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Photo of sugarcane fields, Virgin Islands, 1941
Sugarcane fields on the Virgin Islands where criminals and slaves once worked

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U.S. Took Ownership of the Virgin Islands
March 31, 1917

The islands went back and forth between Spanish and French rule. Danish settlers arrived and began growing sugarcane using convicted criminals and, after 1678, African slaves, for labor. Over time, St. Thomas became a major Caribbean slave market. After the French sold the islands to Denmark in 1733, the Danish military took up residence on St. Croix and, using the captured leaders of a local black slave revolt, began work on a fortification. Later they built a permanent masonry fort and named it Fort Christiansvaern ("Christian's Defense"), in honor of King Christian VI of Denmark-Norway.

Denmark's policy during the American Revolution was not to take sides. However, special interests in both Denmark and the West Indies often caused that policy to be violated. According to a 1988 report by the Department of the Interior, there was also at least one incident of smuggling on the islands during the Revolution.

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