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The Caribbean

Caribbean Ports: ° Anguilla ° Antigua and Barbuda ° Antilles ° Aruba ° Bahamas ° Barbados ° Cuba ° Dominica ° Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo) ° Grenadines ° Guadeloupe ° Haiti ° Jamaica ° Martinique ° Netherlands/Antilles ° Puerto Rico ° Saint Kitts ° St. Lucia ° St. Martin ° St. Thomas ° St. Vincent and the Grenadines ° Tortola ° Trinidad and Tobago ° Turks and Caicos


St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda are the four main islands of the US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, but there are hundreds of islands, cays and some that are not much more than large above-the-water rocks; many uninhabited.

The islands were first inhabited by Arawak and later by Carib Indians, who participated in a popular activity that has lasted throughout Tortola's history: sailing.


During the 17th century, the archipelago was divided into two territorial units, one English and the other Danish. Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1917, the US purchased the Danish portion, which had been in economic decline since the abolition of slavery in 1848.

British Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands were settled by the Dutch in 1648 and then annexed by the English in 1672. The islands were part of the British colony of the Leeward Islands from 1872-1960; they were granted autonomy in 1967. The economy is closely tied to the larger and more populous US Virgin Islands to the west; the US dollar is the legal currency.

Anegada (Drowned Island)

The only coral island in the BVI and unlike her sister islands, it is virtually flat. Salt ponds are a dominant feature with a growing flock of resident flamingos. There is a nearly continuous beach running for miles around the whole island. Home to the Anegada Rock Iguana and several endemic species of plants found only on this island.


Europeans began making their mark upon Tortola history after 1493, when Christopher Columbus spotted the British and US Virgin Islands and named them after the 11,000 virgins of 4th- century martyr St. Ursula. Though the Spanish made a few attempts to settle the area, famous pirates like Bluebeard and Captain Kidd were the first genuine inhabitants of the islands during this period in Tortola history, using the area's secluded coves as bases from which to plunder Spanish galleons carrying gold and other riches.

Tortola history took on a European flavor in the 17th century when the British, who had successfully usurped control of the area from the Dutch, established a permanent plantation colony on Tortola and the surrounding islands; many of the island's political affairs were controlled from London.

The sugar industry dominated Tortola history over the next 150 years, faltering only in the mid 1800s with the abolition of slavery. A large proportion of the white landowning population left the BVI with this economic downturn.

Caribbean, 1806. Aaron Arrowsmith, Cartographer.

Caribbean, 1806, Aaron Arrowsmith, Cartographer.

Originally built on a hill with commanding views overlooking the harbour to defend Road Town, Fort Burt was rebuilt by the English in 1776, and named after William Burt, Governor of the Leeward Islands. Free and open daily from dawn to dusk, the foundations and magazine remain of this historic ruin.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, March 6, 1844, Bangor, Maine, U.S.A.


A COMPANY was formed three years since in the Danish Island of St. Thomas, for the purpose of building a Marine Railway, capable of taking up vessels of 1000 tons burden. Engineers were sent out from England, as well as all the machinery for its construction. The Railway is now completed, and the Directors having spared no expense in building it in the most substantial and perfect manner, competent persons, after very careful examination, and witnessing the practical operation of its powers, have pronounced it a finished piece of workmanship equal in every respect to any Marine Railway in Europe or the United States. The harbor of St Thomas is safe, commodious, and easy of entrance to vessels of the largest capacity and all the necessary materials, of the best description, for repairing vessels, are constantly for sale at reasonable prices. The mechanics are as skillful as can be found elsewhere, and the expenses of repairing are more moderate than at any other port in the West Indies.

Masters of vessels sustaining injury at sea, and under the necessity of proceeding to a southern port for repairs, are invited to consider the many advantages enjoyed by St Thomas, not only as it respects the despatch and facility with which their repairs can be completed, but for the certainty of finding there every thing requisite and necessary to complete them, and at prices varying but little from what would be charged in the principle cities of this country.

Boston, February 2, 1844

St. Croix

Christopher Columbus visited St. Croix on November 14th, 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Columbus named the island Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). The explorers anchored off a natural bay west of Christiansted (known today as Salt River.) Some two-dozen armed men from Columbus' fleet went ashore to explore. These men were met by defensive arrows to which they retreated. The Salt River site is the first and only positively documented site associated with Columbus' exploration of the New World on what is today a U.S. territory.

