Online Travel Guide To New Providence Bahamas

Early Colonial Settlement

New Providence island was probably first viewed by western eyes shortly after the arrival of Columbus on nearby San Salvador at the end of the 15th century. Apart from depopulating the Bahamas of the native Lucayan population, however, these early Spanish explorers had little permanent impact.

It was, instead, the British who were the first lasting European residents. In 1648, William Sayle led a group of Puritans, known as the Eleutherian Adventurers, from the thriving British colony of Bermuda to the uninhabited Bahamas in search of religious freedom. After establishing settlements on the island of Eleuthera, some of these early colonists moved on to what was then known as Sayle's island. It was renamed New Providence, supposedly due to a 17th century governor's gratitude to Divine Providence after surviving a ship wreck (the "New" was added to distinguish it from Providence island, an island off the coast of Nicaragua). In 1670 Charles II of England granted the rapidly growing Bahamas to six "Proprietors" from South Carolina. They brought settlers to New Providence and built a fort called Charles Town. According to the first census, New Providence was home to 913 residents by the year 1671: 257 men, 243 women, and 413 slaves.


A substantial number of the less religious inhabitants of New Providence took to a life of piracy, preying on the Spanish ships that passed through the Bahamas on their way back to Spain. Frustrated with these perpetual hostilities, the Spanish burned Charles Town to the ground in 1684-the first of a large number of invasions. Nearly all the British settlers fled to Jamaica. Over the next decade some slowly returned; and on April 12, 1695, an ordinance of the Proprietors established the city of Nassau (named after the newly crowned king, William III, who hailed from the Dutch house of Orange-Nassau) on the location of the destroyed fort. It did not take long before this new port was again a nest of pirates. In 1703 a combined Spanish and French force sacked the city a second time, leaving it nearly deserted.

Yet these attacks failed to dissuade the residents from swashbuckling. At the turn of the 18th century, while Britain warred with Spain, piracy thrived in the port of Nassau. The British crown assigned Letters of Marque to captains, legally allowing them to attack ships of enemy nations. Unable to be permanently held by either Spain or Britain, Nassau was declared a "Privateers Republic". Such famous pirate captains as Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard), Benjamin Hornigold, Mary Read, Anne Bonney, Calico Jack Rackham, and Charles Vane used the city as a base from which to lay waste to Spanish shipping. There are thought to have been over a thousand pirates on and around New Providence in 1716.

Expulsis Piratis Restituta Commercia

In July, 1718, King George I declared the Bahamas a crown colony and appointed Woodes Rogers, a former privateer, its first Royal Governor. Fearful that pirate infested Nassau would become a Jacobite stronghold (the Jacobites opposed King George's succession to the British throne), the King ordered the Rogers to rid the city of pirates. Armed with four warships and the motto "Expulsis Piratis Restituta Commercia" (Pirates Expelled, Commerce Restored), Rogers largely accomplished this mission. He offered amnesty to pirates who were willing to swear loyalty to the King and chased off or captured those who would not submit. Nassau was transformed from a pirate resort to a base for anti-piracy operations, often led, ironically enough, by former pirates.

The American Revolution

In March of 1776, Ezekiel Hopkins headed the very first American fleet in a so called marine "invasion" of British New Providence. Accompanied by the soon to be famous John Paul Jones, Hopkins recruited eight small warships and sailed against Nassau. Neither the Americans nor the Bahamians were eager to come to actual blows, and the city surrendered without bloodshed. The Governor even accused the Nassauvians of entertaining the rebels. While much of Nassau's gunpowder, the raid's chief aim, had already been transported to another island, Hopkins did succeed in securing a large amount of mortars, shells and cannon balls. The American victors spent two weeks carousing on the island before heading home. During the return voyage their triumph was somewhat soured by subsequent decimation at the hands of a single British man-of-war.

