Tri Island has a history of piracy, kidnapping and beating the odds. It was a strange turn of events that brought Tri Island into the place it is today. Some call it legend, some say it is fact, but it cannot be disputed the people gave it a try and they survived. Rese Bourdeau shared the island history and other details as the local historian. We are very grateful for her input.
The Tri Island story begins much further north. Back in the 1700s, the reputation of the crews on merchant ships was legendary. You might say they were a tough lawless bunch. Their hands were out for governments to hire them to do their dirty work. Their hands were out to suppliers trying to get their products to merchants and hands were out to merchants needing the products to sell.
A typical merchant ship might be ready to wage war by hire at any time. If your country sold cotton, another nation trying to sell cotton might hire merchant ships to attack and steal the merchandise from opposing ships. Needless to say, the merchant ships could distribute the stolen goods. They would charge both the shipper and receiver. Needless to say, the moral character of these crews was questionable to say the least.
Many of the wealthy landowners were British, being given the land grant by the Crown. We understand this was the case for this landowner. This landowner chose to pay the fare for many destitute families in England to work as indentured servants on his land. Most then rented their land after they had worked many years to pay the landowner back. The landowner had almost 40 families working the land, paying rent and buying goods at the store the landowner owned.
We understand that a merchant ship arriving at this island out in the Atlantic, possibly off the coast of Georgia or South Carolina in the United States, was bringing supplies for the wealthy landowner who had a good number of employees, so to speak. He needed stock for his store and his farm or plantation. Knowing the reputation of these mariners, the landowner demanded they be on their best behavior when they arrived with the goods, but alas, one of his three daughters was sexually assaulted by a few drunken members of the crew. Naturally, this infuriated the landowner and he assembled a few of his tenants to order the ship to leave his island immediately. The story continues with the father of the girl catching a couple of the men who raped his daughter and shooting them dead.
That same evening the ship seemingly took to the sea but in reality they simply slipped around to the back of the island and kidnapped almost all of the families that rented land on the island. As the growing season was underway, the Captain figured he might grab a tidy sum of money for their return as the landowner needed the families to work the land and buy the contents of his store. The landowner, a crusty sort, simply said he would not pay a penny and would shoot the captain square between the eyes upon sight. The standoff went on a few days until the merchant ship was due elsewhere with goods to deliver, so they left the region and headed for the Caribbean with the kidnapped families aboard. The requirement of food and water for so many people was extensive, so a small uninhabited island was chosen and the kidnapped families were forced off the ship. The thought was the merchant vessel would return, grab the ransom and tell the landowner where to find his workers but that never came to pass.
It seems that after some time the vessel returned to the landowner and when the smoke cleared, both the Captain and the landowner were dead. In haste, the ships remaining crew set out to sea never telling anyone the whereabouts of the kidnapped families. The 28 families never returned to the plantation but these kidnapped families began life anew on Tri Island.
Tri Island is a small island shaped more like a figure eight. On the northern and southern edges, the elevation rises to about 80 feet falling steeply to the sea below. The center of the island has but ribbons of land as ponds cover most of the lower elevation, fed by two small springs, each one originating from the hill above. From the description we have, the island is about 2.7 miles long and about a mile wide but only has a land area of 1.864 acres when you factor in the salt ponds.
Local Historian, Rese Bourdeau, said the nearest neighbor to Tri Island is the island of Barbuda. Even so, we are uncertain if Tri Island belongs to St Kitts and Nevis or Antiqua and Barbuda as the island is not mentioned by either nation, nor did we think to ask.
The name Tri Island has a few explanations as how it came to be known as Tri Island. One explanation is the island is separated in three parts: a northern hill, the lowlands where the salt ponds dominate and the southern hill, somewhat of a three part island. Another is that the islanders were going to try to stay there and the island was dubbed this by the regional British Crown representative after noting there was little on the island but the people wanted to try to stay there.
