Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 8 (October 1986)
THE ATTAINMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES
BY FREE PERSONS OF COLOUR IN THE BAHAMAS DURING THE 19th CENTURY
The Civil Rights and privileges enjoyed by Bahamians today, perhaps have come as a result of the agitation on the part the Free Coloured population of the Bahamas in the 19th Century.
Once the person of colour had attained his freedom, he was faced with numerous restrictions. Although he was 'Free' he could not qualify to vote, give evidence in Court, become a member of the jury or run for a membership to the Honourable House of Assembly. He found himself despised by the salves with whom he did not associate, and the whites from whom freedom had been attained.1
It was not until 1833 that an act was passed "to relieve His Majesty's Free Coloured and Black Subjects of the Bahama Islands from all CivilDisabilities".2 This act, entitled them to " enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities whatsoever, to which they would have been entitled if born of, and descended from white ancestors."3 Furthermore, the act provided that all manumitted negroes, after having been two years free to be entitled to the same rights as free-born persons. This act also made "all free persons entitled to give evidence in Courts of Law."4
The right to vote, as noted by Michael Craton, had been extended to the free people of colour from as early as 1807.5 However this was only true among the privileged of the free people. This privilege was only extended in special cases, after a special Bill passed in the House of Assembly. In 1829 Murray George Farquharson6 of Crooked Island was extern ded such a privilege. However the petition of John Boyd7 and other Freemen of colour was denied.
From as early as 17348 there were laws aimed at controlling free people of colour. Among these laws was the denial of right to vote. The laws stipulated that "Every white freeholder, housekeeper or resident" was entitled to vote.9 It was not until 1830 that "An Act to Amend an Act entitled an act for Consolidating the several Acts for regulating elections and the qualifications of members of the General Assembly of their Islands..."10 was passed This Act came as a result of much agitation on the part of the free people of colour, and with support of Governor Sir James Carmichael Smyth who gave much support to the cause of the free persons of colour in The Bahamas.11 The Act extended voting rights to all males, free persons of colour and male free blacks. (For the purpose of this paper the term free persons of colour covers all persons of negro ancestry. However there was a marked distinction in Bahamian society between a free person of colour and free black).