In 1807 Britain outlawed the African Slave trade (becoming law in the Caribbean in 1808) and for the next 70 years ran naval patrols to intercept slave ships and free the cargo of Africans. Many of these ships were captured near to the Bahamas and the Africans were freed, usually serving an apprenticeship. In the early days these liberated Africans existed side by side with slaves as slavery was still legal in British territories such as the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, it was only the African slave trade that had been abolished. In 1834 British territories passed the Emancipation Act and slavery ended. It is in this period, 7 years after Emancipation, the Trouvadore story is set.
Trouvadore left Santiago de Cuba in early 1841. Its Spanish crew was undertaking an illegal journey to go and collect African slaaves and bring them back to Cuba to be sold to the sugar plantations. This was a highly profitable undertaking, but there were many risks – disease, capture and wrecking were just a few.
On Trouvadore’s journey across the Atlantic to Africa many of the Spanish sailors took ill and those that died were replaced by new Portuguese crewmen at Sao Tome, an Island off Africa. It is also likely that the ship picked up Africans here.
As the ship made its way back across the Atlantic, with its cargo and new crew, it played a cat and mouse game with other ships. It had to avoid other slavers in case they tried to raid Trouvadore and take the cargo by force. It had to avoid the British Navy patrols that were trying to capture the slave ships to bring to an end the illegal slave trade. One can only imagine the thoughts going through the heads of the imprisoned Africans as they made the journey.
As Trouvadore neared the end of its treacherous crossing of the Atlantic and was close to its home port in Cuba, the captain now faced his harshest challenges. The ship had to go through the British controlled waters around the Turks and Caicos Islands and Bahamas. He needed to avoid Grand Turk and Philips Reef off East Caicos. We do not know why the Captain decided to sail so close to the reef off East Caicos – a decision he would live to regret.
Wrecking and Rescue on East Caicos
In March 1841 the ship was forced onto the reef at Breezy Point. leaving the 20 crew and 193 African’s on board to struggle ashore. Some Africans saw this as their chance to escape and ran off into the bush. One unfortunate female African was shot dead on the beach, probably trying to escape.
Even though East Caicos was uninhabited nearby residents on Middle Caicos would soon have known about the tragedy. One of the first locals on the scene, Mr Stevenson, was offered $3000 by the Spanish captain to obtain a vessel to take the crew and slaves onto Cuba. Mr Stevenson delayed the Captain enough so that the authorities in Grand Turk could dispatch two ships and a detachment of 17 soldiers, under Lieutenant Fitzgerald, to pick up the survivors.