Grand Bahama Island and the Civil War

I recently visited Freeport, Bahamas. It was quaint and quiet and filled with tourist hotels, casinos, and, of course, beautiful beaches. When I returned home, I became curious what role if any Freeport, Bahamas played in the American Civil War.

After looking up the history of Freeport, I discovered that the island during the mid-1800s was controlled by Great Britain, and it wanted to remain neutral in the Civil War; thus, any smuggling activity between either the North or the South was strongly discouraged. At the outbreak of the Civil War, as we all know, the North blockaded the southern sea ports. The Confederacy was only 55 miles away from Grand Bahama Island.

The town of Freeport is located on Grand Bahama Island and it did not exist until the 1950s. Up until that time, Grand Bahama Island had a population of 370 people, mainly comprised of former Bahamian slaves. With the outbreak of the Civil War, it became a center for blockade running for the Confederacy. A blockade runner could make $300,000 for a round trip. The Captain of the vessel could receive 1000 British pounds and 10 bales of cotton. The ordinary seaman was paid 20 British pounds per month and a bonus of 10 British pounds for each completed trip. Their vessels were constructed to be long and lean and painted gray, and they burned anthracite coal so the ship’s smoke could not be seen by the Union or British ships.

The blockade runner vessels may have been painted so they could hide from the Union ships, but by 1863 over half of the blockade runners never made it to their destinations in the Confederacy. Even so, those that supplied the smuggled goods to the South brought a great boom to the local economy of Grand Bahama Island.  This was a short but sweet period of wealth. After the war it went back to its quiet but also poor economy until the 1920s, when it experienced another economic boom– rum running.

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