If we are bound to repeat the unheeded lessons of history, then, in the future, the Bahamas will fight for control of its government once again; and lose. Why? It has happened before in its history; and it will happen again.
Unlike the abrupt change which occurred with the seizing of control by the first British appointed colonial Governor, privateer Captain Woodes Rogers, in 1718— future political battles post 2019, will be more reminiscent of what was happening in the year 1784. Invitations. Exemptions. Arguments. Battles. Secret deals. Promises of economic power. Amalgamating loyalties. Wresting control of government. Dominance. This is pretty much what happened when the Loyalists came to the Bahamas.
The year 1784 began a significant turning point in Bahamian political history. Control of the government was seized by a new, growing faction of people, determined to end whatever political rule there was at that time, while gaining substantial economic advantage for themselves. They were undoubtedly promising to the same American prosperity they had enjoyed to the Bahamas. This would have enticed the long term inhabitants to follow them. Eventually the Loyalists would take over the judiciary, the Council and the Assembly.
November 1784 – TWO LAW LOYALISTS ATTEMPT TO GAIN MEMBERSHIP TO THE VICE- ADMIRALTY COURT. THEY ARE REFUSED. THIS REJECTION SETS OFF A FIRE STORM OF ABUSE HURLED AT GOVERNOR JOHN MAXWELL. MAXWELL THEN TRIES TO STOP THE LOYALISTS BY DISBANDING THE LAW COURTS UNTIL HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY CAN VOTE ON NEW ACTS TO CREATE NEW COURTS
NASSAU, NOVEMBER 6.
On Monday last, two Gentlemen of the Law Loyalists from East-Florida, applied to the Judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty of these Islands for admission, as Proctors in the said Court, setting forth in their respective petitions, that they were regularly bred, and legally entitled to admission there in.
The Judge, who is also a Loyalist from East-Florida, and formally at the Bar there, declared from the Bench, that he knew the several facts set forth in there respective Petitions to be true, but declined admitting them, without previously obtaining an order from his Excellency the Governor.
On Tuesday last both Houses of the General Assembly of these Islands met here, and are now sitting.
The same day his Excellency the Governor sent the following MESSAGE to the Lower House.
“Mr Speaker, and Gentlemen of the Assembly.”
“THE Act of the General Assembly, for establishing and regulating Courts of Judicature with in these Islands, having, after many years experience of its sufficiency, been lately found in adequate to the purposes for which it was intended; I have thought it indispensably necessary, that there might not be a total cessation of the operation of all Law amongst us, to call you together at an earlier period than I proposed in order that you made revisit, amend, or repeal that Act; or that a new one may be framed upon such constitutional and incontrovertible principles, and fixed, by your wisdom and experience, upon such a foundation, as may not easily be shaken by new doctrines.
Government House, November 2, 1784.
American Loyalists had no ties, and no allegiances to the Bahamas or the people they met there. It was just a place to settle after being booted out of the Americas. What the Loyalists were in essence, was a group of angry and bitter people, longing to recreate the financial wealth and prominence they had, in America, before the British lost that vital colony. The romanticism applied to the incursion of the Loyalists, in Bahamian history, is historical fantasy.
After the Loyalists arrival, Governor John Robert Maxwell quickly recognised that the new settlers, were attempting to effect major schemes, within New Providence, to gain power. The more they were given, the more they wanted. Governor Maxwell was trying to stop them. The Bahamas had already agreed to give the Loyalists substantial lands, monies, unprecedented freedoms and forgiven all taxes for fifteen years, but that wasn’t enough. The Loyalists wanted laws and control in their favour. Ij the end, they knew they had to get rid of Governor John Robert Maxwell. And they did.
By 1785, Maxwell was history.
The American Loyalists, ‘the Johnny-come-latelys’ to the Bahamas effectively changed Island history by craftily seizing political power.
12th May 1785, NASSAU
It appearing that an Address has been lately procured for Governor Maxwell, expressing, in very fulsome language, the Addressors approbation of his conduct in the Government of this Country; and there being great reason to think that this is couched in terms calculated to create the belief, that it contains the sentiments of the American loyalists and other Inhabitants lately settled in the Bahamas: We the Subscribers, therefore, deem it necessary publicly to disavow all knowledge or approbation of the same; having every cause to deprecate Mr. Maxwell’s return to this Country, as the greatest evil that can possibly befall these islands.
The Art and Privacy, with which the Address to Governor Maxwell was procured, prevented proper steps being taken to lay before the public, the real sentiments of the Free and Loyal inhabitants of the Bahamas, by means of which, the above paper is only heard by those who happened to be in and near the town of Nassau at the time the address was heard of.
1785 – THE COFFEE SHOP MEETING WHICH LED TO THE RISE OF THE MERCHANT CLASS IN THE BAHAMAS
The year 1784 for the Bahamas, saw the beginning of significant political change and a new political ruthlessness that the quiet British colony had never seen before. Loyalist Rule became the Merchant Class Rule. It lasted some 183 years.
After the ousting of Governor John Maxwell, the Loyalists began meeting, in the coffeehouses, to plot and plan their next strategic moves.
The British Merchants, and other British Subjects in this town, interested in the Commerce of the Bahamas are requested to meet at the Coffee House, on Monday next, at 12 o’clock, on Business of Importance.
March 13, 1785
TIMELINE IN BAHAMIAN HISTORY – POLITICAL RULE
1648 to 1657 – NINE YEAR REPUBLIC
1670 to 1718 – Lords Proprietor to Pirate Rule
1718 to 1784 – EARLY British Colonial Rule
1784 to 1834 – American Loyalists Rule (the political and economic rise of the Loyalists)
1834 to 1967 – Merchant Class and Minority Rule (company vote legislation)
1967 to 1992 – Majority Rule (25 year re-elected government of the PLP Party)
1992 – Majority Rule (under varying Party Rule)
27 May 1784 – BAHAMAS COUNCIL AND ASSEMBLY APPROVES £1,500, TOOLS, MATERIALS, LAND AND A SEVEN YEAR TAX EXEMPTION FOR AMERICAN LOYALISTS. TAX EXEMPTION FURTHER EXTENDED TO FIFTEEN YEARS
The Board of Council and House of Assembly have conferred together on the subject of your Excellency’s message of this day to both Houses, have thereupon come to the following resolutions, which they have the honour to transmit to your Excellency, in answer to that message.
Resolutions of the COUNCIL and ASSEMBLY.
Resolved, that the Council and Assembly are disposed to show every degree of favour and countenance to the unfortunate Loyalists, that our arrived or maybe expected here.
Resolved, that it is our disposition to give such immunities to them, as may render them desirous of residing amongst us, and for that purpose to pass a Law for exempting all such Loyalists and this Slaves from all public taxes for seven years to come.
Resolved, as we rely on Government furnishing such as are dispose to settle Lands with Grants of unappropriated and abandon grounds in this island, that the colony will furnish such as are indigent settlers, with tools and other materials for building themselves Houses upon such settlements, to the amount of one thousand six hundred and fifty pounds currency; besides what is reasonably hoped maybe raised by Private subscription.
Resolved, that a committee be appointed to enquire into the situations of such settlers as they occasionally occur and report the same from to the Council and Assembly.
Council Chamber, May 27, 1784.
President of the Council.
House of Assembly, May 27, 1784
THOMAS BEECH, Speaker.
SINCE these RESOLVES the Council and Assembly have agreed to extend the exemption from taxes to fifteen years. – They have signified the same to a Message; though not being able to form a House, they could not do so officially.
THE BAHAMA Gazette MAY 1784