From the discovery of the “new world” by Christopher Columbus to the Golden Age of Piracy, to a place of refuge for Loyalists from the American War of Independence — to Prohibition, and, as the bustling hub of finance and tourism that The Bahamas is today, the country embodies the spirit of a nation of “survival at any cost”!
The islands of The Bahamas have been inhabited at one time or another for over 1,000 years! From around 900—1500 AD the Lucayan people, who were a branch of the Tainos settled here. They were a passive people who had developed viable political, social and religious systems. Unfortunately, like in many other parts of the “undiscovered” world, Europeans brought disease and slavery to the nation of about 40,000 and within 25 years had completely wiped out the entire Lucayan population of The Bahamas.
Approximately 150 years later, English Puritans known as the "Eleutheran Adventurers" arrived here in 1649. Wrecked on the “Devils Backbone” they were forced to live in a cave at the northern end of Eleuthera, known now as “Preachers Cave”, until their leader and former governor of Bermuda, Captain William Sayles sailed to the American colonies in search of assistance. The Massachusetts Bay Colony provided him with sufficient supplies to help the residents establish settlements and begin their new lives. Part of the group established a settlement at Governors Harbour and the remainder went to Spanish Wells and Harbour Island. Grateful for the assistance they received, the settlers shipped Brasiletto wood to the New England colony - used for the construction of Harvard College, a part of the now famous Harvard University.
During this time and into the early 1700s, was the age of Piracy. Enter such illustrious characters as Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The sheltered harbours and proximity to the shipping lanes made it a perfect location for these high seas bandits! They had the run of the seas as well as locally in Nassau, where Blackbeard even served as governor of the Pirate Republic for a short time!
The King of England, fed up with the lawlessness of The Bahamas, appointed Woodes Rogers to serve as the Royal Governor. His job was to restore order, and he did. He offered amnesty to some 300 pirates, who surrendered - however, those who resisted were hanged. The remainder, including Blackbeard, fled.
More than a century later, American colonists loyal to Britain arrived in The Bahamas, settling in the Abacos, Eleuthera, New Providence, Cat Island and several other islands. Many brought their slaves as well as their building skills and agriculture and shipbuilding expertise. These greatly influenced Bahamian life and are still evident today in the older colonial homes found in places like Elbow Cay, Cupids Cay and Harbour Island.
From 1861 to1865, 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 here and traded cotton for British goods. Upon their return, they sold their shipment for huge profits.
In 1919, the United States passed the 18th amendment prohibiting alcohol. To accommodate the increase in trade, the colonial government expanded Prince George Wharf in Nassau, however, when Prohibition ended in 1934 so did the revenues. Combined with the collapse of the sponge harvesting industry, this marked the end of prosperity and resulted in economic devastation.
The Hotel and Steam Ship Service Act of 1898 was a boon for The Bahamas and so began the tourism industry that the country relies so heavily upon today.
Unfortunately, the turbulent times the country has experienced over the centuries, seems doomed to repeat it self. The 1980s are probably most notable for the wealth enjoyed by many as a result of the trade in illegal drugs. The aftermath of this industry is still being felt strongly in places like Nassau and some of the Family Islands, where the promise of “easy money” is a lure for less than scrupulous characters. Coupled with the constant influx of illegal immigrants from places like Haiti, the country struggles with crime and corruption and the lack of enough resources to support the expanding population.