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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 8 (October 1986)

by Steve Dodge

Nassau, the capital of the Bahama Islands, was a neglected frontier outpost of the British Empire for most of its over three-hundred-year colonial history. The Out Island communities of the Bahamas were more than neglected, they were simply unknowa As late as 1884 the Annual Colonial Report indicated that"... at least one-half the bank hitherto marked as Abaco is covered with water."1 This lack of even basic geographic knowledge illustrates the extreme isolation of Abaco and the other Out Island communities of the Bahamas. Life in the Out Islands was simple and the Out Islanders were poor - most of them lived by subsistence fishing and farming. During the late nineteenth century efforts were made to develop export agricultural operations, but these either failed or were only marginally successful, and life in the Out Islands remained quite primitive - untouched, for the most part, by the rapid industrialization and modernization which was occurring in the United States and Europe during these years. Between 1906 and 1916 however, a modern business operation was established in Abaco at Wilson City, and for almost ten years many Abaconians lived in a "modern" environment Wilson City was a marvel in its time. The story of Wilson City's role in the history of Abaco and the Bahamas is the subject of this paper.

The Spaniards who followed Columbus to the New World in the sixteenth century by-passed the Bahamas in their rush to the riches of mainland America, and the English were therefore able to lay claim to and settle the Bahamas during the seventeenth century. The English settled Eleuthera, New Providence, and some other islands, but they by-passed Abaco and Andros and Grand Bahama Large islands such as these remained uninhabited simply because they were of no great value. The soil was thin, found primarily in pockets in the limestone base which formed the islands, and would not support intensive agriculture. The principal value of the Bahamas to England was strategic rather than commerical— well put by one Governor who contended that the principal value of the Bahamas was their ability to annoy the neighborhood.2


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  1. Annual Colonial Report, 1884.
  2. Woodes Rogers, Nassau, October 31, 1718, CO 23/1/14.