History of the Bahamas

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The history of the Bahamas begins with the earliest arrival of humans in the islands in the first millennium AD. The first inhabitants of the islands now known as The Bahamas were the Lucayans, an Arawakan-speaking Taino people, who arrived between about 500 and 800 from the islands of the Caribbean. Their ancestors came from mainland South America, where Arawakan-language peoples were present in most territories, and especially along the northeastern coast.

Recorded history began on 12 October 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Guanahani, which he renamed San Salvador Island on his first voyage to the New World. The earliest permanent European settlement occurred in 1648 on Eleuthera. During the 18th-century slave trade, many Africans were brought to the Bahamas as labourers. Their descendants constitute 85 percent of the Bahamian population. The Bahamas gained independence from the United Kingdom on July 10, 1973.

==Pre-]]. Sometime between 500 to 800, Taínos began crossing in dugout canoes from Hispaniola and/or Cuba to the Bahamas. Suggested routes for the earliest migrations have been from Hispaniola to the Caicos Islands, from Hispaniola or eastern Cuba to Great Inagua Island, and from central Cuba to Long Island (in the central Bahamas). William Keegan argues that the most likely route was from Hispaniola or Cuba to Great Inagua. Granberry and Vescelius argue for two migrations, from Hispaniola to the Turks and Caicos Islands, and from Cuba to Great Inagua.[1]

From the initial colonization(s), the Lucayan expanded throughout the Bahamas in some 800 years (c. 700 – c. 1500), growing to a population of about 40,000. Population density at the time of first European contact was highest in the south-central area of the Bahamas, declining towards the north, reflecting the migration pattern and progressively shorter time of occupation of the northern islands. Known Lucayan settlement sites are confined to the nineteen largest islands in the archipelago, or to smaller cays located less than one km. from those islands. Population density in the southern-most Bahamas remained lower, probably due to the drier climate there (less than 800 mm of rain a year on Great Inagua Island and the Turks and Caicos Islands and only slightly higher on Acklins and Crooked Islands and Mayaguana).[2]

In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain on his first voyage with three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the flagship, Santa Maria, seeking a direct route to Asia. On 12 October 1492 Columbus reached an island in the Bahamas and claimed it for Spain, an event long regarded by Europeans as the 'discovery' of America. This island was called Guanahani by the Lucayan, and San Salvador by the Spanish. The identity of the first American landfall by Columbus remains controversial, but many authors accept Samuel E. Morison's identification of Columbus' San Salvador as what was later called Watling (or Watling's) Island. Its name has been officially changed to San Salvador. Columbus visited several other islands in the Bahamas before sailing to present-day Cuba and afterwards to Hispaniola.[3]

The Bahamas held little interest to the Spanish except as a source of slave labor. Nearly the entire population of Lucayan (almost 40,000 people total) were transported to other islands as laborers over the next 30 years. When the Spanish decided to remove the remaining Lucayans to Hispaniola in 1520, they could find only eleven. The islands remained abandoned and depopulated for 130 years afterwards. With no gold to be found, and the population removed, the Spanish effectively abandoned the Bahamas. They retained titular claims to them until the Treaty of Paris in 1783, when they ceded them to Britain in exchange for East Florida.[4][5]

When Europeans first landed on the islands, they reported the Bahamas were lushly forested. Cleared to develop the land for sugar cane plantations, the forests have not regrown and have not been replanted.


  • Early English settlement 1
  • Wreckers, privateers and pirates 2
  • Reclaiming Bahamas for the Crown 3
  • Mid-century 4
  • Loyalists, slaves and Afro Seminoles 5
  • Post-emancipation 6
  • Late-colonial period 7
  • The Bahamas at War 8
    • World War II 8.1
    • Post-war period 8.2
  • Post-independence era 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14

Early English settlement

For many years, Historians believed that The Bahamas was not colonized until the 17th century. However, recent studies show that there may have been attempts of colonization by groups from Spain, France, Britain and other Amerindians. The French settled in Abaco in 1565, and tried again in 1625. In 1648 a group from Spanish Wells) at the north end of Eleuthera. In 1670 about 20 families lived in the Eleuthera communities.[6]

In 1666 other colonists from Bermuda settled on New Providence, which soon became the center of population and commerce in the Bahamas, with almost 500 people living on the island by 1670. Unlike the Eleutherians, who were primarily farmers, the first settlers on New Providence 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 imposing their authority on the independent-minded residents of New Providence.[7]

