About half a century before 1973, an inebriated call for independence rang out, from the merchant class in the Bahamas. It sounded an awful lot like ice cubes clanging together in a shot glass full of whiskey. In 1921, the merchant class, with vast amounts of new bootlegging money, thought they held the reins of power.

They sort of did. The British had more power though.

The merchant class had new money, using it to try to control the members of the Assembly. But the Assembly was being obstinate. The Assembly then were still in the pockets of the British. What the merchant class wanted more than anything in 1921, was to be rid of the British.

Independence” the merchants drunkenly cried.

With 12,000 negroes in Nassau alone, some whites wanted to be annexed to the United States, so that the Bahamas could adopt their Jim Crow laws.

When things didn’t change, the merchant class decided to take matters into their own hands. They began to take seats in the Assembly. The merchant class used their new found wealth to buy votes in the era before the secret ballot.

Soon, they had both economic and political power in their hands.

It was around this time that one of the most successful of the merchant class, a boat captain, a skilled yachtsman, a top bootlegger, Roland Symonette, decided to run for the Assembly. He gained his first seat in 1925.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer Thursday August 25, 1921)

(The Courant Thursday August 25, 1921)

Just 18 months after the United States enacted the Prohibition Volstead Act in 1920, alcohol was flowing like a gushing river, from the Bahamas towards a dry-mouthed America, eager for the taste of a gin and tonic. Or whiskey and tonic.

While liquor flowed one way, towards America, hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed the other way, towards the Bahamas.

Between 1920 to 1933, revenue for the country rose from £81, 049 in 1919 to £1,065,899 in 1923.

Rum running made the merchant class in the Bahamas rich beyond their wildest dreams. Bay Street, which had been likened to a dying patient about to taken off life support, before American Prohibition, suddenly rebounded. With all that American money flowing in, new wealth cemented the unstoppable political power of the merchant class of Bay Street.

Liquor though, as anyone will tell you, can have a mighty powerful effect on the human will. It can embolden the weak, impart a loquacious tongue to the silent, and add a backbone as stiff as concrete to the spineless. Having liquor money, bank vaults full of it, does the same thing!

Whiskey and homemade hooch money, made the merchant class of the Bahamas drunk with power. They were so drunk, that suddenly they began to think that didn’t need jolly old England at all. The merchant class wanted to govern the Bahamas by themselves.

There was only one problem with talk of independence… well 12,000 problems actually. With a population of 12,000 poor negroes to 3,000 whites in Nassau alone, independence had to come for all or none.

In 1973, it was largely the success of mafia controlled, casino gambling in the Bahamas, which provided the economic cushion to facilitate independence.

In 1921, the economic cushion was bootleg whiskey!

1921 – Oh the Irony! The Merchant Class Want To Emancipate Themselves From The British

By 1919, the Bahamas was in such dire financial straits that England was mulling over Crown Rule for the islands. The first World War had been over for a year, but the global economic recovery from it was slow. Business along Bay Street was only marginal and the winter tourist season was unremarkable.

Crown Rule for the Bahamas would have been a relatively easy takeover. A couple of British warships would have annexed the capital island New Providence. Dissolving of the Assembly and Legislature would come next. All policy making powers would be vested with the appointed British governor. National expenditure powers would be transferred to Downing Street in London.

However, by August 1921, the fortunes of the Bahamas had taken a dramatic turn skyward. All the country’s debts had been cleared. Merchants had hundreds of thousands in their bank accounts. Some negroes, who made 30 shillings a week, were suddenly making $10 to $50 dollars for one night’s work loading cases of liquor onto rum running boats.

With its newfound wealth, the merchant class, the new wealthy rum running businessmen of Bay Street, called on Governor Cordeaux, his cabinet and the legislative council to all resign so that the Bahamas may be ruled by Bahamians. Them of course. Cheers!

White Nassauvians Not Accepted in British Expat Social Circles

Truth was, the merchant class of the Bahamas didn’t really want independence from Britain, what they wanted was to see its snooty English representatives gone for good. If independence was the only way to make that happen then so be it.

British government expats came to Nassau with their infuriating perfect English accents and impeccable skills in using both knife and fork at the same time. They wore cardigans, even in summer, and held parties which were key social events on the tropically hot island. The Brits only barely tolerated white Bahamians as a matter of island courtesy. Both factions were at odd with each other, with the poverty stricken Nassau negro all but forgotten, relegated to his petty Grant’s Town pursuits.

One Faction Wanted Annexation With United States For It’s Jim Crow Laws

Some in the Bahamas wanted to be part of the United States, because then, the Bahamas could also adopt America’s Jim Crow Laws.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer Thursday August 25, 1921)

Britain Puts The Rum Running Merchants of Nassau In Their Place

“These people are like men who, after long abstinence, have been drinking too much. Success has gone to their heads.”

England was not about to be bullied by the newly rum money rich, of Nassau, into letting go of the Bahamas. Britain knew that the Bahamas’s economic history was one of successive booms and busts. Given time, England knew that American Prohibition would not last forever. When it ended, so would the prosperity of The Bahamas.

White Nassauvians were also reminded, in a backhanded way, of one very important thing. They were in the minority with only 3,000 of them, compared to 12,000 negroes in Nassau. Independence meant full responsibility. They would shoulder the obligation for national security and police on their own against a group which far outnumbered them.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer Thursday August 25, 1921)


Governor, Major Sir Harry Edward Spiller Cordeaux, was not a man to be trifled with. He was an army man who, earned his battle credentials in India, and Somalia. The rum-running merchants of Nassau didn’t scare him one bit.

Cordeaux wrote to England. The Crown on Cordeaux’s advice threatened to cut off the Bahamas’s rum-running activities by dispatching a warship to Nassau. They would impose Crown Rule anyway while turning the Bahamas and its merchants poor again.

Needless to say, the threat worked.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer Thursday August 25, 1921)


The merchant class backed down from all their independence talk. They knew there were many other ways to skin a cat. By the next general election, the merchant class decided to begin a concerted effort to seize political power in The Bahamas. Why send a boy to do a man’s job. Before the British knew it, the merchant class had taken over the House of Assembly.

By 1940, by the time the Duke of Windsor arrived to be Governor of the Bahamas, the abdicated king could get nowhere with the Assembly. The merchant class, now with laundered prohibition money controlled the entire Bahamas, lock, stock and old bootleg whiskey barrel.