Sweet, Sour, Salt
By: Kieron Edwards**
Grandpa Joe shared with me fascinating facts about the rise and the fall of the salt industry in Anguilla. There are 17 salt ponds in Anguilla, the three main salt ponds are Road Pond, West End Pond and Long Pond. But the most important pond for the salt industry, was the 240-acre Road Pond.
In the very early years, the task of reaping salt, was carried out by African slaves who, during the picking season, worked for their masters from morning until 2pm. After that, they were allowed to collect salt for themselves. That’s why it was common to see many piles of salt on the shores of the pond, some belonging to the masters and some for free people and slaves.
It was the Dutch who first started the salt industry. In Anguilla, in 1624, a Dutch sea captain noticed a “salt pan with enough salt for two or three ships a year”. This helped to spread awareness of the opportunity for salt mining in Anguilla. The Dutch moved away from Anguilla salt business when the island was settled by the British in 1650.
The English settlers got into the business of mining and exporting salt during the eighteenth century and salt became a successful industry. By the 1700s, salt was mined from Anguilla’s salt ponds for domestic use, mainly to preserve or “corn” meats. Ships from Europe and North America also bought salt for preservation purposes.
Salt was formed at the bottom of these ponds by evaporation. Weather conditions were important because too much rain slowed down evaporation and production. Salt was normally picked between July to September in the dry weather season.
Groups of about 4-6 male and female workers used to wade into the pond on a flat bottom boat – a flat. With gloves, they brought up cakes of salt rinsed in a basket and then threw it in the flat. Then they took the full flats to the edge of the pond, and loaded the salt into barrels. This salt would be shipped to other places and some was sent to the pumphouse in Sandy Ground to grind into fine salt.
Salt production in Anguilla peaked in the 1820s when it ranged, in strong seasons, from 50,000 to 70,000 barrels. There were even times when it reached 100,000 barrels. In those days, most salt was exported to the USA. Production declined in the 1830s following the Emancipation of Slavery.
The reaping of salt continued during the 1900s and the Road Salt Pond became the main home of the salt industry. Anguilla exported salt to the neighboring islands like Montserrat. Boats from The Grenadines sailed far down the chain of islands collecting salts.
During the 1900s, the salt was piled in heaps and put in wooden boxes where it was dumped into barrels for measuring. By the 1960s the salt was exported to places like Trinidad and Tobago, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, and Barbados.
When Anguilla lost its markets in 1985, the island’s salt industry collapsed. Anguilla no longer exported salt, but instead, imported it from countries. After the salt industry went down, Anguilla needed to find another industry. Because of the unique culture and the beautiful beaches, the island decided to embrace tourism.
Anguilla has found a way to incorporate salt into our main industry, tourism. There are souvenirs and other interesting and unique things Anguillians have made with salt for our industry. Even one of our top restaurants on the island is called Salt. All in all, salt remains an important part of Anguilla’s culture and history.
*Published as submitted to the 2020 Anguilla Non-Fiction Literary Competition. Read more about the Competition here.
**Kieron Edwards placed third for the Age 13-15 Category of the Anguilla Non-Fiction Literary Competition.