The Bahamas

What country took possession of the Bahamas from Britain in 1782?

During the American War of Independence in the late 18th century, the islands became a target for US naval forces. Under the command of Commodore Esek Hopkins; US Marines, the US Navy occupied Nassau in 1776, before being evacuated a few days later. In 1782 a Spanish fleet appeared off the coast of Nassau, and the city surrendered without a fight. Spain returned possession of The Bahamas to Great Britain the following year, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Before the news was received however, the islands were recaptured by a small British force led by Andrew Deveaux.

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  • The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1718, when the British clamped down on piracy. After the American Revolutionary War, the Crown resettled thousands of American Loyalists to The Bahamas; they took their slaves with them and established plantations on land grants. African slaves and their descendants constituted the majority of the population from this period on. The slave trade was abolished by the British in 1807; slavery in The Bahamas was abolished in 1834. Subsequently, The Bahamas became a haven for freed African slaves. Africans liberated from illegal slave ships were resettled on the islands by the Royal Navy, while some North American slaves and Seminoles escaped to The Bahamas from Florida. Bahamians were even known to recognise the freedom of slaves carried by the ships of other nations which reached The Bahamas. Today Afro-Bahamians make up 90% of the population of 332,634.

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  • The English had expressed an interest in The Bahamas as early as 1629. However, it was not until 1648 that the first English settlers arrived on the islands. Known as the Eleutherian Adventurers and led by William Sayle, they migrated to Bermuda seeking greater religious freedom. These English Puritans established the first permanent European settlement on an island which they named 'Eleuthera', Greek for 'freedom'. They later settled New Providence, naming it Sayle's Island. Life proved harder than envisaged however, and many – including Sayle – chose to return to Bermuda. To survive, the remaining settlers salvaged goods from wrecks.

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