SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Archaeologists are set to begin an expedition this month in hopes of finding a Spanish ship that wrecked along the jagged reefs off the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1841 carrying a cargo of African slaves.

The story of the Trouvadore is unusual because all 193 slaves made it to shore, and all but one survived to see their freedom granted by a British government that had just outlawed slavery. Most settled in the arid, low-lying islands and began new lives working its salt ponds and raising families.

The shipwreck holds particular significance for the British territory of 25,000 people because researchers believe virtually all native islanders have ties by blood or marriage to the survivors.

Their story was nearly forgotten, reflected only in vague tales passed down over generations, until archaeologists in the past decade pieced together details from records in Britain, Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas and the United States.

The two-week expedition is to begin Aug. 28, with searchers using swimmers dragged on tow boards behind a dive boat to scan 3 square miles of shallow, clear waters seldom visited by divers.

“We are very confident we’re going to find it simply because all the paperwork points to one location,” said Nigel Sadler, an English archaeologist and director of the Turks and Caicos National Museum.

All accounts say the Spanish brigantine sank off Breezy Point on uninhabited East Caicos island, a treacherous coastline littered with shipwrecks.

The chartered search boat, T&C Explorer, is to leave Grand Turk with a 13-member team including filmmakers from Windward Media of Kemah, Texas, making a documentary for U.S. public television. The expedition is funded with $80,000 given by resorts, developers, the islands’ hotel and tourism association, tourism board and private donors.

A first hint of the ship’s existence came in 1993 when Grethe Seim, late founder of the National Museum, and American archaeologist Donald Keith were looking through records of artifacts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

One century-old letter from an artifact dealer mentioned two wooden African idols from a shipwreck off Turks and Caicos. Research showed the ship’s name was listed in documents as Trouvadore – Trovador in Spanish – and that the idols weren’t African but from Easter Island, probably mementos brought by Spanish or Portuguese sailors.

“The whole story is not told anywhere in one document. It’s little bits and pieces that you put together – letters back and forth,” said Keith, who runs the group Ships of Discovery at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History in Texas.

Keith has studied shipwrecks in spots from Turkey to South Korea, and in the 1980s excavated the 16th century Molasses Reef Wreck off Turks and Caicos, about 575 miles southeast of Miami.

He suspects the Trouvadore broke apart after hitting reefs, probably leaving metal hatches and slaves’ chains strewn about and perhaps buried in sand. If the team finds promising spots, they will apply to excavate artifacts for the National Museum.

The ship wrecked on its way from Africa to Cuba seven years after Britain’s 1834 order to emancipate slaves.

In a letter sent to colonial authorities in Nassau, Bahamas, on April 3, 1841, a British magistrate wrote that the Africans were found naked, then quarantined in a jail where they were given food and clothing.

The crew had shot and killed one African woman on the beach who tried to escape. The 20 Spanish and Portuguese sailors were sent under guard to Nassau and deported to Cuba.

While 24 freed slaves were taken to Nassau, 168 stayed in Turks and Caicos and were assigned to work on the many salt ponds under one-year contracts, raking salt into piles in exchange for shelter and food, Sadler said. They brought a 7 percent increase to a population of about 2,300.

It’s not clear from where in Africa they came. In 1842 freed slaves founded a settlement with the African name Bambarra, and it remains today with several dozen residents.

Towns named Bambara also exist in Mali in West Africa and Chad in central Africa. Sadler and other researchers say survivors probably brought that name with them, along with traditions from music to basket-weaving.



On the Net:

www.slaveshiptrouvadore.com

AP-ES-08-21-04 0135EDT



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