The History of Grand Bahama Island
The lovely island of Grand Bahama, situated in the northern part of the Bahamas’ long chain of islands, is close to the United States. Less than 60 miles off the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida, it is home to Freeport, one of the largest and most popular towns in the Bahamas.
The history of Grand Bahama Island begins the Arawak tribes who once populated the area. They named the island Bahama, and in time, the word came to refer to the entire chain of nearly 30 islands and 700 cays. When the Spanish arrived in the early 15th century, the name evolved into Gran Bajamar, which meant “large shallows”.
Tales of piracy are prevalent in the history of Grand Bahama Island. Even after the British claimed the Bahamas in the 17th century, the islands were home to some of the world’s most feared pirates, including Henry Morgan and Blackbeard. Typically, pirates would chase ships into the shallow waters, where the vessels would wreck on the reefs, and made vulnerable to raids by scavengers.
British naval power finally brought piracy under control in the 18th century, and the island fell into a peaceful sleep for more than 100 years. Many former slaves from surrounding islands and some from the United States settled into small communities in West End, Pinder’s Point and Williams Town.
When the 14th Amendment banned the sale of alcohol in the United States, bars, distilleries and jobs in Grand Bahama flourished. Smugglers in the Bahamas once again made a fortune, brewing and distilling alcohol, and bringing their goods to American shores under cover of night. When Prohibition ended, smugglers hung up their gear and returned to fishing.
The Birth of Freeport and Bahamas Tourism
In 1955, Groves made a proposal to the Bahamian government: to build a town that caters specifically to business and tourism. The government agreed, and it laid the foundation for the town of Freeport. Groves took over 50,000 acres of land, and the government lifted all taxes until the year 1985 (which has since been extended to 2054). The enterprising Groves convinced his friends to build a harbor, an airport and shopping centers. By the early 1960s, Grand Bahama Island grew to be the second most populated island in the Bahamas.
Today, Grand Bahama Island is a paradise for tourists, and geared to meet every vacationer’s dream. Its exotic setting, relaxed attitude, and convenient location make it a great choice for those wanting a Caribbean getaway.