The Virgin Islands are the western island group of the Leeward Islands, which are the northern part of the Lesser Antilles, and form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago is separated from the Renaissance Islands by the Anegada Passage and from the main island of Puerto Rico by the Virgin Passage.
The islands fall into three different political jurisdictions:
Christopher Columbus named the islands after Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins (Spanish: Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes), shortened to the Virgins (las Vírgenes). The official name of the British territory is the Virgin Islands, and the official name of the U.S. territory is the Virgin Islands of the United States. In practice, the two island groups are almost universally referred to as the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands were originally inhabited by the Arawak, Carib, and Cermic, almost all of whom are thought to have perished during the colonial period due to enslavement, foreign disease, and mass extermination brought about by European colonists, as is the case in the rest of the Caribbean.
European colonists later settled here and established sugar plantations, at least one tobacco plantation, and purchased slaves acquired from Africa. The plantations are gone, but the descendants of the slaves remain the bulk of the population, sharing a common African-Caribbean heritage with the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean.
In the 1990s, a Puerto Rican tourism campaign renamed the Passage Islands as the Spanish Virgin Islands, though they are seldom[clarification needed] identified as such on maps and atlases. They are part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, located east of the main island of Puerto Rico. They are closer to St. Thomas than St. Thomas is to St. Croix.