Background & the TCI

Research into Slavery in the TCI

This chain of 40 cays at the south-eastern end of the Bahamian Archipelago consists of two main banks: The Caicos Bank and the Turks Bank. These two banks have a shared history but their development and use of slaves was different. The Islands provide a harsh environment to live in. With no high land, the highest point being only 156 feet, there is little rainfall with an average of only around 26 inches a year. The annually high temperatures, which average between 80 and 90 degrees F, and the trade winds provide an ideal environment to quickly reclaim any rainfall through evaporation. The lack of rain and thin soils, with a salt-water water table deters the growth of crops and what does grow quickly deplete the soils. The only useful natural products are salt, cotton and sea life that could be fished.

The nature of the Islands and its political control has meant that most documentation and objects relating to this period of history have deteriorated or been lost on the Turks and Caicos Islands: the salty air, high humidity, occasional hurricanes and flooding has seen to this. However, all official documentation appears to have been carried out in duplicate or triplicate with one copy staying in the Turks and Caicos Islands (now lost), one copy going to the country in the region that was overseeing the territory (Bahamas 1767 to 1848 and Jamaica 1873 to 1962) and one copy being sent back to the United Kingdom.

This means that information related to the Turks and Caicos Islands exist within the archives in Jamaica and Bahamas as well as a full set of official records held at the Public Record Office at Kew in London. There are also holdings in the Bermudan Archives. To confuse the situation more, information is also held in private family records and could also exist in the official archives of the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are in a state of confusion and decaying in its temporary store.

With a few limited exceptions, such as H E Sadler, there has been little historical research carried out, apart from the occasional archaeological excavations and visiting researchers. Even then most were interested in other subjects than slavery, even though it might have overlapped with their research.

The opening of the National Museum in 1991 and the subsequent opening of its Science Building in 1997 have encouraged more research to be undertaken and it was this institution that was given the task of coordinating the data collection for the UNESCO/WTO joint Caribbean Programme of Cultural Tourism On the Slave Route Project. Through grants and donations the Museum is slowly building up a local studies library and archive, which includes mainstream publications, research papers and the purchase of microfilms of material held in overseas archives.