History of Nassau
Nassau is the capital and commercial centre of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. The city has an estimated population of 274,400 as of 2016, just over 70% of the population of the country. Nassau was formerly known as Charles Town; founded in 1670 by British Noblemen who brought British settlers with them to New Providence where they built a fort that was named Charles Town in honour of England’s King Charles II. During the Raid on Charles Town the town was burned to the ground by the Spanish in 1684 during one of their frequent wars with the English. It was rebuilt and renamed to Nassau in 1695 under Governor Nicholas Trott in honour of the Dutch Stadtholder (stadhouder in Dutch) and later also King of England, Scotland and Ireland, William III who belonged to a branch of the House of Nassau, from which the city takes its name. The city is located on the island of New Providence, which functions much like a business district. Nassau is the site of the House of Assembly and various judicial departments and was considered historically to be a stronghold of pirates. The city was named in honour of William III of England, Prince of Orange-Nassau, deriving its name from Nassau, Germany.
French allied forces briefly occupied Nassau. In 1703 Spanish and French allied forces briefly occupied Nassau. From 1703 to 1718 there was no governor in the colony and by 1713, the sparsely settled Bahamas had become a pirate haven. The Governor of Bermuda stated that there were over 1,000 pirates in Nassau and that they outnumbered the mere hundred inhabitants of the town. They proclaimed Nassau a pirate republic, establishing themselves as “governors”. Examples of pirates that used Nassau as their base are Charles Vane, Thomas Barrow (who declared himself “Governor of New Providence”), Benjamin Hornigold, Calico Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and the infamous Edward Teach, better known as “Blackbeard”
In 1718, the British sought to regain control of the islands and appointed Captain Woodes Rogers as Royal governor. He successfully clamped down on the pirates, reformed the civil administration, and restored commerce. Rogers cleaned up Nassau and rebuilt the fort, using his own wealth to try to overcome problems. In 1720 the Spanish made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Nassau.
Nassau’s modern growth began in the late eighteenth century, with the influx of thousands of American Loyalists and their slaves to the Bahamas following the American War of Independence. Many of them settled in Nassau (then and still the commerce capital of the Bahamas) and eventually came to outnumber the original inhabitants.
In 1776, the Battle of Nassau resulted in a brief occupation by American Continental Marines during the American War of Independence, where the Marines staged their first amphibious raid on Fort Montague after attempting to sneak up on Fort Nassau. In 1778 after an overnight invasion, American raiders led by Captain Rathburn, left with ships, gunpowder and military stores after stopping in Nassau for only two weeks. In 1782 Spain captured Nassau for the last time when Don Juan de Cagigal, governor-general of Cuba, attacked New Providence with 5000 men. Andrew Deveaux, an American Loyalist who resettled on the island, set forth to recapture Nassau for the British Crown and with 220 men and 150 muskets to face a force of 600 trained soldiers.
Lord Dunmore governed the colony from 1787 to 1796. He oversaw the construction of Fort Charlotte and Fort Fincastle in Nassau.
After the British abolished the international slave trade in 1807, they resettled thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy on New Providence (at Adelaide Village and Gambier Village), along with other islands such as Grand Bahama, Exuma, Abaco, and Inagua. In addition, slaves freed from American ships, were allowed to settle there. The largest concentration of Africans historically lived in the “Over-the-Hill” suburbs of Grants Town and Bain Town to the South of the city of Nassau, while most of the inhabitants of European descent lived on the island’s northern coastal ridges.
During the American Civil War, Nassau served as a port for blockade runners making their way to and from ports along the southern Atlantic Coast for continued trade with the Confederacy.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Nassau profited from Prohibition in the United States.
During the wars in the Thirteen Colonies, Nassau experienced an economic boom. With funds from privateering, a new fort, street lights and over 2300 sumptuous houses were built and Nassau was extended. In addition to this, mosquito breeding swamps were filled.
As the population of Nassau grew, so did its populated areas. Today the city dominates the entire island and its satellite, Paradise Island. However, until the post-Second World War era, the outer suburbs scarcely existed.
The city’s proximity to the United States (290 km east-southeast of Miami, Florida) has contributed to its popularity as a holiday resort, especially after the United States imposed a ban on travel to Cuba in 1963. The Atlantis resort on nearby Paradise Island accounts for more tourist arrivals to the city than any other hotel property of Nassau. The mega-resort employs over 6,000 Bahamians, and is the largest employer outside government.
During the 20th century, the city spread east to Village Road and west to Fort Charlotte and Oakes Field. This semicircle of residential development was the main area of settlement until after the Second World War, and marks a distinct phase in the city’s expansion, the outer boundary to this zone being the effective limit of the continuous built-up area. The wealthier residents continued to spread east (to East End Point) and West (to Lyford Cay).
The city centre is the hub for all activities in Nassau. Thousands of people visit daily, to shop, dine, sightsee and to enjoy the tropical climate of the city. While the busiest part of central city is the Bay Street thoroughfare and the Woodes Rogers Walk, located across the street from the port and parallel to Bay, the area extends for several blocks in each direction. It starts at West Bay, around the Junkanoo Beach area. A few hotels and restaurants are located on West Bay.