While the Rod Stewart classic “Young Turks” may come to mind when you dream about these islands, as Turks and Caicos history would have it, this actually was not where the name originated. The source of the tropical Caribbean destination’s name is largely mythical, like much of ancient history (if we’re being honest here): written by the winners. So while some groups say history is this and others say history is that, we can all agree that the future is a mystery and a day on the beach is a gift – that’s why they call it the present.
One origin legend of the Turks & Caicos name holds that “Turks” derived from the indigenous Turk’s Head cactus (which looks like it’s wearing a red fez). The “Caicos” part is said to be derived from the Lucayan term “caya hico,” which means “string of islands”. A more romantic origin of the name is based upon the classic pirate era in the 17th and 18th centuries when swashbuckling buccaneers used the islands as hideouts. The original term for pirates was named after the original pirates of the Ottoman Empire: Turks. The word maintained its initial energy throughout the centuries and today the term “Young Turks” is used to signify someone “inside an organization who aggressively pursues liberal or progressive policies, or advocates for reform.” Like the pirates before, Turks represents the fringe elements of society, or anarchy. And in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the feeling of freedom truly pervades. Whatever the true story may be, the islands seem to call to you: “Young hearts, be free tonight; time is on your side.”
A Turks and Caicos History Lesson
700 – The first inhabitants were Amerindians who arrived on the white sand beaches of the Turks & Caicos Islands. They migrated from Dominican Republic and Haiti and established their own unique culture, becoming known as Lucayans.
1492 – Christopher Columbus lands at Guanahani Beach, Grand Turk; bringing gifts of guns and germs. He called the island San Salvador. However, this fact is disputed by historians.
1512 – Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León spots the islands through his telescope, on the way to Bimini in search of the Fountain of Youth, making him the first official white man to lay eyes on the land.
1513 – Spanish slavers raid the heck out of the islands, enslaving basically the entire archipelago in the year after its discovery.
1668 – Salt making industry begins as salt collectors from Bermuda begin raking the heck out of the islands.
1681 – Full permanent settlement on Grand Turk Island by Bermuda. Over the next few centuries, islands pass between Spanish, French and finally British control. (Queue montage of wars, uprisings, and back-room political dealings, set to Rod Steward soundtrack).
1690 to 1720 – Pirates set up shop in the cays to attack treasure galleons and do pirate things.
1820 – By this year, most of the colonialists have bailed due to deforestation, hurricanes, and pests destroying the cotton crops. Many slaves are left to their own newices, subsisting on a return to the simple life of hunter-gathering.
1834 – All British Colony slaves are officially emancipated, leading to huge beach parties.
1873 – Turks and Caicos annexed to Jamaica.
1962 – Jamaica granted independence from Britain, making Turks and Caicos a crown colony – the same year John Glenn splashes down off the coast of Grand Turk after his space flight.
1968 – Airport opens on Providenciales; along with the archipelago’s first hotel, The Third Turtle. This started to trickle in tourists and was followed by the opening of Club Med on Grace Bay.
1973 – Turks and Caicos received their first very own governor.
1980s – Club Med funds construction of bigger airport and the tourism begins to boom with hotels and resorts popping up all along Grace Bay Beach.
2006 – Political troubles sees the rewriting of the constitution along with high level official corruption.
2013 – Turks and Caicos is one of the most vaunted and sought after destinations in the world for tropical beach vacations. And despite a small number of highly publicized muggings of tourists, the nation remains one of the safest places to travel in the Caribbean.
2029 – Aliens land on Grace Bay Beach, shooting t-shirt cannons at elated tourists that read “I had a close encounter and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” then peace.