In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Western Hemisphere in The Bahamas.
The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "Historically the islands are of interest, because one of them San Salvador was the first land of the New World discovered by Columbus, 12 October, 1492. The Spanish never made a permanent settlement in the Bahamas, but shortly after the discovery they carried off many aborigines to the mines of San Domingo, and ere long the whole population, never
perhaps very large, seems to have disappeared. The statement made in some of the recent guide books, that 40,000 souls were supposed to have been carried to the mines of Hispaniola by the Spaniards, is evidently overdrawn. Had the Bahamas ever been so thickly populated, there would remain the evidence of ruins of buildings or of soil cultivation. There are few if any fruit trees whose
introduction cannot be traced, and there are no food-animals on the islands. Whatever population there was, must, therefore, have subsisted on fish, corn, yams, and on a very few small wild fruits. There is nothing to warrant the supposition that the Bahamas ever had more than a very sparse aboriginal population. So little is known of the original inhabitants that they cannot be definitely
classified. They may have been of Carib stock or of the race that inhabited the adjoining mainland of Florida. The brief description which Columbus gives of them, and the formation of the few skulls discovered, seem to favour the theory that they were either one with the aborigines of Florida, or a mixture of the latter with the Caribs of the West Indies. The fact that they were very
mild-mannered, and not cannibalistic, favours the opinion that they were kin to the Seminoles of Florida. Excepting a few skulls, stone idols, and implements, a few of which are to be seen in the public library at Nassau, there are no aboriginal remains, and there are no ruins of any description, a fact which points to a North American, rather than to a West Indian, or Central American,
Spanish slave traders later captured native Lucayan Indians to work in gold mines in Hispaniola, and within 25 years, all Lucayans perished. In 1647, a group of English and Bermudan religious refugees, the Eleutheran Adventurers, founded the first permanent European settlement in The Bahamas and gave Eleuthera Island its name. Similar groups of settlers formed governments in The Bahamas until
the islands became a British Crown Colony in 1717.
In 1578 Queen Elizabeth conferred upon Sir Gilbert Humphrey all lands not already occupied by some Christian power, and finding the Bahamas neglected, he annexed them; but no settlement was established. The enmity existing between England and Spain afforded adventurers, chiefly English and French, an excuse to make them a vantage ground from which to make depredations on Spanish shipping to
and from the New World, and the natural formation of the Bahamas furnished them an excellent hiding place. During the seventeenth century the islands were the rendezvous of the famous buccaneers. When, at the treaty of Riswick, in 1697, comparative peace was restored among the European nations, England withdrew her protection of the buccaneers, and some returned to more peaceful avocations (thus
Morgan, a chief among them, retired to Jamaica, and subsequently was appointed governor of that island), while many others raised the black flag of piracy against all nations, and made the Bahamas a by-word for lawlessness and crime. In 1718, England began the extermination of piracy, and soon established law and order. Since then England has been in almost undisturbed possession.
The first Royal Governor, a former pirate named Woodes Rogers, brought law and order to The Bahamas in 1718 when he expelled the buccaneers who had used the islands as hideouts. During the American Civil War, The Bahamas prospered as a center of Confederate blockade-running. After World War I, the islands served as a base for American rumrunners. During World War II, the Allies centered their
flight training and antisubmarine operations for the Caribbean in The Bahamas. Since then, The Bahamas has developed into a major tourist and financial services center.
Bahamians achieved self-government through a series of constitutional and political steps, attaining internal self-government in 1964 and full independence within the Commonwealth on July 10, 1973.
For decades, the white-dominated United Bahamian Party (UBP) ruled The Bahamas, then a dependency of the United Kingdom, while a group of influential white merchants, known as the "Bay Street Boys," dominated the local economy. In 1953, Bahamians dissatisfied with UBP rule formed the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). Under the leadership of Lynden Pindling, the PLP won control of the
government in 1967 and led The Bahamas to full independence in 1973.
A coalition of PLP dissidents and former UBP members formed the Free National Movement (FNM) in 1971. Former PLP cabinet minister and member of Parliament Hubert Ingraham became leader of the FNM in 1990, upon the death of Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield. Under the leadership of Ingraham, the FNM won control of the government from the PLP in the August 1992 general elections. The FNM won again in
March 1997. In the general elections held in May 2002 the FNM was turned out of power by the PLP, which won 29 of the 40 seats in the House of Assembly.
The Hawksbill Creek Agreement established a duty-free zone in Freeport, The Bahamas' second-largest city, with a nearby industrial park to encourage foreign industrial investment. The Hong Kong-based firm Hutchison Whampoa has opened a container port in Freeport. The Bahamian Parliament approved legislation in 1993 that extended most Freeport tax and duty exemptions through 2054.
A major contribution to the recent growth in the overall Bahamian economy is Sun International's Atlantis Resort and Casino, which took over the former Paradise Island Resort and has provided a much needed boost to the economy. In a 2003 agreement, the Kerzner Group agreed to a $600 million expansion of the Atlantis resort complex that is expected to add 3,000 new jobs and $4.4 billion to the
Bahamian economy in the coming years. In addition, the Bahamian Government sold offshore exploration licenses to Kerr-McGee Group to search for oil. The Bahamian Government also has adopted a proactive approach to courting foreign investors and has conducted major investment missions to the Far East, Europe, Latin America, and Canada. The primary purpose of the trips was to restore the reputation
of The Bahamas in these markets.
Bahamas History Bibliography