The Turks and Caicos Islands passed from hand to hand for some time before they were ever settled. Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the French, Spanish and English all held control over the islands; however, for a long time, none established settlements of any kind.
Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European to discover the islands, though no move toward settlement was made. After the islands’ discovery in 1512, the islanders of Turks and Caicos were subjected to frequent raids by Spanish slavers, and within a year, the entire island range had been depopulated.
Throughout the 17th century, the islands served as little more than pirate bays. Buccaneers would hide out in the island cays and attack passing Spanish treasure ships en route to Europe. Such infamous rogues as Francoise L’Olonnois and Anne Bonny often used French Cay as their pirate bases for raiding passing ships.
Finally, toward the late 17th century, salt collectors from Bermuda set up an official settlement. In 1681, the first settlement was established on Grand Turk Island, and the salt collectors would spend six months out of each year raking salt from the shallow waters around the island. Since Bermuda was an established British colony, this settlement of salt collectors effectively established British dominance over the Turks and Caicos.
In 1765, the islands fell under French occupation. This French rule lasted until around 1783, when the Royal Navy sent Horatio Nelson to retake the islands. While the Admiral was unsuccessful in his attempts, many British loyalists began arriving from America following the American Revolution.
The displaced loyalists found a safe haven in the Caribbean colonies, and in 1790, the Crown began granting land to British loyalist refugees. The loyalists formed the first settlement on Caicos Island, and established themselves across Providenciales, Parrot Bay, Middle Caicos, and North Caicos.
By 1799, the Turks and Caicos Island groups were once again firmly under British control as an annexed part of the Bahamas. The move toward consolidation saw little success, however, as most residents on Turks and Caicos were Bermudian, and strongly resisted any Bahamian rule. Ultimately, the Turks and Caicos Islands remained independent from the Bahamas.
In 1873, Queen Victoria officially recognized this fact and granted the Turks and Caicos Islands with a royal charter, making them an independent colony, no longer attached to the Bahamas. This independence was fairly short-lived, as 1874 saw the islands annexed instead to Jamaica. This connection lasted nearly 100 years; however, it provided Turks and Caicos with needed medical and technical assistance as well as substantial financial grants.
While Jamaica gained its independence from Britain in 1962, Turks and Caicos had little interest in the separation. The Turks and Caicos Islands decided to maintain their status as a British Crown Colony, and have no real plans for future independence.
The population is made up of very few Britons. Over 90% of the islanders are Black, while the remaining 10% are of European, North American or Mixed heritage.