History of the Bahamas

It was the famous Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, in an expedition backed by the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, who first set foot on the Island of Guanahani–or San Salvador as it is know today–one of the 700 plus islands that make up the archipelago, known today as the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

The date was October 12th, 1492. The Spaniards named these islands the Bajar Mar, or shallow seas.

Columbus, in search of gold, spices and treasure, was searching for a new route to reach India–he had failed in his original quest, but had achieved something greater when he brought Western Civilization to the New World.

Unfortunately, for the Arawaks, he also brought with him a few of the bad ideas and bad people that plagued Western Civilization at the time, so that soon the original settlers of the islands–the Arawak Indians– would be taken as slaves and wiped out, soon to be replaced by Negroes taken from the shores of the massive continent of Africa.

Though the Arawaks did little for modern ideas we do credit them with adding a few popular words to our language such as ‘barbecue’, according to some scholars.

When Columbus discovered the islands, he found Lucayans and called them Indians. They were in fact related to the neo-Indian Arawaks in the larger Caribbean Islands, who had originally come from the South American mainland. Being peaceful they fled northwards away from the warlike Caribs. Historians speculate that they arrived in Bahamas between 500 AD, settling from Cuba and Hispaniola. The Lucayans, or Arawaks, being relatively primitive had no written language, but only a spoken one. Spanish slave traders later captured native Lucayan Indians to work in gold mines in Hispaniola, and within a quarter of a century the Lucayans were wiped out by enslavement, disease and other hardships.

During the next few centuries the Bahamas would pass under the rule of Spain, for a brief time America and finally lay under the law of England. In between this period of almost 500 years, would pass many world and civil wars, pirates such as the infamous Blackbeard, boot leggers and rum runners, and thanks to the discovery of the social principle of individual rights: the abolition of slavery.

In 1647, a group of English and Bermudian religious refugees, the Eleutheran Adventurers, founded the first permanent European settlement in The Bahamas and gave Eleuthera its name. Similar groups of settlers formed governments in The Bahamas until the islands became a British Crown Colony in 1717.

By the mid 1660’s the area was periodically besieged by pirates such as Edward Teach (also known as Blackbeard), Henry Morgan, and Calico Jack Rackham. For nearly half a century these pirates, also known as buccaneers, raided Spanish galleys and the Spaniard’s fury erupted in 1695 when they invaded and destroyed Charles Town on the island of New Providence. The city was quickly rebuilt and named Nassau. In 1718, King George I appointed Captain Woodes Rogers, a former pirate, as the first Royal Governor of The Bahamas. Rogers anti-piratical fervor inspired the motto Expulsis Piratis, Restitua Commercia (Latin for “Piracy Expelled, Commerce Restored”).

During the American Revolutionary War, Nassau capitulated to the Spaniards for the last time, as in 1783, The Bahamas was restored to Great Britain by treaty. Following the American Revolution, thousands of British Loyalists emigrated to The Bahamas, many bringing their black slaves with them. During the American Civil War, The Bahamas prospered as a center of Confederate blockade-running.

The Emancipation Act was designed to come into force on August 1, 1834, in order to bring freedom to the slaves. However, the slaves did not become fully free until August 1, 1838 after an apprenticeship period that served as a transition from slavery to freedom.

During the American prohibition, the islands served as a base for American rumrunners. During World War II, the Allies centered their flight training and antisubmarine operations for the The Bahamas. Since then, The Bahamas has developed into a major tourist and financial services center due to its excellent location, sub-tropical weather, silver white beaches, and primarily free-market oriented rule of law. Bahamians achieved self-government through a series of constitutional and political steps, attaining internal self-government in 1964.

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won control of the government in general elections in 1967. The PLP leader Lynden O. Pindling, then became Prime Minister and remained in this position until August 1992 when the Free National Movement won parliamentary elections and Hubert Ingraham became Prime Minister.

Though first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Bahamas did not become sovereign until July 10th, 1973, when it gained complete independence from Great Britain, under the leadership of the then Prime Minister Sir. Lynden Pindling.

Today, the Bahamas is a democracy, with open elections held every 5 years, with a Constitution based (for the most part) on the right of each man to life, liberty and property–honestly acquired.

Since the birth of the Bahamas as a sovereign in 1973, vast improvements have been made to the country by the governments of Mr. Pindling.

Unfortunately Mr. Pindling and many of the members in his government freely chose to use their legitimately acquired power for illegitimate purposes, and within roughly a decade his party was ousted and replaced by the FNM–led by Prime Minister Hubert Ingrahm.

Under the FNM, the borders of the Bahamas were further opened to foreign industry, talent and dollars–the life blood of the country, without which the Bahamas would soon reach the economic and moral level of its’ Caribbean neighbor Haiti.

