Nearly 400 years ago, in the 17th century, the Caribbean islands became the home of many buccaneers. They were a mixed group of mostly English, French and Dutch men and women. Many of them were shipwrecked and marooned off the coast of Hispaniola. They hunted wild boar and cattle, and learnt from the Carib people how to cure meat. Curing is a way of preserving meat with salt and spices so that it does not go bad in a hot climate.
The meat was spread in strips over a wooden grate or Boucan. This was placed near a slow-burning fire. The heat dried the meat to a fine red colour. It had a delicious taste. The sailors sold the meat (which was also called boucan) to ships that passed by. This is why they were called buccaneers. Later the buccaneers were chased off Hispaniola by the Spaniards. They also became known as pirates.
Over the next one hundred years there were many pirates in the Caribbean. James Johnson was a cabin boy who, without knowing it at the time, joined a pirate ship in New Providence. Here is his story.
My dream came true in May 1716, on the day the Vengeance sailed into Nassau. Captain Joe strode ashore, and beckoned me towards him.
He said: ‘Ah lad, I see you watch with a longing in your eye as the ships come and go. You’ve got the sea in your bones. We need a cabin boy, and you’re welcome aboard!’
I bid my aunt goodbye and set sail with Captain Joe and his crew that same afternoon. As we left the harbour behind us, the crew hoisted the pirate flag, the Jolly Roger – which was sometimes called ‘The Banner of King Death’. Only then did I realize that I had joined a pirate ship.
Life on board was frightening and very dangerous. We attacked other ships, seized their goods and treasure, and fought many fierce battles. Suffering, misery and death were a part of our lives. Life on the high seas was not as I’d imagined it would be.
Some pirates had their headquarters in Nassau. The Governors who ruled the islands could not stop their raids. There were too many hiding places for our ships amongst the cays and bays.
Although there was a lot of fighting, we still had to obey the shipboard rules and traditions.
If any man steals from another crew member, he will be left on a deserted island.
Forty lashes will be given to a man found smoking tobacco in the cabin.
Any man who loses an arm or leg in battle will receive 800 pieces-of-eight.
I met three famous pirates. The most frightening was Edward Teach. We all knew him as Blackbeard, and he struck terror in the hearts of us all. He was a tall man, with a long, thick, dirty black beard tied up with red ribbons. During a battle he stuck burning cord in his hair to terrify his enemies. He shouted at his own men for no reason, and no one dared challenge him. He was finally killed in 1718, a fierce battle with a government warship.
Can you imagine women as pirates? Anne Bonny and Mary Reade were pirates who dressed like men – and fought like devils! Anne Bonny was born in Ireland and moved to America. There she secretly married a sailor, but her father disowned her, and the sailor left her when he found she had no money. Then she met Captain Jack Rackham, a pirate who was known as Calico Jack. She went to sea with him, and together they captured many ships, stealing the goods the ships were carrying.
Mary Reade was raised as a boy. She ran away from home and fought as a soldier in Europe. She did not find this life very exciting, so she sailed across the Atlantic and joined Calico Jack’s ship. One day the ship was ambushed by government vessels. Anne Bonny and Mary Reade both fought bravely alongside the men, but finally they were captured. Both of the women should have been hanged, but Anne was saved because she was pregnant. Mary died of fever in prison.
Another pirate I heard about but never met was Stede Bonnet. He was an army officer who became a pirate with a ship called the Revenge. He filled it with guns and men, and told everyone he was going trading among the islands. Instead he terrorized the Caribbean, stealing and burning as he went. Then he sailed north to Virginia where he met Blackbeard, who took over the Revenge for a time. Bonnet was finally captured by government forces and hanged.
Chapter 2 The Establishment of Religions
On Sundays, and sometimes on weekdays, most Bahamians go to church. Many belong to one of the Christian denominations or groups. In The Bahamas there are Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches, The Church of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and several other denominations too. Churches have always played an important part in the lives of the people of the Bahamas.
The early settlers came to these islands in the first place because they wanted freedom to worship in their own way. In 1670, settlers built a church on New Providence called Christ Church. The first building was destroyed by the Spaniards in 1684. The second was rebuilt in 1695 by Governor Trott. This was destroyed in 1703 by French and Spaniards. A third church of wood began in 1721 under Governor Woodes Rogers. A fourth church of stone was completed between 1753 and 1754. A steeple was added in 1774.
The foundation stone of the present church was laid by Governor Sir Francis Cockburn in 1837. It was consecrated in 1845 by Bishop Spencer. Governor Rogers wrote to the Church of England in London, and asked for missionaries to come to the Bahamas. The priests came, and they taught both white and black people, many of whom joined the Anglican Church. Over the next few years, Anglican churches were built on most of the inhabited islands.
