BRIEF HISTORY OF TURK & CAICOS ISLANDS
The Turks and Caicos Islands is a country of 8 major islands and numerous uninhabited cays located 575 miles south of Miami.
The first known inhabitants of the islands were Taíno Indians, who left evidence of their occupation in the form of utensils and a ball court. Locals claim that the islands were the first landfall of Columbus in 1492. Some argue for Grand Turk, where a monument casts the claim in stone. The arrival of Europeans spelled the end for the Taínos, who had either been forced into slavery or had succumbed to European-borne diseases by the mid-16th century.
Over the next few centuries, ownership of the islands bounced between the French, Spanish and British, ending finally with Great Britain. Despite the colonial struggle for power, the islands' development slowed down as they were not on the main sailing routes, possessed no gold or decent anchorage's and lacked sufficient rain to grow sugar. The islands' remained virtually uninhabited until 1678, when a group of Bermudans settled and began extracting salt and logging trees. Salt traders cleared the land and created the salinas (salt-drying pans) that still exist on many islands. The majority of the salt went aboard boats to supply the cod-fishing industries of New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
The Bermudans prospered, getting the attention of the Spanish and Bahamian government. In 1766 the latter extended its jurisdiction to include the islands. Like their northerly neighbors, the Turks and Caicos became a base for pirates, who were not averse to robbing the wealthy salt merchants' homes. The pirates' evil acts provoked a French attack in 1753, and France claimed the islands. The French were repelled the following year by a British warship from the Carolinas, though the French briefly occupied Grand Turk again in 1778 and 1783.
Following the American War of Independence, the Bermudans on the islands were joined by a group of colonial loyalists, who established cotton plantations. The loyalists brought their slaves, but the plantation era was short-lived: by 1820, the cotton crop had failed, and the majority of planters had moved on. Many left their slaves behind, and eventually they too became salt-rakers.
The archipelago's political fortunes continued to fluctuate. It became a formal part of the Bahamas in 1799, but in 1848, following a petition by the Turks & Caicos residents, it became self-governing under the guidance of the Governor of Jamaica. In 1872 the islands were annexed to Jamaica and remained tied to Jamaica until 1962, when they were again linked to the Bahamas. In 1973 the Turks & Caicos became a separate Crown Colony of Great Britain.
The islands' history over the past five decades has been quiet, though there was much excitement when astronaut John Glenn landed down just off Grand Turk in 1962. At about the same time, the islands were 'discovered' by seven millionaires (including Teddy Roosevelt III and a couple of the DuPonts), who leased land from the British government and built a small airstrip for their private planes and a deep-water anchorage for their yachts. Meanwhile, Count Ferdinand Czernin, son of the last prime minister of the Austro-Hungarian empire, scouted a tiny dot on the map called Pine Cay, on which he planned a Walden Pond-like resort; after his death it became the exclusive Meridian Club resort. Then, in 1984, Club Med opened their resort and the Turks & Caicos started to boom.
TURKS & CAICOS ISLANDS CULTURE
The majority of islanders are black descendants from the early Bermudan, Loyalist and slave settlers and salt rakers dating back 300 years. The 1/2 inch thick telephone directory reflects this heritage, with long listings under the names Astwood, Butterfield, Forbes, Lightbourne, Stubbs, and Williams. Note the addresses of most homes in the directory. There are no street numbers and addresses are typically 'behind Glass shack', 'Old Airport road', or simply 'Providenciales' ! There a growing number of street signs in the past few years, directions are given by naming landmark buildings and it is presumed that someone will always be able to help you to find your way!
The Turks and Cacos immigrant population is a rapidly expanding group of Haitians, Dominicans and Cubans as well as many residents from all over the world. The majority are Canadian and American, but there are also residents from South Africa, Europe, Oceana, South America and Asia.
Local bands play anything from reggae, salsa to rake and scrape, all creating relaxing island vibes. Musicians appear at local restaurants, bars and hotels most evenings. With the increase in residents from throughout the Caribbean, the music is becoming more varied with a strong influence from the Dominican Republic. You can bring home the sounds of the Turks and Caicos on recordings by bands like Tropical Impulse, Sagittarius and Lovey Forbes. All are available in small shops throughout Provo and Grand Turk.
The artists on Turks & Caicos have started to blossom. Works by some of the country's finest artists can be found in galleries on Providenciales and Grand Turk. Much of the art is inspired by the local scenery and marine life, with vibrant colors of the Caribbean. The Middle Caicos Artisans Coop in recent years has brought back the art of woven grass baskets and palm hats made from local plants by local people, of their own design.
Building and sailing of the Caicos sloop has recently been revived by the Turks and Caicos Maritime Heritage Federation. To see more on this beautiful part of our culture visit this link.
HOW WAS TURKS & CAICOS ISLANDS NAME DERIVED?
The popular story is the name Turks being derived after the indigenous Turk's Head "fez" cactus, pictured on the left, and the name Caicos, a Lucayan term "caya hico," meaning string of islands.
A more romantic, origin of the name is a reflection of the Islands' pirate history, when 17th and 18th century pirates used the islands as hideouts and preyed upon the passing Spanish treasure ships bound for Europe. The term "Turk" for a pirate stemmed two centuries earlier when the Ottoman Empire dominated the Mediterranean and Turkish corsairs harried European Atlantic shipping, thus translated "Turks" Islands becomes "Pirate" Islands!
The non-intuitive nom is often mispelt as Turks and Cacos and Turk and Caicos Islands. We have even see an occasional envelope arrive with the address 'Turks and Tacos' ! And speaking of mail, some mail arriving here has been branded with a trail of postmarks showing its trip here via a small detour to Turkey.
TCI uses the postal code BWI which represents British West Indies, a diversified group of Caribbean islands including Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Monserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, all dependent areas of the United Kingdom.