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Negotiations became more intense, and the British re-asserted the right of conquest and also wrongly, but apparently honestly claimed to have first discovered Tortola. During the negotiations, the British also became aware of two older historical claims, the patent granted to the Earl of Carlisle which was inconsistent with Hunthum's title being sold to him by the Dutch West India company , and an order of the King in to prevent foreign settlement in the Virgin Islands. In February , Codrington was told to regard the earlier orders as final, and the British entertained no further claims to the islands.

Although the islands which presently form the British Virgin Islands have been under British control since , a number of other islands came under the control of the British Crown some more than once during the subsequent period, but no longer form part of the Territory. At the time the British took control of the territory, the following islands were considered part of the Virgin Islands.

Britain would actually conquer St. Croix in March through the Napoleonic wars , but they restored them by the Treaty of Amiens in March They were then re-taken in December , but were restored again by the Treaty of Paris of Thereafter, they would remain under Danish control until when they were sold to the U. Relationships with the Danes were strained from the outset.

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The Danes continuously resorted to nearby islands for timber, clearly violating British sovereignty. British ships which foundered in St.


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Thomas was subject to extortionate levy for salvage. Thomas became a base for pirates and privateers which the Danish Governor either could not or would not stop. No doubt the British invasions in the early 19th century did not help relations, and in later years smuggling and illegal sales of slaves by St. Thomians would frustrate British authorities. Even after British control of the Territory became complete, population infiltration was slow. Settlers lived in fear of possible Spanish attack, and there was the constant possibility that diplomatic efforts might fail and the Territory might revert to an overseas power as happened in St.

Spanish raids in and ongoing negotiations between the Dutch and the British over the fate of the islands led to them being virtually abandoned; from to the population of the Territory was reduced to two - a Mr Jonathan Turner and his wife. In , there was a relative explosion in the population, which had swollen to fourteen. By , it was up to fifty. From , the British appointed a deputy-governor for the Territory initially for the Territory and Saba and St. Eustatius, until the latter two islands were returned to the Dutch.

The role was somewhat vague, and had no legislative, executory or judicial powers attached to it. The deputy-governor was encouraged to appoint a local governor beneath him, though it was common complaint being unable "to gett one that's tolerable fitt amongst them to take the command upon them. It was not until that the Virgin Islands actually had its own legislature.

The uncertainty of tenure and slightly ambivalent official British attitude to the fate of the Territory influenced the early population - for many years only debtors from other islands, pirates and those fleeing the law were prepared to undertake the risk of settling in the Virgin Islands. Most references to the islands from occasional visitors comment on the lack of law and order and the lack of religiosity of the inhabitants.

The Territory was granted a Legislative Assembly on 27 January , however, it took a full further decade for a constitutional framework to be settled. Part of the problem was that the islands were so thinly populated, it was almost impossible to constitute the organs of government. In the event, a court was not actually established until the Court Bill was passed in , but even then the vested interests ensured that Suckling could still not take up his position, and the islands had a court but no judge.

Suckling finally left the islands without ever taking up his post or ever being paid on 2 May , impoverished and embittered, due to the machinations of local interests which were fearful of the recourse of their creditors if a court was to be established. Suckling was forthright in expressing his views on the state of law and order in the Territory - he described the residents of Tortola as "in a state of lawless ferment.

Life, liberty, and property were hourly exposed to the insults and depredations of the riotous and lawless. The authority of His Majesty's Council, as conservators of the peace, was defied and ridiculed The island presented a shocking state of anarchy; miserable indeed, and disgraceful to government, not to be equaled in any other of His Majesty's dominions, or perhaps in any civilized country in the world. Almost years after Governor Parke had expressed his views, one of his successors would speak in similar terms. On his appointment in , Governor Hugh Elliot remarked on "the state of irritation, nay, I had almost said, of anarchy, in which I have found this Colony Although short in both duration and number, the Quaker settlement in the British Virgin Islands from to would play an important part in the history of the Territory for two reasons.

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Firstly, the trenchant opposition of the Quakers to slavery had a contributing effect to the improvements in the treatment of slaves within the Territory the exceptional case of Arthur William Hodge notwithstanding compared to other Caribbean islands, and to the large number of free blacks within the islands. Secondly, for such a small community, a large number of famous historical figures came from that small community, including John C.

There are some vague assertions that Arthur Penn, brother of the more famous William Penn , also formed part of the Quaker community of the British Virgin Islands for a time. Between and , the British significantly upgraded the defences of the Territory. Usually building upon earlier Dutch fortifications, new structures armed with cannons were erected at Fort Charlotte , Fort George , Fort Burt , Fort Recovery , and a new fort that was built in the centre of Road Town which came to be known as the Road Town Fort. As was common at the time, plantation owners were expected to fortify their own holdings, and Fort Purcell and Fort Hodge were erected on this basis.

