The first known inhabitants of the Turks and Caicos were the Tainos (also referred to as Lucayans). It’s thought that the Tainos migrated to the islands from the south around the year 700 AD.
Evidence suggests that life was simple for the Tainos. Hunting and fishing were probably the main sources of food, but limited planting also helped to sustain daily life.
There’s not enough evidence to be certain, but it’s likely that several land animals such as a giant iguana, large nocturnal rodents, land tortoises and possibly a dwarf crocodile were native to the islands and were hunted to extinction by the Tainos. The Turks and Caicos Islands Rock Iguana is the largest indigenous animal still remaining.
Structures were basic huts as well and caves were used for shelter during storms.
Small artifacts, mainly broken pottery shards, have been the primary source of information on these aborigine peoples. These items have been mainly found in caves or at refuse sites in some of the Caicos wetlands. Currently housed at the Turks and Caicos National Museum in Grand Turk, the Taino Duo seat and canoe paddle are two of the most interesting artifacts found.
The Taino populations were decimated after the arrival of Columbus. Due to Spanish slavery and disease, the last of the Tainos disappeared by the early 1500s
Salt Raking on Salt Cay
During the 1700s, the low-lying nature of some of the islands was utilized to produce salt. For the next few hundred years, salt became the backbone of the economy. Bermudians, in particular, would arrive each year during the salt harvesting season. The ships they used were copied and became the Caicos Sloops, which were the only means of transportation between the scattered islands and the rest of the world.
During the American Revolution, Turks Island salt was in high demand by the Americans for preserving meat. Legend says that George Washington himself specifically requested it from the Continental Congress due to its high quality. In 2014 US dollars, a pound of salt could fetch as high as $258.
After the British lost the war, displaced royalists were granted land on the uninhabited Caicos Islands. Plantations were established on several islands, including Providenciales, to grow cotton. The island’s soil was unable to support cotton for long, and combined with insects, drove most royalists away again. Their slaves, however, remained and are the ancestors of the native inhabitants today.
Post World Wars
After the two World Wars, salt was still the only income producer and the islands were struggling economically. It wasn’t even worthwhile to govern the islands separately and the UK grouped them with, at first, the Bahamas and then Jamaica. It wasn’t until Jamaica became independent in 1962 that the islands received a dedicated government and governor.
It was also in 1962 that American astronaut John Glenn stepped onto Grand Turk after the first space flight. Today, a replica of his spacecraft can be seen outside the Grand Turk JAGS McCartney International Airport (GDT) and the Grand Turk Cruise Center in Grand Turk.
The 1960’s was also the decade that first put Providenciales onto the map.
Up until then, Providenciales was inhabited by less than 500 people, and there were no cars and few roads. In 1966, Provident Limited, a development company, secured an agreement with the government granting them thousands of acres of Providenciales land in exchange for roads and an airstrip. Provident Limited then sold lots and built the Turtle Cove Marina.
Providenciales remained a low-key destination until 1984 when Club Med built a new resort on the then-deserted Grace Bay Beach. This sparked the continuing surge of development that has carried Providenciales into one of the prime vacation destinations worldwide.
Grand Turk Lighthouse
Built in 1852, this lighthouse is Grand Turk’s most famous landmark and is the only lighthouse in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
In the early 19th century, many ships wrecked off the northern coast of Grand Turk, and it reached a point that shipping firms (primarily US and Bermudian) and the UK and US Governments insisted that a lighthouse be built to aid in navigation.
The lighthouse is no longer operational.