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History of Bahamas
 
 
 

Early History

Taino people moved into the uninhabited southern Bahamas from Hispaniola and Cuba around the 7th century AD. These people came to be known as the Lucayans. There were an estimated 30,000 Lucayans at the time of Columbus's arrival in 1492. Christopher Columbus's first landfall in the New World was on an island named San Salvador (known to the Lucayans as “Guanahani”), which is generally accepted to be present-day San Salvador Island, (also known as Watling's Island) in the southeastern Bahamas.

An alternative theory is that Columbus landed to the southeast on Samana Cay, according to calculations made in 1986 by National Geographic writer and editor Joseph Judge based on Columbus's log. This theory remains inconclusive. On the landfall island, Columbus made first contact with the Lucayans and exchanged goods with them.

The Spaniards who followed Columbus depopulated the islands, carrying most of the indigenous people off into slavery. The Lucayans throughout the Bahamas were wiped out by exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity. The smallpox that ravaged the Taino indians after Columbus's arrival wiped out half of the population in what is now the Bahamas.

It is generally assumed that the islands were uninhabited until the mid-17th century. However, recent research suggests that there may have been attempts to settle the islands by groups from Spain, France and Britain, as well as by other Amerindians. In 1648, the Eleutherian Adventurers migrated from Bermuda. These English Puritans established the first permanent European settlement on an island which they named “Eleuthera” – the name derives from the Greek word for freedom. They later settled New Providence, naming it Sayle's Island after one of their leaders. To survive, the settlers resorted to salvaged goods from wrecks.

In 1670 King Charles II granted the islands to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas, who rented the islands from the king with rights of trading, tax, appointing governors, and administering the country.

18th & 19th Century

During proprietary rule, the Bahamas became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard. To restore orderly government, the Bahamas were made a British crown colony in 1718 under the royal governorship of Woodes Rogers, who, after a difficult struggle, succeeded in suppressing piracy.[8] In 1720 he led local militia to drive off a Spanish attack.

During the American War of Independence, the islands were a target for American naval forces under the command of Commodore Ezekial Hopkins. The capital of Nassau on the island of New Providence was occupied by US Marines for a fortnight.

In 1782, after the British defeat at Yorktown, a Spanish fleet appeared off the coast of Nassau, which surrendered without a fight. It was recaptured by American Loyalists the following year and the Peace of Paris which ended the global conflict recognised British sovereignty.

After American independence, some 7,300 loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. These Americans established plantations on several islands and became a political force in the capital. The small population became mostly African from this point on.

The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, which led to the forced settlement on Bahamian islands of thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy. Slavery itself was finally abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1834.

Early 20th Century

During Prohibition after World War I, the islands were a base for American rum-runners,smuggling liquor into the US. After emancipation Caribbean societies inherited a rigid racial stratification that was reinforced by the unequal distribution of wealth and power. The three-tier race structure, which existed well into the 1940s and in some societies beyond, upheld the belief of European racial superiority, although most West Indians are of African descent. Race and racial attitudes remain important in mixed Caribbean societies.


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