People have inhabited the Bahama Islands since around the 4th or 5th centuries. Many of them came from the island that eventually became Cuba. The history and culture of the Bahamas changed in the 10th century when the Lucayans settled and lived there for around 600 years. Their peaceful, simple life developed religious, political, and social systems there.
The Demise of the Lucayans
It was into the Lucayan society that Christopher Columbus stumbled in 1492 on the island he named San Salvador. The description Columbus gave of the shallow water of the islands (baja mar) led to the name, The Islands of the Bahamas. Columbus’ discovery soon spelled an end to the Lucayans, who were taken into slavery, contracted diseases, and disappeared completely within 25 years of his landing.
Settlement for the English
English seeking a place of religious freedom arrived in 1649, shipwrecking on what is called the “Devil’s Backbone.” They lived in a cave and would have starved if Captain William Sayles hadn’t sailed to America and pleaded for supplies. The food sent back was well appreciated by the islanders who sent brasiletto wood back to the Americas, which was used in building Harvard College.
Frequented by Pirates
Additionally in the 1600s and into the next century, the Bahamas were a regular stop for pirates. The two most notable historically were Calico Jack and Blackbeard. With more than 700 islands dispersed in the area, pirates had many places to hide their stolen goods. Stories abound that treasure is still hidden on some islands today.
The King of England appointed Woodes Rogers as Governor in 1718, and he cleaned out the pirates, offering amnesty to those who surrendered and the gallows to those who didn’t. Hundreds took the opportunity, but Blackbeard and others sailed away.
American Influence in the Bahamas
The history and culture of the Bahamas were influenced by American colonists, who came from the states in the 18th century. Thanks to them, Spanish forces were pushed out of the Bahamas and the island group stayed sovereign to the Crown.
During the Civil War in the U.S., the Bahamas served to support the rebel army until blockades cut them off. In the 20th century, when Prohibition was established in the States, Americans went to Nassau by ship where alcohol was legal. The Bahamas prospered greatly until 1934, when Prohibition was repealed. Then the economy collapsed.
July 10, 1973 was one of the most important dates in the history and culture of the Bahamas for it marked the end of 325 years of British rule. July 10th is commemorated as Independence Day for the Bahamas since they have joined the Commonwealth of Nations.