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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (04/2005) Headlines (03/2005) Headlines (05/2005)   Vol. 39 April 2005 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the April 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


City officials had to launder some money after a backhoe operator found $46,000 while moving garbage at a landfill.

They tried to clean the grody greenbacks so the money could be deposited in a bank.

But after the police were notified, police Lt. Gil Slouchick said the money was counted and stored at the Columbus Police Department.

Police said they were not immediately able to determine where the money came from, but after 90 days it becomes abandoned property and the city may be eligible to claim it.

"It was found buried in garbage that had been there for some time," Deputy City Manager Isaiah Hughley said. "It had been there for a number of years."

From The Courier, submitted by Jeffrey L. Hauenstein, Findlay, OH.


Bambarra, Turks & Caicos Islands- Lobster fisherman Dolphus Arthur spotted the wooden hull 25 years ago, nearly buried in the fine silt between two massive coral reefs just off uninhabited East Caicos, at the southern tip of the Bahamas.

Over the years, he'd occasionally see the shipwreck as he piloted his open boat around the craggy reef or dived for his prey.

But he didn't know until archaeologists discovered the ruin in early September that the ship probably carried his own ancestors from West Africa to the alabaster shores of these islands, then and now under British dominion.

In a disaster that proved a deliverance for the 193 slaves on board, the brigantine Trouvadore, which foundered in 1841, brought its captive cargo to freedom instead of plantation bondage.

All of the Spanish ship's captives, who had been en route to Spanish-ruled Cuba, made it ashore to the abolitionist embrace of the British colonial rulers- except for one woman, who was shot to death on the beach by the crew as she sought to escape.

That fateful turn has only recently come to Caribbean chroniclers' attention, stirring curiosity throughout the region about the little-studied history of the islands' black populations.

"There was always talk among the old people about a shipwreck," 53-year-old Arthur recalls. "My grandmother lived to be 106. She was always talking about how we came from Africa but we had always been free. Now I'm sorry I didn't pay more attention. I've been passing around that wreckage for years now, never knowing it had any connection to me."

Inspired by a flurry of clues uncovered in archives, an international cast of archaeologist, divers, marine scientists and seekers of cultural touchstones spent two weeks searching the ship-snaring reef off Breezy Point.

Despite disruptions from the spate of hurricanes tormenting the Caribbean this season, they found what they believe to be the wreck of the Trouvadore, exactly where the bits and pieces of emerging story suggested it would be.

The story of the Trouvadore came to light by accident only a decade ago. The late Grethe Seim, a Norwegian immigrant to the islands, came across mention of the ship in records at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Seim was there looking for artifacts for the Turks & Caicos National Museum, which she founded.

Letters pointed to maritime records, census data and colonial correspondence, each fragment nudging archaeologists to scour other archives in London, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the United States and Cuba in search of answers to questions that have long nagged them.

Why is this the only village in the archipelago with an African name? Were the slaves perhaps snatched from Mali or Chad, both of which have towns named Bambarra? How did the locals learn bush medicine, basket weaving and the goatskin drumbeat and rhythm of African music?

Because the islands' soil is poor, few slaves were brought to Turks & Caicos. Black islanders assumed they were descended from slaves who made their way here from other islands before Britain's 1834 emancipation.

But migrations of Africans within the Caribbean were too few and scattered to account for the 7,000 native-born blacks, known as Belongers, who live in the archipelago today. The wreck of the Trouvadore appears to provide an explanation for their presence. Other clues may lie in stories passed down through the generations.

"It's important to get the oral history down now, while there are still people who have memories of storytelling," says David Bowen, culture director for Turks & Caicos and son of a Bambarra woman. "Right now, the story of the Trouvadore is unknown to 99 percent of the population."

While the team of scientists searched for the remains of the slave ship, Bowen plied the sparsely populated settlements of Middle Caicos- Bambarra, Lorimers and Conch Bar- for old-timers who might remember hearing tales around their grandmothers' parlors.

"I'd heard that slaves named Bambarra after a place in Africa, but I don't know nothing more about it," says Alton Higgs, 84.

Scientists guiding the search for the Trouvadore are reluctant to jump to conclusions about the wooden wreckage they located and marked with global positioning equipment. Excavation and intricate carbon-dating tests remain to be done, and so little is known about the slave vessel that confirmation may never be forthcoming.

"This is important because it's a very positive slave story," says Bowen, whose grandmother Ursula Baker died five years ago, taking Bowen's own family's history to the grave. "We are here because of this. Instead of being sold into a lifetime of bondage and being worked to death, our ancestors settled here as free people."

From The Los Angeles Times, submitted by David M. Wolan, Charlotte, NC.

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