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Although the area may have been populated previously, the seafaring Taino people moved into the southern Bahamas around the 7th century from Hispaniola and Cuba. These people came to be known as the Lucayans. There were an estimated 40,000+ Lucayans at the time of Columbus' arrival in 1492.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus (the first European visitor) made his first landfall in the New World on the island he named San Salvador in the eastern Bahamas (known to be called Guanahani by the Lucayan Indians). After observing the shallow sea around the islands, he said "baja mar" (shallow water or sea), and effectively named the area The Bahamas, or The Islands of the Shallow Sea. But the origin of the name "Bahamas" is unclear. It is thought to derive from the Spanish baja mar, meaning "shallow seas"; others trace the name to the Lucayan word for Grand Bahama Island, ba-ha-ma "large upper middle land".
Lucayan Era / Columbus
Recent archaeological digs indicate people lived in The Islands Of The Bahamas as early as 300 to 400 AD. These people probably came from Cuba and relied on the ocean for their food.
In the 10th century, Lucayan Indians -- a subgroup of the Arawaks – settled throughout The Islands Of The Bahamas around 900-1500 A.D. The Lucayans had left the Lesser Antilles to avoid their enemies, the Carib Indians, who were known to be fierce warriors and cannibals. A peaceful group, the Lucayans were farmers who lived in thatch huts, used stone tools and made their own pottery. They were politically, socially and religiously advanced.
When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 on San Salvador (some historians think he landed on Cat Island), there were about 40,000 Lucayans living in The Islands Of The Bahamas. Taking advantage of the people’s gentle nature, he enslaved them three years later and shipped them off to Hispaniola to work in his mines. Slavery, disease and other hardships wiped out the entire tribe within 25 years of Columbus’ arrival.
Bahamian Lucayans were later taken to Hispaniola as slaves; and within two decades, Lucayan societies ceased to exist due to forced labour, warfare, disease, emigration and outmarriage. After the Lucayan population was eliminated, the Bahamian islands were virtually unoccupied until English settlers came from Bermuda in 1647. The Eleutherian Adventurers established settlements on the island of Eleuthera.
In 1648, a group of dissident English Puritans (known as the "Eleutheran Adventurers") arrived here in their quest for religious freedom. Although the adventurers gave Eleuthera its name, the island didn’t give much back, and the settlers experienced food shortages, a lack of proper supplies and internal strife that split the group into separate communities along Governor’s Harbour and Preacher’s Cave.
Seeking peace, the Eleutheran’s leader, Captain William Sayles, set sail for the American colonies and succeeded in obtaining survival supplies from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and then returned to the struggling outpost. The settlers shipped Braselitto wood to Boston as a thank you for the support given by the people of Massachusetts. The proceeds from the sale of this precious wood went to purchase the land for Harvard College, which eventually became Harvard University.
To better guard against marauding Spanish troops in the area, another settlement was then established on the nearby—and more easily defended - Harbour Island.
The late 1600s to the early 1700s were the golden age for pirates and privateers. Most of the ones you've heard about - like Sir Francis Drake and Blackbeard—used The Islands Of The Bahamas as their port at one time or another.
The Islands Of The Bahamas made an ideal home base for pirates and privateers. The numerous islands and islets with their complex shoals and channels provided excellent hiding places for the plundering ships. And since The Islands Of The Bahamas were close to well-travelled shipping lanes, it gave the buccaneers plenty of opportunities to steal from merchant ships.
The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1717. Some 8,000 American Loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas after 1783 from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. This led to many fugitive slaves from the US braving the perils of the Atlantic for the promise of a free life in the Bahamas.
On May 8, 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas.
The British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964. In 1973, the Bahamas became fully independent, but retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1967, Lynden Pindling became the first black premier of the colony, and in 1968 became prime minister. Another black Bahamian, Sir Milo Butler, was appointed governor-general upon Independence. Based on the pillars of tourism and offshore financial services, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. Today, the country enjoys the third highest per capita income in the hemisphere. Despite this, the country faces significant challenges in areas such as education, health care, international narcotics trafficking, correctional facilities and illegal immigration.
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