The Virgin Islands were discovered by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. He named the archipelago "Las Once Mil Virgines," from the legend of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. Within a short time, Europeans had colonized the islands, forcing the native people into slavery.
In the 17th century, the islands were used as a meeting place for pirates. The Dutch then colonized the islands in 1648. In 1665, Dutch settlers on Tortola brought African slaves with them to work on the profitable sugar plantations, thereby introducing slavery to the New World. By 1672, Britain had gained possession of the islands.
By the beginning of the 18th century, many British settlers had moved to the Virgin Islands. The economy, which was based on slavery, ginger, sugar cane, cotton, and indigo, boomed and the population exploded. However, a drought hurt the economy horribly, and after Britain abolished slavery in 1808, most of the planters went back to Great Britain.
In 1773, the British Virgin Islands were given a local form of government. However, the government underwent many changes for almost two centuries. In 1962, a Ministerial system was introduced. Ten years later, a constitution was written that provided for local executive and legislative councils. The latter consists of a Speaker, one elected member from each of the nine electoral districts, and the country’s Attorney General. The Executive Council consists of the Chief Minister, four lesser Ministers, and the Attorney General. The Chairman is the British Governor, who is appointed by the Queen of England.
Today, the BVI remain a colony of the United Kingdom. Despite being a self-governing Territory, the responsibility for its defense, internal security, external affairs, public service and the administration of the courts rests on the shoulders of the queen-appointed Governor. Its roads and public services are funded both from local revenue and external assistance from the United Kingdom. The name of the Territory was changed from "Virgin Islands" to British Virgin Islands" at the end of World War I for clarity, because the United States purchased the Danish West Indies from Denmark and renamed them the "U.S. Virgin Islands."