13 Incredible Facts About the U.S. Virgin Islands 100 Years Ago

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iStock

As the U.S. Virgin Islands celebrate 100 years as a United States territory, it’s a great time to look back at the islands’ history before they officially became part of the U.S. in 1917. Here are 13 facts about what the Virgin Islands were like a century ago, when the transfer occurred:

1. THE ISLANDS WERE DANISH-OWNED FOR ALMOST 300 YEARS…

The Danish West Indian Company began settling St. Thomas in 1665, then staked out St. John in the 1680s. The company bought St. Croix—then a French colony—in 1733, creating the three-island Danish West Indies. Except for a few years in the early 1800s when the English briefly seized control, the islands remained a territory of Denmark until 1917, when control of the islands was transferred to the U.S.

2. DANISH, THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE, WAS NOT WIDELY SPOKEN.

While Denmark technically controlled the islands from the 1600s on, few people spoke Danish, the official state language. Many of the earliest settlers were Dutch, Irish, Scottish, Spanish, French, or English, and speaking Dutch was more common than Danish. Since then, an English Creole has also evolved in colloquial use, and these days, 75 percent of the population speaks English as their main language.

3. SOME PEOPLE SPOKE A LANGUAGE THAT IS NOW EXTINCT.

Negerhollands, a Dutch-based Creole language, emerged around 1700, and was studied by linguists in the 19th century as a unique language derived from Dutch. Many church services were held in Dutch Creole until the mid-19th century. While the language began to die out in the 1830s, it was still spoken by a few people at the turn of the 20th century. The last known fluent speaker died in 1987.

4. THE U.S. WANTED TO MAKE THE ISLANDS A TERRITORY FOR A LONG TIME.

As early as 1863, Denmark and the U.S. started talking about a transfer of the islands. However, the U.S. Senate did not ratify the proposal, and the negotiations halted until 1914, when the United States started to become concerned about Germany getting a foothold in the Caribbean—and access to the Panama Canal—as World War I progressed. The Treaty of the Danish West Indies was signed in 1916, and Denmark and the United States closed the deal in early 1917.

5. IT WAS ONE ISLAND SHORT.

At the time of the transfer, a future U.S. Virgin Island member, Water Island, was privately owned by the East Asiatic Company. Finally, in 1944, the U.S. paid $10,000 for the island, planning to put it to military use. Later, it was leased to a developer and became a beach resort. It finally became the U.S. Virgin Islands’ fourth island in 1966. In 2000, it had 161 residents.

6. IT HAD A VIBRANT JEWISH COMMUNITY.

Jewish traders moved to the Virgin Islands in the 1660s, when it was still Danish territory, and by 1850, half of the white population of the Virgin Islands was Jewish—about 400 people. The island of St. Thomas is home to one of the oldest synagogues in continuous use in North America, founded in 1796. The Virgin Islands’ Jewish population began to decline around 1914, though it has since bounced back.

7. THE ISLANDS WERE IN THE MIDST OF RECOVERING FROM NATURAL DISASTERS.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, was ransacked by a series of natural disasters including fires, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Many of the warehouses in the major shipping hub (and once upon a time, a major pirate hangout) were destroyed, and the city had to be rebuilt.

8. LABOR REFORM LAWS WERE IN THE MAKING.

In 1915, a lawyer named David Hamilton Jackson helped establish the first labor union on St. Croix, and later went before the Danish Parliament and successfully argued for higher wages and better working conditions in the islands. The U.S. Virgin Islands now celebrates D. Hamilton Jackson Day every November 1.

9. A FREEDOM OF THE PRESS CAMPAIGN WAS IMPLEMENTED.

When Jackson paid his visit to King Christian X and the Danish Parliament in Europe, he also petitioned authorities to ease up on rigid censorship practices. Since 1779, only newspapers subsidized by the Danish government were allowed on the islands. Jackson had the ban lifted, and later founded an independent newspaper on St. Croix that covered corruption and the concerns of the working class.

10. AFTERSHAVE WAS BIG BUSINESS.

Bay rum, an astringent and perfume made from the bay rum trees of the Virgin Islands, was a major export, especially from St. John. (The essential oil made from the leaves has nothing to do with drinking rum.) During the early 1900s, St. John was producing 4000 quarts per year, but in those years just before the islands’ transfer, St. Thomas outstripped its fellow Virgin Islands members to produce some 720,000 quarts. These were then shipped out internationally, especially to South America, for use in aftershave, colognes, soaps, and more.

11. RUM CULTURE WAS VERY STRONG.

The Virgin Islands’ agricultural efforts were largely focused on sugar, which made up 86 percent of the islands’ exports to Denmark in the 18th century. And since molasses is a byproduct of sugar, there was plenty of rum to go around—especially since the Virgin Islands were a major stop for ships and rowdy sailors. Unfortunately for the islands, just after the territory became American, in 1919, the U.S. ratified the 18th Amendment, beginning the era of Prohibition. But thanks to the Virgin Islands’ inconsistent enforcement and proximity to islands under British, French, and Dutch rule, Prohibition was more of a suggestion than a law there. There were speakeasies, as a local newspaper discussed in a Prohibition retrospective in 1975, but you didn’t have to knock or know what the passcode was. In 1931, there were only nine convictions for violations of Prohibition on the islands. While it did put a damper on the export of rum, the drink made up less than 5 percent of the exports from St. Croix between 1910 and 1915. After Prohibition, meanwhile, the number of distilleries on St. Croix skyrocketed.

