Bahamas: History

29 islands against a backdrop of blue

Bahamas History

The Taino people originally settled the Bahamas via Cuba and Hispanola during pre Columbian times, around the 7th century A.D.. The islands’ inhabitants became known as the Lucayans and numbered around 30,000 when Columbus famously arrived in 1492. It is generally accepted that Christopher Columbus’ first touched land in the New World on San Salvador Island in the southeastern Bahamas, where he met and traded with the Lucayans. This contact resulted in the depopulation of the native population at the hands of Spanish slavers and through exposure to small pox. Following this the islands are not believed to have been populated until the mid 1600s, though there is some evidence to the contrary. British religious pilgrims settled what is now called the island of Eleuthera in 1648, but their colony was not successful. King Charles II of England granted proprietary rule of the Bahamas to the governors of the Carolina colonies and the islands subsequently became a haven for pirates, such as the notorious Blackbeard. Piracy was finally subdued after the islands were made an official British colony in 1718. The Bahamas were a site of naval battles during the American Revolutionary War and also a destination for British loyalists, who fled there with their slaves after Britain’s defeat and established plantations. The slave trade was stopped by the British in 1807 and the practice of slavery abolished in the British Empire in the year 1834. One result of this was the forced settlement in the Bahamas of Africans who were liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy. Political self determination on the islands began in the 1950s and the Bahamas achieved domestic self governance in 1964. In 1967, Lynden Pindling became the first black premier (later prime minister) of the Bahamas and in 1973 the nation attained full independence, but remained in the Commonwealth of Nations. Tourism and off shore banking have fueled the country’s significant and consistent economic growth since the 1950s.