The early settlers continued to live much as they had in Bermuda, fishing, hunting turtles, whales, and seals, finding ambergris, making salt on the drier islands, cutting the abundant hardwoods of the islands for lumber, dyewood and medicinal bark; and wrecking, or salvaging wrecks. The Bahamas were close to the sailing routes between Europe and the Caribbean, so shipwrecks in the islands were common, and wrecking was the most lucrative occupation available to the Bahamians.[8]Wrecking

Wreckers, privateers and pirates

The Bahamians soon came into conflict with the Spanish over the salvaging of wrecks. The Bahamian wreckers drove the Spanish away from their wrecked ships, and attacked Spanish salvagers, seizing goods the Spanish had already recovered from the wrecks. When the Spanish raided the Bahamas, the Bahamians in turn commissioned privateers against Spain, even though England and Spain were at peace. In 1684 the Spanish burned the settlements on New Providence and Eleuthera, after which they were largely abandoned. New Providence was settled a second time in 1686 by colonists from Jamaica.

In the 1690s English privateers (England was then at war with France) made a base in the Bahamas. In 1696 Henry Every (or Avery), using the assumed name Henry Bridgeman, brought his ship Fancy, loaded with pirates' loot, into Nassau harbor. Every bribed the governor, Nicholas Trott (uncle of the Nicholas Trott who presided at the trial of Stede Bonnet), with gold and silver, and by leaving him the Fancy, still loaded with 50 tons of elephant tusks an average haul for a slaver and 100 barrels of gunpowder exceedingly rare. Following peace with France in 1697, many of the privateers became pirates. From this time the pirates increasingly made Nassau, the Bahamian capital founded in 1694, their base. The governors appointed by the Proprietors usually made a show of suppressing the pirates, but most were accused of dealing with them. By 1701 England was at war with France and Spain. In 1703 and in 1706 combined French-Spanish fleets attacked and sacked Nassau, after which some settlers left, and the Proprietors gave up on trying to govern the islands.[9]

With no functioning government in the Bahamas, English privateers operated from Nassau as their base, in what has been called a "privateers' republic," which lasted for eleven years. The raiders attacked French and Spanish ships, while French and Spanish forces burned Nassau several times. The War of the Spanish Succession ended in 1714, but some privateers were slow to get the news, or reluctant to accept it, and slipped into piracy. One estimate puts at least 1,000 pirates in the Bahamas in 1713, outnumbering the 200 families of more permanent settlers.[10]

The "privateers' republic" in Nassau became a "pirates' republic". At least 20 pirate captains used Nassau or other places in the Bahamas as a home port during this period, including Henry Jennings, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Benjamin Hornigold and Stede Bonnet. Many settler families moved from New Providence to Eleuthera or Abaco to escape harassment from the pirates. On the other hand, residents of Harbor Island were happy to serve as middlemen for the pirates, as merchants from New England and Virginia came there to exchange needed supplies for pirate plunder.[11] As mentioned above, the activities of pirates provoked frequent and brutal retaliatory attacks by the French and Spanish.

Reclaiming Bahamas for the Crown

Starting in 1713,

  • The Bahamas History & Culture
  • The Bahamas Historical Society
  • Bahamian Loyalists history

External links


Further reading

  • Albury, Paul. (1975) The Story of the Bahamas. MacMillan Caribbean. ISBN 0-333-17131-4
  • Carr, J. Revell. (2008) Seeds of Discontent: The Deep Roots of the American Revolution 1659–1750. Walker & Company. ISBN 978-0-8027-1512-8
  • Craton, Michael. (1986) A History of the Bahamas. San Salvador Press. ISBN 0-9692568-0-9
  • Granberry, Julius and Gary S. Vescelius. (2004) Languages of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-5123-X
  • Johnson, Howard. (1996) The Bahamas from Slavery to Servitude, 1783–1933. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1858-7
  • Keegan, William F. (1992) The People Who Discovered Columbus: The Prehistory of the Bahamas. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1137-X
  • Woodard, Colin. (2007) The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3
  • State Dept Country Study - Includes information on the Bahamas including history.
  • Rulers.org — Bahamas List of rulers for Bahamas


