LATE 1600s: THE AGE OF PIRACY
From the late 1600s to the early 1700s, pirates were plentiful in Nassau. Our location near busy shipping routes meant there were always plenty of passing ships loaded with valuable cargo to steal. Pirates would lure heavily-laden merchant ships close to shore by shining bright lights into the dark sky, mimicking lighthouses. Captains, expecting to find safe harbors, would guide their ships into shallow reefs, where they’d wreck and be plundered. With hundreds of small islands in the area, there was no shortage of secret places for pirates to hide their newly acquired treasures.
Some of the world’s most infamous pirates used Nassau Paradise Island as home base during this time. Perhaps the most well-known was Blackbeard, one of the most violent and terrifying pirates of all. During his short career of about five years, it’s believed he captured 40 ships. Female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who sailed under the notorious Calico Jack, disguised themselves as men – and were said to be every bit as frightening as their male counterparts. Read more about Nassau’s most fearsome pirates!
Want to learn more about the pirates of The Bahamas? Plan a visit to the Pirates of Nassau museum, where you can immerse yourself in a pirate’s life at the turn of the 17th century!
1695 & 1703: NASSAU IS DESTROYED…TWICE!
Because of all the pirate activity in and around Nassau, the city was widely regarded in seafaring circles as a dangerous place. During the Age of Piracy in The Bahamas, so many Spanish ships were wrecked that Spanish troops retaliated and destroyed the city in 1695. Nassau was quickly rebuilt, with the addition of the Old Fort of Nassau in 1697 to help protect the city. This fort was demolished in 1897, but three “newer” forts remain today – Fort Montagu (1725), Fort Charlotte (1789), and Fort Fincastle (1793). Learn more about the forts of Nassau.
Less than 10 years after Nassau was first destroyed, in 1703, the French and Spanish navies once again wrecked the city in an expedition known as the Raid on Nassau.
Finally, in 1718, the Age of Piracy came to an end when King George appointed Woodes Rogers, an English sea captain and privateer, as Royal Governor of The Bahamas. His job was to restore order in The Bahamas, which was “without any face or form of Government”. Rogers offered pirates a King’s Pardon – if they surrendered, they would receive amnesty. Three hundred pirates accepted his proposal. The rest fled from Nassau Paradise Island, and order was restored.
1861-1865: CIVIL WAR
While it created many hardships for the U.S., the American Civil War meant a strong economy in The Bahamas thanks to blockade runners. In the 1800s, the British textile industry depended on cotton from the southern U.S. to make fabric. However, because of navy blockades, ships from Great Britain couldn’t access ports in the southern states to pick up their cotton shipments.
Instead, they’d sail to Nassau, where blockade runners would meet them with their precious cargo. The British ships would trade goods for cotton, which the blockade runners would then return to Charleston to sell at a massive profit. It took 48 hours to sail the 560 miles between Nassau and Charleston, so blockade runners were able to make a lot of money in a relatively short amount of time.
The end of the Civil War meant the end of a prosperous time in The Bahamas until prohibition began.