Remarks by Premier of the Virgin Islands
Dr. the Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE
Centennial Commemoration of the Official Transfer Day Ceremony
Legislature of the Virgin Islands, Capitol Grounds
St. Thomas, USVI
Friday 31st March, 2017
I am truly honoured to join you this afternoon as we reflect on the 100th Anniversary of the United States Virgin Islands.
I join you in honouring the dynamic legacy of the brave men and women of past generations of Virgin Islanders who sacrificed, laboured and toiled so that we may celebrate today.
The peaceful transfer of the Danish West Indies to the United States of America was indeed a defining moment in history, marking the beginning of a new era in the life of both our territories.
Although the transfer brought many new rules and regulations, together we found ways to maintain our mutually beneficial relationship.
The history of these islands — records that — in the Post Emancipation period, it was customary for BVIslanders to seek employment in other islands.
We regularly sought opportunities in the USVI, particularly on the coal refueling wharves which catered to the steamships, docking into St. Thomas.
Women also sought work in the overnight guest houses and homes of well to do families.
Life in the BVI at this time was based around a thriving export-driven economy, with regular goods of ground provisions, fruits and cattle to the Dutch, French and other British Islands.
BVIslanders generally had a surplus of produce and cattle as we owned large tracks of land.
Families were usually large, with 10 or 12 children to assist in the labour intensive pursuits of working the ground.
The Territory also had a cadre of expert boat builders and seamen, who bravely traversed the waters of the Eastern Caribbean facilitating the export trade.
In this way migrating to other islands was common place as there was little to no immigration controls. People moved freely between the islands.
Due to the thriving port city that Charlotte Amalie had become, it was widely regarded by BVI landers as a key market place for their produce, livestock, charcoal, and straw work, among other things.
While some BVIslanders who had migrated to the Danish West Indies feared the uncertainty of the transfer and opted to return home before Transfer Day, many opted to remain and embrace the future under Association with the United States of America.
On March 31st 1917, a large number of BVIslanders who had migrated to the Danish West Indies became US Citizens, when the US Flag was raised.
This occurrence cemented the bond between the people of these two Territories.
Numerous families were therefore split, with parents, brothers and sisters permanently residing in each Territory.
Children of BVI parentage now living in the US islands returned to the BVI during the summer months to spend time with their grandmothers and to become acquainted with their cousins and other family members.
BVIslanders in the USVI took pride in welcoming their family and friends, facilitating their trips to sell and purchase items, such as building materials, not available in the BVI.
The years immediately following the transfer, saw the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, which banned the consumption, manufacture, importation, sale or transportation of alcoholic beverages across the United States of America.
The period from 1920-1933, the Prohibition Period, set off a thriving trade for BVIslanders, in the smuggling of rum into the US Virgin Islands.
Fishermen and boat captains took on jobs to transport the precious cargo.
Rum produced in the BVI and other islands was not in short supply, and could be sold for a high price in the US islands. Everyone, except Ella Gift, used charcoal to cover the many bottles of rum stacked in the hull of the boats.
Farmers also profited from this illegal trade as the sudden high demand for charcoal kept them busy.
Though the British Virgin Islands were officially a part of the Leeward Islands Federation with the sterling coinage as the legal tender, it was due to the deep trading relationship between the US and British Virgin Islands that there was always a large circulation of Danish Money in the BVI.
In 1951 when the British West Indies dollar was introduced, there were protests. BVIslanders protested as it was considered a weak currency.
By 1959, the Territory refused to join the West Indies Federation and soon after adopted the United States Dollar as legal tender in the Territory.
Since then, the use of the US Dollar has served us well, greatly facilitating the economic success in the twin pillars of global Financial Services and Tourism.
The official launch of Tourism in the BVI as an economic pillar is another signal event, which has been influenced by developments in the US Virgin Islands.
In 1956 when Mr. Rockefeller built Caneel Bay Hotel on St. John, officials in the BVI took note. They also noted the large tracks of land, he had donated for the establishment of the National Parks System on that island.
Though it appeared Mr. Rockefeller was already sympathetic to the situation in the BVI, overtures were made and he was invited to establish a hotel on Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gorda.
Mr. Rockerfeller is reported to have initially spent some $2 Million dollars to purchase land in the BVI. He further underwrote the purchase of 97 acres in Tortola and 20 acres in Virgin Gorda, forming the origins of the BVI’s National Park System.
The lands underwritten by Mr. Rockerfeller included Sage Mountain on Tortola, Spring Bay and Devil’s Bay on Virgin Gorda, and Sandy Cay on Jost Van Dyke.
As we pause today to mark this moment in our history, and honor our journey to this moment, we also acknowledge this Transfer Day as the beginning of a new course in the development of the British Virgin Islands.
Though we had to navigate the introduction of many new laws on both sides, such as immigration controls and the agricultural and livestock regulations, we have been successful in preserving our tight bonds.
Developments in the international sphere have shaped the experiences of Virgin Islanders (BVI and USVI) for centuries, and continue to do so today.
Once again we are being blown by the winds of change, due to forces beyond our borders.
Today, as they did in 1917, developments in the international sphere have ushered in a new era of change in the global construct.
Though there are many uncertainties we will face as a people, in this new period, we are certain that our destinies will remain interwoven; inextricably linked together by kinship, friendship and geography.
As we forge ahead, we will remember our shared experiences and continue to work together in pursuit of our highest aspirations.
I am certain that our continued spirit of friendship and good will, which has served us well in the past, will continue to guide us through this new period of change.
Single file and yet together we have journeyed to this day. We are honored to celebrate with you.
On behalf of the Government and People of the British Virgin Islands we extend our heartfelt Congratulations on this Centennial Anniversary of the United States Virgin Islands.
May God continue to bless you and these Beautiful Virgin Islands!