The Turks and Caicos Islands are part of the Caribbean Islands and are well known for modern day tourism. Before the development of the tourism, the islands have a long history of salt trade and exportation. The salt exploration in the lands started as early as the 1600s and continued till the end of the trade in 1960s. The exportation of salty had many impacts on the islands especially in the early years. This paper will discuss how salt exportation from Turks and Caicos had negative impacts such as slavery, disease, war and hatred and how it led to the territory becoming a crown colony. It will also discuss effects it had on infrastructure in salt mines and revenues of the governing powers at different times. The paper will also discuss on what led to the end of the trade in the mid of the 20th century.
Salt is among the oldest, most used, and most essential commodities in the world. The Caribbean Islands are known to be great producers of the commodity. Turks and Caicos Islands consist of small low lying islands that have a natural saltwater pond. The ponds normally have inlets from the sea and in the hot weather experienced in the islands the water evaporates leaving behind salt crystals. The salt exports from the islands began before recorded history. The Taino natives living on the islands traded the salt for honey and fruits. The salt industry in the islands was developed in the 1600s by the British Colonists in Bermuda who saw the potential of the industry. Extensive salt works and Salinas were built over the next 200 years making Turks and Caicos a huge producer of salt. By the 1900s the islands were producing over 140 million pounds of the commodity. The Turks and Caicos Islands experienced a negative and positive effect of the exportation of salt. This paper will focus on the impacts the exploitation and exportation of the commodity had on the territory (Visit Turks & Caicos Islands, 2020).
Effects of Salt Exports in Turks and Caicos
In the mid 17th century, the Turks and Caicos Islands were inhabited which made it easier for Bermudans to work in the territories as salt miners. The Bermudans were made up of people (originally Westcountrymen) and despite their island being tropical, it was too cool and damp to produce salt. The Bermudans had good wood to build ships and use the same to transport salt from the islands. The Bermudans improved the infrastructure in the mining areas. They added salt pans and did some refinements of their own (Dash, 2012). The infrastructure they build in the pans also developed as the Bermudans build cofferdams to keep the advancing tides. They also build windmills that would power pumps used in the salt mines.
The salt exported from Turks and Caicos generated a lot of revenue for the miners, the Bermudan, Bahamian and British governments. At the peak of the trade, it is estimated that the territory produced exports amounting to 2 million bushels which are approximately 140 million pounds of salt. The territory has over 324 hectares of Salinas that were being utilized for the mining of salt The Museum, 2020). During the Bahamian government reign over the Turks and Caicos, a salt tax was introduced and was often used to support the activities of the Bahamian government. The salt was exported to New Found Lands (The Americas) as it was a special commodity for food preservation.
The Turks and Caicos Islands were greatly affected by the slave trade that was a result of the massive salt trade happening in the region. The British Empire had been neglected for years before the salt extraction activities started. During those days, salt was a demanded commodity as it was the only way that people would preserve meats of game or fish that they had slaughtered. The indigenous people of the islands were the Lucayan Amerindians and they were in the tens of thousands by the time that salt exploitation started. The population on the island made a readily available and exploitable source of slave labor for growing sugar plantations in Haiti (Dash, 2012).
One of the best-renowned accounts of slavery on Turks and Caicos was accounted for by Mary Prince in her writing. In her account she shows how she was sold off to go and work on the unfamiliar lands and was given no chance of even saying bye to her family for the last time. The slaves were forced to work in salt brine for extensive hours and sometimes forced to work overnight to prepare salt that was being loaded on ships for export. She accounts for the illnesses and conditions that salt slaves suffered from, without the empathy or care from their masters (Kennedy, 2007).
Within two decades of exploitation of the salt or the ‘White Gold’ the slave trade fueled by the growth of Haiti plantations led to the importation of disease in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The original inhabitants of the land had no immunity or resistance to such diseases and thus succumbed to the same. A once lively and populated community went extinct. The salt exportation motivated the trade, slavery, and the importation of disease to the island.
