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Exploring the History of Eleuthera Island

Just east of Nassau, Eleuthera Island sits peacefully between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. This narrow, 110 mile-long stretch of land boasts a warm pleasant climate and spectacular beaches. Its interesting past features European explorers, the New World’s first republic, and even an early visit by Christopher Columbus. The history of Eleuthera Island inspires, entertains and intrigues travelers from all corners of the world.

History of Eleuthera IslandOriginal Settlers
Arawaks populated the island prior to 1550, as recent excavation work has uncovered native remains that speak of a settlement established well before the Europeans arrived.  Legend has it that the famous explorer Christopher Columbus visited the island before heading to the West Indies. If the stories are true, he would have undoubtedly met a tribe of Awaraks living in the north end of the main island.

The Eleutherian Adventurers
Puritan pilgrims from Europe named the Eleutherian Adventurers arrived in the islands of the Bahamas in 1648. They settled on this particular piece of land, renaming it Eleuthera after the Greek word for “free.” The island’s original native name was Cigatoo.

Preacher’s Cave, a spot on the northern part, features prominently in the history of Eleuthera Island. After exploring the other island’s regions, it was here that the Adventurers first sought shelter, perhaps near or even on top of the native Arawak settlement. Eventually, the group established themselves near Governor’s Harbour and Cupid’s Cay, the site of their initial landing.

The Adventurers received support from American Puritans, most likely those that had chosen Massachusetts for their home. As a gift of gratitude, the Eleutherian Adventurers sent braziletto wood, which was considered highly valuable at the time, to Harvard University.  They drew up a constitution that still hangs proudly in Nassau’s Parliament Buildings; it established the first republic in the New World. Decades before the Revolutionary War and American Independence, this small colony of Europeans founded a government that carved out the very identity of the New World.

History of the Offshore Spots
Harbour Island, just offshore, remains a major settlement of Eleuthera Island today. It was once regarded as the summer Bahamian hot spot, second only in population and importance to Nassau. Today, the beautiful architecture of 18th century homes built in the New England style can still be admired along the sandy beaches.

On the other side of the main island, north of Harbour Island, lies Spanish Wells. Crawfishing became well established in this area, and a local museum boasts of the seafaring existence of many resident families of the past.

Windermere Island is famous as a home for the rich and powerful. Rumor has it that no one can access the precious island on the eastern side of Eleuthera without an invitation or appointment. The Prince and Princess of Wales visited Windermere back in the early 1980’s, and it’s highly likely that other celebrities have toured the small island since then.

Nature Leaves Its Mark
The history of Eleuthera Island includes its magnificent landscape. Many say that the gigantic rocks lining the beaches, as well as the majestic cliffs, are a result of tsunamis that occurred thousands of years ago.  As residents and visitors appreciate the serene beauty and unspoiled landscape of this island, nature continues to shape it. But the people remain as wonderful and colorful as ever – and unchanged.


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