As the August 1st annual celebration of Slavery Emancipation, is observed once again, present day Bahamians, should also be cognisant of a role the country played in prolonging the American Civil War.

High prospects for making easy money, made local islanders and its British administrators, forget, it was only twenty six years prior, in 1834, that slave emancipation came to the British West Indies.

But, three decades later, former slaveowners and possibly former slaves themselves, in Nassau, and through the Family Islands, were helping American Southern Confederates, in their bid to secede from the United States. For the Americans, it was over their want to keep the institution of slavery alive. For the British/Bahamians, all of it was for the lure of easy money.

From building the majestic Royal Victoria Hotel to accommodate the high life of top Confederate seditionists and slaveowners; to running the blockade thus enabling Confederate cotton and resultant money to travel back to the South; to providing a safe venue, in Nassau, for Confederate slaveowners to strategise – the Bahamas played an integral part in prolonging the war and tipping the scales, however briefly, in favour of the slaveowning South.

As a British colony, the Bahamas was used a strategic pawn, in a complicated game of international chess. Britain turned a convenient blind eye to its Birmingham gun manufacturers supplying Confederate soldiers. It turned a blind eye to the wealth pouring into England from goods being sold to the South, through merchants all across Britain via Nassau. And when Nassau was specifically stated in an export prohibition by an Act of Congress, Britain just shrugged.

It was a game which the Bahamas has carried the historical blame for, while Britain’s role, in blockading, and facilitating slavery in America, has been all but forgotten.


1863 – NASSAU BECOMES A KEY TRANSHIPMENT PORT FOR EVERYTHING FROM GUNS TO QUININE. BRITAIN ACKNOWLEDGING NASSAU’S KEY ROLE IN SHIPPING CONTRABAND FROM ENGLAND TO CONFEDERATE STATES BUT SAYS ITS JUST BUSINESS

War has always been big business. War became a cash cow for British merchants and their merchant partners in New York. There was money to made and many were determined to get some of those Confederate dollars for themselves. Confederates needed to get their cotton to Britain to keep the machinery of the Industrial Revolution moving. This brought in money to Southern slaveowners. Britain in turn needed their goods to arrive safely in Confederate ports. Nassau became the key spot for exchanges and transshipment of goods and money.

Everything from guns to socks to cotton to liquor passed through.

“Though the Government of this country, is generally speaking, on friendly terms with that of the United States, there are, it appears, certain causes of disagreement which may yet lead to unpleasant difficulties between the two countries.

Some light is thrown upon one subject of controversy by a series of Parliamentary papers issued at the end of last week. Throughout the American War a brisk trade has been carried on between England and the Southern States. There is no secret at all about the matter. Everybody knows that supplies or provisions, medical stores, munitions of water, and other commodities required by the Confederates, have been constantly shipped from English ports with the intention of “running the blockade.”

Everybody knows, also, that these operations have proved remarkably successful, and no class of persons, we suspect, or better or more pleasantly acquainted with this fact than the gunmakers of Birmingham.

Besides the direct trade with the southern states and indirect, this has grown up to a very large extent. Goods have been shipped from English ports to Nassau, in the Bahama Islands, and thence re-shipped for the Confederate ports; and Nassau has, in fact, become a place of great importance, in consequence of this new development of commercial activity.

Now even if it were desirable to do so, the British government cannot hinder this exportation of “contraband of war.” So long as England herself is at peace, her merchants are at liberty to undertake whatever speculations they please.

To state the matter in a sentence, they may send whatever they like wherever they like. The only check upon them is the risk voluntarily incurred by such proceedings. If a British merchant chooses to send a cargo to a blockaded port, he runs the risk of having the cargo seized by the blockading Squadron and condemned by the prize courts. With this our Government has nothing to do.

The danger is known to the shipper, is voluntarily incurred by him, and he has no right to complain if the adventure turns out unfavourably to his interest.

But, having cleared the ground so far, we advance a step further, and get landed in a difficulty.

Some New York merchants, it would seem, we are by no means unwilling to share in the profits and incur the losses of blockade running.

They could not well send vessels direct from New York to Charleston, but they could ship goods to Nassau, and have them thence reshipped to Confederate ports, after the fashion which had been set by English adventurers. In their turn our own merchants and related the cuteness of the Yankees, and goods of all kinds were forwarded in large quantities to New York, to be sent on thence to Nassau, with the unquestionable object of finding their way into Confederate ports.

By way of putting an end to this objectionable traffic United States government obtained an Act of Congress authorising them to forbid the exported from New York or other Federal ports of all goods, the ultimate destination of which was believed to be a blockaded port, and they issued an order specially applying the Act to the port of Nassau.

By the steps an immediate blow was struck at the trade with Nassau by the way of New York.

The exported coal was first forbidden, and then followed a long list of other articles clothing, quinine, tinware, shoes, everything in short, of which the Confederate with believed to stand in a special needs.

(Birmingham Daily Post, Monday 24 August 1863)

1861/1862 – AS THE STRENGTH OF THE CONFEDERACY GREW THERE WAS EVERY POSSIBILITY THAT ENGLAND AND FRANCE WOULD RECOGNISE THE CONFEDERATE STATES AS A LEGITIMATE SEPARATE COUNTRY.

Abraham Lincoln was forced to act. Lincoln freed the slaves of the Southern States to save the Union of States; not because he believed in freeing the slaves.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln had no intention of ending slavery. In fact, he had no intention of meddling in the slavery question at all. Slavery was a right constitutionally enshrined. Lincoln’s primary concern was for the preservation of the union of states;’all of the United States, not just pieces of it. One important part of geopolitical history that is largely forgotten, was the silent role played by Border States in the United States. Those neutral states that would have been swallowed up by the South had the Confederates won the war. Lincoln was very aware that their allegiances could fall either way depending on the outcome of the war.

In truth, it had only been one hundred years on, from the new Americans having fought a bloody and miserable war for independence from Britain. Abraham Lincoln was not going to let it all crumble under his presidency. Lincoln, as it appears, also had no great affinity for negroes. There was no idealism which held him steadfastly against the institution of slavery. Lincoln, as history has shown wanted to repatriate freed slaves back to Africa. Short of that, he wanted them relocated to some area far away from the United States.

But for the continued resistance by the Southern States, due in part by the continued funding and supplying of guns, ammunitions and supplies by blockade runners, the war may have ended at least two years before 1865.

If Lincoln has lived, if he had not been assassinated, freed slaves and free blacks across the United States might have been forced into leaving, relocated out of America.

“The first year of Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential career closed on March 4, 1862. Practically all of this period he had spent in an effort to crush insurrection in the Southern States.”

“Mr Lincoln had another weapon against the self, the emancipation of the slaves. He did not want to use it. Throughout his political life he had disclaimed any desire to meddle with slavery in the States where the Constitution recognised it.

He had undertaken the war not to free men, but to preserve the Union.

Moreover, he feared that the least interference with slavery would drive from him those States lying between the North and South, which believed in the institution, and yet, were for the Union.”

For many months, however, he had been coming to the conclusion that he must do something with his weapon, and he had been examining it much as a man in a desperate situation might a dagger which he did not want to unsheath but feared he might be forced to.

The plan upon which he finally settled was a simple, just and impracticable one —- he would asked Congress to set aside money gradually to buy and free the Negroes in those States that could be persuaded to give up the institution of slavery.

Having freed the slaves, he proposed that Congress should colonise them in a territory bought for that purpose.”

(The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, 7, February, 1909)
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