War and Hatred
Another effect that the salt exportation in Turks and Caicos had was the onset of continuous war in the islands and many superpowers tried to take over the territory. In the early 16th century the territory was controlled by the Spanish then the French and later by British. None of the powers established settlements in the islands. During the reign of the British, the island was considered as the ‘commons’ where anybody was allowed to use it as they pleased for financial gains. The British treated the islands as they would treat a river, where no one owns the resource. Later on the Bermudas took control of Turks and Caicos and once again started the salt collection. Bermuda formed the first formal settlement in the land (The Museum, 2020). The settlements were seasonal and would only be established for six months in a year.
In the 18th century Bermuda was in constant fights with the Bahamian government over the control of Turks and Caicos. In 1706 the French and the Spaniards seized Turks but were forced out of the territory by the Bermudian forces. Bermudans had a lot of control over the island and were there because of the ‘white gold’. They set up regulations to control the raking of the commodity. As the production of salt increased the cold war also increased all around in the territory. In 1806 the French Privateers attacked Turks burning down ships. The hatred between the Bermudian and the Bahamas ran high in the territory. The two were always in battle with each other physically and through politics and legislature within the new crown colony. The Bermudians did not like the legislature set by the Bahamian government and the lands were hostile.
Development of a Crown Colony
The Turks and Caicos as discussed above were common lands that the British Empire and their allies used as they pleased. The mining of the salt led to the Bahamian and Bermudas ensuing into a cold war over the struggle of control of the area. The above forced the British government to give the Bahamian government the jurisdiction over the territory, ceasing it from being common land to becoming a crown colony. The Bahamian government imposed new legislation on those that raked salt on the territory. The first legislature was that anyone who raked salt in the crown colony had to be a permanent resident. The other legislature was on the profits that slaves got, stating that any slave that missed more than 2 days of work would forfeit their share of their master’s profits (Dash, 2012).
The End of the Industry
The Turks and Caicos are small islands and that is one of the reasons that led to the collapse of the industry. The small scale of production saw only a limited number of salt pans established on the territory. The fall of the salt industry was also due to the Bahamian retaliation to their salt industry. The cut off from the revenues generated by the Turks salt trade in 1848 made the Bahamians go out to build their salt trade. They build new salt pans in Great Inagua. By the 1930s the area was producing over 50,000 tons of salt each year posing stiff competition to Turks and Caicos. By the 1950s the introduction of mechanization in Great Inagua rendered the salt trade in the Turks economically unviable bringing a halt to the long era of salt trade (Visit Turks & Caicos Islands, 2020). Turks and Caicos had no way they could replenish the diminishing salt trade
The discovery of salt on the Turks and Caicos Islands had negative and positive consequences. Despite that the commodity was in such a huge demand, the overall outcome of the trade could be generalized as having a negative impact on the land and the people who once had to live on the territory to support the trade. The salt exportation brought slavery to the Islands which were under the control of the British. Slaves were shipped by their masters to Turks and Caicos as they provided free forced labor working in the salt pans (raking salt). Slavery was not the only negative impact of the exportation; others included the rise of conflict between territories such as Bermuda and Bahamas over the control of the Turks. The cold war led to the common lands of Turks and Caicos being made a crown colony. The disease was brought into the islands leading to deaths of indigenous people who once thrived on the islands. Despite the negative impacts, the exportation had positive impacts such as the generation of revenue and development of salt mining infrastructure on the salt pans.
Dash, M. (2012, December 14). White gold: How salt made and unmade the Turks and Caicos Islands. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/white-gold-how-salt-made-and-unmade-the-turks-and-caicos-islands-161576195/
Kennedy, C. (2007). The Other White Gold: Salt, Slaves, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and British Colonialism. The Historian,69(2), 215-230. Retrieved May 22, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/24453659
The Museum. (2020). Salt industry – Turks and Caicos Museum. Turks and Caicos Museum. https://www.tcmuseum.org/culture-history/salt-industry/
Visit Turks & Caicos Islands. (2020). History of the salt industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Visit Turks and Caicos Islands. https://www.visittci.com/nature-and-history/history/salt-industry