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The Williamson Brothers Submarine Expedition: Wonders of the Deep, a brief history of the Bahamas including slavery and piracy with visits from: Captain William Sayle and Captain Woodes Rogers.

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In the Bahamas (continued)

Although the Bahamas were the first part of the New World to be discovered by Christopher Columbus, the Genoese navigator, during his momentous voyage towards the close of the fifteenth century, in quest of a westward route to India, the Spaniards, in whose name the islands were claimed by the discoverer, made no attempt to occupy them permanently, but carried away almost the whole of the native population to San Domingo to work in the mines or dive for pearls, and for more than a hundred years these islands became verdant deserts. As many as forty thousand natives are said to have been deported. It was not until the seventeenth century that the Bahamas were frequented by vessels from the Bermudas, situated about six hundred miles from the eastern coast of the United States, which came to obtain large quantities of salt. During the seventeenth century a Captain Sayle was wrecked on one of the islands, and the favourable account that he gave of them caused the proprietors of Carolina to petition King Charles II of England to grant them possession of the islands. Captain Sayle had named the island on which he was shipwrecked “New Providence", and it is on this island that the capital, Nassau, is situated.

The Bahamas have passed through many vicissitudes, having been plundered at various times, first by the French and then by the Spaniards, who, at each plundering expedition, carried off a number of the negroes. Early in the eighteenth century the island of New Providence became a favourite and notorious rendezvous for pirates. Some ten years later, as an outcome of an appeal of the merchants of London and Bristol to the Crown, to take stringent and effective measures to restore order in the island and root out the pirates, Captain Woodes Rogers was sent to the island with a force sufficiently strong to destroy the nest of pirates infesting the shores, a service which was promptly effected by that old buccaneer. During the War of American Independence (1776-1783) the islands frequently changed hands.

The abolition of slavery in the West Indies and in all other tropical possessions within the British Empire, in the year 1807, which was the outcome of the political agitation organised by William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, and other social reformers against slavery in any of the countries under the British Crown, caused many of the extensive cotton and sugar-cane plantations to be abandoned because many of the natives, now that they were free, refused to work at all, preferring to devote themselves to the cultivation of small patches of maize, yams, and other tropical produce.

Blockade-runners made good use of Nassau during the American Civil War of 1861-1865. This occurred as the result of the closing of the southern ports of America by the Federals. While the blockade running lasted, the island enjoyed an unexampled prosperity, the value of the trade having risen from about a quarter of a million to nearly five and a half millions.

When Columbus passed through the islands he was struck with admiration at the character and fine bearing of the natives, and in one of his letters to King Ferdinand of Spain and Queen Isabella, the patrons of his expedition, he wrote: “This country excels all others as far as the day surpasses the night in splendour; the natives love their neighbours as themselves; their conversation is the sweetest imaginable; their faces are always smiling; and so gentle are they and affectionate that I swear to Your Highness there is not a better people in the world".


San Domingo

Captain Sayle (William, 1590-1671)

Captain Woodes Rogers (1679-1732)

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