Columbus Story | West Indies Lab / HydroLab | Meredith Hardy Dissertation

Historic Timeline of St. Croix and Salt River Bay



ca. A.D. 200/300 to 600

People arrive from either other Caribbean islands or Guyana/Venezuela area and establish a settlement at Salt River Point. However, this date is unsure because no radiocarbon dates have been determined for the site. Could be much older.

ca. A.D. 600 to 1200

Village rises in importance, gets larger, other villages are established nearby, possibly like “satellite communities.”

ca. A.D. 1200 to 1400/1450

Village continues to rise in importance, evidenced by the only stone-lined ballcourt east of Puerto Rico. The prehistoric population of St. Croix is not known.

November 14, 1493

Columbus arrives at Salt River Bay, sends a longboat ashore with 25 armed men. They observe a small village with only a few huts. The landing team encounters only women and small boys, and is told that Caribs had taken control of the island. While taking the captured women and children back to the fleet, they noticed a canoe with four men, two women, and a boy. This small crew was apparently dumbfounded, and the Spaniards begin to row toward them. A skirmish quickly ensued, with the Caribs firing arrows and wounding two. The outnumbered Amerindians were also taken as captives, save one that was killed. It is estimated that at the time of Columbus’ arrival there were approximately 20 villages on St. Croix, each consisting of about 60 people.


Despite a peace treaty executed between Ponce de Leon and the Caribs, St. Croix was subjected to slave raids and about 140 people were captured.


King Ferdinand issues a cedula ordering the extermination of the Caribs on St. Croix. Slave raids continue to be conducted by Spanish from Puerto Rico.


There are reportedly some 20 or 30 villages on St. Croix.


King Charles V reportedly drives the indigenous peoples away from the island, “the king having ordered them treated as enemies and exterminated.”


John White, while traveling from England to Virginia to be the new Governor of the colony on Roanoke Island, makes a stop at Salt River Bay. He and his men observe a few people and a small cluster of houses on the island.

Early 17th century

The island is deserted.


English colonists from Barbados are the first Europeans to settle St. Croix. Within four months, the governor of Puerto Rico sends ships to the island and took all the settlers back to Puerto Rico as captives. The English try again in 1636, and again are defeated.


Jan Snouck obtained a charter from the Dutch West India Company to settle St. Croix. The Dutch settlers did not actually arrive on the island until 1642. 


The English come back to the island one more time and rule for 14 months.


The Dutch establish a primary settlement at Salt River, and build a three-sided earthen fort which later becomes known as “Fort Flamand” (the Flemish fort), then Fort Salé (Salt Fort). The fort has 11 mounted canons. The Dutch settlement was not based on plantation agriculture but maritime trade, and according to the limited research available, this settlement, though only existing for a few years, was an active trading center.


St Croix population rises to roughly 600. Tensions increase regarding control of the island, and results in an argument culminating with the Dutch governor killing the English governor. Skirmishes ensue. The Dutch and French settlers abandoned the island for St. Eustatius and St. Martin, and the English remained sole inhabitants.

August 10, 1650


Approximately 1200 Spanish soldiers on five ships mount a surprise attack on the English settlers, and force them to abandon the island.


Philippe de Lonvilliers de Poincy, governor and official of the Knights of Malta on St. Christopher, sends 160 men to St. Croix, eventually forcing the Spanish to abandon their holdings and return to Puerto Rico. Take over the settlement at Salt River.


Salt River settlement includes a Catholic mission that was located just south and west of the fort, a customs house, and several estates, the exact number of which remain in question. Estates or habitations line the eastern shore of Salt River Bay (as seen on 1647 Spanish map of St Croix). Their true locations are unknown. At the fort, it is not known if there were palisades, or if there were any structures within the confines of the fort itself.


Louis XIV, through de Poincy, deeds St. Croix to the Knights of Malta (Order of St. John).


A new commercial company, the French West India Company, is created that governs the islands of St. Croix, St. Bartholomew, and the French halves of St. Christopher and St. Martin.


French residents experience a brief period of prosperity which attracted new residents. By the 1680s, there are nearly 1300 inhabitants.


The French abandon the island.


Denmark purchases St. Croix for roughly 750,000 livres.


The Salt River watershed is subdivided into two quarters, Nord Side B (North Side B) and Dronningens Quarteer (Queen’s Quarter).

18th and 19th centuries

Estate Salt River (matriculs 2a and 2b, Nord Side B) is used for sugar cane (and other produce) cultivation and pasture.

Post 1863

Estate Salt River is rarely inhabited, and in 1947 begins to be subdivided for development.


The United States purchases the Virgin Islands from Denmark for $25 million.


Secretary of the Interior designates Salt River Point as a National Historic Landmark.



West Indies Research Laboratory - Fairleigh Dickinson University dedicates its second overseas campus, the West Indies Laboratory at St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Over a 21-year history it will become an internationally prominent coral reef research center as well as an undergraduate teaching institution.


The Legislature of the Government of the Virgin Islands of the U.S. passes Act 3190, establishing a Territorial park system.

1977 to 1985


NOAA Underwater Laboratory System (NULS-1) a.k.a. Hydrolab - Constructed in 1966, the Hydrolab was used as a research lab beginning in 1970. The Hydrolab, which was stationed 50-feet underwater in the Salt River Bay in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and was the only scientific marine laboratory in the world. From 1977 to 1985, scientists from all over the world would live for 7 days underwater in the Hydrolab and conduct scientific research underwater. Approximately 80 missions were conducted from the Hydrolab in the Salt River Bay in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.



A bill is drafted by the 16th legislature of the Virgin Islands of the United States that calls for a cooperative venture between the National Park Service and the Government of the Virgin Islands of the U.S. to plan, develop, and operate the Columbus Historic Landing Site Park.



Aquarius Underwater Habitat - Built and owned by NOAA in 1986 and operated by UNC-Wilmington, the Aquarius replaces the Hydrolab. The first underwater research and training operations conducted by the Aquarius began in Salt River Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is signed between the National Park Service and the Territorial Government of the Virgin Islands of the U.S., establishing a long-term cooperative relationship between the Government of the Virgin Islands and the NPS.



Hurricane Hugo, (then the costliest hurricane to hit and now ranked number ten), whirls through the Caribbean. It hits, among other islands, St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Following Hurricane Hugo, Aquarius is taken for repairs and redeployed in Florida Keys. The following year, the Fairleigh Dickinson Board of Trustees announces closure of their now 21-year-old West Indies Laboratory, which has become an internationally prominent coral reef research center and undergraduate teaching institution on marine and environmental studies.



Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve is established by Public Law 102-247 of the 102nd Congress of the United States (16 USC 410tt).

Source: National Park Service