Over five centuries ago, Columbus and his three ships set foot on Turks and Caicos, introducing the islands to the European world. Though they had temporary occupation by Spain, France and Britain, there was no permanent colony established. Instead, the islands became the home of buccaneers, pirates and privateers. From 1690 to 1720, pirates had free reign of the islands until salt barons from Bermuda finally colonized the land well enough to drive out most of the pirates.
Reasons for Pirate Occupation
There are three main characteristics that made these islands the perfect location for pirates to set up shop. First, they had abundant salt reserves, a commodity that was worth much in Europe. Second, many reefs in the areas were known to trap and wreck ships. (Over 1,000 shipwrecks are known in the area today, many worth discovering on a dive tour.) This made easy plunder for industrious pirates. Finally, the islands were close enough to commandeer the Spanish Galleons that shipped gold from South and Central America back to Europe, all in a location that was still easy to hide.
Famous Pirates of Turks and Caicos
Many famous pirates were known to frequent the islands, and the list reads much like a “who’s who” in pirate lore. Parrot Cay’s original name, Pirate Cay, was given because so many buccaneers chose that island for their headquarters. Jack Rackham, along with his two famed female counterparts, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, camped in the area often. Stede Bonnet, Charles Vane, Captain Kidd, Benjamin Hornigold, and L’Olonnais were known here as well. Many of the stories of William Teach, also known as Blackbeard, were believed to be from this area.
Besides sailing away on adventures and plundering ships, one of the most famous aspects of pirate lore involves buried treasure. To this day, the enormous stashes of gold and jewels plundered by William Kidd have never been found. These treasure troves have inspired a famous novel, “Treasure Island,” and many treasure hunters have hoped to find them. Turks and Caicos, as well as the Bahamas, have been suggested as the locations for the gold although no search to this day has found them. However, visitors are encouraged to search the clues and take a boat to try to find their way to the missing riches, provided they remember that local law entitles the government to the full sum.
This island was once a hideout of the famed French pirate, L’Olonnais. The hideout is currently a bird sanctuary that is toured by permit only. Charter a boat and discover the beauty that the island offers, and search for artifacts and perhaps a dropped doubloon or two.
Fort George Cay
Fort George marks one of the British fortresses that was constructed to protect the island from pirates as the salt barons began to civilize the islands under British rule. Fortress walls still exist, and the cannons used to fend off raiding ships can be found in calm waters that are perfect for snorkeling directly in front of them. Scuba diving in the area can uncover the occasional cannonball or anchor and other remnants from sunken ships that weren’t able to retreat quickly enough.
For the all-around pirate adventure, consider taking one of the themed pirate day cruises offered by local tour companies. Cast off on a pirate-themed boat with vibrant hosts who tell pirate legends galore. Discover the most famous pirate haunts and hideouts, including a local cave with walls marked by the buccaneers themselves. Enjoy rum punch and glass-bottom views as the boats search for treasure and rediscover history.