A Brief History of the BVI

From St. Ursula and Christopher Columbus to the emancipation of slaves, the sugar trade and the growth of the economy and the arts, the BVI has always been historically influenced.

The BVI invariably conjures thoughts of sun, sea and sand. Stunning visual landscapes, the feel of soft sand between the toes and the smell of scented tropical flowers are all part of the experience here. But there is much more to these islands. Let’s dig into the history and culture to understand what makes these islands special.

The Past The first settlers arrived in dugout canoes paddling up the island chain from South America. They were seafaring people who depended on the resources of the sea and of the islands they visited.

The first European to set foot on these islands was Christopher Columbus in 1493. In the tradition of explorers, he named the islands after St. Ursula and her martyred virgins.

Soon after, Europeans descended on the Caribbean in search of gold and treasure. The European powers vied for their share of resources and territory. They claimed the islands as they visited them.

Before long, naval battles erupted throughout the region as the powers sought to hold their claims. The Dutch first settled in these islands in the 1600s and ushered in a period of transition to agriculture. Ownership of islands changed frequently during this period, and permanent settlements were difficult. Eventually the British gained control of the island.

Whilst gold and silver were not found in the BVI, conditions were favourable for sugar cane production. Thus began the plantation era and the importation of slave labour from Africa.

Slavery officially ended in 1834, and the impoverished, newly freed population lacked the resources to build their economy. More than a century of poverty followed.

In the second half of the 20th century, a few far-sighted individuals helped guide the development of the tourism and financial services sectors. These are now the backbone of the economy and have propelled the Territory to the modern era.

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