By 1960, after a few hundred years of historical associations, the link, putting the Bahamas somewhere in the Caribbean Sea, was about to be broken. Geographers, cartographers, newspapers, enthusiastic writers and historical advocates stubbornly continued to place Bahamian territory, either literally or figuratively, in the Caribbean. This has never been historically accurate. Expedient it may have been, in terms of giving a general, positioning of the archipelago, but it was far from accurate, to say the least.
Describing the scattered islands of the Bahamas, as a nation unto itself, boldly situated in the Atlantic Ocean just never seemed right to so many. Goodness knows why. Nevertheless, this is where it was and by rights, always should have always been described as such, no matter how long the sentences required.
(Fort Lauderdale News, Sunday, 01, May 1960)
Most people, the early pilgrim Americans that is, had a fair idea where the other British Colonial islands like Jamaica and Barbados were in the Caribbean Sea, and kept looking for the Bahamas somewhere in it. After all, the Bahamas was officially Bahamas B.W.I (British West Indies) until national independence in 1973.
After the English, French and Spanish began their expansion into the new Americas, scores wrote stories, history books, news articles and published information on the Caribbean Basin, including, quite naturally, the archipelago islands of the Bahamas in their narrative. The associative link stuck.
By 1960, someone got tired of it and decided to make a grand announcement in the press.
The Bahamas Are Not In the Caribbean Sea!
(The Salty Lake Tribune, Sunday 20 March 1960)
“This map is the earliest definitive depiction of the Americas by a European. It was drawn by Juan de la Cosa, a cartographer who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to what would have soon be known as the “New World.”
Juan De la Cosa was also the owner of the Santa Maria the largest ship in Columbus’ small fleet.”
Map of the West Indies, drawn at the London Geographical Institute sometime after 1503, after Columbus’s last journey. Notice that the Caribbean Sea has yet to be depicted. What’s noted is Mar Del Norte (Spanish for North Sea), Mar Del Sur (Sea of the South) drawn below Central America, and Islas de los Caribes (Spanish for Islands of the Caribes).
Depicted just under MAR DEL NORTE is Mare Antilliarum indicating that it was a separate, smaller body of water. Mare Antilliarum or Sea Antilliarum or Sea of the Antilles, would later be named the Caribbean Sea to indicate its association with Islas de los Caribes or the islands of the Caribe.
Modern maps firmly establishes the Caribbean Sea on a far southerly position, nowhere near to the Bahamas.
(1940s map of Caribbean indicating potential bombing route of German airplanes in the fighting of WW II teachers British West Indian territories)
THE BIG MIXUP BEGAN IN 1492
The big geographical mix up began with a bungled map drawing on the first journey of history’s luckiest lost sailor ever, old Christopher Columbus. According to National Geographic, the earliest definitive depiction of the Americas by a European was drawn by Juan de la Cosa, a cartographer and the owner of the Santa Maria, which sailed with Christopher Columbus on his first voyage.
Novice skills exercised in previously uncharted waters of the West Indies, led to considerable errors in the position and spacing of the islands.
Other than these error being attributed to novice map making skills, Christopher Columbus himself also had a few things to hide as he negotiated with both the monarchies of Spain and Portugal, on his return to Europe in 1493. Chris Columbus may have deliberately fudged certain details in order to appease both Catholic Spain and Portugal, who along with the blessings of the Pope, would eventually carve up the new world between themselves.
(The Salty Lake Tribune, Sunday 20 March 1960)
After Columbus died, once European colonisation began in earnest, everything associated with the New World, became simply a matter of expediency. It was easier just to group the entire area, under one giant umbrella called the West Indies. And if the West Indies sat in the Caribbean Sea, well then, for many, so did the Bahamas.
The Bahamas, covers an expansive 100,000 square miles of the most picturesque water and land area that nature could have offered anywhere on Earth. But the islands technically sit in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea, the way Columbus and many others, for a few hundred years after, tried to make it appear.
EARLY REFERENCES TO CARIBBEANS 1762
In a London newspaper, of April 1762, there is a story about the island of Grenada. It notes that Columbus discovered it and named it after a province in Old Spain. In the article it notes the abundance of natural resources the relatively uninhabited had.
We also see that the early Indian inhabitants were called Caribbeans and the collective group of southern islands were called the Caribbee Islands.
“The islands was preferred by the Caribbeans, the first inhabitants to the rest of the Caribbee Islands.”
