Jackson Burnside. Plantation Daze, 2008.
Jackson Burnside. Plantation Daze, 2008. [Click to enlarge]
The Bahamas has a rich and wondrous history populated by story book characters from indigenous tribes to explorers and pirates. The original inhabitants of The Bahamas were likely Siboney Indians who depended on conch and fishing for their survival about 7,000 years ago. Sometime after the Siboneys went into decline the Arawak Indians, also called Lucayans, migrated to the islands from the Amazon region of South America. They prospered in their new home, developed advanced social and political structures and lived in well-organized communities. The Lucayan population had grown to about 40,000 individuals by the time Christopher Columbus famously arrived on the scene in 1492 and it wasn’t long before they were wiped out by the Spanish. As a result, little is known about them.

Columbus’ voyage of discovery took his small fleet through the narrow Crooked Island Passage down the leeward side of the islands. This eventually became a popular shipping thoroughfare for Spanish conquistadors returning their galleons to Europe, laden with plunder from South and Central America. Pirates and buccaneers soon discovered the shallow waters and numerous sandbars were an ideal setting for attacking unwary ships and an extended period of lawlessness followed. By 1700 Nassau was being ruled by pirates including Edward Teach, the infamous Blackbeard.

The Bahamas became a British Crown Colony in 1718 when former privateer Woodes Rogers was appointed Royal Governor of Nassau. He offered pardons to all but the most notorious swashbucklers and a new period of peaceful pioneering began. Following the American War of Independence, thousands of pro-British loyalists and enslaved Africans moved to The Bahamas and set up cotton plantations. By the beginning of the 19th century more than 40 plantations were operating using a labour force of more than 1,200 slaves. The slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1807 and many Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy were settled in The Bahamas during the 19th century. The descendants of these people make up the bulk of The Bahamas’ population today.

During the American Civil War smugglers operating out The Bahamas made their fortunes shipping goods such as cotton, sugar, and weapons to the Confederate States.  A second smuggling boom occurred during the 1920’s Prohibition era, delivering bootlegged liquor to thirsty Americans. In 1964, Great Britain granted The Bahamas internal autonomy and the islands of The Bahamas achieved independence from Great Britain on July 10, 1973, The Queen remains the Head of State and is represented by the Governor General. The Prime Minister heads the Government, and Parliament comprises an upper house, the Senate, with appointed members and a lower House of Assembly with elected members.