Even the most experienced explorers have gotten lost in the abundant natural beauty of The Bahamas. For centuries, our islands have captivated settlers, traders and invaders, while our shipping channel enchanted pirates who quickly discovered all of the great hiding places offered by the Bahama Islands. To this day, there are still tales of treasure. However, the real treasure is the people here; with an attitude of living for day, the past is never forgotten.
The first settlers were originally from South America and arrived in The Bahamas in the Ninth Century- known as Arawaks or Lucayans. English settlers left Bermuda in 1647 and formed the first British colony on the island of Eleuthera and began a prosperous agricultural economy that still thrives on the island today. The geography of the islands attracted many well-known pirates such as Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, and others who dominated the islands for the next 70 years in what was known as "The Golden Age of Piracy." Britain claimed the islands in 1670 and the first governor finally drove the pirates out in 1718; Britain then recognised The Bahamas as a colony and it remained that way until 1964 when Great Britain granted the islands their independence. Later, in 1973, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas became independent, but retained Queen Elizabeth II as constitutional head of state.
As early as 300 to 400 AD, people who came from what is now Cuba (there was no country named Cuba at that time) lived on the Bahama Islands and relied on the ocean for food. From around 900-1500 AD the Lucayan people settled here, enjoying a peaceful way of life and a developed viable political, social and religious system.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus made landfall in the New World on the island of San Salvador- the most easterly island in The Bahamas. Inspired by the surrounding shallow sea, he described them as islands of the “baja mar” (shallow sea), which has become The Islands of The Bahamas. When he arrived, there were about 40,000 Lucayans. Their peaceful nature made the Lucayans easy targets for enslavement however, and within 25 years, all of the Lucayans were wiped out due to the diseases, hardships and slavery they endured.
English Puritans known as “Eleutheran Adventurers” arrived here in 1649 in search of religious freedom… instead- they were met with food shortages. Captain William Sayles sailed to the American colonies for help and received supplies from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Upon his return, the settlers thanked them by shipping them brasileto wood which proceeds helped purchase land for what later became The Harvard University.
AGE OF PIRACY
During the late 1600s to early 1700s, many privateers and pirates came here, the most famous ones being Blackbeard and Calico Jack, and a few female pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read disguised as men. The shallow waters here, and 700 islands made great hiding places for treasure and our close proximity to well-travelled shipping lanes made for the perfect spot to steal from merchant ships. There are plenty of rumours of hidden treasure that still exist today. It is believed that British pirate William Catt buried loot on Cat Island and Sir Henry Morgan, a wealthy privateer, buried treasure throughout our islands.
Established around 1670 as a commercial port, Nassau was overrun seafaring men who did not abide by the law! Years later, Nassau was destroyed twice—once by Spanish troops, the other time by French and Spanish navies. Soon after, pirates began looting the heavily laden cargo ships, and by 1718, the King of England appointed Woodes Rogers to serve as the Royal Governor to try and restore order on the island, in which he was successful. He offered amnesty to those who surrendered, and those who resisted would be hanged. 300 pirates surrendered and the rest, including Blackbeard, fled.
Over a century later, American colonists loyal to Britain arrived in Eleuthera bringing their slaves as well as their building skills and agriculture and shipbuilding expertise. These greatly influenced Eleutheran life. In 1783, they solidified their independence and forced the retreat of the Spanish forces from the region without firing a shot.
CIVIL WAR AND PROHIBITION
From 1861 to 1865, The Islands of the Bahamas benefited greatly from the U.S. Civil War. Britain’s textile industry depended on Southern cotton; however, the Union blockaded British ships from reaching Southern ports, so blockade runners from Charleston met British ships on the islands where they traded cotton for British goods. Upon their return, they sold their shipment for huge profits. The end of the Civil War marked the end of the prosperity until 1919, when the United States passed the 18th amendment prohibiting alcohol. The colonial government expanded Prince George Wharf in Nassau to accommodate the flow of alcohol. When Prohibition ended in 1934 so did the enormous revenues. Combined with the collapse of the sponge harvesting industry, it economically devastated The Bahamas.
TOURISM AND INDEPENDENCE
The Hotel and Steam Ship Service Act of 1898 opened the doors to the world; the act provided the government support needed for the construction of hotels and subsidised steamship service. Since then, everything from Prohibition bringing well-off Americans to the closure of Cuba to Americans has impacted tourism in The Bahamas, and the tourism industry here continues to thrive. On July 10, 1973, The Bahamas became a free and sovereign country, ending 325 years of peaceful British rule. However, The Bahamas is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and we celebrate July 10th as Bahamian Independence Day.