History of Nassau Bahamas

New Providence was first settled by the English in 1656. The colony was administered, somewhat loosely, by the colonial government on the North American mainland. During the early years, the people of the little settlement of Charles Town lived their lives without much interference from the outside world. Then the island became a haven and base of operations for pirates, who raided the Spanish fleets plying the seas homeward to Cadiz laden with the king’s treasures from the New World. It wasn’t long before the Spanish Governor General decided that enough was enough, and Spain invaded the island. Spanish occupation of the island was, however, short-lived; there was a new king on the English throne, who was ready to exert his power.

Charles Town was renamed Nassau in honor of King William of Orange-Nassau, and the pirates returned to the island. Men like Blackbeard, Major Bonnet and Calico Jack Rackham set up shop and soon became more active than ever. Privateers sailing under royal sanction from the Netherlands, France and England soon joined them, making the voyage from the New World to Spain extremely hazardous.

Finally, however, the pirates were driven off the island by Woodes Rogers, a ruthless and dedicated man who became governor in 1718. Things then settled down for awhile.

Slavery had long been established on New Providence. After the native Lucayan Indians died out, sometime shortly after Europeans arrived on the islands, men like Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake made their early fortunes slave trading in the West Indies and other islands of the Caribbean. By the turn of the 18th century, the black population on the island had more than tripled. Emancipation came to the Bahamas in August 1834 and the newly liberated slaves left Nassau and moved “over the hill” to establish settlements of their own.

The outbreak of the American Civil War brought new activity to New Providence, Nassau in particular, and with it a new era of prosperity. Nassau became second only to Bermuda as a center for blockade-running activities. Both English and Confederate companies established agencies on New Providence, and the large numbers of blockade runners operating out of Nassau harbor became a matter of grave concern for US authorities.

During four years of the American Civil War, 397 vessels entered Nassau from Southern ports, and more than 580 ships – most of them flying the English ensign – sailed from Nassau to the Southern ports of Charleston and Wilmington, and to hidden inlets and havens along the Florida coastline.

The blockade runners brought much-needed supplies to the Confederacy, arms and medical supplies especially, but their motives were not all patriotic. Profit was the driving force, and from Nassau just as many luxury items were carried into Southern ports as were essential supplies. It was a two-way street. Ships returning from Confederate ports carried cargoes of cotton, turpentine, and tobacco for sale in European markets. The profits were enormous – often exceeding 800%.

With the end of the Civil War in 1865, Nassau and New Providence returned to their quiet ways. But by the turn of the 19th century the island was discovered again, this time as a playground for the rich and famous. This new period of prosperity began after the laying of the international telephone cable from what is now Cable Beach to Jupiter, Florida. Cable Beach, with its magnificent stretch of unspoiled sand, drew the wealthy from around the world like a magnet. This period saw its peak during the Duke of Windsor’s tenure as Governor of the island.

Today, New Providence, and Nassau in particular, is the center of the thriving Bahamian tourist industry. There is more to do, more to see, and more to enjoy on New Providence, tiny though it is, than on all the other islands of the Bahamas combined.

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Getting There:

For visitors arriving by air, the Bahamas are served through Nassau by most US airlines and by international airlines from Canada and Europe, and to a slightly more limited degree through Freeport.

The Out Islands are served mainly by Bahamas Air via connections in Nassau and Freeport.

The Bahamas is also a major destination for the cruise ship industry

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