  1. ^ Craton:17
    Granberry and Vescelius:80-86
  2. ^ Keegan:25, 54-8, 86, 170-3
  3. ^ Albury:21-33
  4. ^ Albury:34-7
  5. ^ Albury:34-7
    Craton. pp. 37-39
    Keegan:212, 220-3
  6. ^ Albury:41-6
  7. ^ Albury:47-51
  8. ^ Johnson:4-5
  9. ^ Albury:51-5
    Woodard:12-14, 23-24
  10. ^ Albury:58-68
    Woodard:89-90, 140, 160
  11. ^ Albury:58-68
    Woodard:89-90, 140, 160
  12. ^ Albury:69-74
    Woodard:117-121, 163-168
  13. ^ Woodard:226-29
  14. ^ Woodard:236-40, 245-47, 259-61
  15. ^ Woodard:247-48, 262-67
  16. ^ Woodard:268-72, 286, 301-04
  17. ^ Woodard:304-10, 315-20
  18. ^ Woodard:311-14, 325-28
  19. ^ a b "Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park", Network to Freedom, National Park Service, 2010, accessed 10 April 2013.
  20. ^ Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. Before EmancipationGerald Horne, , New York University (NYU) Press, 2012, pp. 107-108
  21. ^ Smith, Andrew. 2009. "Thomas Bassett Macaulay and the Bahamas: Racism, Business and Canadian Sub-imperialism". The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. 37, no. 1: 29-50.
  22. ^ "The Origins of Bahamian Aviation - Bahama Pundit". bahamapundit.com. Retrieved 7 December 2014. 
  23. ^ Owen, J. (2008). A Serpent in Eden: 'The greatest murder mystery of all time'. Little, Brown Book Group.  
  24. ^ Higham, Charles (1988). The Dutchess of Windsor: The Secret Life. McGraw Hill. pp. 300–302. 
  25. ^ Bloch, Michael (1982). The Duke of Windsor's War. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-77947-8, p. 364.
  26. ^ a b Higham, Charles (1988). The Dutchess of Windsor: The Secret Life. McGraw Hill. pp. 307–309. 
  27. ^ Bloch, Michael (1982). The Duke of Windsor's War. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-77947-8, pp. 154–159, 230–233
  28. ^ Ziegler, Philip (1991). King Edward VIII: The official biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-57730-2.
  29. ^ Higham, Charles (1988). The Dutchess of Windsor: The Secret Life. McGraw Hill. pp. 331–332. 
  30. ^ Ziegler, pp. 471–472
  31. ^ Matthew, H. C. G. (September 2004; online edition January 2008) "Edward VIII, later Prince Edward, duke of Windsor (1894–1972)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31061, retrieved 1 May 2010 (Subscription required)
  32. ^ Higham places the date of his resignation as 15 March, and that he left on 5 April. Higham, Charles (1988). The Dutchess of Windsor: The Secret Life. McGraw Hill. p. 359. 


See also

In September 2004, Hurricane Frances swept through the Bahamas, leaving widespread damage in its wake. Just three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne uprooted trees, blew out windows, and sent seawater flooding through neighborhoods on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. Receding floodwaters left boats tossed on roads and homes battered.

Bahamians achieved self-government in 1964 and full independence within the Commonwealth of Nations on July 10, 1973. The country’s first prime minister was Lynden O. Pindling, leader of the Progressive Liberal Party. Pindling presided for 25 years (1967 - 1992), during which the Bahamas benefited from tourism and foreign investment. By the early 1980s, the islands had also become a major center for the drug trade, with 90% of all the cocaine entering the United States reportedly passing through the Bahamas. Diplomatic relations were established with Cuba in 1974. A decade later, as increased Cuban immigration to the islands strained the Bahamas’ resources, Cuba refused to sign a letter of repatriation.

Post-independence era

The College of the Bahamas is the national higher education/tertiary system. Offering baccalaureate, masters and associate degrees, COB has three campuses and teaching and research centres throughout the Bahamas. The College is in the process of becoming the University of the Bahamas by 2015.

Based on the twin pillars of tourism and offshore finance, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. However, there remain significant challenges in areas such as education, health care, housing, international narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration from Haiti.

In 1967, Lynden Pindling (Sir Lynden from 1983), of the Progressive Liberal Party, became the first black Premier of the colony, and in 1968 the title was changed to Prime Minister. In 1973, the Bahamas became fully independent as a Commonwealth realm, thus retaining membership of the Commonwealth of Nations. Sir Milo Butler was appointed the first Governor-General of the Bahamas (the official representative of Queen Elizabeth II) shortly after independence.

The fourth James Bond film, Thunderball, was partly filmed in 1965 in Nassau.

