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About the Bahamas

Bahamas

Bahamas

The Bahamas (a chain of over 700 islands, cays and islets off the coasts of Florida and Cuba), was first discovered by Christopher Columbus during his first trip to the Americas in 1492. Even though the Spanish were the ones who came up with the name of these islands (from the Spanish phrase “Baja Mar” – shallow sea), they never actually settled there – preferring the larger islands nearby, like Cuba, and Dominican Republic.

The first European settlements didn’t occur until 1648 – when English colonists from Bermuda made their way to the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. From the late 1600s to early 1700s, many privateers and pirates came to the Bahamas, the most famous ones being Blackbeard and Calico Jack. There were also female pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read disguised as men.

The Bahamas’ shallow waters and 700 islands made great hiding places for treasure. And its close proximity to well-traveled shipping lanes made for the perfect spot to steal from merchant ships. There are rumors of hidden treasure that still exist today. It is believed that British pirate William Catt buried loot on Cat Island and Sir Henry Morgan, a wealthy privateer, buried treasure throughout the Bahamas.

Established around 1670 as a commercial port, Nassau was overrun by lawless, seafaring men. Years later, Nassau was destroyed twice—once by Spanish troops, the other time by French and Spanish navies.

Soon after, pirates began looting the heavily laden cargo ships. By 1718, the King of England officially made the Bahamas a Crown colony, and appointed Woodes Rogers to serve as the Royal Governor. His job was to restore order. And he did. He offered amnesty to those who surrendered. Those who resisted would be hanged. 300 pirates surrendered and the rest, including Blackbeard, fled.

The Bahamas also received a wave of immigrants from nearby USA just after the American Revolution (consisting of American Loyalists from New York, Florida and the Carolinas, accompanied by their slaves) – who set up a local plantation economy.

With the British abolishing the international slave trade in 1807, the Royal Navy (which since intercepted various illegal slave vessels), resettled those Africans liberated from these ships in the Bahamas. Escaped slaves from nearby Florida (as well as Black Seminoles) also settled in the Bahamas (mainly on Andros island) – helping form the islands’ majority black population.

 

From 1861 to 1865, the Bahamas benefited greatly from the U.S. Civil War. Britain’s textile industry depended on Southern cotton; however, the Union blockaded British ships from reaching Southern ports. So blockade runners from Charleston met British ships here and traded cotton for British goods. Upon their return, they sold their shipment for huge profits. The end of the Civil War marked the end of prosperity. In 1919, the United States passed the 14th amendment prohibiting alcohol. The colonial government expanded Prince George Wharf in Nassau to accommodate the flow of alcohol. When Prohibition ended in 1934 so did the enormous revenues. Combined with the collapse of the sponge harvesting industry, it economically devastated The Bahamas.

By the 1950s, the Bahamas started building an economy based on tourism and offshore finance (becoming fully independent in 1973, and part of the British Commonwealth afterwards). Nowadays, over 60% of the Bahamas’ GDP is tourism (generating over half the jobs for the country’s workforce), while offshore finance takes up another 15% of GDP. The Bahamas (whose current population is just over 300,000) identifies culturally with the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean, and receives over 4 million visitors a year (mainly from USA, Canada, UK and elsewhere)