There’s more to the U.S. Virgin Islands than beaches and great nightlife, although there certainly is that. The islands have a deep and rich history, best known for the era of European colonization. What makes these islands unique in that regard is that they were colonized by the Danish – not the British, French, or Spanish, as most people might expect, but the Danish. They were held by the Danes until they were bought by the United States in the early 20th-century.

The sugar industry was probably the most important reason European powers were interested in the Caribean islands. The climate proved perfect for growing sugar. The Annaberg Sugar Mill, built by the Danes in the 1700s, is a perfect example of what life must have been like back then. Unfortunately, the sugar industry relied on African slavery. At one point in the late eighteenth century, African slaves actually outnumbered Danish colonial settlers. One of the earliest slave rebellions in the New World occurred here in 1733. Slaves held the island for six months before the rebellion was put down. In the early 19th-century, rum and molasses were added to the Annaberg plantation’s repertoire. Fortunately, slavery was finally abolished in 1848 by the Danish Crown.

Today, Annaberg Sugar Mill is a historic center run by the Virgin Islands National Park. A popular site here is the windmill, one of the tallest in USVI, which was used to aid in the production of sugar. There’s a self-guided tour which will take you through the ruins and show you how life was for both colonists and slaves. In addition to the windmill, the sites include a sugar factory, a rum distillery, and slave quarters. History can put things into context for us and enhance our appreciation of certain places. So visit Annaberg Sugar Mill and step into a different time, while still enjoying the natural beauty of St. John all around.

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