History

The original inhabitants of the Bahamas were a tribe of Arawaks, the peaceful Lucayans, who arrived near the turn of the 9th century. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, and shortly thereafter the Spanish began shipping out the Lucayans as slaves.

Infamous pirates such as Blackbeard and Calico Jack took over New Providence in the 1600s, establishing a pirates’ paradise lined with brothels and taverns for ‘common cheats, thieves and lewd persons.’ With the aid of Woodes Rogers, the Bahamas’ first Royal Governor and a former privateer, the British finally established order, and an administration answerable to the English Crown, in 1718. The Bahamas’ new motto was Expulsis Piratis – Restituta Commercia (Pirates Expelled – Commerce Restored).

Following the American Revolution, Loyalist refugees – many quite rich or entrepreneurial – began arriving, giving new vigor to the city. These wealthy landowners lived well and kept slaves until the British Empire abolished the slave trade. During the American Civil War the islands were an exchange center for blockade runners transferring munitions and supplies for Southern cotton.

While Nassauvians illicitly supplied liquor to the US during Prohibition, Yankees flocked to Nassau and its new casinos. When Fidel Castro spun Cuba into Soviet orbit in 1961, the subsequent US embargo forced revelers to seek their pleasures elsewhere; Nassau became the new hot spot.

Tourism and finance bloomed together. The government promoted the nascent banking industry, encouraging British investors escaping onerous taxes.

This upturn in fortunes coincided with the evolution of party politics and festering ethnic tensions, as the white elite and a growing black middle class reaped profits from the boom. Middle-class blacks’ aspirations for representation coalesced with the pent-up frustrations of their impoverished brothers, leading to the victory of the black-led Progressive Liberal party and leader Sir Lynden Pindling in 1967. On July 10, 1973, the Bahamas officially became a new nation – the Independent Commonwealth of the Bahamas – ending 325 years of British rule.

Devastating hurricanes ravaged various islands between 1999 and 2016, wreaking havoc on tourism. Despite these storms, the tourism juggernaut continues and massive resorts on New Providence, Grand Bahama and several Out Islands are chugging toward completion.