TCI News

TCI National Hero’s death still mysterious, JAGS McCartney monuments destroyed by hurricanes

Rt. Excellent JAGS McCartney file photo super-imposed on March 2018 photograph of Junkanoo Club by Deandrea Hamilton

#Providenciales, Turks and Caicos – Thursday, May 10, 2018 –Thirty-eight years after the sudden death of the Turks and Caicos Island’s first Chief Minister, there remains an enigmatic mystery about what really happened to JAGS McCartney.  

Facts on what caused his plane to crash over New Jersey, USA on May 9 1980 are elusive, invisible and seemingly undocumented.

What is certain is that it was an unfathomable tragedy for a nation just beginning to swap its short britches for long trousers on its way to self determination and decolonisation.

James Alexander George Smith McCartney was a different type of Turks and Caicos Islander. The 34 year old was heavily under the influence of the pushy political and civic leaders of the day. Movements and revolutions in The Bahamas and Jamaica both inspired JAGS to return to the land of his birth to turn national leadership right side up.

Some say JAGS was ahead of his time as his bold quest to dethrone British rule in the TCI was unrelenting and unheard of. Though many islanders fought against him and his ideas, JAGS fought back with a brilliant strategy that would one day lead to formation of the country’s first political party – the People’s Democratic Movement – and a Turks and Caicos where the islanders, as Cabinet Ministers called all of the shots. 

I am told that JAGS first educated his people, then agitated for reasonable rights and then documented, in a hand written new constitution, that power ought belong to the indigenous people.

Bar room napkins were where that transformative legislation was scribbled and after and all night show down involving gun fire, rock and bottling throwing and a kind kidnapping, the governor left Waterloo and gave JAGS and the people the power.

The two men signed at the iconic Junkanoo Club and set the wheels in motion for a more democratic nation.

For a reason undocumented JAGS in his fourth year as Chief Minister took a trip to New Jersey. There is no record, we could find of the type of aircraft or who was on board the small plane with JAGS.

In all of the archives of plane crashes – both massive and minute – there is nothing on our JAGS at the United States National Transportation Safety Board’s website.

One item appears to be JAGS’ crash; there are no details on the aircraft or lives lost. No names… only that it happened on May 9, 1980.

The body of the TCIs only national hero was reportedly never found. Nor was his plane. And it remains taboo to talk about the incident at home especially, but why?

Some news articles from the day suggest it may have been a failed drug smuggling attempt or a plane planned to never make it back home or a sinister plot to shush the uprising of strong, black, Caribbean people…

But there are islanders who believe JAGS was on a noble mission to bring new investment, establish food security and demonstrate that the Turks and Caicos could stand on its feet, as a successful island chain.

Today, the Rt. Excellent JAGS would have been 72-years-old if he were alive.  James Alexander George Smith McCartney was the youngest democratically elected leader in history at the time, and continues to hold the record for being youngest Commonwealth country leader in history.

Many have gone on record to say that it is their firm belief that the Turks and Caicos would have a much more altered and autonomous state of being had the man lived and served longer.

On Monday May 28, 2018 the country will commemorate the only National Hero in the traditional memorial service at the National Memorial Park in Grand Turk; the day is also a public holiday.

Terribly, both the publicly owned National Memorial Park and the famous, Junkanoo Club – still owned by McCartney’s family – were badly battered in the September 2017 hurricanes: Irma and Maria.

Our images here were taken in March 2018; six months after the hurricanes.


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