Transfer Day

Celebrated in the U.S. Virgin Islands annually on March 31st, Transfer Day is a holiday that observes the transfer of the islands from Denmark to the U.S. in 1917. On March 31, 1917, the Danish West Indies were formally ceded to the U.S. and thereby officially became known as the U.S. Virgin Islands. This day is one on which the islands can celebrate their Danish past and is an official territory holiday on St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix.

A Brief History of Transfer Day

Before the end of the 15th century, the Virgin Islands were occupied solely by the Arawaks, Ciboney, and Caribs, and then Columbus visited the islands in 1493, and from that point on, they would be the subject of colonialism and imperialism. Christopher Columbus named the islands “The Virgins,” a reference to the beauty of Saint Ursula and her 11,000 holy virgins. Soon after its discovery, the native people of the island were forced into slavery, and some would end up fleeing the islands. Another problem that faced native islanders during this period is that they didn’t have natural immunity to European diseases. As a result, native islander populations fell dramatically.

In the early 1600s, several different European powers took an interest in these islands. Holland and England colonized and jointly held St. Croix during the 17th century. This didn’t last long as Spanish raiders from Puerto Rico invaded the colony. The Spanish would then be taken over by the French who inhabited the island until 1733.

In 1665, the Danish West India Company attempted to settle St. Thomas. After years of trying, they would successfully establish a colony of 113 colonists in 1672. They then expanded the colony and settled in 1694 on St. John as well. After brief hostilities between themselves and the British, the Danes would eventually colonize St. John as well. In 1733, the Danish West India Company would purchase St. Croix and would then hold the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix as one territory. Immediately after the acquisition of the islands, the Danish West India Company would establish the sugar industry on them. During this time, the sugar industry was established on the islands, using slave labor to farm their sugar plantations. Soon operations expanded, and the islands also began to produce cotton, indigo, and several other crops.

The islands would remain under Danish rule until the U.S. purchased them for $25 million in gold in 1917. The U.S. was interested in the islands because they saw an opportunity to establish military bases and position themselves during WWI. The Interior Department and the military managed the islands until 1936 when the Organic Act was passed. Nowadays, the U.S. Virgin Islands is a territory of the United States and run by an elected governor. Residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands are American citizens under the law and fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. President.

Observing Transfer Day

Transfer Day is observed with reenactments of the original day of transfer in 1917, parades, and plenty of parties. People also use the hashtag #TransferDay on social media to spread the word about this holiday. It’s a day for islanders to commemorate their heritage and look forward to the future.

Where is it celebrated?
US Virgin Islands (Public holiday)
When is it?
This year (2024)
March 31 Sunday
Next year (2025)
March 31 Monday
Last year (2023)
March 31 Friday