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St Thomas Island Ii

ST THOMAS ISLAND II, an island in the Danish West Indies. It belongs to the Virgin Island group, and lies 40 m. E. of Puerto Rico, in 18 20' N. and 64 55' W. Pop. (1901) 11,012, mostly negroes. It is 13 m long, varies in width from i m. to 4 m. and has an area of 33 m. It consists of a single mountain ridge, the peaks of a submerged range, culminating in West Mountain (1555 ft.). St Thomas stands on a prolongation of the range which supports the Greater Antilles, and is built up of much disintegrated eruptive rock (porphyry and granite). The climate is tropical, varying in temperature between 70 F. and 80 F., modified, however, by the sea breezes. The average yearly rainfall is about 45 in., earthquakes are not unknown, and hurricanes at times sweep over the island. The only town, Charlotte Amalie (pop. 8540), lies in the centre of the S coast, at the head of one of the finest harbours in the West Indies. This consists of an almost landlocked basin, about \ m. across, varying in depth from 27 to 36 ft., and entered by a narrow channel only 300 yds. wide. It is equipped with a floating dock, which can accommodate ships up to 3000 tons, a patent slip for smaller vessels and a repairing yard. Danish is the official language, but English predominates, while French, Spanish and Dutch are also spoken. St Thomas was once the greatest distributing centre in the West Indies, but the introduction of steamships and cables led to its decline, and the removal of the Royal Mail Steamship Company's headquarters to Barbados in 1885 was the final blow. The production of sugar, which decayed gradually after the abolition of slavery, is practically extinct. Aloes, fibrous plants and fruit are grown. St Thomas is the seat of government for the Danish West Indies (St Thomas, St John and St Croix), a crown colony administered by a governor, who is assisted by a colonial council. The governor resides for half the year in St Thomas, and in St Croix for the rest. The chief importance of St Thomas lies in the fact that it is a coaling station for ships plying to and from the West Indies.

The island was discovered by Columbus in 1493, and first colonized by the Dutch in 1657. After their departure in 1667 the island came into the hands of the British, and it was held by them till 1671, when it passed into the hands of the Danish West India Company, which was succeeded in 1685 by the so-called Brandenburg Company, the shareholders of which were mainly Dutch. The king of Denmark having taken over the island in 1754, declared it a free port, and during the European wars of the 18th century the neutrality of Denmark gave a great impetus to the trade of St Thomas. It was during this period that the distributing trade of the island grew up. It was held by the British in 1801 and again from 1807 to 1815, during which it was the great rendezvous of British merchant vessels waiting for convoy. In 1867, when the islands were governed at a loss to the mother country, a treaty was concluded under which the United States agreed to buy them for i\ million dollars, but, although the suggestion first emanated from the United States, its Senate refused to ratify the treaty. In 1902 another treaty of cession was signed by which the United States was to buy the islands for 5 million dollars, but the Danish parliament rejected it. The importance of the islands to the United States consists in their suitability as a West Indian naval base.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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