The history of this island is an integral part of daily life, and numerous local groups and organizations contribute to promoting the public interest in our past for its culture and lessons for today.
At this time of year, we commemorate one major historical event that radically changed life on this island as well as on St. Thomas and St. John. On March 31, 1917, nearly 100 years ago, the transfer of ownership of what was then known as the Danish West Indies passed to the United States in exchange for $25 million in gold coin. What had previously been a rather impoverished remote outpost for Danish officials and military after the decline of the sugar cane industry now came under the command of the U. S. Navy in part as a defense site during World War I to protect against German invasion of the Caribbean and the new Panama Canal. The change of ownership prompted many local residents to seek their fortune elsewhere.
Sadly, prior to the sale, a plebiscite to approve or disapprove the sale had only taken place in Denmark; no local residents were given an opportunity to select their choice. Still, Denmark had been the owner of this island since 1733; St. Thomas and St. John even longer. The change of ownership was an emotional experience for many Crucians.
Today, Transfer Day is a local holiday celebrated on St. Croix as Danish Heritage Day under the sponsorship of St. Croix Landmarks Society and St. Croix Friends of Denmark Society. Open to the public at no charge at the lovely site surrounding the Carl & Marie Lawaetz Family Museum north of Frederiksted, the celebration includes speeches, cultural music, song and dance and the opportunity to connect with visiting Danes who consider this event a significant part of their visit. This year, 54 Danes that are members of the Danish West Indian Society participating in a week-long festival with the Friends of Denmark are sure to be part of the audience, and we wish them Velkommen!