History of the Bahamas

The Bahamas has a history that’s as vivid and colorful as its famed sunsets. First to arrive here were the Lucayans, a peaceful branch of the Arawak-speaking Taíno people, who travelled to the islands from South America in the period from 500-800 AD.

By the time Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Guanahani (San Salvador) in 1492, there was already a population of around 40,000 Lucayans – one that was decimated within decades due to enslavement, disease and other depredations. After that the islands remained unpopulated for over a century and are scarcely mentioned in history books until 1648. This was when Capt. William Sayle and a group of English Puritans and other religious Independents sailed from Bermuda with the intention of founding a new colony. They settled on what is now Eleuthera Island, but had a difficult time sustaining their new settlement and most eventually sailed back to Bermuda.

The settlers that stayed – particularly those on New Providence Island –turned to wrecking and salvaging, something which angered the Spanish whose ships they were targeting. The Spanish burned the settlements, but new colonists arrived soon after and it was not long before the islands cemented their reputation for being a haunt of pirates, privateers and all other types of seafaring bandits.

The English restored order in the early 18th century and drove pirates like the infamous Blackbeard away. Decades later during the American Revolution, Loyalists settled here and during the American Civil War in the 19th century the islands prospered due to blockade running. When the US enacted Prohibition in the early 20th century, the islands profited from that as well and it was also roughly in this same period that the seeds of the country’s future main industry – tourism – would be sown.

The Bahamas gained independence from over three centuries of British rule on July 10, 1973 and elected to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.