(The Public Advertiser, London, Monday, 05 April 1762)
1790 – The Caribbean Sea noted in a letter to the Right Hon. William Pitt describing the attempt of France and Spain to collude in driving Britain out of the Windward Caribbean Islands
“… The design of this addressed to you Sir, is to state a few serious and important facts, with which you have been long acquainted, but of which no notice has been taken, no doubt because you do not think them of that magnitude of importance, those who informed you deem them, otherwise the statement I made to you, and the fact that I placed before you some years ago on the subject of the designs of France and Spain, in the united capacity, with regard to the West Indies, which was premeditated plan and a firm conclusive League and engagement between France and Spain to root out the British nation, stock and branch, from holding either colonies, or carrying on any kind of trade, to the West Indies.
The plan was that France should possess herself of all the windward avenues, or islands by which shipping must pass either to the Spanish continent, or to all the islands in those seas; the island of Cayenne is the furthest to the windward in the Caribbean Seas; the next to Cayenne is the island of Tobago, which by the last inglorious and diabolical peace was ceded in full right to France; thus far France gained one great step or bold trace of her plan, and I am convinced she may have Barbados; you know they made a bald push for the island of Grenada, but they considered the restoration of St Lucia a full equivalent for the wealthy islands of grenade are, the Grenadines, the island of Saint Vincent, Dominika, Saint Kitts, Monsarrat, need this, Antigua, and I forgot the islands of total low, Spanish town, and they are dependencies to speak in the language of negotiation.”
(The Public Advertiser, London, Saturday, 11 September 1790)
For the longest time, as national independence began in earnest across former European colonial territories, the debate over the Bahamas and its link to the Caribbean raged. The debate is no longer one of geography, but one of shared history, commonality and economic association.
If the Bahamas was not in the Caribbean Sea physically, it most certainly was, historically. In the future, it may also be linked economically.
THE ATTEMPT TO UNITE THE ENGLISH SPEAKING COLONIES – THE CREATION OF CARICOM
By August 1977, the fledgling Caribbean Common Market, made up of 12 English-speaking territories, was just four years old.
CARICOM was formed on July 4, 1973.
Only four territories had not joined by 1977. The Bahamas, Turk & Caicos, Cayman Islands and the British West Indies, whose economies were linked financially to the United States, had not joined.
Each of the former European West Indian colonies developed differently. Each had a different severity and oppressive history. As the modern day dawned, the attempt to unite them all, and draw the Bahamas into a Caribbean association, proved difficult.
The Bahamas joined CARICOM on July 4, 1983. To date it is not part of their customs union.
(The Ottawa Citizen, Monday 22 August 1977)
THE SEVEN SEAS AND FIVE OCEANS
The geological age of the Caribbean Sea is estimated to be between 160 and 180 million years and was formed by a horizontal fracture that split the supercontinent called Pangea in the Mesozoic Era.
The entire area of the Caribbean Sea, the numerous islands of the West Indies, and adjacent coasts, are collectively known as the Caribbean. The Caribbean Sea is one of the largest seas and has an area of about 2,754,000 km2 (1,063,000 sq mi).
By the time old Christopher returned to Spain in 1493, the Bahama Islands were apparently only a hare’s breath away from Hispaniola, by the account given by Columbus.
By Columbus’ estimates, the first island he discovered, Guanahani, since renamed San Salvador, was closer to other more geographically southerly islands, than they actually were.
The error some historians surmised arose because Columbus’ original mandate was to find a new route to India, going west, instead of east. Discovering new lands and civilisations was a fortuitous event indeed for Columbus who was only hoping to bring back a few spices and a ship hold full of gold. What he did manage to bring back to Europe from that first journey was in fact a dozen or so half naked Taino Indians and a few hooped nose rings.
Everything Columbus discovered after that simply became part of the collective West Indies.
After the British claimed possession, the territory of The Bahamas would become known as Bahamas B.W.I British West Indies for the next 300 years.
Over time, The Bahamas became categorised as a West Indian country, figuratively grouped in the Caribbean Sea, like its southerly British colony neighbours.
By 1959, the continued attempt to categorise The Bahamas as part of the Caribbean was finally ceasing, for no other reason than to be geographically and politically correct.
The archipelago of The Bahamas extends 760 miles from the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida, almost to the northern tip of Haiti.