Shipwreck may hold key to Turks and Caicos' lineage

Tue Nov 25, 2008 9:34pm EST
 
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By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - A pair of glass-eyed idols led marine archeologists to the wreck of a Spanish ship that once carried an illegal cargo of African slaves believed to be the ancestors of many of today's inhabitants of the British colony of Turks and Caicos.

The U.S.-funded archeologists said Monday they are confident the oaken timbers submerged under 9 feet of water off East Caicos island are the remains of the Spanish slave ship Trouvadore, which sank in the Atlantic archipelago south of the Bahamas in 1841.

"We have compelling circumstantial evidence that this is the Trouvadore," Donald Keith, president of the Ships of Discovery marine archeology institute, told journalists in a conference call sponsored by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Trouvadore carried 93 African captives and was headed to Cuba where they were to be enslaved in the sugar cane fields, historical documents indicated. It went down after hitting a reef and those aboard managed to wade ashore.

The crew shot and killed one African woman but the other 92 survived and were freed in the Turks and Caicos, where Britain had abolished slavery eight years earlier.

The incident was largely forgotten until 1993, when Grethe Seim, the late founder of the Turks and Caicos National Museum, visited the Smithsonian Institution in Washington with Keith.

They were surprised to find a letter written by an artifact salesman on Grand Turk Island in 1878, describing the sale of two African wooden idols with glass eyes. His letter said the dolls came from a Spanish slave ship that sank in 1841, and gave details about the shipwreck and the African passengers.

Researchers scoured historical archives in Britain, Cuba, the Bahamas and elsewhere to piece together the story.   Continued...

 
<p>A marine archaeologist measures and compares the hull remains of the so-called 'Black Rock Wreck' to the dimensions of known shipwrecks off East Caicos in this undated handout photo provided by NOAA on November 25, 2008. A pair of glass-eyed idols led marine archaeologists to the wreck of a Spanish ship whose illegal cargo of African slaves are believed to be the ancestors of many of today's inhabitants of the British colony of Turks and Caicos. The U.S.-funded archaeologists said on November 24, 2008, they are confident the oaken timbers submerged under 9 feet (3 metres) of water off East Caicos island are the remains of the Spanish slave ship Trouvadore that sank in the Atlantic archipelago south of the Bahamas in 1841. REUTERS/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Handout</p>