In common with most Caribbean countries, slavery in the British Virgin Islands forms a major part of the history of the Territory. One commentator has gone so far as to say: As Tortola , and to a lesser extent Virgin Gorda , came to be settled by plantation owners, slave labour became economically essential, and there was an exponential growth in the slave population during the 18th century. In there were black people in the Territory all of whom were assumed to be slaves ; by , there were 1,; and , there were 6, The increase in slaves held in the Territory is, to a large degree, consistent with development of the economy of the British Virgin Islands at the time.

Uprisings in the Territory were common, as they were elsewhere in the Caribbean. The first notable uprising in the British Virgin Islands occurred in , and centred on the estates of Isaac Pickering. It was quickly put down, and the ring leaders were executed. The revolt was sparked by the rumour that freedom had been granted to slaves in England, but that the planters were withholding knowledge of it.

The same rumour would also later spark subsequent revolts. Subsequent rebellions also occurred in , , and , although in each case they were quickly put down. Probably the most significant slave insurrection occurred in when a plot was uncovered to kill all of the white males in the Territory and to escape to Haiti which was at the time the only free black republic in the world by boat with all of the white females.

Although the plot does not appear to have been especially well formulated, it caused widespread panic, and military assistance was drafted in from St. A number of the plotters or accused plotters were executed. It is perhaps unsurprising that the incidence of slave revolts increased sharply after In , the trade in slaves was abolished. Although the existing slaves were forced to continue their servitude, the Royal Navy patrolled the Atlantic, capturing slave ships, and freeing slave cargoes.

Starting in , hundreds of freed Africans were deposited on Tortola by the Navy who, after serving a 14 year "apprenticeship", were then absolutely free. Naturally, seeing free Africans in the Territory created enormous resentment and jealousy amongst the existing slave population, who understandably felt this to be enormously unjust.

The abolition of slavery occurred on 1 August , and to this day it is celebrated by a three-day public holiday on the first Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in August in the British Virgin Islands. The original emancipation proclamation hangs in the High Court. However, the abolition of slavery was not the single defining event that it is sometimes supposed to have been. Emancipation freed a total of 5, slaves in the Territory, but at the time of abolition, there were already a considerable number of free blacks in the Territory, possibly as many as 2, The effect, deliberately, was to phase out reliance on slave labour rather than end it with a bang.

The Council would later legislate to reduce this period to four years for all slaves to quell rising dissent amongst the field slaves. Joseph John Gurney , a Quaker , wrote in his Familiar Letters to Henry Clay of Kentucky that the plantation owners in Tortola were "decidedly saving money by the substitution of free labor on moderate wages, for the deadweight of slavery". In practice, the economics of the abolition are difficult to quantify.

Undeniably, the original slave owners suffered a huge capital loss. The former slaves now usually worked for the same masters, but instead received small wages, out of which they had to pay for the expenses formerly borne by their masters. However, some former slaves managed to amass savings, which clearly demonstrates that in net terms the slave owners were less well off in income terms as well as capital as a result of abolition. An often held view is that the economy of the British Virgin Islands deteriorated considerably after the abolition of slavery.

Whilst this is, strictly speaking, true, it also disguises the fact that the decline had several different causes. In the Territory was an agricultural economy with two main crops: Of the two, sugar was the considerably more lucrative export. Shortly after the abolition of slavery the Territory was rocked by a series of hurricanes. At the time, there was no accurate method of forecasting hurricanes, and their effect was devastating. A particularly devastating hurricane struck in , which was reported to have completed destroyed 17 of the Territory's sugar works.

Further hurricanes hit in and Two more struck in [21] and The island also suffered severe drought between [22] and , which made sugar plantations almost impossible to sustain. To compound these miseries, in the United Kingdom passed the Sugar Duties Act to equalise duties on sugar grown in the colonies. Removing market distortions had the net effect of making prices fall, a further blow to plantations in the British Virgin Islands.

The firm had 10 sugar estates in the British Virgin Islands and employed 1, people. But the actual economic effect of its failure was much wider; the company also acted as a de facto bank in the Territory, allowing advances to be drawn on the company as credit. Further, the company had represented the only remaining direct line of communication to the United Kingdom; after its collapse, mail had to be sent via St. Although this was terrible news for the islands as a whole, as Isaac Dookhan has pointed out, [24] this did mean that the value of land plummeted sharply, and enabled the newly free black community to purchase land where otherwise it might not have been able to do so.

It also created the basis for the future peasant agricultural economy of the British Virgin Islands.

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Soon after emancipation, the newly freed black population of the British Virgin Islands started to become increasingly disenchanted that freedom had not brought the prosperity that they had hoped for. Economic decline had led to increased tax burdens, which became a source of general discontent, for former slaves and other residents of the Territory alike. In , a major disturbance occurred in the Territory. The causes of the disturbance were several. A revolt of slaves was occurring in St.

Croix, which increased the general fervour in the islands, but the free population of Tortola were much more concerned with two other grievances: Although Tortola had sixteen coloured public officials, all except one were "foreigners" from outside the Territory. During the period of economic decline, smuggling had been one of the few lucrative sources of employment, and recent laws which imposed stringent financial penalties with hard labour for non-payment were unpopular.

