There were several half-hearted, well meaning attempts to colonise the Bahamas after the genocide of the native Lucayans. Pirates and privateers and the curious sailed by, dropped anchor, starved for a while and sailed on. The islands were flat, devoid of any really productive soil, and importantly, needed too much labour to make a go of it alone. Settlers needed a European government to back them in their venture. The only problem was, no one was really interested in the Bahamas.
The Spanish won the islands after Don Cristóbal Colón, Christopher Columbus, sailed back to Europe with news of his finding the New World. It was the Spanish who christened the islands “BAJAMAR” which means shallow sea. Over time, and after the British took possession of it, the name became more anglicised to Bahama Islands, and then Bahamas.
THE CRASH OF COLUMBUS GIVES BAHAMAS TO SPAIN
Columbus had set sail with his three ships on August 3rd, 1492. By the time he had returned to Europe, landing first in Portugal, on March 4th, 1493, there was a new Pope as the head of the christian church of Europe.
The new religious leader, was Pope Alexander VI, better known in history as the infamous, murderous and incredibly corrupt, Rodrigo Borgia. Pope Alexander VI made his illegitimate son Cesare Borgia, a cardinal at only eighteen years old, as well as commander of the papal armies. Along with another illegitimate son, Giovanni Borgia, who was made captain general of the military forces of the papacy, the Borgia family ruled the Catholic church and Rome.
When Columbus returned to Europe in March 1493, the discovery of new lands in the western seas sparked arguments between Spain and Portugal.
Both claimed ownership.
Portugal and the Castile monarchy in Spain, had be rivalling for years over which country had legal possession of colonial territories along the African coast. The king of Portugal made the claim that the discovery of the New World was within the bounds set forth in previous Papal bulls (official church edicts) of 1455, 1456, and 1479. The King and Queen of Castile challenged this claim. The church would have the ultimate say in the matter. Both countries presented their claims of ownership to the Pope.
Pope Alexander VI, was a native of Valencia, Spain and a friend of the Castilian King. The Pope responded to the territorial claims with three papal bulls, dated May 3rd 1493 and May 4th, 1493. All of which leaned toward the demands of the Castiles of Spain. The third of these bulls, the Bull Inter caetera, settled the matter.
The bull gave Spain the exclusive right to acquire territory, to trade in, or even to approach the lands lying west of the meridian situated one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. An exception was made, however, for any lands actually possessed by any other Christian prince beyond this meridian prior to Christmas, 1492.
The Bull Inter Caetera 1493
Alexander, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to the illustrious sovereigns, our very dear son in Christ, Ferdinand, king, and our very dear daughter in Christ, Isabella, queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, and Granada, health and apostolic benediction. Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself…
…In the islands and countries already discovered are found gold, spices, and very many other precious things of divers kinds and qualities. Wherefore, as becomes Catholic kings and princes, after earnest consideration of all matters, especially of the rise and spread of the Catholic faith, as was the fashion of your ancestors, kings of renowned memory, you have purposed with the favor of divine clemency to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith…
…but the said kingdom having at length been regained, as was pleasing to the Lord, you, with the wish to fulfill your desire, chose our beloved son, Christopher Columbus, a man assuredly worthy and of the highest recommendations and fitted for so great an undertaking, whom you furnished with ships and men equipped for like designs, not without the greatest hardships, dangers, and expenses, to make diligent quest for these remote and unknown mainlands and islands through the sea, where hitherto no one had sailed; and they at length, with divine aid and with the utmost diligence sailing in the ocean sea, discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands that hitherto had not been discovered by others; wherein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh…
…by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole, namely the north, to the Antarctic pole, namely the south, no matter whether the said mainlands and islands are found and to be found in the direction of India or towards any other quarter, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde. With this proviso however that none of the islands and mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, beyond that said line towards the west and south, be in the actual possession of any Christian king or prince up to the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ just past from which the present year one thousand four hundred and ninety-three begins. And we make, appoint, and depute you and your said heirs and successors lords of them with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind; with this proviso however, that by this our gift, grant, and assignment no right acquired by any Christian prince, who may be in actual possession of said islands and mainlands prior to the said birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, is hereby to be understood to be withdrawn or taken away.
