On 10 July 1973, The Bahamas gained independence from Great Britain. This momentous occasion saw the end of 325 years of peaceful British rule. However, The Bahamas is still a member of the Commonwealth Nations. Today, we celebrate our independence, a free and sovereign country. We embrace all things Bahamian, not forgetting our historical past and cultural development.
An archipelago of 700 islands and cays, stretching some 200 kilometres southeast of Florida, with a population of approximately 399,285 people, these tiny islands are steeped in history and colonial charm.
Christopher Columbus discovered The Bahamas in 1492 in search of the New World. Stunned by the beauty of the Islands, Columbus described them as Islands of the ‘Baja Mar’ (meaning shallow seas), which has become, The Islands of The Bahamas. Columbus first made landfall on the island of San Salvador and was met by the gracious and welcoming tribe of the Lucayan Indians, who were the original inhabitants of The Bahamas. Unfortunately, due to the enslavement, hardship and first world diseases brought by Columbus and the Europeans, the Lucayan Indians became extinct some 25 years later.
It was in 1649 when the first settlers arrived, the ‘Eleutheran Adventures’, in search of religious freedom. Hence, the island they first encounter they named Eleuthera, which means freedom. Due to a lack of habitable supplies and food shortages they sought assistance from their American counterparts. The settlers thanked them by sending brasileto wood. The proceeds helped purchase land which later became Harvard University.
During the 1600s to 1700s, The Bahamas became a desired location for pirates to hide their treasure, due to its shallow seas and popular shipping lanes where they stole from merchant ships. Most popular amongst the pirates were Blackbeard, Calico Jack, William Catt, Anne Bonny and Mary Read (the latter two were women disguised as men).
The Civil War and Prohibition era, brought prosperity to The Bahamas, because of its well travelled shipping lanes and close proximity to the US. This made it easily accessible for ammunitions and medical supplies to run through the confederate ports. Cotton from the south was the main commodity for exchange. During the prohibition era in the United States, The Bahamas once again benefitted from its close proximity to the mainland and supplied liquor to American rumrunners. Due to the Islands ideal weather conditions, The Royal Air Force used it as its training grounds. In addition, British and American units used the Islands of The Bahamas for hunting German submarines. In 1934 when prohibition ended, so did the revenue for The Bahamas. This coupled with the collapse of the sponging industry had a devastating impact on the economy of The Bahamas.
In its post war years, The Bahamas has become one of the worlds most sought after holiday destinations and today is a thriving nation. In 1950, approximately 40,000 visitors spent their winters in The Bahamas. Today, it is estimated around 6 million visitors per year visit our beautiful shores.
So, when we reflect on our historical past and where we are today, with pride I can say, ‘I am proud to be Bahamian’!