalistic. It is probable that the Caribs, over the course of several hundred of years, "chased" the Taino from South America all the way up the chain to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba.

In 1493, on his second voyage, Columbus sailed past St. John. There were so many little islands and cays he named the area after St. Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins. Hence, the Virgin Islands. After sailing past St. John he sailed south to another island which he named Santa Cruz (Holy Cross), later to become known as St. Croix. There, at a place called Salt River Bay, the first altercation between the natives and Europeans occurred, when there was a skirmish with the fierce Caribs. Columbus and his crew were beaten off the island and sailed away.

The next well known person to have anything to do with V. I. was Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico. In 1509 in an effort to extend Spanish control, he made a truce with the Caribs on St. Croix. However the truce was soon broken when another Spaniard went on a slave raid of the island. This lead to Carib warriors from St. Criox supporting a Taino uprising in Pueto Rico which lead to an order from King Ferdinand I in 1512, to exterminate all the Caribs on the island of St. Criox.

Ponce de Leon is perhaps better remembered for having discovered Florida while on a supposed search for the Fountain of Youth.

An Interesting Fact: The oldest continuously lived in governor's mansion in the Western Hemisphere is in Old San Juan. It was built in 1540. This picture shows one of the cobble stoned streets leading to the mansion.

With the arrival of Spain, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, were thrust onto the world stage and despite their small size would have many important roles to play.


  1. What a difference between the early inhabitants of the areas you describe!
    Lovely picture.

  2. Beautiful picture. I love hearing the history of this as you described. I don't know why, but pirates keep coming to mind. Were they an issue here?

    I love the name CINNAMON BAY for some odd reason. Very cool.

  3. I've learned more about history from you, then I did the whole time I was in school...I think if it would have been taught with the same flare and pictures that you use, I would have enjoyed it more back then...Thanks for sharing!

  4. Ah yes, Adrienne. Gun powder vs. spears...I believe there is small number of Caribs left, they were just mean enough to survive. However, the peaceful Taino are completely extinct...

    Yes Rena, there were pirates!And you know, I don't know how Cinnamon Bay got it's name. I'll have to do some research.

    Brenda, I've always loved history. If I have managed to intrigue you, then I feel honored. Thanks!

  5. Wow! And I thought the house next to me (built in 1643) was old!

    Enjoyed the colorful history!


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