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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 9 (October 1987)

EARLY NINETEENTH-CENTURY PLANTATIONS ON SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS: THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD
by Kathy D. Gerace

INTRODUCTION

San Salvador Island, one of the 700 Bahama Islands,1ies at 24°N latitude and 74°30'W longitude, or nearly 370 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. Geographically San Salvador is a low, carbonate island covered with dense scrub brush and numerous saline lakes. The highest point is Kerr Mount, with an elevation of 140 feet. Numerous reefs surround the island, and there are good anchorages, depending on wind, direction, in Grahams Harbor at the north, French Bay at the south, Cockburn Town on the west, and Pigeon Creek at the southeast.

San Salvador entered Europe's historic period in 1492 when Columbus landed upon her shore and claimed the island for Spain. Although she lay claim to San Salvador and the other Bahama Islands, Spain ignored their existence except for the population of Lucayan Arawak Indians. These peace loving peoples were removed by the Spanish to be utilized as slaves in the gold and silver mines of Cuba and Hispanola, or they died from European diseases. The Bahamas were of no further interest to the Spanish since these islands are devoid of valuable minerals.

Due to a paucity of records, it is believed San Salvador lay in such an unused state for nearly 300 years, even when other Bahama Islands were being rudely settled by small scale farmers and fishermen, and by pirates and privateers. But with the progress of world events in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the history of San Salvador, then known as Watlings Island, changed drastically.

The rebellion of the American Colonists during the 1770s did not find support among many of the people, including a large number of planters in the southern colonies of the Carolinas and Georgia. Because of persecution for their beliefs, many of these "Loyalists" or "Tories" left their homes and moved with their belongings, including slaves and families, to East Florida. Here they re-established their plantations and businesses and would have possibly stayed were it not for the 1883 treaty between Great Britain and Spain in which Florida was granted to Spain.

England, realizing the adverse affect this treaty would have on its loyal subjects, agreed to provide transport for them and their belongings to other British colonies. In addition, in the Bahama Islands the government agreed to grant to every head of a family 40 acres of land and to every member of the family, free or slave, 20 acres of land. Thus as aresult of these grants and the refugee status of so many British Loyalists, the population of the Bahamas expanded greatly.

San Salvador does not seem to have been one of the initial islands to be settled by these Loyalists. The earliest grants of land were made in the 1790s, and many large tracts were not granted to individuals until the early 1800s. Some of these settlers had come from East Florida in 1783, but had first established businesses in Nassau. It was probably the outstanding success of the early cotton plantations begun in the virgin soil of other Bahama Islands which resulted in both businessmen from Nassau and wealth seekers from Great Britian applying for land grants on San Salvador. For example, Joseph and Mary Stout left St. Augustine, Florida in 1783 and established a small shop in Nassau before finally settling on San Salvador in 1803. On the other hand, grants were made to British subjects still in Great Britian, such as Alexander Muir and Charles Far-quharson. There is no evidence that Alexander Muir ever settled on San Salvador, but Charles Farquharson built an estate and eventually died there in 1835.

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