Modern political development began after the Second World War. The first political parties were formed in the 1950s and the British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964, with Sir Roland Symonette, of the United Bahamian Party, as the first Premier.

The wartime airfield became Nassau's international airport in 1957 and helped spur the growth of mass tourism, which accelerated after Havana was closed to American tourists in 1961. Freeport, on the island of Grand Bahama, was established as a free trade zone in the 1950s and became the country's second city. Bank secrecy combined with the lack of corporate and income taxes led to a rapid growth in the offshore financial sector during the postwar years.

Post-war period

During World War II, the Allies centred their flight training and antisubmarine operations for the Caribbean in the Bahamas.

The Duke resigned the post on 16 March 1945.[31][32]

The Duke was praised, however, for his efforts to combat poverty on the islands, although he was as contemptuous of the Bahamians as he was of most non-white peoples of the Empire.[28] He was also praised for his resolution of civil unrest over low wages in Nassau in June 1942, when there was a "full-scale riot,"[29] even though he blamed the trouble on "mischief makers – communists" and "men of Central European Jewish descent, who had secured jobs as a pretext for obtaining a deferment of draft".[30]

He opened the small local parliament on October 29, 1940, and they visited the 'Out Islands' that November, which cause some controversy because of on whose yacht they were cruising.[26] The British Foreign Office strenuously objected when the Duke and Duchess planned to tour aboard a yacht belonging to a Swedish magnate, Axel Wenner-Gren, whom American intelligence wrongly believed to be a close friend of Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring.[26][27]

The Duke of Windsor was installed as Governor of the Bahamas, arriving at that post in August 1940 with his new Duchess. They were appalled at the condition of Government House, but they "tried to make the best of a bad situation."[24] He did not enjoy the position, and referred to the islands as "a third-class British colony".[25]

Oakes Field the Bahamas first airport was opened in Nassau in January 1940, named after Harry Oakes the millionaire who made a large contribution to its creation. Prior to that aviation in the Bahamas was largely carried out by seaplanes.[22][23]

World War II


The Bahamas at War

In 1911, there was a short-lived movement to make the Bahamas part of Canada. Although the movement enjoyed the support of many in Nassau and from the head of Sun Life, a Canadian insurance company, the movement failed. The failure of the movement was, in part, due to the British government's opposition to uniting a predominantly Black colony with a predominantly white country.[21]

Late-colonial period

With emancipation, Caribbean societies inherited a rigid racial stratification that was reinforced by the unequal distribution of wealth and power. The three-tier race structure, of whites, mixed-race, and primarily blacks, who comprised the large majority, existed well into the 1940s and in some societies beyond. It was based on the white elite's belief in European racial superiority and the history of slavery in the islands. Most West Indians are of African descent. Like African Americans, many also have European and Native American ancestry. Caribbean societies continue to struggle with racial issues.

During the American Civil War, the Bahamas prospered as a base for Confederate blockade-running, bringing in cotton to be shipped to the mills of England and running out arms and munitions. None of these provided any lasting prosperity to the islands, nor did attempts to grow different kinds of crops for export.

In the 1830s and 1840s, tensions rose between Britain and the United States after American merchant ships, part of the coastwise slave trade, put into Nassau or were wrecked on its reefs. These included the Hermosa (1840) and the Creole (1841), the latter brought in after a slave revolt on board. Britain had notified nations that slaves brought into Bahama and Bermuda waters would be forfeited and freed the slaves, refusing US efforts to recover them.[20] In 1853 Britain and the US signed a claims treaty and submitted to arbitration for claims dating to 1814; they paid each other in 1855.


In August 1834, the traditional plantation life ended with the British emancipation of slaves throughout most of its colonies. Freedmen chose to work on their own small plots of land when possible.

In the early 1820s, hundreds of African slaves and Seminoles escaped from Florida, most settling on Andros Island in the Bahamas. Three hundred escaped in a mass flight in 1823.[19] While the flow was reduced by federal construction of a lighthouse at Cape Florida in 1825, slaves continued to find freedom in the Bahamas.[19]

Most of the current inhabitants in the islands are descended from the slaves brought to work on the Loyalist plantations. In addition, thousands of captive Africans, who were liberated from foreign slave ships by the British navy after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, were resettled as free persons in the Bahamas.

