History & Culture
Rich in History, Rich in Spirit
Hidden among a group of islands poised between the Atlantic and Caribbean—and only a few hundred miles from the United States’ southern coast of Florida—Nassau Paradise Island has sheltered everyone from pirates and freed slaves to blockade runners, rum smugglers and runaway lovers over the centuries. And although times are peaceful now, we still cherish a tradition of people making their own rules under sunny skies.
Gateway to the New World
The Bahamian island of Guanahani, traditionally identified as San Salvador, was Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the New World. The original inhabitants of the island were the Lucayans, described by Columbus as a peace-loving people, beautiful and generous of heart. Though Columbus claimed the island for Spain, the lack of gold here led the Spaniards to focus on settlements elsewhere in the Caribbean. In 1629, Charles I of England laid claim to the Carolinas and threw The Bahamas in for good measure, a grand gesture that would weave together two of the major influences on The Bahamas’ development—England and the American South.
Spiritual Adventurers & Marauding Pirates
In 1648, William Sayles and his Eleutheran Adventurers (from the Greek word “Eleutheria” or “freedom”) landed briefly in Nassau Harbour during their search for a place to establish a Puritan colony. They then sailed south to today’s Eleuthera Island, where a reef called the Devil’s Backbone wrecked the Adventurers’ ship and chose their new home for them. The surviving Adventurers were the first English settlers in The Bahamas.
Back in Nassau (first established as Charles Town in 1666 and christened Nassau in 1695), wrecked ships became a livelihood for the city’s less religious-minded settlers. If bad weather and poor maps didn’t bring enough salvage ashore, the “citizens” of this outlaw settlement would put lights on the reefs to lure ships to their doom. Although the faraway English government did not approve of this rogue activity, they did put a seal of approval on the beginnings of piracy.
During the 17th century, England was constantly at war and the Royal Navy had its hands full, so a Letter of Marque was given to sea captains called “privateers”, which allowed them to attack enemy ships. Piracy quickly became rampant, a “Privateer’s Republic” was established in Nassau, and Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, declared himself Nassau’s magistrate. Calico Jack Rackham, Anne Bonney and Mary Read were among many infamous pirates based here.
When England signed treaties with its enemies, the privateers (who had far exceeded the limits of their Letter of Marque) officially became outlaws. In 1718 their republic came to an end when England sent Governor Woodes Rogers to Nassau, armed with three warships and the motto Expulsis Piratis – Resituta Commercia (Pirates Expelled – Commerce Restored).