Okay, I’ll confess. I’m not anywhere near a computer or the internet right now. I scheduled this post to appear way ahead of time. Why? Because as you read this I’m probably sitting on the balcony of the Atlantis Resort, staring out over the pristine beaches and crystal waters of the Bahamas. And it’s just as likely that I’m daydreaming about pirates and treasure. Because who wouldn’t be in a setting like this? But what is the real history of this island I’m sitting on? Were there pirates and buried treasure here?
Well, in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And he landed in the Bahamas. On the island of San Salvador, to be exact. What he found there was a tropical paradise inhabited by a small number of natives. These natives, the Lucayan, were either of Carib descent or related to the indigenous peoples of Florida, the Seminoles. They were a peaceful, non-cannibalistic people, so of course Columbus scooped them all up as slaves to work in the mines of Hispaniola. No one ever said Columbus was a nice guy.
The Spanish under Columbus may have located the Bahamas and taken away its native population, but they didn’t stay there. While the Bahamas technically remained a Spanish possession, the islands were uninhabited for about 130 years. Then came a group of English and Bermudian refugees. They were Puritans, striking out from the overcrowded islands of Bermuda for religious freedom. But life was hard for this first permanent settlement. The land wasn’t all that fertile and there were squabbles amongst the settlers. Many went back to Bermuda.
The settlers that remained made their living fishing and hunting for turtles, whales, and seals, making salt, cutting trees for lumber, dyes, and medicines, and wrecking. Yes, wrecking was one of the most profitable occupations in the early days of the Bahamas. Wrecking was basically salvaging from shipwrecks in the area. And there were a lot of them because the Bahamas sat right in the middle of the shipping lanes between the New World and the old.
Of course, with the abundance of shipping also came the appearance of – you guessed it – pirates!
The Bahamas were extremely popular with buccaneers and pirates in the seventeenth century. Remember, it had been settled by the English by this point, and there was no love lost between the English and the Spanish or the French. Privateers sanctioned by the British government made the Bahamas, specifically Nassau, their headquarters. From the numerous hidden coves and inlets all around the islands of the Bahamas they were able to strike out at passing ships, then turn tail and hide. Many of the great English pirates, including Blackbeard, had their headquarters in the Bahamas.
Of course, this didn’t make the honest settlers of the Bahamas all that happy. Over time they moved away from the more pirate-infested islands to the islands of Eleuthera or Abaco. On the other hand, there were plenty of people in the Bahamas willing to act as middlemen for the pirates. They earned a hefty sum doing it too!
So yes, the Bahamas was lousy with pirates! Until 1718, that is.
In 1718 the English government began an effort to stamp out piracy in the Bahamas and the Caribbean in general. And who should they send to be the first honest governor of the Bahamas? A former pirate, of course, Woodes Rogers. Rogers, working with King George, set up a deal whereby any pirate who surrendered and gave up a life of piracy within one year of Rogers’s appointment would be granted a pardon and would be free to go about their honest business. Some pirates took Rogers up on the offer. Others didn’t.
Rogers himself had a hard time getting into the port of Nassau when he arrived. A group of pirates who had no intention of giving up the life attempted to attack him, sending a fireship at his arriving ship. Rogers was able to neutralize that threat and the rest of the population of Nassau welcomed him in as governor. Most of the rebellious pirates who refused to go clean ended up sailing off to other, easier parts of the Caribbean rather than facing Rogers. The Bahamas were firmly in the hands of the English from that point on.
And then, in 1719, England and Spain were at war once again. Many of the retired pirates hopped back on ships as English privateers, working their magic on behalf of the crown against the Spanish. It all worked out quite nicely.
The Bahamas continued to grow throughout the end of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Many British Loyalists were granted land in the Bahamas when America won its revolution. During the American Civil War the Bahamas was a base for Confederate blockade-running. After World War I it was a base for rumrunners, and during World War II it was a base for flight and submarine training. The Bahamas attained internal self-government in 1964 and full independence within the Commonwealth on July 10, 1973.
Today the economy of the Bahamas revolves around, you guessed it, tourism. In fact, one of the major contributors to the economy is the very place where I am sitting right now as you read this, the Atlantis Resort.
So for all you Romance writers out there who might be tempted to find a place to set a pirate romance novel, look no further. The Bahamas is the perfect setting for both the honest and the dishonest in the Caribbean. It was far more stable than places like Jamaica or Hispaniola, but it had enough of a dangerous element to it that a gentleman pirate would be right at home here. And there is that entire chapter all about English privateers. It’s just begging to be the setting for Romance novels! I might just have to use it myself. I’ll take lots of pictures for everyone.