Before the colonial period, the islands were inhabited at different times by the Arawak, Ciboney, and Kalinago peoples. Europeans first encountered the islands during Columbus’ second voyage. Over the next century, settlers from across western Europe laid claim to the land and the majority of indigenous peoples either perished or were displaced. The islands initially profited from the triangular trade, and many enslaved peoples were brought to the islands, beginning in 1673.
The islands were acquired by the Danish West India Company between 1672 and 1733, eventually becoming known as the Danish West Indies in 1754 when they came under direct control of the King of Denmark. Following a slave rebellion in 1848, slavery was abolished in the Danish territories, and the plantation economy of the islands collapsed. Faced with mounting deficits, the Danish government repeatedly attempted to sell the islands. After decades of negotiations, the United States purchased the islands in 1917. They officially became an unincorporated U.S. territory in 1927.