A Brief History of the Bahamas
A brief view of the interesting history of The Bahama Islands and their connection to American history
- The Bahamas
- The Islands Rediscovered
- The First Economic Activity
- The Pirate Republic
- The American Revolutionary War
- The Civil War
- World War II
It is probable the Bahamas were the archetype of the uninhabited Tropical Paradise.
Island after Island of unspoiled beauty, soft seas and only the sounds of nature.
This would be in the 1600s, as the Spanish, having arrived in 1492 and decimating
the local population, abandoned most of the islands.
The Islands Rediscovered
In 1648 a group from Bermuda called 'The Company of Adventurers for the Plantation of the Islands of Eleutheria' arrived to a colony. They were Puritans and republicans.
As Bermuda was crowded, the Bahamas offering religious and political freedom as well as economic opportunity more settlers followed.
New Providence became the center of population and commerce in the Bahamas, with almost 500 people living on the island by 1670.
They made their living from the sea, salvaging (mainly Spanish) wrecks, making salt, and taking fish, turtles, conchs and ambergris. Farmers from Bermuda soon followed the seamen to New Providence, where they found good, plentiful land.
Neither the Eleutherian colony nor the settlement on New Providence had any legal standing under English law. In 1670 the Proprietors of Carolina were issued a patent for the Bahamas, but the governors sent by the Proprietors had difficulty in imposing their authority on the independent-minded residents of New Providence.
One of the unrecalled aspect of history is that the Colony of Carolina was settled primarily by those who had lived in Barbados.
When Portugal extended it's control of Brazil, Jews had to leave, and some went to the British colony of Barbados. They brought with them the expertise in growing sugar cane.
Barbados, which had heretofore grown tobacco immediately turned to this new crop. Small holdings were taken over the the Government, and many people found themselves landless, as did the Jews, for all arable land was turned into large plantations.
As Carolina was surrounded by the Roman Catholic Empires, they offered freedom of religion of all, specifically naming Jews. French Huguenuts, Baptists, Quakers, and Jews flocked to the colony.
It is therefore perfectly logical for Carolina to apply for control of the Bahama islands.
The First Economic Activity
As the Bahamas were close to the sailing routes between Europe and the Caribbean shipwrecks were common, and wrecking was the most lucrative occupation.
Many of the wrecks were 'man made' as the 'wreckers' chief occupation was luring unsuspecting ships into the treacherous, shallow waters, then pouncing and plundering.
The Bahamians soon came into conflict with the Spanish over the salvaging of wrecks. The Bahamians would attack those who sought to regain the salvage, and often seize what was already saved.
The Spanish attacked the Bahamas, the Bahamians commissioned privateers. In 1684 the Spanish attacked and burned the settlements on New Providence and Eleuthera,.
The Pirate Republic
New Providence was settled a second time in 1686 from Jamaica and by 1694 Pirates made the town of Nassau their base.
This is because Port Royal in Jamaica, their previous capital, was destroyed in 1692 by an Earthquake. The Bahamas, considering their position was an ideal location.
In 1703 and again in 1706 combined French-Spanish fleets attacked and sacked Nassau and the Carolina Proprietors gave up all idea of trying to Govern.
The Bahamas became a Pirate Republic for eleven years. The Pirates attacked French and Spanish ships, while French and Spanish forces burned Nassau several times.
At least 20 pirate captains used the Bahamas as a home port during this period, including Henry Jennings, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane, "Calico Jack" Rackham and Stede Bonnet, as well as the "lady pirates" Mary Read and Anne Bonney.
The "pirates' republic" came to an end in 1718, when Woodes Rogers, the first Royal Governor of the Bahamas, reached Nassau with a small fleet of warships.
Some pirates sailed off a few offered a brief resistance. The 300 Pirates remaining cheered Rogers and gave their oath to the king, but many soon reverted to their old ways.
All of the pirates were finally expelled by 1725 and by 1729 Woodes established a House of Assembly.
The American Revolutionary War
During the American War of Independence the Bahamas fell to Spanish forces under General Galvez in 1782. A British-American loyalist expedition recaptured the islands.
After the American Revolution, the British issued land grants to American Loyalists.
These persons, ex-slaves and free, who had fought on the losing side, left America. Many Loyalists took their slaves, and the population of the Bahamas tripled.
The Civil War
America's troubles were always good for the Bahamas.
During the 2nd American Civil War, 1861 - 1864 the Union blockaded
Bahamians grew rich running Confederate cotton to English
mills and sending military equipment as payment.
After the Civil War ended, so did Bahamian prosperity. Days went by with little
hope and little prospects.
Finally came the "Roaring Twenties".
Prohibition in the United States turned The Bahamas
into a base for rum-running.
Prosperity returned, until Prohibition was repealed, the islands again
lapsed into poverty.
World War II
Prosperity did not return until World War II, when the Bahamas served as an air and sea way-station in the Atlantic.
As part of the British Empire the citizens could join the British Army or Navy as well as gain employ in war related businesses.
After the War a new industry, tourism changed the priorities in the islands. When Cuba was closed to US tourists in the 1959, The Bahamas took full advantage and has become one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.
The Bahamas gained self-government in 1964 and changed their status from colony to Commonwealth in 1969. In 1973, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas became independent within the Commonwealth of Nations, but retained Queen Elizabeth II as constitutional head of state.