Early inhabitants of the islands were Amerindians, including the Arawak people, who were, over the centuries, gradually replaced by the Caribs. The first documented European to sight the islands was Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Le√≥n, who did so in 1512. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the islands passed from Spanish, to French, to British control, but none of the three powers ever established any settlements.
For several decades around the turn of the 18th century they became popular pirate hideouts. Bermudian salt collectors settled the Turk Islands around 1680. In 1765–1783 they were under French occupation. After the American Revolution (1775–1783) many loyalists fled to Caribbean colonies, including (in 1783) the first settlers on the Caicos Islands; cotton became an important crop briefly. In 1799, both the Turks and the Caicos island groups were annexed by Britain as part of the Bahamas.
In 1841 the Trouvadore, a Spanish ship engaged in the slave trade, wrecked off the coast of East Caicos, one of the larger Caicos Islands. One hundred and ninety-two captive Africans survived the sinking and made it to shore where, under British rule, the slave trade was illegal. These survivors were apprenticed to trades for one year then settled mostly on Grand Turk Island. An 1878 letter documents the "Trouvadore Africans" and their descendants as constituting an essential part of the "labouring population" on the islands. In 2004 marine archaeologists rediscovered a wreck, called the "Black Rock Ship," that subsequent research has suggested may be that of the Trouvadore. This suggestion was further supported when a marine archaeology expedition funded by NOAA in November 2008 confirmed that the wreck comprises artifacts whose time of manufacture and style support the association of this wreck with that of the Trouvadore. The wreckage has, however, not been identified with absolute certainty.
In 1848, the Turks and Caicos were declared a separate colony under a council president. The last incumbent was maintained in 1873 when the islands were made part of Jamaica colony; in 1894 the chief colonial official was restyled commissioner. In 1917, Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden suggested that the Turks and Caicos join Canada, but this suggestion was denied by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The islands remained a dependency of Jamaica until 1959.
On 4 July 1959, the islands were again a separate colony, the last commissioner being restyled administrator, but the governor of Jamaica remained the governor of the islands. Until 31 May 1962, they were one of the constitutive parts of the Federation of the West Indies.
When Jamaica was granted independence from Britain in August 1962, the Turks & Caicos Islands became a crown colony. From 1965, the governor of the Bahamas was also governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands and oversaw affairs for the islands. When the Bahamas gained independence in 1973, the Turks and Caicos received their own governor (the last administrator was restyled). In 1974, Canadian New Democratic Party MP Max Saltsman tried to use his Private Member's Bill to create legislation to annex the islands to Canada, but it didn't pass in the Canadian House of Commons.
The islands have had their own government headed by a chief minister since August 1976. In 1979, independence was agreed upon in principle for 1982, but a change in government caused a policy reversal, and they instead approached the Canadian government to discuss a possible union, but at the time the Canadian Government was embroiled in a debate over free trade with the U.S., and little attention was paid to the suggestion. In 2004 the Canadian province of Nova Scotia gave an invite to join but Canada's government said they would look at the matter later. The islands' political troubles in recent years have resulted in a rewritten constitution promulgated in 2006.
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