The Caribs continued their existence on St. Croixfor about a decade following Columbus' visit. During this period they had established an understanding of mutual coexistence with the Spanish on Puerto Rico. This understanding was concluded when a Spanish adventurer raided St. Croixfor Carib slaves. The Caribs joined in an effort with the Tainos of Puerto Rico, against the Spanish. For their uprising they were condemned to be destroyed by the Spanish Crown. With 'legalized' extermination and military action imminent the Caribs permanently abandoned St. Croix.

In 1625 Britain and the Netherlands co-existed on the island. This mutually beneficial relationship of sharing St. Croix ended when the islands Dutch governor killed his English counterpart. The English retaliated, leaving the Dutch governor dead. Dutch and French settlers slowly retreated leaving the English in power of St. Croix and the colony grew under British rule. The Spanish, on nearby Puerto Rico, were concerned by the growth. In a surprise attack the Spanish landed on St. Croix and killed many settlers and forced the others to leave. The French heard of the overthrow of the English and took the opportunity to move in themselves and take over St. Croix from the Spanish. This was around 1650 when Philippe de Poincy, an official of the Knights of Malta, sent 160 of his best troops to capture St. Croix. He succeeded and then quickly sent some three hundred planters from St. Kitts to establish settlements on the newly captured colony.

By 1733, St. Croix was in the hands of the Danish West Indies Company. For some time, St. Croix was one of the wealthiest islands in the West Indies, greatly to sugar cultivation, rum production and slave labor. The economy existed through trade exports of sugar, rum, cotton, molasses and hard woods.

Whim Plantation Museum, Frederiksted, St. Croix

Whim Plantation Museum, Frederiksted, St. Croix.

The price of sugar in the world market was stable for the first decades of the 19th century and St. Croix's plantation owners did well. In 1803 the population of the island was 30,000 with 26,500 being slaves engaged in planting and processing sugar cane. Prosperity for the land barons came to a halt with the closure of Denmark's role in the slave trade. St. Croix had played an important role in the triangular trade route that connected Europe, Africa and the Caribbean in a trade of human cargo, sugar and rum. Around this same time competing beet sugar prices caused a sharp decline in the profitability of cultivating sugarcane and slavery was abolished in Danish colonies. With all these factors playing a role St. Croix's economy by the end of the 1820's was nearing ruin.

August 11, 1899, London Daily Mail, London, Great Britain

Four West Indian Island Hurricane Swept
Hundreds of People Killed and Thousands Homeless

The hurricane that originated in the West Indies four days ago, and which has not yet spent its fury, proves to hare been more disastrous than was at first believed.

The islands of Montserrat (British), Porto Rico (American), Guadeloupe (French), and St. Croix (Danish) have suffered terribly, Montserrat having been completely devastated. The loss of life, it is feared, will have to be reckoned in hundreds.

Below are the latest particulars of the calamity. The following telegram was received at the Colonial Office yesterday from the Governor of the Leeward Islands.

"Regret to report that Montserrat completely devastated by hurricane August 7. Every church and chapel completely destroyed. All buildings destroyed or damaged. Seventy-four deaths reported up to the present time, while country people homeless."

"Commissioner reports plenty of food; articles of clothing urgently required. Temporary relief, food supplies, articles of clothing, medical stores, forwarded by H.M.S. Indefatigablethis day. "

"Property sustained serious damage at St. Kitts and Nevis; twenty-one deaths reported at Nevis up to present time. Temporary relief afforded. Hurricane not so severe at Antigua. Onlv one death reported, but many people homeless. No report of damage m other Presidencies . . ."

(From Our Own Correspondent.)

View along Old Street

View along Old Street.

According to telegrams from the Danish West Indies Government, the island of St. Croix was struck yesterday by a hurricane, which caused immense damage. Several vessels are reported to have been wrecked. St. Thomas was not touched by the storm.

Lloyd's agent at St. Croix telegraphs that fifteen lives were lost. The British schooner Melbourne has been totally wrecked. She had no cargo on board at the time.


The Weather Bureau has issued a bulletin stating that the centre of the hurricane is now north of the eastern extremity of Cuba. It is moving in a north-westerly direction, and is probably recuring to the northward. ~ Reuters.

Montserrat in the British Antilles
(The island is entirely volcanic)

Montserrat escaped the disaster of September last year which overtook Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent; but on December 4, 1896, destructive floods broke over the island, causing the loss of seventy-five lives.

To mitigate the misery created by this calamity, a Mansion House relief fund of 2,000 was raised.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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