The church we know today as Christ Church Cathedral, on George Street, was later enlarged and beautiful stained-glass windows added. All places with a cathedral are cities. When, in 1861, the church was re-named ‘The Cathedral Church of The Bahamas’, Nassau became a city.
St. Matthew’s Church, also on New Providence, is the third oldest place of worship on this island. For a long time all the people worshipped in Christ Church, which was at first just a small wooden chapel. Then more and more people came to live in Nassau. In 1799 the British government donated some money for the building of a new church. The foundation stone was laid in 1800, and the first service was held in the new church on 18th July 1802 (the steeple was added later, in 1816).
For a long time the clock in the steeple of St. Matthew’s Church, and another in Christ Church Cathedral, were the only reliable time-pieces on New Providence.
The Baptists have the largest number of followers in The Bahamas today. The first Baptist church was founded by a man named Prince William. He was a slave from America. He and another slave, Sharper Morris, escaped from Florida in an open boat. The landed on New Providence and here Prince William preached in the open air, near Government House. Most black people in the Bahamas were still slaves at this time. To obtain their freedom, men had to pay £90 to the government, a very large sum of money in those days.
On 1st August 1790, the ground-breaking ceremony for Bethel Baptist Meeting House was held. Other freed black people joined Prince William and helped him to build the new place of worship. That first wooden meeting house was just 11 metres wide and 20 metres long. The members of this church called themselves Native Baptists. Bethel Baptist Church is still on the original site, on Meeting Street. Hundreds of people now attend service here.
St Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk
In 1798, 55 Scottish settlers founded St Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk (Kirk means church in Scotland). They laid the foundation stone of their church on 7th August 1810. St Andrew’s Kirk is the second oldest church building on New Providence. The Kirk was not a missionary church. Only a few black people were converted to the Presbyterian denomination.
Rastafarianism is both a religion and a way of life which originated in Jamaica. The movement in The Bahamas really began to grow after a concert performance by Bob Marley in the late 1970s. Rastafarians believe that Ras Tafari is God and that black people can find salvation by going back to Africa. They call their God, Jah.
The Muslims’ belief comes from the religion of Islam. The followers are called Muslims. The Muslim religion was first actively introduced to The Bahamas in the early 1970s. They believe in the one God who is called Allah, and Mohammed is their prophet.
Women and men worship separately and the women always have their heads covered. Their place of worship is called the Masjid, and their holy book the Qur’aan.
Chapter 3 The First Parliament
Woodes Rogers, the first Royal Governor, arrived in The Bahamas on 26th July 1718. The pirates knew of his coming and many of them fled. Some of those who stayed decided to put up a fight. One, Captain Charles Vane, attacked two of Woodes Rogers’ ships. He tried to stop Rogers and his men entering the Harbour, but this attempt failed. Governor Rogers and his crew landed safely on New Providence.
The island was in a sad state. The fort was I ruins, the roads were overgrown, and garbage was piled high everywhere. The plantations were not producing enough crops. Rogers’ first aim was to rid New Providence of pirates. He planned to bring law and order to the island, so that the colony could grow and flourish.
Woodes Rogers formed a council of 12 men to help him govern the islands. With the help of these men and other citizens, he cleared up and rebuilt the town. The fort was also repaired, because Rogers knew that he might have to defend the islands against invaders. In 1720 the Spaniards tried to attack Nassau, but they were driven back by Fort Nassau’s guns.
Governor Rogers then offered a Pardon to all pirates who would stop attacking ships. Nearly 300 pirates gave up their way of life. Those who refused to surrender were captured and put in prison. Many were tried and hanged at Fort Nassau.
The islands became a safer place to live, and trade with other countries increased. The motto of The Bahamas then was written in Latin. It read: Expulsis Piratis – Restituta Commercia. This means ‘When the pirates were driven out, trade was restored’.
Parliament, as we know it today, began when Woodes Rogers came from England to New Providence for his second term as Governor, in August 1729. He called together a group of men whom he hoped would help him rule The Bahamas. The new parliament was called the House of Assembly. The Assembly first met on 29th September 1729. John Colebrook was the first Speaker, or chairman. The Speaker ruled the House of Assembly. The House of Assembly at that time was made up of 24 members elected from three islands: 16 were from New Providence, 4 from Eleuthera, and 4 from Harbour Island. From the time of that first Assembly, its members opposed the Governor on many issues.
Chapter 4 Early Connections with America
The people in The Bahamas have always been closely associated with America. In 1629,, King Charles I of England gave the lands of the American Carolinas and The Bahamas to his chief legal advisor, Attorney-General Sir Robert Heath. By this grant, these lands became British territories.
In those early years settlers in The Bahamas looked to settlers in North America for advice, help and trade. Settlers in America sent help to the Adventurers. In return the Adventurers later gave money towards the building of the famous Harvard College in Massachusetts.
