The History of the Bahamas
It is believed that the islands of the Bahamas became occupied as early
as the 9th century AD by people from South America who called themselves
“Lukku-cairi.” These indigenous people have also been referred
to as “Arawaks,” “Lucayans,” and even “Indians,”
since Columbus initially thought that the islands were part of the East
Indies. The long history of the Bahamas unfolds like a multi-colored quilt;
each patch has its story.
Explorer Christopher Columbus discovered the beautiful Bahamian islands
during his voyage to the New World in 1492. It was not until 1647, however,
that the first European settlement was established by refugees from England
and Bermuda who were in pursuit of religious freedom. These early settlers,
who called themselves “The Company of Adventurers for the Plantation
of the Islands of Eleutheria,” founded their colony and initiated
agriculture on the islands. In 1717, the history of the Bahamas was altered
as the territory became a British Crown Colony.
Pirates of the Caribbean
During the almost century-long pirate heyday between the 17th and 18th
centuries, the islands of the Bahamas became hideouts for famous buccaneers
such as Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd, and Sir Frances Drake
among others. During this “Golden Age of Piracy,” as it came
to be known, these unscrupulous characters ‘made a killing’
plundering ships along the popular shipping routes until Woodes Rogers
(a former pirate himself) drove them out in 1718, finally bringing some
sense of order to the land.
The Slaves Arrive
When the American Revolution began, the history of the Bahamas took another
turn. Those who supported Great Britain during the Revolution traveled
from Virginia to the Bahamas seeking refuge. In addition to the agricultural
and architectural know-how they brought to the islands, many of them also
brought slaves, who are the ancestors of the predominately African population
living in the Bahamas today, in areas such as Grant’s Town, Carmichael,
the Exumas, San Salvador, and Long Island. Although the slaves were emancipated
in 1834, they were unprepared for prosperity, and unfortunately became
among the most impoverished people on the islands.
A Conduit for Contraband
Due to its location, the Bahamas has an infamous history of being a go-between
for the trafficking of illegal substances as well as other unsavory activities.
For example, during the American Civil War, many confederates would escape
blockades by transporting cotton and military gear through the Bahamas.
In addition, alcohol was often smuggled through the islands to the United
States during the Prohibition days. Even today, the islands act as a conduit
for the shipment of illegal drugs to America and as a means of sneaking
illegal immigrants into the country.
The Bahamian people were given the right to self-governance in 1964 (largely
due to women and non-property owners being granted the right to vote).
It became an official commonwealth in 1969, changing the history of the
Bahamas forever. However, it would be four years later, on July 10, 1973,
that they gained full independence from the United Kingdom.
The Bahamas currently holds its own membership in the Commonwealth of
Nations, and its economy is now based primarily on tourism and financial
services. The tourism industry boomed during the 1950s when Cuba was no
longer accessible for U.S. travelers, and it has remained strong ever
since. Due to its beautiful natural landscape, pristine waters, and cultural
appeal, millions of people visit the islands each year for family vacations
and romantic couple getaways. Today, more and more locals are becoming
entrepreneurs and profiting from the island’s seasonal tourists.