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British Virgin Islands

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BVI Amerindian History

The history of the BVI is obscure but romantic. Although people have passed through and lived here for thousands of years, it has always been a hard existence and cultivation was never a great success. In fact nowadays the islands are more successful and more populous than they have ever been.

The Amerindians (from American Indians) left just a few traces in their decorated pottery and carved ceremonial stones, examples of which are in the BVI Folk Museum in Road Town. Columbus probably met them as he passed through the islands on his second voyage to the New World, but gradually the Amerindians left the islands, heading for the larger islands where they would be left undisturbed.

Other visitors started to creep in, particularly pirates, and the history of the BVI became actively shrouded in mystery. The pirates were happy not to leave any record. Famous names that were seen in the area though, including Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Kidd. They would use the remote bays to ?careen? their ships.

It was important to keep their hulls clean, so that they would be able to sail fast in order to catch their prey. They weighted the end of the mast, pulling it down to expose the hull on the other side, which they would then scrub of barnacles and clinging weeds. And of course they would carouse there. The small island of Dead Chest, off Peter Island, is remembered in the sea shanty:

Fifteen Men on a Dead Man?s Chest, ?Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. Supposedly the fifteen were left there by Blackbeard, a pirate who used the nearby port of St Thomas in the USVI (the Danish Virgin Islands in his day) as his base. St Thomas has been a successful trading port since the 1600s and for most of its history life in the BVI was defined by its relationship to this larger island.

By the mid 1600s the islands of the BVI gradually became settled. Attempts were made to cultivate them, to grow crops sugar and cotton for export and food for the larger island. Slaves were brought as labour.

It was always a precarious existence because of the lack of rainfall, and so the plantations were never very successful. Eventually, by the 1800s the islands were left with subsistence farmers, mostly the descendant so of abandoned slaves.

Those who could tended to leave. Even into the 1900s, many BV Islanders emigrated to look for work in the larger islands and even farther afield. This still holds true to some extent, as the youth likes to travel to the States and Canada, but nowadays migration is also beginning to work the other way round and the BV Islanders are beginning to come back. Most Belongers have relatives and have worked in the USVI. Many have dual citizenship or residency with the USVI anyway.

Out of a poor existence, with islanders scratching a living from a smallholding, the British Virgin Islands have become relatively extremely rich (they are currently among the wealthiest islands in the Caribbean) in recent years. With the success of the sailing industry and latterly offshore banking, they have managed to create their own considerable internal economy.

Original source of Resources can be found at History of BVI