SALT CAY HISTORY
Turks & Caicos National Museum
The Salt Industry
The Turks Islands are warm, dry, and windy. Rainfall averages about 26 inches,
and temperature fluctuates little, seldom dropping below 80ºF. The trade winds average 15 mph. Grand Turk and Salt Cay, the original salt producing islands, have several natural, shallow, inland depressions which filled with salt water directly from the sea or percolated up from underlying rock. These are called salinas. These conditions are perfect for salt making. Bermudans improved the natural salinas, making them into rock bordered salt pans or ponds.
Salt raking was always drudgery compounded by poor living conditions .... READ MORE
Turks & Caicos National Museum:
The Loyalist Period
Following the Bermudan’s settling in the Islands the next large introduction of slaves followed the American War of Independence. Following the war the Loyalists were required to take an oath of allegiance. Many refused which led to their land and property, including slaves, being confiscated and sold. For the Loyalists there was no future in Georgia so many moved to Florida, which was still under British rule. Unfortunately for them the British ceded Florida to the Spanish and once again the Loyalists were forced to move – this time to the West Indies.... READ MORE
Do you know what a "whomper" is?
by Michele McNair
Whompers were boots, really more of a sandal, the salt rakers made out of old truck tires. They cut them up and tied them around their feet to protect against the brine and the clay bottoms of the salina. On a hot day, Poley said it was really, really hard work. They were out there when the sun came up and left when the sun went down in the summer. The pond water was extremely hot and not at all "refreshing" while standing in the hot sun. All for 2 shillings, 6 pence a day...about 56 cents.
NATION AT PLAY: Childhood in the Turks & Caicos Islands
By Jackie Mulligan
Turks & Caicos Islands Timeline
Ca.1660-1730 Bermudan “wrackers” visit Grand Turk and Salt Cay on a seasonal basis to rake salt. This is the real start of the Salt Industry
1750s Bermudans begin year-round occupation of the Turks Islands. Using slaves and indentured servants, large scale salina development begins.
1764 Britain claims ownership of the Islands.
1776-83 Despite being a British Colony, Turks Island salt merchants sell salt to George Washington’s Revolutionary Army.
1812 Second British American War prevents trade,causing famine in the islands.
1813 Caicos Islands suffer a devastating Hurricane, forcing many Loyalists to abandon their plantations. After years of insect plagues and soil depletion, they abandon their slaves to the land.
1860-65 The American Civil war again disrupts the Salt Trade.
1870 A flag maker in England mistakes a pile of salt for an Igloo, he adds in a door. An Igloo appears on the
TCI flag for the next hundred years.
1876-90 To compliment the erratic Salt Industry, new industries are started. Sisal growing, guano mining, sponging, even whaling are tried, but with little success.
1926 Still considered the “Hurricane of the Century”, the Great Hurricane of 1926 devastates all the Islands from Grand Turk to Florida.
1970 Last shipment of Salt from Salt Cay brings the 300 year old industry to a close.
Turks & Caicos National Museum
A visit to Salt Cay is essential if you want to understand the history of the Salt Islands. Little has changed in Salt Cay since 1900, when the Salt Industry flourished.
As early as 1500's the island was a port of call for early Spanish mariners, as it lay along the homeward course of ships that stopped for precious salt on their way out of the Caribbean. In the 1700's salt trading was further developed by Bermudans who attained a monopoly on the Caribbean salt trade, creating ponds linked to the sea by canals and sluice gates, with windmills controlling water flow. The Bermudan influence remains on Salt Cay to this day even though in the late 1700's the salt islands were being claimed by the Bahamas, France, Spain and England.
At one time, Salt Cay was the world's largest producer of salt: in its heyday, over 100 vessels a year left the island with their cargo of `white gold', a valuable trade commodity, important in food preservation to the colonies in the north. The solar evaporation method used in harvesting salt in the Turks and Caicos Islands was not only seasonal but very labour intensive. Sea waters were let into large shallow basins and then baked dry in the scorching sun. Salt rakers then raked the crystallized salt into small piles, carted it to the salt sheds for storage where it was later packed it into cloth bags, carried to the salt lighters for transport to the larger ships anchored offshore. Meanwhile the salt rakers cleaned and prepared the salt pans for the next cycle of salt water evaporation.
Salt raking was such a successful, industrious venture that in 1845 the official census shows 676 souls living on Salt Cay, with 600 of that population being manual labour and their families the remainder the salt proprietors and public officials.
Over the years Salt Cay has been in the path of hurricanes, 1813, 1815, 1821, 1866, 1888, 1908, 1926, and 1945, typically during the month of September resulting in flooding which demolishes the salt ponds and homes and leaves hundreds of islanders destitute, ships and industries destroyed and lives lost.
During the First World War, Turks Islands' salt sales were boosted because of the absence of competition from the Mediterranean area. Local salt producers thrived until the terrible depression of the 1930s crushed the islands' economy.
