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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 6 (October 1984)

by Peter T. Dalleo

Bahamian Studies remains a relatively neglected sphere especially when considered within the context of the Caribbean2 It is plagued by generalizations, imprecision, and misconceptions which foster a negative image of the Bahamian past New research, however, is beginning to offset this false portrayal.3

The status of the topic of African recaptives exemplifies this trend. At present the exact number of recaptives who came to the Bahamas is unknown, their origin obscure, and most importantly, their impact undefined. This papers suggests clarifications for such unanswered questions. It seeks to understand better their contributions to building Bahamian society during the first half of the 19th century. The paper also investigates other themes (immigration, resistance, African retentions) from a Bahamian perspective with the intent of illustrating the potential for properly placing the Bahamas in the larger sphere of the Caribbean experience, and, of course, the diaspora.4

Although it stopped importing slaves after 1808 because it was a British colony, the Bahamas continued to be affected by Cuba's interest in the transatlantic slave trade. According to one British consul stationed in Cuba, between 1830 and 1838 that Spanish colony imported 107,446 slaves; from 1835 to 1841, Cuban slave traders' books list another 82,051 slaves. Governor Bayley of the Bahamas, writing in 1860, speculated that in the 1850s Cuba's annual imports ranged between 18,000 and 28,000 slaves.5

Slavers found the Bahamas an attractive hiding place because of its numerous isolated cays and proximity to Cuba. Governor Colebroke lamented that "a considerable traffic has continued to be carried on with Cuba, the Slavers returning from Africa thro' Abaco and the Old Bahama Channels, which were formerly guarded by the small schooners appointed to...." halt the trade.6 Governors' despatches mention numerous instances of wrecked slavers which managed to escape with their illegal cargoes before a befuddled Bahamian bureaucracy could respond to their presence. Between 1860 and 1862, Bahamian authorities alleged that "no less than six cargoes of slaves were landed at Anguilla Cay" and escaped before they could do anything.7


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  1. This paper is a substantial revision of a talk delivered to the Bahamas Historical Society in Nassau, June 1978. It was presented to the 26th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association in Boston, December 1983. Since then I have made some alterations, especially in the section on African retentions. In this paper the term recaptives refers to those Africans who already taken from their homeland by slavers, were either captured by the British anti-slavery naval squadron or wrecked and subsequently freed in the Bahamas.
  2. Peter T. Dalleo, "Pirates and Plunderers: Rethinking Bahamian History," Africana Journal, v. XIII no. 4 (1981), pp. 293-319.
  3. Peter T. Dalleo, "Bahamian History: Myth and Reality," Africana Journal (accepted for publication 1983).
  4. P. Curtin, "The African Diaspora," in Hoots and Branches Current Directions in Slave Studies, M. Craton (ed), Toronto, 1979, pp. 1-17.
  5. D. Murray, Odious Commerce Britain, Spain and the Abolition of the Cuban Slave Trade, Cambridge, 1980, pp. 111-112. Bayley to Newcastle, March 15, 1860 GOV 4 Nassau Public Record Office, Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas (hereafter NPRO).
  6. Colebroke to Glenelg, December 4,1835 GOV 4 NPRO.
  7. Rawson to Cardwell, September 22,1865 GOV 4 NPRO. See also Colebroke to Glenelg, December 4,1835 and Bayley to Newcastle, March 15, 1860 GOV 4 NPRO; Bahama Argus, December 6,1834 and Royal Gazette, May 13,1837.