12. IT BECAME A TERRITORY JUST AS THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CAME INTO BEING.

In the summer of 1916, Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service and transferred all existing national monuments and military sites overseen by the Forest Service and War Department to the National Park Service. The Virgin Islands would have to wait a few more decades for its first National Park, though. In 1956, The Virgin Islands National Park was established on donated land by the Rockefeller family . The park, now expanded to include shorelines, coral reefs, and another small island, takes up much of the landmass of St. John.

13. THE ISLANDS WERE A STRATEGIC LOCATION FOR THE U.S MILITARY.

Because of their location in the middle of the shipping lane leading to the Panama Canal, the Virgin Islands became an important target for the United States. Gaining control over the territory was key to the country’s plans to keep the German navy from gaining a toehold in the Caribbean. It didn’t hurt that the deep-water port at Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas—once a refuge for pirates—was perfect for setting up a navy. The U.S. paid Denmark $25 million for the islands.

If you’re an American history buff, consider a visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands this spring—the 100-year anniversary of the Islands’ transfer to the United States. Click over to VisitUSVI.com for more info about the Islands’ upcoming Centennial Commemoration.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

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6 Effective Tips for Coping With Panic Attacks

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels
Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

If you suddenly find yourself having an abrupt feeling of fear paired with anxiety or an overwhelming sense that you are losing control, you might be experiencing a panic attack. A panic attack, which can last for minutes or hours, can manifest in physical symptoms that some sufferers compare to a heart attack. And if you've ever had one, you're far from alone.

Each year, up to 11 percent of Americans experience panic attacks—though that percentage could rise in 2020. Using Google Trends, researchers have noted a significant increase in searches related to panic attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it’s not entirely conclusive, it's clear that people need to be paying attention to their mental health right now as much as they are their physical well-being.

“I have seen a huge increase in those experiencing panic attacks and other forms of anxiety during lockdown,” psychotherapist and coach Sarie Taylor tells Mental Floss. She attributes it to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the pandemic.

If you're prone to panic attacks, here are several methods you can use to help cope. Keep in mind that these techniques are not mutually exclusive, so you might find that practicing two or three of them at once is the fastest way to alleviate the symptoms brought on by a panic attack. Nor should you become frustrated if they don't always work for you. Every person and every panic attack is different. “Do not be disheartened if they do not always seem to work for you," Taylor says. "Your mind will always eventually settle regardless.”

1. Control your breathing.

Changes in breathing patterns and shortness of breath during panic attacks are common, but it can heighten the feeling of suffocation that some people experience. To address this, try common breathing techniques such as the 4-7-8 exercise [PDF] or roll breathing (also known as abdominal breathing). Deep breathing, or breath focus, is a great strategy to lower your heart rate, stabilize your blood pressure, and lower your stress levels. If you can control your breathing, the panic may subside and you can reduce some of your other symptoms.

2. Connect with your current environment.

To de-escalate the overwhelming emotions that often come with a panic attack and bring your focus to the present, it helps to engage your senses. You may be able to do this through visualization exercises, like imagining yourself sitting by the ocean or wherever you're happiest. Another effective method is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, where you acknowledge five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This can be a great way to distract yourself from intrusive thoughts and focus on the sensations you can physically experience in that moment instead.

3. Grab an ice cube.

If you feel that breathing and relaxation exercises don’t bring enough relief, some people are able to lessen the effects of a panic with ice cubes. Holding an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can, or putting it inside your mouth until it melts, brings enough discomfort to divert your body’s response away from panic. If you put the ice cube in your mouth, it forces your body to produce more saliva, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and halting the fight-or-flight response that panic attacks typically trigger.

According to Taylor, when you hold something stimulating, it appeals to the senses and becomes difficult to ignore. This means that your attention goes to the ice’s temperature and texture. Like all methods, it’s not equally effective for everyone and experiences may vary.

4. Relax your muscles.

Progressive muscle relaxation is an anxiety and stress management technique that relieves tension from the body [PDF]. The practice is done by lying down, tensing a muscle group for up to 10 seconds, relaxing it, then moving on to another muscle group. You can start from head to toe or vice versa, or begin with your hands and then work your way through your body. Concentrating on how your muscles tense and relax helps you let go of the negative feelings a panic attack brings on.

5. Challenge your brain.

It’s not easy to shake off negative thoughts, especially as they increasingly worsen. To force your brain to think of something else, engage in small mental exercises. This includes anything from counting backward from 100 in threes or reciting the alphabet backward to counting how many letters there are in your full name or reciting all the colors you can think of or see. By completing these exercises, even imperfectly, you can distract yourself enough to potentially reduce your symptoms.

The effectiveness of such exercises depends on how invested you are in your anxious thoughts. “The earlier you notice your mind getting busy, the easier these techniques may be,” Taylor says.

6. Take your prescribed medications.

Seeing a doctor and getting treatment for frequent panic attacks is important because they can become worse over time. There are a variety of medications that can help with panic attacks, but according to the Mayo Clinic, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most effective choice for panic attacks. Take your medication(s) as prescribed, and try to be aware of how well and quickly they work for you, so that you can talk with your doctor to make sure you're taking the best medication for your symptoms.