A group of small islands now separated politically into three segments
The name of this archipelago at the far western end of the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean derives from Christopher Columbus, who “discovered” them on his second voyage to the New World on October 21, 1493. He named them after Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, who’s Feast Day coincided with the discovery. The islands, though, were insufficiently large and interesting to warrant a landing. The islands traded hands among the European powers for many years, with none willing to commit serious forces to hold them. The Dutch West India Company established a settlement on the island of Tortola in 1648. They were evicted by the British in 1672. The British gradually expanded to Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and the smaller islands of what is now the British Virgin Islands (officially – the Virgin Islands). The Danes meanwhile acquired holdings in Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and the adjacent small islands. Meanwhile, the Spanish retained control of Vieques and Culebra, informally known as the Spanish Virgin Islands and ruled as part of the colony of Puerto Rico. The United States acquired Puerto Rico and the Spanish Virgin Islands when it defeated Spain in the Spanish American War. The Spanish Virgin Islands are administered as part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The sugarcane plantations on the Danish Virgin Islands collapsed with the end of slavery. Fearing that the Danish islands might be seized by the Germans and turned into a submarine base, the United States negotiated with the Danish Government and purchased the islands in 1916 for the sum of $25 million. They thereupon became the United States Virgin Islands. While the US dollar became the legal currency, some things did not change. Traffic still follows the British (and Old Danish) practice of driving on the left side of the road. This despite the fact that all cars on the Virgin Islands come from America and the steering wheel is on the left. The British Virgin Islands constitute a British overseas territory and have a fair amount of autonomy within the British Empire.