During the American War of Independence the Bahamas fell to Spanish forces under General Galvez in 1782. A British-American Loyalist expedition led by Colonel Andrew Deveaux, recaptured the islands in 1783. After the American Revolution, the British issued land grants to American Loyalists who went into exile. The sparse population of the Bahamas tripled within a few years. The Loyalists developed cotton as a commodity crop, but it dwindled from insect damage and soil exhaustion. In addition to slaves they brought with them, the planters' descendants imported more African slaves for labour.

Loyalists, slaves and Afro Seminoles

In 1741, Governor John Tinker and Peter Henry Bruce constructed Fort Montague. Additionally, the Governor also reported a privateering boom in the Thirteen Colonies in North America. He also reported that over 2300 sumptuous houses were built and in 1768 Governor William Shirley filled in Mosquito breeding swamps and extended Nassau.


After the publication in 1724 of A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, which praised Rogers' efforts to suppress piracy in the Bahamas, his fortunes began to improve. The king awarded him a pension, retroactive to 1721. In 1728 Rogers was appointed Governor of the Bahamas for a second term. He dissolved the colony's assembly when it would not approve taxes to repair Nassau's defenses. He died in Nassau in 1732.[18]

When Britain and Spain went to war again in 1719, many of the ex-pirates were commissioned by the British government as privateers. A Spanish invasion fleet set out for the Bahamas, but was diverted to Pensacola, Florida when it was seized by the French. Rogers continued to improve the defenses of Nassau, spending his personal fortune and going heavily into debt to do so. A second Spanish invasion fleet in 1720 was deterred by the defenses (and the accidental presence of a Royal Navy ship in Nassau). Rogers returned to Britain in 1722 to plead for repayment of the money he had borrowed to build up Nassau, only to find he had been replaced as governor. He was sent to debtors' prison, although his creditors later absolved his debts, gaining him release.

In Nassau Rackham became involved with Anne Bonny; he tried to arrange an annulment of her marriage to another ex-pirate, James Bonny. Rogers blocked the annulment, and Rackham and Bonny left Nassau to be pirates again, taking a small crew and Bonny's friend Mary Read with them. Within months, Rackham, Bonny and Read were captured and taken to Jamaica. They were convicted of piracy, and Rackham was executed. Bonny and Read were sent to prison, as both were pregnant and therefore excluded from execution. Read died in prison, while Bonny's fate is unknown.[17]

Vane attacked several small settlements in the Bahamas but, after he refused to attack a stronger French frigate, he was deposed for cowardice and replaced as captain by "Calico Jack" Rackham. Vane never returned to the Bahamas; he was eventually caught, convicted and executed in Jamaica. After nearly being captured by Jamaican privateers, and hearing that the king had extended the deadline for pardons for piracy, Rackham and his crew returned to Nassau to surrender to Woodes Rogers.

Rogers controlled Nassau, but Charles Vane was loose and threatening to drive the governor and his forces out. Learning that the King of Spain wanted to expel English from the islands, Rogers worked to improve the defenses of Nassau. He lost nearly 100 men of the new forces due to an unidentified disease, and the Navy ships left for other assignments. Rogers sent four of his ships to Havana to assure the Spanish governor that he was suppressing piracy and to trade for supplies. The crews of ex-pirates and men who had come with Rogers all turned to piracy. The ex-pirate Benjamin Hornigold later caught ten men at Green Turtle Cay as part of Rogers' suppression effort. Eight were found guilty and hanged in front of the fort.[16]

Woodes Rogers arrived in Nassau in late July 1718, with his own 460-ton warship, three ships belonging to his company, and an escort of three ships of the Royal Navy. Vane's ship was trapped in Nassau harbor. His crew set that ship on fire, sending it towards Rogers' ships, and escaped in the ensuing confusion in a smaller ship they had seized from another pirate. The remaining population welcomed Rogers; they comprised about 200 settlers and 500 to 700 pirates who wanted to receive pardons, most prominently Benjamin Hornigold.[15] After the pirates' surrender, the Proprietors leased their land in the Bahamas to Rogers' company for 21 years.

James Francis Edward Stuart, the Stuart pretender, for aid in holding the Bahamas and capturing Bermuda for the Stuarts. As aid from the Stuarts failed to materialize and the date for Rogers' arrival approached, Vane and his crew prepared to leave Nassau.[14]

[13] Others were not ready to give up. Many of those were

Word of the appointment of a new governor and of the offer of pardons reached Nassau ahead of Rogers and his forces. Some of the pirates were willing to accept a pardon and retire from piracy. Henry Jennings and Christopher Winter, sailed off to find British authorities to confirm their acceptance of the amnesty.


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