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, origin."
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
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
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