Over five centuries ago, Columbus and his three ships set foot on Turks and Caicos, completing one of the most consequential events in modern history -the cultural collision of the old world and the new. Although Turks and Caicos were briefly occupied by Spanish, French, and British forces, a permanent colony was never established; instead, the islands became a hub for buccaneers, pirates, and privateers -literally the stuff movies are made of! From 1690 to 1720, pirates had free rein on 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.
1- Abundant salt reserves: Salt was a sought-after commodity all over Europe and pirates capitalized on this demand becoming one of the main suppliers of this market.
2- Reef traps: 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.
3- Strategic Location: 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.
You can actually see centuries-old pirate carvings spread across the island’s many cliffs. The easiest spot to get to is on Sapodilla Bay Hill. Take your group for a hiking adventure and see if you can spot these historical markings. You are in for a treat!