November 26, 2008

Sunken Slave Ship Gives Clues To The Past

The remains of a wrecked slave ship, off the Turks and Caicos Islands, were uncovered by marine archaeologists who say the accident in 1841 set free the ancestors of many current residents of those islands.

Historians believe 192 Africans survived the sinking of the Spanish ship Trouvadore off the British-ruled islands, where the slave trade was banned at that time.

The ship had been forgotten through the years, said researcher Don Keith, so when the discovery connected the ship to current residents the first response "was a kind of shock, a lack of comprehension."

He discussed the discovery during a briefing organized by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Keith said this is the only known wreck of a ship engaged in the illegal slave trade. His team from the Texas-based Ships of Discovery organization found a letter at the Smithsonian Institution that referred to the sinking and began their search for the ship.

"The people of the Turks and Caicos have a direct line to this dramatic, historic event - it's how so many of them ended up being there. We hope this discovery will encourage the people of the Turks and Caicos to protect and research their local history, especially the history that remains underwater," he said.

"It really is a mystery, it's a detective story," added marine archaeologist Toni Carrell.

"We do all of this because we recognize the importance of history. This is an important part of the Turks and Caicos history," she said.

The rulers of the islands at the time apprenticed the Africans to trades for a year and then allowed them to settle on the islands, many on Grand Turk, according to researchers.

The Spanish crew was arrested and turned over to authorities in Cuba, then a Spanish colony.

Researchers first named the slave vessel the Black Rock ship because they were unsure of its identity, but have since become convinced by the timing and design of the vessel that it is the Trouvadore.

"We were not fortunate enough to find a bell with 'Trouvadore' on it," Carrell explained. Recognizable parts of the ship were salvaged before winds and currents carried it into deeper water.

"It's rare and exciting to find a wreck of such importance that has been forgotten for so many years," said Frank Cantelas, marine archaeologist for NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.


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