Originally inhabited by various indigenous peoples, the islands of the Bahamas were taken over by outsiders several times throughout history, resulting in layers of cultural influences. The first residents were members of the Arawak tribe. Later came Spanish explorers, swashbuckling pirates, Puritans seeking religious freedom, British settlers and American tourists.
Perhaps the most infamous inhabitants were the pirates of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Hidden coves along the shores made the Bahamas a perfect hideaway for this rambunctious bunch. Henry Jennings and Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard, were among those who called New Providence Island home, and it became a haven for disorder during the pirates’ reign. The capital city, Nassau, was overrun with rogues, buccaneers and women of the brothels and taverns.
All of this ended, however, when the British government took control. By hiring privateer Woodes Rogers -- who later became the first royal governor -- the English were able to drive out the pirates and establish order in the Bahamas. You can still see evidence of this period of British influence, from 18th-century forts to the buildings of Parliament Square.
During the U.S. Civil War, blockade runners from Charleston, SC, met British ship captains in the Bahamas, trading Southern cotton for English goods and bringing their business to the isles. The period of Prohibition in the U.S. was another lucrative time for the Bahamas, when Nassau became a base for rumrunners smuggling illegal liquor.
The Bahamas found new life as a tropical vacation playground in the 1950s, when American financier Wallace Groves worked with the local government to develop a town on Grand Bahama Island that would cater to industry and tourists. The result was Freeport, a common port call on Bahamas cruises. The Bahamas became independent in 1973 but remains a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.