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Cruz Bay is the commercial center of the tiny island of
, holding almost two thirds of its total population, which hovers around 5,000. The 28 square-mile vacation oasis of St. John is the smallest of the Virgin Islands, and the bulk of it is
land, leaving Cruz Bay the commercial and residential center of the island.
Inhabited since 770 BC by natives, Brits claimed St. John in the 17th century. Danish settlers on the island, however, begged to differ, and they began setting up farming communities dedicated to the cultivation of sugar cane. The slaves who underwent the actual, harsh labor of tending to the crop on such thin soil comprised the bulk of the island population, and they undertook a violent revolt in 1733 that was ultimately suppressed by neighboring French and Swiss imperialists.
In 1762 Britain desisted in its claims to possession of the island in order to tidy diplomatic relations with the Danes. In 1825, a courthouse and prison were erected in Cruz Bay. In 1848, slavery was abolished. Sugar cane agriculture soon failed to bring in profits, and former slaves began to repossess the island and subside on self-sufficient farm living.
In 1917, America bought St. John and turned it into a tourist capital. The land had remained largely unspoiled throughout the centuries, and the Rockfellers purchased and donated it to the National Park Service to keep it so. Though recent construction development has made the area a little more congested, the tourist economy is dedicated to keeping Cruz Bay a pristine paradise.