In the heyday of what was an incredibly profitable international trade in turtle shells, the Bahamas, was once king. Turtles were plentiful in Bahamian waters, and the turtle fisher, in the early 1900s, could be likened to the crawfish fisherman of today.
Bahama Negroes flocked to the lucrative industry in late 1800s. It was just another form of fishing, which Bahamians had been long accustomed to. Once the turtles had been caught and butchered, its scales, shells, meat and fins were all immensely valuable commodities. Loggerheads, being the larger variety of turtle, were the most valuable. Their massive size ensured a profitable day for any turtle fisherman, as one shell alone could make hundreds of pieces of jewellery in America and Europe.
Bahama negroes gained such a good reputation for being proficient catchers of these sea creatures that some were hired to catch turtles for fishing companies in Florida.
(The Miami News, Saturday 20 April 1907)
A British schooner, the Experiment, with Bahama negroes onboard, had, according to Cuban officials, were found poaching turtles in Cuban waters. A Cuban revenue cutter gave chase as the Bahamians tried to get away.
Several firings from the cannon of the Cuban revenue cutter were made in order to stop, and presumably sink the poaching boat. One shot killed a man, from Nassau, Bahamas, named Harrington.
After the fatal incident, Mr. Grant Duff, British Minister in Cuba, presented a request to the Governor of Cuba to indemnify the family of the Bahamas turtle fisher.
The request for an indemnity may indicate that the circumstances of the killing of Harrington might not have been exactly as reported.
Was the British/Bahamian schooner really in Cuban waters? Few details are known.
(Nottingham Evening Post, Friday 29 May 1908)
BRITISH MINISTER ASKS INDEMNITY
With each story we learn a little bit more about what happened on that fateful day. From the Union-Banner Newspaper (Alabama) Thursday 4th June 1908, we learn that the British fishing schooner Experiment was fishing for turtles off Cayo Coco, an island off the north coast of Cuba. The name of the Bahamian killed was William Harrington.
Harrington was killed by cannon ball fire from the Cuban revenue cutter Abeja.
BRITAIN ASKS BLOOD-MONEY
Indemnity for Negro Killed on Turtle Poacher Off Cuba
The British minister to Cuba, A. Grant-Duff, has presented to Governor Magoon, a request for the direct payment of indemnity to the family of William Harrington, a coloured native of Nassau, Bahama Islands, and a member of the crew of the British turtle fishing schooner Experiment, who was killed by a canon shot fired by the Cuban revenue cutter Abeja, off Cayo Coco, an island off the north coast of Cuba, last April.
The schooner was found fishing in Cuban waters and was attempting to escape when the cutter fired.