Nutshell history of Harbour Island
local teacher Prince Mather expressed his passionate interest in
preserving the history of Harbour Island by publishing the booklet,
"History of Harbour Island 1647-1973," which is available
from Island Treasures shop next door to Island Services. "We
must learn from history to avoid its mistakes," he says.
Mr. Mather discussed the historical highlights summarized below
in converstions at the library, which is across the street from
his home. But to get the real scoop, check out his book or one of
the several others available on island. He particularly recommends
the work of Dr. Gail Saunders, from whom he says he has learned
The first Bahamians
The initial landing of Christopher Columbus in the Bahamas in
1492 was bad news for the indigenous Arawak population. The Spanish
conquistadors who followed enslaved and decimated the Arawaks by
the mid 1500s.
No people meant no history for the next 100 years or so in the
From proprietary government to colony to democracy
folks' idea of political heaven might be the first 79 years of settlement
on Harbour Island. It started in about 1650 when a band of privateers
and ministers fleeing religious persecution in England established
an independent government. That party ended in 1717 with the surrender
of rights to the British Crown that made Eleuthera part of the colony
of the Bahamas. But the good news was the coming of representative
democracy 12 years later when Harbour Island sent four representatives
to the first parliament in Nassau. The Sugar Mill monument at the
foot of Government Dock commemorates that breakthrough.
Saving lives and saving loot
Life was harsh in those years, and wrecking became an important
source of income. Residents of Harbour Island had licenses to assist
wrecked ships in return for a third of the recovered goods. Legend
has it the wreckers promoted their business by luring ships onto
reefs. But some historians counter that the locals were just as
likely to prioritize saving lives over saving the loot.
A loyalist lays out a town
the revolutionary war broke out in the United States, the Loyalist
governor of Virginia fled to the Bahamas where he was awarded with
the title of Lord Dunmore, Governor of the Bahamas. He laid out
what is today Dunmore town at the center of Harbour Island, giving
shape to the village you see today. His own summer home sat on the
site of the current Dunmore Cottage, the commanding red and white
Victorian residence on Bay Street.
Freed slaves and political independence
Escaped slaves from the United States are believed to have added
to the population throughout the island's history, although the
early settlers held their own slaves until the Emancipation Proclamation
came into effect in the Bahamas in 1834. Independence for the country
came July 9, 1973, as the Bahamas became a member of the British
Commonwealth with its own parliament, flag, and national anthem.
From shipbuilding and farming to tourism
Shipbuilding and farming of citrus, pineapples, and tomatoes made
Harbour Island fairly prosperous until World War I brought worldwide
depression. The first regular tourist business that today provides
the bulk of the island's livelihood began with weekly Bahamas Air
flights in 1941. Electricity, phone service, television, and most
recently e-mail have put Harbour Island in reach of the several
hundred visitors a week that today experience her charms.
return to main page of Meet