Trail of the Survivors

New Homes in a New Land

Once the Trouvadore survivors were rescued they were taken to Grand Turk where the ship’s crew were imprisoned in the upper room of the old court house and the Africans were placed inside the crowded prison. A better long-term solution was needed. Should they be returned to Africa? Sent to Nassau for the Bahamas government to deal with? Or released into the local community?

The last option was preferred but the authorities needed to recover their costs of rescuing the Africans. They also needed the support of the salt proprietors, so a compromise was reached. Of the 192 Africans, 168 were distributed amongst salt pond owners on Salt Cay and Grand Turk on a one-year contract. The 89 men, 26 women, 39 boys, 11 girls and 3 infants were given clothing, food, accommodation and medical care in return for their labor. The established church was to teach them to speak English and Christian ways, including being christened and attending services.

St Thomas ChurchPhoto:St Thomas’ Church, the oldest church in the Bahamian archipelago was where Trouvadore survivors were christened and taught English

The remaining 24 Africans, 20 men and 4 women, could not be absorbed into the local community and were taken to Nassau along with the slaver’s crew. At Nassau the crew of the Trouvadore was released into the custody of the Spanish Consul who took them to Cuba for trial, but the fate of the 24 Liberated Africans is uncertain.

In the Turks Islands, the only work was salt production. Working conditions had improved since emancipation but it was still a hard, unrewarding job and for this reason the salt proprietors were eager to take in the liberated Africans as cheap labor.


1842 and onwards – A Move to the Caicos Bank?

Did the Africans find the compassion that some suggest, or were the local population just frustrated at having new unwelcome guests and wanted to get rid of them? This question may be resolved when research identifies their final destination after 1842.

The headright system in the Turks Islands gave all British citizens an equal share of the salt ponds. It worked well for the proprietors when slave’s shares went to their owners, but now the freed slaves were on equal footing. Wealthier whites, concerned their privileged way of life was threatened, lobbied to replace headright with a leasehold system. It was during this period that Trouvadore wrecked. This influx of Africans weakened the former slave owners’ rights even more. They accepted them as cheap labor but at the end of that year they should be entitled to a share in the salt ponds. This was unacceptable to the white population who felt sending them to the less populated Caicos Islands as the best solution. Further, as the black population increased and gained positions in the community, the social order of pre-1834 was threatened.

The British Government did have certain ideas about how to treat re-captives. They were aware of the issues surrounding the arrival of so many first generation Africans into small communities and for this reason tried to keep them together. In the Bahamas they set up separate settlements where their own communities could develop, but there are no records of any of these for the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Most of the population produced salt in the Turks Islands, which are low lying with little rainfall limiting the amount of freshwater and food that can be produced, making living there difficult even at the best of times. On the other hand the Caicos bank was greener and more fertile and able to sustain a population who was willing to lead a subsistence way of life. If the liberated Africans went to the Caicos Islands where could they have settled? There are only two possibilities: Middle Caicos and South Caicos

Middle Caicos

One historian recorded that Bambarra, Middle Caicos, was settled in 1842 by survivors from the wrecked slaver Gambia. However, 1842 records show that only 168 liberated Africans were settled in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the previous three years, this being the number from Trouvadore. There is no evidence of liberated Africans from another ship landing here in this period, nor any records for a ship called Gambia being captured by the British Navy or wrecked in the Bahamian Archipelago for the years 1807 to 1860. Is tempting to assume that account was confusing the ship’s name and the origins of the Africans.

Location of Bambarra on Middle Caicos

Bambarra is the only settlement in the country with an African name, suggesting strong links with first generation Africans, making a good case for a link to the liberated Africans from Trouvadore. This circumstantial evidence makes a good argument but proof is still being sought. Local folklore gives Bambarra two origins. The first is that slaves owned by William Forbes settled here, accounting for why the surname Forbes is common. The second is they are descendants of Africans from a wrecked slaver. It is likely that both stories could have some basis in truth.

South Caicos

In 1842 salt production began in earnest on South Caicos. This development occurred at the right time to provide employment to the liberated Africans from  Trouvadore. Further expansion occurred after 1848, and it is likely that as salt production developed on South Caicos it attracted workers not only from the Turks islands but also the Caicos Islands. This development also suited the liberated Africans from Trouvadore; they had experience working in the salt ponds so were some of the earliest people to seek work in the newly developed ponds. If they moved to Middle Caicos the change was only temporary.

In 1843, the Bahamas government recorded the Turks and Caicos population as 2495. If all 168 liberated Africans from Trouvadore survived until 1843, they represented 6.7% of the population. The Turks Islands had equal numbers of men and women, while the Caicos Islands had a large difference. Was this due to single men going to the Caicos Islands in search of work?  Or was it because the liberated Africans from Trouvadore were  moved there taking their unequal numbers with them?