The original inhabitants of The Bahamas were Arawak Indians, who had migrated through the Antilles from South America. Within a few decades after Columbus landed on San Salvador in 1492, the Spanish had depopulated the islands by shipping the peaceful Arawaks to slavery in the mines of Hispaniola and Cuba, where they died by the thousands.
The first permanent settlement in The Bahamas was established by a group of English settlers from Bermuda called the Company of Eleutheran Adventurers, who organized a community on what is now the island of Eleuthera in 1647, seeking religious freedom.
During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, piracy flourished in the islands because of their proximity to important shipping lanes. The power of the buccaneers was crushed by Woodes Rogers, the first Royal Governor, who established orderly conduct in 1718. In 1776, a U.S. naval squadron captured Nassau, but withdrew after only one day. Following the American War of Independence, some 6,000 American loyalists and their slaves settled in The Bahamas.
The American Civil War brought prosperity to The Bahamas, which served as a transfer point for munitions and medical supplies to be run through the northern blockade of Confederate ports. Cotton from the south was the main commodity of exchange.
During the prohibition era in the United States, from 1917 to 1933, The Bahamas again prospered because of its proximity to the mainland. This time the islands supplied liquor for American rum runners. Taking advantage of the colony’s ideal weather conditions, the Royal Air Force used The Bahamas as a flight training area during World War II. The islands were also used by British and American units hunting German submarines.