Evidence suggests that St. Thomas was once home to natives of the Ciboney tribes. It is believed that they occupied the island around 1500 BC. Two other tribes lived on the island; the Taino or Arawaks and the Caribs. Although evidence can be found of the presence of these tribes, they no longer exist. Their populations were decimated by the arrival of Europeans.
Christopher Colombus is credited with discovering St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands during his second voyage to the New World in 1493.
St. Thomas was home to pirates long before European powers ever decided to form colonies here. The deep natural harbor at Charlotte Amalie was a favorite among pirates who were intent on plundering Spanish ships laden with gold coins and other valuable items. You will find romanticized stories of piracy on St. Thomas, stories of Blackbeard and Bluebeard are probably the most well known.
The Danes made their first colonization attempts around 1666. The priority on the list for the Danes was to parcel off the island for agricultural development. The island was supported by an economy based on plantations. The Danes did not build very much in Charlotte Amalie. For a long time the Fort was the only construction project in progress.
After some time passed the government realized that much of St. Thomas’ future lay in the development of the area around the natural harbor. Soon Taphus was born! Taphus, meaning beer houses or halls, was the name given to what is now known as Charlotte Amalie. When the governor gave licenses to residents to develop the area around the harbor, taverns quickly sprung up as did seafarers who enjoyed Taphus. The name Taphus was used until 1691 when it was renamed Charlotte Amalie in honor of King Christian V wife.
The governors on St. Thomas in the late 1600’s leadthe island into slave trade and piracy. In 1685 the Danish government signed a treaty with the Duchy of Brandenburg allowing the Brandenburg American Company to establish a slave trading business on St. Thomas. It is also around this time that pirates got approval to use St. Thomas as a refuge. These occurrences benefited local merchants, and made St. Thomas’ Charlotte Amalie one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean.
Even when piracy was no longer affecting the economy of St. Thomas, Charlotte Amalie maintained its importance as a trading port. This stance was maintained by King Frederik V’s 1764 declaration that St. Thomas should be a free port. The importance of Charlotte Amalie to trade in the New World would diminish with the abolition of slavery in 1848.
The late 1800’s and early 1900’s were quiet years in St. Thomas. Several major natural disasters, including hurricanes, fires and a tidal wave, left Charlotte Amalie wanting for major re-building. Years passed before the old warehouses that once stored goods for trade would be rebuilt to house fancy boutiques and stores.
In 1917 St. Thomas would lower the Danish flag and residents saluted the stars and stripes of the United States of America. Prosperity would return to Charlotte Amalie in the mid 1900’s as air and sea travel increased. St. Thomas moved into the 21st century maintaining its prominence as a favored cruise ship destination and shopping mecca.