The anger was directed against the magistrates by the small shop keepers, and they concentrated their attack on the stipendiary magistrate, Isidore Dyett. However, Dyett was popular with the rural population, who respected him for protecting them from unscrupulous planters.

However, the insurrection of was a far more serious affair, and would have much graver and more lasting consequences. Arguably it was the single most defining event in the islands' history. Taxation and economics was also at the root of that disturbance. The Assembly rejected the request, and Jordan is said to have replied "we will raise the people against you.

Then in June the legislature enacted a head tax on cattle in the Territory. Injudiciously, the tax was to come into effect on 1 August, the anniversary of emancipation. The burden of the tax would fall most heavily on the rural coloured community.

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There was no violent protest when the Act was passed, and it has been suggested that rioting could have been avoided if the legislature had been more circumspect in enforcing it, [27] although the historical background suggests that insurrection was never far away, and only needed a reason to spark into life. On 1 August , a large body of rural labourers came to Road Town to protest the tax.

However, instead of showing a conciliatory approach, the authorities immediately read the Riot Act , and made two arrests. Violence then erupted almost immediately. Several constables and magistrates were badly beaten, the greater part of Road Town itself was burned down, and a large number of the plantation houses were destroyed, cane fields were burned and sugar mills destroyed. Almost all of the white population fled to St. President John Chads showed considerable personal courage, but little judgement or tact. One protester was shot the only recorded death during the disturbances themselves which led to the continuation of the rampage.

By 3 August , the only white people remaining in the Territory were John Chads himself, the Collector of Customs, a Methodist missionary and the island's doctor. The riots were eventually suppressed with military assistance from St. Thomas, and reinforcements of British troops dispatched by the Governor of the Leeward Islands from Antigua.

Twenty of the ringleaders of the riots were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment; three were executed. The period which followed the riots of has been referred to by one historian as the period of "decline and disorder". Whilst many whites did not return to their heavily mortgaged and now ruined estates, some did, and rebuilt. But the rebuilding required as a result of the insurrection, as well as the climate of uncertainty it created, alongside the existing poor economic conditions, created an economic depression which would take nearly a century to lift.

It would in fact take a full two years before even the schools in the Territory would be able to open again. Tensions in the Territory continued to simmer, and local unrest ran high. Exports continued to decline, and large numbers traveled abroad seeking work. In , a plot for an armed rebellion was uncovered. In , a dispute over smuggling led to further violence, and a Long Look resident, Christopher Flemming, emerged as a local hero simply for standing up to authority.

In each case widespread damage was averted by bringing in reinforcements for the local authorities from Antigua and, in , from St. Whilst the violence undoubtedly reflected disenchantment with the economic decline and lack of social services, it would be wrong to construe this period as a form of "Dark Ages" for the Territory. During this period there was, for the first time, a significant expansion in the islands' schools.

By , the Territory had 10 schools; a remarkable development in light of the complete absence of functional schools after the insurrection of Pickering stepped down in , and in , the title of the office was changed to Commissioner, marking a clear decrease in administrative responsibilities.

Offices were also consolidated to save on salaries. However, in the Legislative Council was finally formally dissolved, and the islands were then officially administered through the Governor of the Leeward Islands, who appointed a commissioner and an executive council. The Territory was not remotely economically prosperous, and social services had deteriorated to vanishing point.

Emigration was extremely high, particularly to St. Thomas and to the Dominican Republic.


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  5. Both concern and assistance from Britain was in very short supply, not least because of the two World Wars which were fought during this period. In another unlikely hero emerged. Theodolph H Faulkner was a fisherman from Anegada, who came to Tortola with his pregnant wife. He had a disagreement with the medical officer, and he went straight to the marketplace and for several nights criticised the government with mounting passion.

    His oratory struck a chord, and a movement started. Led by community leaders such as Isaac Fonseca and Carlton de Castro, on 24 November a throng of over 1, British Virgin Islanders marched on the Commissioner's office and presented their grievances. They presented a petition which commenced:. The voices of the people were heard. As a result of the demonstrations the previous year, the Legislative Council was reinstituted by the British Government in under a new constitution. The reformation of the Legislative Council is often left as a footnote in the Territory's history - a mere part of the process that led to the more fundamental constitutional government in But, having been denied any form of democratic control for nearly 50 years, the new Council did not sit idly by.

    In external capital was brought in to assist farmers from the Colonial Welfare and Development office. In the Hotel Aid Act was enacted to boost the nascent tourism industry. The Beef Island airport now renamed after Terrance B. Lettsome was built shortly thereafter. External events also played a factor. Skip to main content. All e-mails from the system will be sent to this address.

    The e-mail address is not made public and will only be used if you wish to receive a new password or wish to receive certain news or notifications by e-mail. Travelers 1 2 3 4 5 6. You are here Home Activity. British Virgin Islands Today, January 19, Take a swim through our past. Visitors to this rustic site can purchase samples of rum. Originally built approximately 20ft above se East End Originally a sugar factory, the building was converted into a rum distillery in the early 20th century.