…Furthermore, under penalty of excommunication late sententie to be incurred ipso facto, should anyone thus contravene, we strictly forbid all persons of whatsoever rank, even imperial and royal, or of whatsoever estate, degree, order, or condition, to dare, without your special permit or that of your aforesaid heirs and successors, to go for the purpose of trade or any other reason to the islands or mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole to the Antarctic pole, no matter whether the mainlands and islands, found and to be found, lie in the direction of India or toward any other quarter whatsoever, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south, as is aforesaid, from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde; apostolic constitutions and ordinances and other decrees whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding. We trust in Him from whom empires and governments and all good things proceed, that, should you, with the Lord’s guidance, pursue this holy and praiseworthy undertaking, in a short while your hardships and endeavours will attain the most felicitous result, to the happiness and glory of all Christendom.
…Let no one, therefore, infringe, or with rash boldness contravene, this our recommendation, exhortation, requisition, gift, grant, assignment, constitution, deputation, decree, mandate, prohibition, and will. Should anyone presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, in the year of the incarnation of our Lord one thousand four hundred and ninety-three, the fourth of May, and the first year of our pontificate.”
Once Pope Alexander had given his decree on the matter, an official treaty was drawn up between the Portuguese and the Spanish. The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in Spain on June 7, 1494. It divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between Portugal and Spain along a meridian line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands (off the west coast of Africa). This dividing line was about halfway between the Cape Verde Islands (already Portuguese) and the islands entered by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage (claimed for Spain), named in the treaty as Cipangu and Antilia (Cuba and Hispaniola). The lands to the east would belong to Portugal and the lands to the west to Spain.
The Bahama Islands went to Spain.
THE BAHAMAS BECOMES A SORT OF THROUGH ROAD FOR SPANISH GALLEONS
After the native Lucayans were taken away, to become slaves in the mines of Ayiti (Haiti), the project to depopulate the islands was complete. Spain had no more use for the bits of rocky islands that could be circumvented by ship in mere hours. Besides, there were more productive, more lush and more yielding lands further south.
Spain had no use for BAJAMAR, except for one thing. The islands made a good through road for Spanish galleons sailing back and forth from Europe to its southern colonies. The various islands became important markers, road signs if you will, for galleons on their way through the vast dark ocean.
When Britain made a land grab for the dismissed BAJAMAR islands, mostly as way of intercepting Spanish galleons to privateer or rob, Spain wasn’t initially overly concerned. There had been attempts at colonisation before, but they all ended in relative failure.
By 1738, when a more concerted attempt a British colonisation continued, the Spanish became very concerned.
They write from Madrid, that the Court of Spain is in some Pain lest the Bahama Islands should fall into the Hands of Great Britain. They are possessed by private People, and in no condition of making any considerable Resistance, and our situate so directly in the Road which the galleons always take in their Return to Old Spain, that was Great Britain in Possession of them, it would always be in its Power to intercept those ships in the Voyage home.
(The Derby Mercury, Derbyshire, Sunday 13 July 1738)
SLAVES AND DREAMS OF VINEYARDS for the BAHAMAS
Where previous attempts at colonisation had failed, by the 1700s, Britain knew the success of its settlements, in the new world, the West Indies, depended on one thing, the labour of slaves.
The Board of Trade, in their Representation, giving an Account of the Strength, Fortifications and Trade of our Island Colonies, further remark, That the care which hath hitherto been had to guard the Coast of Africa by Ships of War from Pyrates, be duly continued, that so Rate of Insurance, a heavy Clog on Commerce, May be kept low, and our Colonies receive a constant Supply of Slaves, without which they cannot possibly subsist; and that in time of War such a Squadron may be stationed in the West Indies, as May be able to give Law to our Enemies at Sea.
And as to the Bahama Islands in particular, great Advantage in Trade may be expected from Countries that abound with Productions of so rich a Nature, if these islands were fully peopled; and that should parts of the Lands in said Islands be turned into Vineyards, they might probably produce as good Wines as the Madeira.
And further observe, that said Islands which lie in the Gulph of Florida, and near the Windward Passage , May, from their Situation, prove of the greatest Consequence to us, in case of a Rupture with Spain, by receiving Frigates stationed there, for the Protection of our own Trade between the Islands and Continent of America, or for intercepting Spanish and French ships in their Voyages between Europe and the Spanish West Indies.