Wreck of slave ship found off Turks & Caicos

The slave trade was illegal on the British islands of Turks and Caicos in 1841, so when 192 Africans survived the wreck of the Trouvadore, they settled on the islands.

Many of the current population are descended from the survivors, which makes the find of the wreck particularly important.

The team was able to determine that authorities on the islands apprenticed the Africans to trades for a year and then allowed them to settle on the islands, many on Grand Turk. The Spanish crew was arrested and turned over to authorities in Cuba, then a Spanish colony.

An 1878 letter refers to the Trouvadore Africans as making up the pith — meaning an essential part — of the laboring population on the islands.

As important as this ship was to the history of Turks and Caicos, its existence was forgotten over time, until in 1993 researchers stumbled on that letter in the Smithsonian.

From the 1878 letter:

Two African idols, found on board the last Spanish slaver, of wood with glass eyes [schr “Esperenza”] wrecked in the year 1841 at Breezy Point on the Caicos Islands. The slaves from this vessel were taken possession of by the Government and brought to the Grand Turk Island. – The captain of the slaver, escaped the penalty, (by being a Spaniard), of being hung according to the British laws. The slaves were apprenticed for the space of one year and they and their descendants form at the present time, viz the year 1878 the pith of our present labouring population.

Many years of research ensued after the discovery of the letter, and in 2004 marine archaeologists set off to find the wreckage off the coast of East Caicos. When they located a likely wreck, they couldn’t find the name of the ship on any of the remnants.

The age and dimensions — carefully measured and compared to every ship known to have gone down in the area — of the wreck are what finally persuaded scholars that it is in fact the Trouvadore.