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History of the Bahamas

The Bahamas was most likely uninhabited until about 500 AD when the Arawak (or Arawakan), specifically the Lucayan people arrived from the south. These people slowly inhabited the islands of modern day Bahamas, not fully completing this task until about 1500.

Christopher Columbus's probable first stop in the "New World" was on the Bahamian island of San Salvador (or Guanahani), which he landed on October 12, 1492. The Spanish saw little gain from the islands as many are dry and there are few natural resources present. There were some forests, but they were later quickly removed for lumber. What the Spanish did find of use on the islands were the people, who they slowly deported to other Spanish colonies over the next quarter century, finally removing all remaining people in 1520 to Hispaniola, although this was only 11 people as the rest had already been removed for slave labor.

Oddly, from 1520 until about 1650 the islands were completely abandoned of people, although the Spanish maintained their claim on the islands. In the mid-1600s settlers from Bermuda arrived to the Bahamas to gain freedom and also help depopulate the overcrowded island. The Spanish contested their arrival and most left or found no sustainable income, however other Bermudan settlers arrived to New Providence and this area thrived (in relative terms) as there were nearly 500 people living here by 1670. Although the land couldn't support much agriculture, the seas were full of life. Oddly, seeking out shipwrecks was another lucrative business as the islands were regularly passed by on the Europe-Caribbean route and shipwrecks were common.

Seeking out ship wrecks, primarily Spanish ship wrecks led to conflict between the inhabitants and the Spanish, leading to the growth of pirates in the region and conflicts between the Bahamas-supported pirates and Spanish. Eventually the Spanish won these battles and burned the two settlements on the island (New Providence and Eleuthera) in 1684.

In 1686 the islands were again settled by people of the English crown, this time from Jamaica. Shortly after their arrival, the pirates (also known as privateers in times of war) made the islands home, partially by bribing government leadership on the islands. By 1700 the city of Nassau was a pirate haven, but the French and Spanish eventually defeated these pirates and the city of Nassau in 1706. This led to the abandonment of the local government, and hence the further growth of pirates in Nassau and the island chain as a whole. Nassau became home to more pirates than settlers and was home to such famous pirates as Blackbeard (Edward Teach) and others.

The outlaw ways in the islands, also known as the "Pirates' Republic," came to an end in 1718 when the British government send warships to the islands and created a government on the islands. The British offered all pirates a pardon who surrendered themselves; some did so immediately, while others stood up to fight the British government or fled the region.

During the America Revolutionary War in the late 1700s the Spanish took the Bahamas, but at the war's end the British re-took the islands and allowed American loyalists to settle the island chain. This quickly escalated the population on the islands and today most of the residents are descendants of these people or, a larger population is descendants of their slaves.

Since the liberation of slaves in all British colonies, which occurred in the early 1800s the Bahamas have been tied closely to both the United States and the United Kingdom. The islands became a trading intermediary for the United States and during World War II they became home to the Allies Flight Training Centers in the Bahamas. More recently the islands have become a tourist destination, particularly after 1957 when the airport in Nassau was opened.

The growing tourism industry helped give the Bahamas the economic support to become independent from the United Kingdom. In 1964 they gained independence and have since focused on the tourism industry, which continues to provide the country's greatest source of income.

This page was last updated: March, 2013