Not too much has been recorded of the early days on Tri Island, but Rese stated certainly life must have been quite tough. One of the few insights was the letter, still preserved, where a Tri Island representative met with the regional British Crown representative. It seems the families sought him out in fear of the merchant ship returning or other unsavory souls discovering the island. They sought protection. It seems the representative, feeling sympathy for the group and all they had been through, agreed to protect the people offering them a freehold lease for one pound of salt per person, per year. The representative knew the only true resource on the island were the two ponds that collected salt.
As we understand things, the small community built a life for themselves and over the years a few more folks, mostly of French and Spanish origin, joined them on the island. Developing into two communities, one on the north hill and another on the south hill, eventually there were 40 families on the island by about 1900. We shall note that the development of two villages was due to a need for land and water. Each family has a tract of land for fruit trees and gardens. The freshwater spring could only service the needs of a handful of families, and as both the north and south hills have virtually the same quality of land and both have freshwater springs, it was likely decided early on that the population should be fairly equally divided among the residents. This was different than some places where ethnic divisions were made as the basis for two separate communities.
The lower elevation has the two salt ponds, a small dock, a small store and a school. Ironically, there are no churches. Services are typically held in homes and most are Plymouth Brethren..
Since the 1970s, a handful of visitors have found the island. The islanders erected small cottages in the lower elevations near the store and school and rent them, typically on long term leases to those families that visit regularly. Eighteen cottages have been built. The visitors enjoy the no frills attitude and conservative lifestyle of the local population that does not consume liquor. Thus, a small group of visiting families lay claim to almost all the cottages with an annual lease.
The business community is very small. The store is the primary business. A couple of families are in food service with one serving an evening meal and the other offering baked items and bread each morning. Most of the men have become expert boat builders and build skiffs, some of which are available for lease.
The quiet community is certainly peaceful but Rese points out a rumbling deep below the surface has led to an uneasy standoff that, for all intent and purposes, will likely not change in the coming years. You see, the Tri Island population is fiercely loyal to the British Crown. As Caribbean islands sought independence from Great Britain, Tri Island resisted, demanding to be kept under British rule. When the new nation tried to exercise their right to the island, the Tri Island people refused to acknowledge them. Eventually written requests were sent to London and eventually the United Nations to exclude Tri Island from being claimed by any nation other than Great Britain.
As is the case for these small Caribbean nations, the cash coffers are not overflowing, so the manpower and funds get spent on more pressing issues than trying to get Tri Island to join their nation and pay taxes. In fact, the country claiming Tri Island refused to offer any service whatsoever until their flag was flown over Tri Island the people paid their taxes and secured the proper permits for their commercial activities. This lack of motherland suits Tri Island residents just fine. Even the deafening silence from the British does not discourage them as they deliver, still to this day, a pound of salt for every fulltime resident per year to the regional British Crown Administration Office which we can only assume would be on Anguilla or Montserrat which are still a Crown colonies.
Tri Island Money
Tri Island has two currencies. There is a circulating currency backed by, of all things, salt. The symbolic currency is salt in rock form that symbolizes the annual lease. Today the Quarter Farthing is used for local purchases. Symbolic salt rock coins are typically used for the annual payment to the British Crown and not for daily use on the island, but at times it may circulate or is sold to visitors.. The Quarter Farthing was briefly produced by the British Crown from 1839 through 1853. Most were sent to places like Ceylon, but certainly a few coins made it to Tri Island at some point as it is the local unit of exchange even though it takes 3,840 to make a British Pound. Even when the original Quarter Farthing appeared, it would take 8 to equal the value of an American Penny.
From what we can calculate, a pound of salt on Tri Island is worth about 25 cents in US Currency. Accordingly, the symbolic pound of salt annual fee per person would mean a typical family of four would pay about one US Dollar per year for their lease.
Compiled by Bill Turner, 2011
Thanks to Rese Bourdeau for her input.