By 1816, continued wrecks and capture of slave ships, across the archipelago of the Bahamas, suddenly brought unexpected social and economic problems. After Britain abolished the taking of Africans from Africa for the purposes of slavery, it meant that any slave ship, under any flag, caught or wrecked within the borders of The Bahamas entitled the slaves to an automatic status of liberation. They were made free outright and without condition.

These slave ships which were ultimately bound for America, Cuba, South America and elsewhere, had no recourse. Many ship owners however would plead their case in the courts, suing Britain for compensation. A handful had successes. There were a number of eventual settlements. Mostly, though, slave ship owner’s money and cargo were lost for good.

For the Bahamas, the unexpected influx of free negroes, in the age of slavery, presented problems. In every circumstance imaginable, too much of something eventually leads man to prudently ponder the road before him. Governors of the Bahamas had judicious choices facing them, as the population of free negroes to enslaved negroes, began to precariously tip in ways they did not like. Free blacks angered enslaved ones. That was a fact. Enslaved blacks could not understand the unfairness of the system which awarded freedom out of sheer circumstance, while they had to buy theirs.

Whites, in their turn, feared increasing numbers of free negroes who could not secure employment as labourers. They feared uprisings and violence as the population shift had already favoured negro over white.

For the liberated African, they had few choices. Submit to an indentured servant status, which gave him a higher status than slave or they would starve. Even worse than indentured servitude was the risk posed by unscrupulous men who stole free negroes in the night, selling them on, into brutal slave places like Cuba, South America and the brutal southern United States.

In 1816, when a Spanish slave ship became wrecked on Green Turtle Cay, in Abaco, with 300 slaves onboard, the call came that then, there were just too many free negroes in the islands.

Immediately, they were to be distributed to inhabitants as indentured servants as they awaited being conferred with Liberated African status by the Governor of the Bahamas.


We have received Jamaica papers to the 28th July.

A considerable sensation has been produced in the Bahama Islands by the wreck of a Spanish Guineaman, bound from Africa to the Havannah, with 300 slaves; the crew and slaves were landed a Green Turtle Key, Abaco and an officer had proceeded to Cuba for vessels to carry the whole to their original port of destination.

Captain Pakenham, of his Majesty’s ship Bermuda, had proceeded to Green Turtle Key to seize slaves and bring them to Nassau (New Providence) and that their emancipation would follow under the act of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and that they would in the meantime be distributed among the inhabitants under indentures.

The inhabitants of the island of New Providence have petitioned his Excellency Charles Cameron, Governor of the Bahama Islands, as they greatly fear for the safety of the colonies if so many free Negroes were admitted at one time.

(The Freeman’s Journal, Dublin Ireland, Tuesday, October 1, 1816)