The islands were uninhabited when, about 1678, the Bermudians began
to visit them to rake the salt found in the ponds. These visits became
annual and permanent settlements were made. In 1710, the British were expelled
by the Spaniards, but they returned and the salt trade (largely with the
American colonies) continued to be carried on by the Bermudians despite
attacks by Spaniards and French, and counter-claims to the islands by the
British authorities at the Bahamas, who about 1765 made good their claim.
From about 1690 to 1720, pirates hid in the cays of the Turks and Caicos
Islands, attacking Spanish treasure galleons to Spain from Cuba, Hispaniola
and the Spanish posessions in Central America and Peru.
In 1799, the islands were given representation in the Bahamas Assembly,
and they remained part of that colony until 1848, when on the petition
of the inhabitants they were made a separate colony under the supervision
of the governor of Jamaica. This arrangement proving financially burdensome
the islands were in 1873 definitely annexed to Jamaica.
The islands were part of the UK's Jamaican colony until 1962, when they
assumed the status of a separate crown colony upon Jamaica's independence.
The governor of The Bahamas oversaw affairs from 1965 to 1973. With Bahamian
independence, the islands received a separate governor in 1973. Although
independence was agreed upon for 1982, the policy was reversed and the
islands remain a British overseas territory.
In 1980, the ruling pro-independence party, the People's Democratic
Movement, agreed with the British government that independence would be
granted if the PDM was reelected in the elections of that year. The PDM
lost the elections to the Progressive National Party, which supported continued
British rule. The PNP's leader, Norman Saunders, became chief minister,
and won the 1984 elections. However, in 1985 Saunders and two associated
were convicted in the USA on drug charges.
The PNP emerged victorious from the following by-elections, but on July
24, 1986, the governor dissolved the government and replaced it with an
advisory council after a report on allegations of arson and fraud found
that the chief minister post-Saunders, Nathaniel Francis, along with four
other PNP officials were unfit to rule.
Under the careful guidance of the governor and the advisory council,
a new constitution for the Turks and Caicos Islands was created and elections
held in 1988, with the PDM winning by a landslide, with Washington Misick
becoming the new chief minister.
The Turks and Caicos economy is based on tourism, fishing, and offshore
financial services. Most capital goods and food for domestic consumption
are imported. The US is the leading source of tourists, accounting for
more than half of the 93,000 visitors in the late 1990s. Major sources
of government revenue include fees from offshore financial activities and
customs receipts. Tourism fell by 6% in 2002.