In May 2002, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), led by veteran politician Perry Christie, was returned to office, replacing the Free National Movement (FNM), which had run the government for the past decade.

The cosmopolitan nature of the Bahamas as a meeting place of all cultures, people, and dollars, situated in tropical paradise, sets the seeds for the Bahamas as the center point for peace, prosperity, and happiness in our ever-changing world.

Timeline of Key Historical Events in the Bahamas

1492 Christopher Columbus discovers the Bahamas by landing on the Island called Guanahani (today called San Salvador).
1647The Company of Eleutheran Adventurers, founds the first republic in the New World, in order to colonize the Bahama Islands and claim them for Great Britain. They took over an island the Arawaks called Cigatoo, renaming it Eleuthera, after the Greek word for freedom.
1670Six Lord Proprietors of South Carolina were granted the Bahama Islands by King Charles II of England.
1695The Lord Proprietors authorized construction of a fort/ city on the island of New Providence. The city, called Charles Town in honor of King Charles II, was renamed Nassau, in honor of King William III.
1717Captain Woods Rogers was named first Royal Governor of the Bahama Islands and restored order by ending the rule of pirates.
1729The Bahamas House of Assembly officially convenes.
1741Construction of Fort Montagu begins at the eastern entrance to Nassau Harbor. Completed in 1742, it stands today as a tourist site.
1776During the American War for Independence from Great Britain, eight colonial warships captured Fort Montague and Fort Nassau.
1782Spaniards takeover the Bahamas, in response to repeated pirate raids on their ships.
1783The Bahamas is restored to Great Britain by treaty with Spain.
1783The immigration of American Loyalists begins as they bring slaves to set up a plantation economy.
1789Completion of the main portion of Fort Charlotte overlooking the western entrance to Nassau Harbor.
1793Fort Fincastle was built at New Providence Island’s highest point.
1838Slavery is abolished in the Bahamas. Wrecking, controlled by licenses, flourished until lighthouses are built on the major islands.
1861-1865The American Civil War brought great wealth to Nassau, a major supply base for the Confederacy (which was fighting for slavery!).
1892The first telegraph underwater cable is laid from Florida to Nassau.
1914John Ernest Williamson shoots the first underwater motion picture in the Bahamas.
1920The American prohibition of liquor brings an economic boom to the Bahamian economy, where liquor was legal and plentiful.
1930sFamous writers come to live and work in the Bahamas, such as Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.
1950sNassau becomes a hot spot for the jet-set rich and famous.
1953In 1953, Bahamians dissatisfied with UBP rule formed the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
1955Signing of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, which paved the way to establishment of Freeport/Lucaya.
1962Bahamian women are permitted to vote.
1964The Bahamas gains internal self-rule as Sir Roland Symonette is named Premier.
1967The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) wins the majority of House of Assembly seats as Lynden O. Pindling became the new Premier.
1969The Bahamian Constitution is revised. The Colony of the Bahama Islands became the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and the Premier becomes the Prime Minister.
1973The Bahama Islands gain independence from Great Britain, and became a sovereign nation on July 10, ending 325 years of British rule.
1983Lynden O. Pindling is knighted by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II , Bahamas head of state.
1990The $300-million Crystal Palace Resort and Casino, Cable Beach opens.
1992The Free National Movement (FNM) was voted in as the new government August 19, ending the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP)’s 25-year rule. The Hubert A. Ingraham became Prime Minister.
Bahamian Frank Rutherford wins a bronze medal at the Olympics for the triple jump.
The Bahamas celebrates the 500th anniversary of the landing of Christopher Columbus at San Salvador.
1993The Bahamas celebrates 20 years of independence from Great Britain
1995Sun Intl. Hotels Ltd., of South Africa, opens the Atlantis-Paradise Island resort and casino, featuring the world’s largest outdoor aquarium.
1996Huchinson Whampoa plans to develop Freeport Harbor into a major world transshipment hub with development of the multi-million dollar container port.
At the Olympics held in Atlanta, The Bahamas track and field team wins the silver medal in the women’s 4×100 meter relay.
The Bahamas has their best tourism year to date with 1.6 million stopover visitors.
1998 According to Caribbean Travel Organization and the Ministry of Tourism, The Islands Of The Bahamas is recognized as “The Most Popular Destination Among All Caribbean Islands.”
2000At the Olympics held in Sydney, The Bahamas women’s track and field team wins the gold medal in the women’s 4×100 meter relay!
2002Bahamian tennis player Mark Knowles along with Daniel Nestor (Canadian) won the Men’s Doubles Championship at the 2002 Australian Open 36.
In May 2002, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), led by veteran politician Perry Christie, was returned to office, replacing the Free National Movement (FNM), which had run the government for the past decade.