British Empire > Bahamas

Bahamas

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

The Bahamas is a British Empire controlled territory that was infamous as being the site of one of the most notorious pirate havens known as Nassau. The territory was ideal for piracy because the massive warships of the imperial powers could not easily navigate the shallow islands and inlets of the Bahamas where the pirates found protection and security. The location was also prime to prey on the major Spanish shipping lanes which traveled along the coast of La Florida in order to enter the rest of the Spanish Main.

The pirate haven of Nassau was the home of the Flying Gang.

Bahamas - Bahamas Engraving (Allain Mallet - 1686)

Bahamas Engraving - Allain M. Mallet (1686)

European Contact

The Bahamas was first spotted for the European by Christopher Columbus in 1492 when he made landfall at the island he called San Salvador, also called Watling's Island. Others dispute this but regardless it is known that he went ashore at the Bahamas and encountered the local Taino or Lucayan people. They had been on the archipelago since the 1100's CE and had moved there from the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola.

When Columbus arrived there were about 30,000 Taino that lived in the Bahamas and Columbus began by exchanging trade goods with them. However, the Spanish soon subjugated the local natives and turned them into slaves to work their fledgling plantations throughout the 16th century. Most of the natives died from horrible working conditions and unknown European diseases with half of the native Taino dying from smallpox alone. Due to this the Bahamas were severely depopulated and the land was sparsely populated until the 17th and 18th centuries.

Buccaneering Era

The first attempt to settle the islands of the Bahamas was the British group known as the Eleutherian Adventurers led by a William Sayle from the island of Bermuda. This group of Puritans built the first European settlement on the island of Eleuthera and later settled on the island of New Providence. They named it Sayle's Island and salvaged nearby shipwrecks in order to build the settlement.

In 1670 King Charles II gave the Bahamas territory to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas. They established an independent government on the islands and secured exclusive trading rights and ability to appoint governors and other royal authority. The settlement on New Providence named Charles Town was sacked by the Spanish privateer Juan de Alcon in 1684 and the island was occupied by both the French and Spanish during the War of the Spanish Succession.

Post Spanish Succession Period

Nassau - Nassau Map (18th Century)

Nassau Map (18th Century)

Post Golden Age

During proprietary rule, the Bahamas became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard (c.1680-1718). To put an end to the 'Pirates' republic' and restore orderly government, Britain made the Bahamas a crown colony in 1718 under the royal governorship of Woodes Rogers. After a difficult struggle, he succeeded in suppressing piracy.[17] In 1720, Rogers led local militia to drive off a Spanish attack. During the American War of Independence in the late 18th century, the islands became a target for American naval forces under the command of Commodore Esek Hopkins. US Marines occupied the capital of Nassau for a fortnight. In 1782, following the British defeat at Yorktown, a Spanish fleet appeared off the coast of Nassau. The city surrendered without a fight. Spain returned possession of the Bahamas to Britain the following year, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Before the news was received, however, the islands were recaptured by a small British force led by Andrew Deveaux.

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