Truth was, the Bahamas, may not have survived as a colony, if it had not been for the incursion of British Loyalists and their slaves, after the American war of Independence. In the late 18th century, the struggling Bahama colony needed the Loyalists and their slaves, as much as the war refugees needed a new home.
Many forget that the Bahama Islands, in the early 1700s was essentially an investment, an early IPO (initial public offering) as it were, for Woodes Rogers and his investment backers in London. In order for this early type property hedge fund to work, it required people from England to take the arduous two month ship journey across the Atlantic, to settle the Bahamas and produce goods for export. When it all fell apart, when the money didn’t initially materialise, it caused Woodes Rogers to be sentenced to debtors prison in London.
Populating Nassau was difficult enough. Populating the Out Islands was even harder. Once they got settlers into these uncharted, uncultivated, jungle areas, it was the labour of an untold number of slaves, over more than a century, who brought the manpower needed to cut back the jungle, enabling civilisation, a British colony, to flourish.
On the Out Islands, as the population ratios began to shift in favour of the slaves, managing them became problematic.
Some just ran away.
Consider that when someone disappeared into the thick jungle bush that was the Out Islands, white men were loathed to go in there after them. This was why they offered other negroes reward money for turning in runaways.
Caught slaves were sent to the local goal.
At Spencer’s Bite, Abaco, in the year 1788, several Planters wrote to the new Governor of the Bahama Islands, the Right Honourable John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, to express their gratitude for the speedy local trials which enabled the return of their runaway slaves.
1786 – The Bahamas, Lazy Whites, So So Negroes and If It Wasn’t For Fish…
“A few days ago I arrived here from the island of Providence, I had passed some weeks, you may suppose not with any very great satisfaction – continual riots and disturbances characterise this place, and the officers of government, I believe, are as little at their ease as any unfortunate esquires upon the earth. – The island of Abaco does not populate with the rapidity that was first expected. – Laziness, indeed, seems universally prevalent among the whites, and negroes fall to the lot of very few among them – were it not for the plenty of fish here, in all likelihood, this and the neighbouring islands would soon be deserted, and the United States again blessed with a number of ELEGANT characters.”
(The Pennsylvania Packet, Thursday, 18 May 1786)
October 1787 – Scotsman Governor Dunmore Arrives In Nassau
John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore, the newest Governor of the Bahamas, arrived in October 1787. Murray was a large imposing Scotsman with flaming red hair. His arrival was greeted with much fanfare, a firing salute by the 37th regiment and illuminations in the evening.
From 1787 to 1796, under Governor Dunmore, the population of the Bahamas literally tripled almost overnight. Loyalists from America and Nova Scotia, Canada, began pouring in.
British Loyalists were given the choice of Canada or the Bahamas for resettlement. Quite a few chose Nova Scotia. Within a short time, many changed their minds unable to adjust to the severity of the cold winters. They made their way to the Bahamas, providing much needed numbers in the largely deserted Out Islands.
(The Poughkeepsie Journal, New York, Tuesday 12 January 1790)
1788 – Some 200 Families From Central America Also Settle on Andros Island
Several very respectable families have arrived here since our last from Nova Scotia, with the intention of settling in these islands.
The island of Andros is now said to be one of the most valuable of the Bahamas. It’s vicinity to the market of an increasing town; the advantage of the trade-wind being a fair one for going and coming between this and that island; the abundance of excellent timber; the numerous inlets; the extensive island navigation; the plenty of fresh water; and the quantity of fish and turtle on the coast; these are the arguments, and weighty ones they certainly are, which those who have already settled there hold out to attract more inhabitants.
About 200 of the late inhabitants of St. Andreas on the Musquito Shore, have formed settlements on Andros Island, and families lately arrived from Nova Scotia are told intend to fix themselves there.
(The Pennsylvania Packet, 17 November 1788)
Land grants were given to compensate those who had lost property in the Americas. This, they quickly put to good use, cultivating cotton and other produce for export like indigo.
Nassau, Oct. 27.
Yesterday arrived here in the ship Mercury Packet, after a passage of eight weeks from England, his Excellency the Right Honourable the Earl of Dunmore, Governor in Chief of the Bahama Islands. At four o’clock his Lordship landed at Garner’s wharf, where he was received by his Honour the President, the Members of his Majesty’s Council, and a detachment of the 37th regiment, the fort at the same time firing a salute. From the wharf his Lordship was conducted to the President’s house, where the paths of office were administered, and his commission read.
Another salute was then fired from the fort.
A third salute was now fired from Fort Nassau, followed by three vollies from the troops under arms, and loud hazzas of a large concourse of people. In the evening there were illuminations and other demonstrations of general joy at this auspicious event.
(The Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, Scotland, Thursday 17 January 1788)
1788 Governor Dunmore Brings Law and Order to Spencer’s Bite, Abaco.
When Dunmore first arrived, he was greeted with much fanfare. John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore’s reputation as a British war hero, fighting against the Americans in Norfolk, Virginia, had preceded him. Inhabitants of the Bahama Islands were hoping for a more take charge governor, and that it was they got in Dunmore.
One of the first things he did was to assist the Planters of Abaco in retrieving their lost property – runaway slaves. He quickly convened a slave court to adjudicate planters claims to ownership of captured runaways.
For this, the inhabitants of Spencer’s Bite were duly grateful.
Below is their letter to Dunmore.
To his Excellency the Right Honourable JOHN, EARL OF DUNMORE, His Majesty’s Lieutenant and Governor General of the said islands, &c. &c. &c.
The humble Address of the undersigned Planters and other Inhabitants of Spencer’s Bite, upon the island of Abaco.
May it please your Excellency,
We his Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects the planters and inhabitants of Spencer’s Bite upon the island of Abaco, beg leave to express to your Lordship, the extreme gratitude which we now feel for the happy consequences for your arrival among us.
The salutary affects which we are likely to ensue from the fair, candid and impartial trials, which has been afforded to our runaway slaves, and quiet and peaceful restoration of most of them to their lawful owners, are events for which we cannot be sufficiently thankful to your lordship, and the gentleman composing the court.
We shall be happy in evincing by every testimony in our power, our respect for your lordship, and inviolable attachment to the constitution and laws of our country.
2d of June 1788
Richard Pearis, Junior,
William Armstrong Junior,
William Armstrong senior,
Governor Dunmore’s response