The Turks and Caicos Islands are named after the indigenous Turk's Head "fez" cactus, and the Lucayan term "caya hico," meaning string of islands. Columbus was said to have discovered the islands in 1492, but some still argue that Ponce de Leon arrived first. Whichever it was, the first people to truly discover the islands were the Taino Indians, who unfortunately left little behind but ancient utensils.
In 1776, after being controlled by the Spanish, French and British, Turks and Caicos became part of the Bahamas colony, but attempts to integrate failed and were abandoned in 1848. London - Kingston boats frequently visited Turks and Caicos, so links with Jamaica were well developed. Turks and Caicos became a British Crown Colony in 1962 and links were maintained to the Bahamas through the Anglican Church.
Over 30 protected areas have been designated to conserve the delicate ecosystems and wildlife habitats of the creeks, sand flats, lagoons, and marshy wetlands. There are 200 miles of white beaches.
The climate is warm throughout the year but tempered by constant trade winds. The average annual temperature is 27C and the rainfall ranges from 21 inches in the eastern islands to 40 inches in the west. The islands are rocky, semi-barren and covered with cacti and thorny acacia trees. Limited rainfall plus poor soil and a limestone base restrict the possibilities for agricultural development.
The salt industry, along with small sponge and hemp exports, sustained the Turks and Caicos Islands (only barely, however; there was little population growth and the economy stagnated) until in the 1960s American investors arrived on the islands and funded the construction of an airstrip on Provo Island and built the archipelago's first hotel: "The Third Turtle". A small trickle of tourists began to arrive, supplementing the salt economy.
The agricultural industry sprung up in the islands in the late 1780s after 40 Loyalists arrived after the end of the American Revolution, primarily from Georgia and South Carolina. Granted large tracts of land by the British government to make up for what they lost in the American colonies, the Loyalists imported well over a thousand slaves and planted vast fields of cotton.
The islands were at first placed under the Bahamian government, but in 1874 they became dependencies of the colony of Jamaica. Following Jamaica's independence, they became a British Crown colony. The salt production industry, the islands' economic mainstay, ceased in 1964 and gave way to tourism, offshore financial services, and fishing.
These two groups of islands are near the Bahamas in the Caribbean. The principal islands in the Turks group are Grand Turk and Salt Cay; the principal islands in the Caicos group are South Caicos, East Caicos, Middle (or Grand) Caicos, North Caicos, Providenciales, and West Caicos. The islands were not settled by Europeans until 1678, when British colonists from Bermuda established a salt-panning industry.
The Turks & Caicos historic period begins with European contact sometime in the 1490s. The Molasses Reef shipwreck exhibit dates to this early period of our history. Some suggest that Ponce de Leon was the first to record these Islands when he passed this way in 1512, while others believe that earlier records may include this area.
The Turks and Caicos economy is based on tourism, offshore financial services, and fishing. Most capital goods and food for domestic consumption are imported. The US is the leading source of tourists, accounting for more than three-quarters of the 175,000 visitors that arrived in 2004. Major sources of government revenue also include fees from offshore financial activities and customs receipts.