The Danish West India and Guinea Company represented the first Europeans to settle the island in 1718. They are also credited with naming the island Saint John (Danish: Sankt Jan). The Danish crown took full control of this and nearby colonies in 1754, including those founded on the similarly named islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Sugar cane plantations, such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation, were established in great numbers on Saint John; the intense heat and fertile soil provided ideal growing conditions. The establishment of sugarcane plantations created a high demand for labor. The indigenous Carib and Arawak were used as slave labor but their population was quickly decimated by new infectious diseases.
The planters imported many slaves from Africa in an established slave trade dominated by Portugal in the early years, but which Britain also entered. In 1733 Saint John was the site of one of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World. Enslaved Akwamu from the Gold Coast rebelled and took control of the island for six months before being defeated by a combination of better armed forces.
St. John became a sub-colony of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies, with it's sister colony being St. Croix. Emperor Ocata I instated Edmond Stark as Acting Viceroy of the colony in 1749. Viceroy Stark went to work on abolishing the slave trade and turning the economy towards ethical trades such as smithing and produce.