Before the end of the American Revolution, New Providence was attacked yet again, this time by a combined force of American and Spanish ships sailing from Havana, Cuba. In the face of an overwhelming force, the current British commander Governor Maxwell agreed to the generous terms of surrender offered to him without military resistance; the soldiers defending Nassau were embarked to a nearby British port. The Spanish occupied the island for over a year. In January, 1783, the preliminaries of the Treaty of Versailles, the agreement ending the international conflicts surrounding the Revolution, were signed. Article V stated, "His Catholic Majesty shall restore to Great Britain the island of Providence and the Bahamas without exception in the same condition which they were conquered by the arms of the King of Spain." However, before this provision could come into effect, the island was seized by British Loyalists, fleeing from eastern Florida, which was, by the same treaty, to be returned to Spain. The relatively small group of Loyalists used every means within their power to dupe the 700 man Spanish garrison into believing them a more formidable force: One account claims that the Loyalist rowed soldiers towards land, hid them in the bottoms of their boats while they rowed back, and then rowed the same men to shore again. From the impact of this spectacle, New Providence was again bloodlessly surrendered.

Loyalists and West Africans

After the Treaty of Versailles, the Bahamas saw a massive influx of Loyalists from the former British colonies, accompanied by a still greater number of slaves. The population of New Providence rose to 5500, and more than 7000 acres were granted to the new settlers for the purpose of establishing plantations.

These new plantations were not a success. Culpable in their failure were the chenille bug, which began to devastate Bahamian crops in 1787; the shallow, poor quality soil; and, most importantly, the abolition of slavery. In 1807, the trading of slaves was illegalized within the British Empire. In 1834, slavery was abolished altogether. At the time, West African slaves comprised more than two thirds of the population of New Providence. Their emancipation brought about a complete overhaul of the island's societal structure. Without abundant, free manual labour, the plantations could not be maintained. Abolition spelled the end of the Bahamas single stable institution, the plantation, and the rise of general poverty and insecurity, especially for the great numbers of former slaves.


Amid the impoverished despair that characterized the second half of the 19th century in the Bahamas came a brief period of magnificent prosperity. This was brought about by the American Civil War. During the war, the Union blockade of Confederate ports created a profitable new career for those daring enough to smuggle goods in and out of the south. Nassau, the largest port in the Bahamas, naturally became a hub for blockade runners. Suddenly enlivened with new wealth, the city flourished: Roads were widened, new buildings were erected, land prices skyrocketed, and a police force was established. With the end of the Civil War in 1865, however, this new found affluence departed as quickly as it had arrived.

The Nassauvians managed a repeat of their economic success during U.S. Prohibition. While the eighteenth amendment was in force, rum runners did a lively business importing liquor into Nassau and then smuggling it into the U.S. The previously destitute port was once again transformed. Profiting enormously from import tariffs, the Bahamian government made no effort to oppose the smugglers. Yet when the amendment was repealed in 1933, this prosperity proved equally ephemeral.

Recent History

The 20th century saw the rise of the tourist industry, creating thousands of jobs and offering much needed economic stability. During World War II, New Providence was used as an Allied air force base. Following the war, the abandoned airfield was converted into a public airport. The resulting ease of accessibility, in conjunction with the overcrowding of Florida and revolutions in Cuba, helped to establish New Providence as a popular destination for sun seeking American vacationers. Beginning in the 50s, tourists flocked to Cable Beach in the environs of Nassau. In the 60s, Huntington Hartford, inheritor to the fortune of A&P Supermarkets, converted a 684 acre island off the coast of Nassau, previously known as Hog Island, into the lavish resort community of Paradise Island. Since then, a multitude of new resorts have sprung up across the island.

Today, though it accounts for less than two percent of the land area of the Bahamas, New Providence is the most populous island of the Bahamas as well as its political, cultural and economic capital. Thousands of visitors make their way to the island during all seasons, attracted by the lovely weather, luxury accommodations, and unique coastal charm of old Nassau. It remains the most popular tourist destination in all of the Bahamas.

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