The History of the Bahamas

The Commonwealth of the Bahamas consists of 29 islands off the coasts of the Florida panhandle and the island of Cuba, in the Atlantic Ocean. As a commonwealth nation, the Bahamas has Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, a Governor-General as her representative in the country and a Prime Minister as head of the government.

The history of the Bahamas begins around the 11th century AD with the arrival of indigenous peoples (the Taino, who eventually became known as the Lucayans) from Cuba to the group of islands. When Christoper Columbus arrived in 1492, he discovered a population of over 30,000 Lucayans on the island of San Salvador alone. As the Spanish followed the travels of Columbus around all the islands, they depopulated them by sending the native peoples off into slavery. By the middle of the 17th century the Bahamas were completely uninhabited.

In 1648 the a group of English Puritan settlers moved from Bermuda to a few select islands of the Bahamas. They called themselves the Eleutherian Adventurers, and established the first European settlement calling it Eleuthera – Greek for freedom. Unfortunately 22 years later, King Charles II granted the islands to the Lord Proprietors of the Carolinas at the time, allowing them to own rights to trading, collect taxes and take on administrative control of the people. The Puritans were not pleased with this development, but could do little as their doctrine disallowed conflict. Ultimately it wouldn’t matter, as the Spanish invaded the Bahamas in 1684, badly crippling the capitol city of Charles Town. In 1703 came another Spanish attempt at occupation as part of the War of Spanish Succession. The occupation did not last long, largely due the failure of the Spanish alliance with France.

When King Charles II put the Bahamas under proprietary rule, he did not count on the influx of pirate activity. In fact it became so out of hand, the islands were made a British crown colony in 1718 and an orderly government was restored. It took two years of bloody struggle, but the royal governorship was able to suppress piracy in the Bahamas. After driving off another Spanish attack, the islands remained safe from invasion and violence. That is until the American War of Independence began in 1775. There were a few attempts at occupation by the Americans, and Nassau was captured by the US Marines for a short while before being ousted. But the city was crippled and defeated, to the point of not even being able to put up a fight when the Spanish arrived once again in 1782.

The slave trade had already been well established in the region of the Bahamas by this time, but when the Americans gained their independence thousands of British loyalists fled from the new America down to the Bahamas. Mostly those of the upper classes, they brought with them their African slaves and established plantations. From this point on the population of all the Bahamian islands was largely African. With the abolition of the slave trade, and finally slavery itself, thousands of slaves were forced to settle and fend for themselves, being left instantly impoverished with no means of income.

By 1950 political parties began to form, but it was not until 1964 that England made the Bahamas internally self-governing. The first black premier (the title was later changed to prime minister) was elected in 1968, and in 1973 the Bahamas gained full independence.

Now the tropical islands are a vivacious tourist destination for travelers from around the globe. Music, boating, and fishing are popular past time activities in the Bahamas, for visitors and local residents. Regattas are important social events in even the smallest island settlements, and include a few days of sailing old fashioned boats, and a colorful festival onshore. There is no doubt the history of the Bahamas is conflicted and violent, but if we can celebrate the good with the bad then we will truly appreciate the diversity of the Bahamian culture and people.

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