Many of our islands made a living by trading with the American colonies. Nassau became a second home to many American sea captains and pirates, and Bahamians sailed to and from Carolina, Virginia and Massachusetts.
The Lord Proprietors of Carolina were also Proprietors of The Bahamas. In 1670, Charles II of England had given The Bahamas to the Lord Proprietors of Carolina. This meant that the Proprietors took over The Bahamas to make money. But they had very little interest in the islands, and appointed Governors to rule over them.
The people who lived in The Bahamas were expected to pay some of their wages to the Proprietors in America. The Governors were supposed to collect this money, but often the people refused to pay.
The rule of the Lord Proprietors ended in 1718, when Woodes Rogers was appointed as the first Royal Governor of The Bahamas.
Nearly 60 years later, in 1775, the American War of Independence began. Americans wanted to govern themselves, and not to be ruled by Britain. Ships of the American navy were sent to Nassau to take the powder and ammunition stored at Fort Nassau. But Governor Montfort-Browne had already sent most of it away. When the Americans landed they found only 24 barrels of gunpowder and a little ammunition. They took over Fort Nassau for two weeks. Then they set sail again, almost empty-handed.
Not long afterwards, in 1782, New Providence was invaded again, this time by Spaniards. The Governor was forced to surrender to the Spanish troops who took over the island. They remained there for nine months, until a Loyalist officer, Colonel Andrew Deveaux, attacked with forces from Harbour Island and Eleuthera and recaptured the fort.
Wrecking had been big business in The Bahamas since the first settlers arrived. Many ships were caught by the tricky currents around these islands, and swept ashore. Some ships were deliberately attracted on to the cays and reefs by false lights. Then the goods on board were carried away by the wreckers, and later sold.
In the 1780s, after the end of the American War of Independence, trade between America and The Bahamas increased – and so did the wrecks. Many Bahamian wreckers worked along the shore of Florida, and carried goods from the wrecks there to Nassau.
The first official American representative or consul in Nassau arrived in 1821. By 1859 the consulate was known as the Consulate General. It was not until this century, on 10th July 1973, when he Bahamas became fully independent, that an embassy was established here, headed by an ambassador.
The first steamships began a regular service between New York and Nassau in 1859. This was the start of our tourist industry. Many years later, in 1929, the first regular airline flights between Miami and Nassau began.
Between 1861 and 1865, during the years of the American Civil War, all ships were prevented from using the ports in the southern states of America. This was a Blockade. Nassau became very important at that time, supplying guns and ammunition to the troops of the Southern States, which were called The Confederacy. Nassau also exported cotton from the plantations in these states to Britain.
In 1919 the American government passed an act which prevented the American people from making, selling, importing and exporting liquors anywhere in the United States. So from 1920 to 1933 during the period that was called Prohibition, many people in The Bahamas were involved in smuggling liquor into America.
During the Second World War (1939 – 1945), many American men went to Europe to join the troops there. It was a difficult time for farmers in America, because there were not enough people to work the land, so people from The Bahamas also went to America to work on the farms and in the food production factories there. This was the result of an agreement call The Project, or The Contract, arranged between the government’s o f the United States and The Bahamas.
Chapter 5 Links with USA today
It is good to have friends. All of us like to do things with our friends. Friends share secrets and help each other. Sometime they join together to fight an enemy. They become allies.
The Bahamas has many allies. One of these is the United States of America, the USA. We do things together, we share secrets, we help each other, and sometimes we fight together.
As friends, each country has a special place, called an embassy, in the other’s country. The United States Embassy in Nassau issues visas to Bahamians so that they can travel freely to the USA, and to other American territories. The Embassy provides help in other ways too. For example, helping young Bahamians to study at American colleges and universities, and providing special help to our Government for drugs detection. We learn more about such help later in this book, in Chapters 9 and 10. The embassy also helps Americans who lives in The Bahamas, or who visit our islands as tourists.
The Bahamian Embassy in the United States is in Washington, DC. It is a small piece of Bahamian territory inside the USA. The Bahamian ambassador to the USA keeps our government informed of political events in that country. The ambassador helps the good relationship between our two nations.
Most of the money that we spend in The Bahamas comes from tourism, and most of the tourists who come here are from the USA. The money that the tourists spend helps our country to develop. The Bahamian government uses the money from tourism to build roads, schools and hospitals, and to pay people who work in government. It also buys things that the country needs from other countries. Most of these goods – food, clothing, cars, for example – are imported from the USA.
Many United States companies and banks do business in our country, adding more money to our economy. They pay a special fee to the Bahamian government, and they also train and employ Bahamian people to work in their businesses.
The USA has developed a plan so that it can provide more help to Caribbean countries by offering special trade agreements on some goods. This is called the Caribbean Basin Initiative. The Bahamas exports a few things to the USA – fish and fish products, agricultural products and rum.
