A BRIEF HISTORY
Like many Caribbean islands, the British Virgin Islands were believed to have been inhabited first by the Arawak Indian tribe, and then were ousted by the more aggressive Caribs. Later Christopher Columbus became the first European to travel to the islands, and in 1493 named them Las Virgenes after St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.
The islands were at times occupied by the French, Dutch, Spanish and English not to mention pirates, privateers and various ne'er-do-wells. The islands were finally settled by the British in the 1600s and shortly thereafter, the main industry of the islands became agriculture.
Many grand plantations were established and the British imported slaves to work them. During this time, the British Virgin Islands prospered and exported sugar, molasses and rum. However, the island's economy suffered after the abolishment of slavery in 1834, when many former slaves and the plantation owners left the islands. Hurricanes and an earthquake caused further damage to the islands' economy. The islands remained a lonely outpost for many years and the hardy souls who stayed turned to the sea and what crops they could grow to subsist.
It wasn't until the 1930s that the first resort was established and much later, in the 1960s, when tourism became a major industry. Still, the islands retain much of the old-world charm that has been a major draw for visitors from around the globe.
For more on BVI history, try the BVI Tourism website or the British Virgin Islands Tourism website.