The solar salt industry was revived again in the 1940's when other global sources were cut off once again by the war. Exports remained steady until 1964 when the industry tapered back down to a quiet stop. Buildings, salinas and artifacts essential to solar salt production still remain.
The Salt Barons - excerpt from Michele McNair's Salt Raker News
The White House was reopened in the early 30's when Franklyn and his bride Marjorie Durham (of South Caicos), came to Salt Cay way to live. According to "The Bermudan", a newspaper reporting their honeymoon, they were to "return home where they will constitute one half of Salt Key’s white population".
Franklyn was Rosalie’s father, and the last of the salt proprietors. Franklyn’s sisters were Gladys Hinson Harriott, a "maiden aunt" and Natalie Harriott Dunn, who is the grandmother of Tim and Jonathon Dunn. Natalie married Reverend Howard Dunn and had 2 sons, Michael and Ian with him.
The term salt baron is one that Rosalie had never heard of until her return to Salt Cay in 1995. There was more than one salt proprietor on Salt Cay and no one was a "baron". The Harriott’s were the largest proprietors of ponds, but they weren’t barons.
Wealth was really relative. The Harriott’s were the only "whites" on the island, and had many things that most people didn’t have. They had "stuff" the Islanders did not have. Pay was relative to what the industry paid. But compared to what other people of the then "modern" world had, it wasn’t much. In reality, the depression was really the death knell of the Turks Islands salt industry.
When Franklyn Harriott came to Salt Cay live in the White House, it was 1931. The depression was still very real. When the depression let up, war in Europe was going on. Remember, Turks Islands were part of Great Britain, so they were at war long before the US was involved.
When the US entered the war and it went to a global scale, the salt industry was really in trouble, and shipping became impossible.
Post war, when a 10,000 ton ship came to collect salt in the "modern" way, the three islands of Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos couldn’t fill the holds, and that really spelled trouble. Young men did not want to work in the salt industry for little or nothing, doing work that was beyond hard, long and boring. They left and never returned.
In 1952 the Harriott’s left Salt Cay for good, going to Canada. Nationalization of the salt industry was the beginning of the end. Though preferred shareholders, there was not enough of a future in salt to keep it a viable industry and financial ruin was inevitable. This part, for Rosalie Harriott, is very difficult to discuss and share, but as a historian, they are the facts.
Franklyn Harriott, the last of the Harriott proprietors, died of a heart attack at the age of 61 in 1960, a broken man. At 50 years of age, when he left Salt Cay, he could not get a job. He was extremely stressed which broke his health. His widow, Marjorie, lived on until 79 years of age, having owned a dress shop in Vancouver, BC and later working for a department store.
This is really just a "nutshell" of the Harriott history, and one I intend to write and research in the months to come. It is a fascinating story and one I think many people will enjoy.
Excerpts from the New York Times Archives
1857, Sept 28, New York Times, News of the Day: We have received advices from Turks Islands to the 5th of Sept. ist. At that date the salt market was very dull, with only two small vessels loading in the port of Grand Turk. The rain that fell immediately previous to the 5th had seriously damaged most of the pans at the Cay, and many of the proprietors believed that the salt season was at an end. There was on hand at Grand Turk several hundred thousand bushels at 10 cents.
1859, June 29, New York Times, News of the Day: By the bark Almira Coombes, Captain Drinkwater, from Salt Cay, Turks Island, we have the Royal Gazette to the 15th ins. Salt was plenty at 7 cents. Provisions scarce and high.
1871, Dec 14, New York Times, Marine Intelligence: Arrived: Bark James and Richard Walsh, (of Cork,) Herbert, Salt Cay, T.I..18ds., with salt to Nickerson & Co -- vessel to Borland, Dearborn & Co. Dec. t, off Hateras, Benjamin Price, seaman, a native of Gloucester, aged 17 years, fell from fore topsail-yard to the deck and died 4 hours after.
1871, Dec 26, New York Times, Marine Intelligence: Brig H. S. Bishop (of Harpswell,) Webber, Martinique, via St. Thomas and Salt Cay, T.I., 22 ds., with salt to J.L. Nickerson -vessel to R.P. Buck & Co. Left no vessels at Salt Cay.
1872, April 24, New York Times, Marine Intelligence: Brig Annie R. Storer, (of Boston, ) Adams. from Sagua, arr. 22d, reports being 5 ds. N. of Hateras with N.E. gales; April 11, 5 miles E. from Salt Cay Bank saw a bark of about 500 tons burden, apparently British, ashore. lying on her broadside, with lower topsail set, apparently bilged, and appeared to have just gone ashore; another bark was close to her assisting in taking off her crew.
1874, Nov 23, New York Times, Marine Intelligence: Arrived: Steamship Tybee, Gardner, Port-au-Prince Nov.9, Gonaives 12. and Salt Cay, T.I.,14th. with mdse. and passengers to L. Delmonte.
We welcome written material, historical tidbit, photo, memoir and correction to this presentation, very much so.
A big thank you to the Salt Cay community, as well as other visitors, friends and formal entities for their contribution to this project.
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