Many Bahamian people travel to the USA for vacations and to shop, especially to Florida, which is the closest US state to our islands. Many people who live in Florida enjoy our Bahamian culture. Some of the festivals in Florida celebrate the music, food, craft and dance of The Bahamas. In turn, The Bahamas has aspects to the US lifestyle, such as fast food.
There are a number of organizations through which Bahamians and Americans can share social, historical and cultural relationships. The Bahamas will always share strong ties with the USA.
Perhaps the most important link that The Bahamas has with the United States is the tourist link. This link is not a new one since tourism really began in the 1740s. at that time, Nassau, the capital, was known as a place where poor health could be restored. Hence the first tourists were invalids.
Tourism arrivals increased with the completion of the first hotel, the Royal Victoria, in 1861. The Colonial Hotel was built in 1900, and in the same year, the Miami-Nassau Winter Steamship service started. Visitors of a different kind began to visit Nassau, mainly during the winter. These were mostly the rich and famous.
Tourism grew at a slow pace, but first began to be looked at as a business in the 1950s when the late Sir Stafford Sands was put in charge of the Development Board. He aimed to increase the number of visitors that came and also make tourism a year-round business.
To achieve this, he encouraged hotels to install air-conditioning. Gambling was made legal and casinos were built in Nassau and Freeport. These were added attractions for the tourists. Another important step to increase visitor arrivals was the massive advertising campaign that was carried out in the USA, Canada and Europe to encourage visitors to come.
Tourism took on added importance after 1964, the year which saw the introduction of internal self-government. The Development Board was replaced by the Ministry of Tourism.
In 1967, the new Progressive Liberal Party Government recognized the importance of tourism to the economy of The Bahamas. From 1969 to 1979, under Minister Clement Maynard, spectacular progress in tourism, based on market research, was implemented. Tremendous effects were made to improve tourism through staff training, courtesy campaigns and in helping hotels and hoteliers in planning new programmes.
The majority of tourists that visit The Bahamas are from the United States. The largest market being in the north-east region from cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The next largest market is found in the southern states of Atlanta, North Carolina and Florida. The least number of visitors come from the mid-western states such as Ohio, Nebraska and Missouri. This tourism link is the bread and butter of our country.
Chapter 6 Links with the Caribbean
Many of the customs of the Caribbean people are linked with Africa, because of our African ancestors. Culture in The Bahamas and the Caribbean has also been influenced by the Europeans, especially the British, who set up settlements or colonies on many islands. For example, many Caribbean countries, including The Bahamas, have systems of government that are based on the British parliamentary system.
There are many other signs of the European influence in the Caribbean:
Police forces – several Caribbean police forces wear uniforms of similar design.
Education system – the way young people are educated in different Caribbean countries is similar to European systems of education.
Names – there are many people, streets and buildings throughout the Caribbean that have names of European origin.
Can you think of any other ways in which The Bahamas has been influenced by the European way of life?
Many of the festivals celebrated today in the Caribbean were started by slaves. Although many such festivals are similar, each island celebrates in its own special way.
The Bahamas and many other Caribbean countries celebrate similar special days. In The Bahamas we celebrate Discovery Day on 12th October, which is the date when Christopher Columbus first landed here. On Emancipation Day people in different islands remember when slavery came to an end. Each country also has its own Independence Day, when the people celebrate the day when their country first began to govern itself.
Another link between the islands of the Caribbean is Carifesta. This is an event that brings together the cultures of each Caribbean country in one place. Those who attend can experience the food, crafts, music and culture of Caribbean countries.
Carifesta stands for Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts. The festival began in 1972 as a vehicle for developing greater appreciation and knowledge of the culture of the Caribbean region. At the beginning, only CARICOM members participated but later the festival opened to all countries of the region. It provided a forum for all art forms and is held in a different country each year.
Caritfta stands for Caribbean Free Trade Association. This was formed in 1965 to promote trade among Caribbean countries. It started with two member countries trading among themselves. Goods entering one member country from another would be duty-free. In 1974 the members were ready to make a bold step toward the creation of a common market. The treaty of Chaguaramas established Caricom (see Chapter 14).
The Caribbean Development Bank was set up as a regional bank to provide loans to Caribbean countries for special development projects. The Bahamas is a member of this bank, and contributes money to it. To qualify for a loan, a project must be designed to improve the way of life of the local people.
Caribbean people are known for their love of exotic food. It is possible to find a favorite dish almost anywhere on our islands.
The Bahamas Stewed fish
Boiled fish and Johnny Cake
Crab and dough
Pea soup and dough
Barbados Flying fish an’ coo coo
Jamaica Ackee and salt fish, Jerk pork,
Here is a recipe for a Bahamian dish. You might like to copy the recipe and try it out at home.