Amerindians from South America settled the islands about 3,000 years ago. Artifacts suggest their population may have been as large as 20,000 on the major islands by the time Columbus arrived, and had developed an agrarian society with complex farming and fishing techniques, house construction, and cultural rituals.
When Columbus and the Spaniards arrived in 1493, they brought disease and slavery. They shipped many of the Indians off to what is now the Dominical Republic to work in the copper mines. The native inhabitants died of European diseases and from inhumane conditions.
Columbus named all the virgin islands after the 11,000 virgin followers of St. Ursula (why is unknown) who met an untimely death in Cologne, France.
Then came the Pirates, from Sir Francis Drake to Blackbeard, who used the myriad of islands (BVI alone has 33) to stash booty. For the next 200 years, the English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Danish fought for control of the islands, with the English winning out finally over the Dutch.
Originally claimed as a Dutch settlement, British planters in 1666 took control. The Dutch claimed St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix. The British-claimed islands became a British Colony, and were part of the Leeward Islands from 1872 until 1956. Then the British Virgin Islands became an individually-administered political entity. In 1967, a new constitution provided for a Chief Minister under British control, and remains as such today.
The Dutch sold the rest of the islands to the US in 1917, and they have since become commercialized, busy islands while the BVIs remain the ‘quiet neighbors.’