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Explore / Tortola History

The first inhabitants in Tortola history were the Ciboney, and later, the Arawak and Carib Indians, who participated in a popular activity that has lasted throughout Tortola history - sailing. Europeans began making their mark upon Tortola history after 1493, when Christopher Columbus spotted the British and US Virgin Islands and named them after the 11,000 virgins of 4th- century martyr St. Ursula. Though the Spanish made a few attempts to settle the area, famous pirates like Bluebeard and Captain Kidd were the first genuine inhabitants of the islands during this period in Tortola history, using the area's secluded coves as bases from which to plunder Spanish galleons carrying gold and other riches.

Tortola history took on a distinct European flavor in the 17th century when the British, who had successfully usurped control of the area from the Dutch, established a permanent plantation colony on Tortola and the surrounding islands. The sugar industry dominated Tortola history over the next 150 years, faltering only in the mid 1800s with the abolition of slavery. A large proportion of the white landowning population left the BVI with this economic downturn, but the political relationship between the island and the British continued and has lasted through Tortola history until today. Tortola is governed by a British-appointed leader, but many of the island's affairs remain controlled from London. The recent course of Tortola history has seen an economy led by thriving offshore banking and tourist industries, though both are controlled to ensure that Tortola remains an unspoiled paradise.

Historic sites

Callwood Rum Distillery

Island: Tortola - Cane Garden Bay
Some of the original buildings are still standing and in use. Rum continues to be made and sold in the boiling room, where the distillery's original boiler still operates, and the rum is stored in some of the original storage casks. The old guard house is also intact and has been turned into an art gallery and gift shop.

Centre for Applied Marine Studies at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College

Island: Tortola - Road Town Area
The Centre offers education programmes, arts performances, nature trails, and a museum with displays that showcase the local natural history, as well as historical artefacts.
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Fort Burt

Island: Tortola - Road Town Area
Originally built on a hill with commanding views overlooking the harbour to defend Road Town, the fort was rebuilt by the English in 1776, and named after William Burt, Governor of the Leeward Islands. Free and open daily from dawn to dusk, the foundations and magazine remain of this historic ruin.

Fort Recovery

Island: Tortola
Built in the 1640s as a military gun post, these ruins remain intact and are the oldest historical landmark in Tortola.

Josiah's Bay Plantation

Island: Tortola
Originally a sugar factory, the building at Josiah's Bay Plantation was converted into a rum distillery in the early 20th century. The machinery was powered by steam and diesel engines, examples of which can be seen on the site today. An art gallery and store are now housed in the historic building.

Main Street

Island: Tortola - Road Town Area
In addition to serving as Road Town's main shopping district, Main Street contains several historical landmarks including the Post Office built in the mid 1800s, St. Phillips Anglican Church constructed in 1840, and the Virgin Islands' Folk Museum.

Mount Healthy Windmill National Park

Island: Tortola - Road Town Area
The 18th century windmill tower at Mount Healthy was part of an extensive sugar works once belonging to the area's wealthiest planner. Here, slaves once cultivated, harvested and processed raw cane into sugar. Other ruins on the property include the boiling house, and remnants of the animal mill round, distillery, hospital, storage shed, and housing can also be seen on private property in the area.

Mount Healthy Windmill National Park

Island: Tortola - Road Town Area
The 18th century windmill tower at Mount Healthy was part of an extensive sugar works once belonging to the area's wealthiest planner. Here, slaves once cultivated, harvested and processed raw cane into sugar. Other ruins on the property include the boiling house, and remnants of the animal mill round, distillery, hospital, storage shed, and housing can also be seen on private property in the area.

North Shore Shell Museum

Island: Tortola - Carrot Bay
A cluttered Carrot Bay museum with thousands of shells on display, as well as boats and various crafts.

Old Government House

Island: Tortola - Road Town Area
The recently refurbished Old Government House, a national landmark, was once the governor's residence. It is now a public museum open Monday through Friday 9AM to 2PM.

Saba Rock Nautical Museum and Gift Shop

Island: Saba Rock
Owned and operator by renowned diver Bert Kilbride, the museum showcases artefacts from the wreck of The Rhone, as well as other shipwrecks. Unique jewelry and other gifts are for sale.
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St. Phillips Anglican Church

Island: Tortola - Road Town Area
Constructed in 1840, St. Phillips is said to be the first church built for liberated Africans in all the Americas and it will undergo a complete restoration in the near future.

The Dungeon

Island: Tortola
Located in Pockwood Pond, halfway between Road Town and West End, this fort was built in 1794 and housed a garrison of soldiers responsible for protecting the islands.

Thornton Plantation

Island: Tortola
This plantation was the birthplace of one of Tortola's most famous sons. Architect William Thornton prepared his first plans for the new United States Capitol building here. Ruins of the Thornton family's Pleasant Valley sugar factory still stand.

Vigilant

Island: Tortola
Vigilant, a traditionally styled 25-foot wooden boat, is one of just three original Tortola sloops remaining in the BVI. Since the 18th century, sloops such as this have carried trade goods and provided a means of communication amongst the islands. Vigilant was one of the fastest, and a familiar sight on the Sir Francis Drake Channel.

Virgin Island Folk Museum

Island: Tortola - Road Town Area
Located on Main Street just past The Plaza, the Virgin Island Folk Museum has some Arawak and Carib pottery and stone tools, including a decorated spindle, wreck of The Rhone and H.M.S. Nymph artefacts, plantation items and reef conservation information. This small museum also sells t-shirts, paintings, maps, and gifts.

Zion Hill Chapel

Island: Tortola - West End / Soper's Hole
An early 19th century chapel, built atop Zion Hill, was the site of celebration on the Day of Emancipation in 1834. After being periodically destroyed by hurricanes, it was replaced with the present Methodist chapel, a fine example of West Indian simplicity built in pasture land at the foot of Zion Hill. It has served both as a church and school.

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Tortola History

Old Government House - British Virgin Islands

North Shore Shell Museum - Tortola Islands

History of Tortola

Windmill National Park - History of Tortola

St. Phillips Church - Tortola History

 
 
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