Monday, January 6, 2014

The centuries-long march to majority rule in The Bahamas

The march to majority rule, pt. 1

Consider This...


philip galanisThe journey was very long and fraught with many dangers, trials, abuses, separations, rebellions, revolts, violence, frustrations, successes and, yes, even deaths. – George A Smith

The march to majority rule in The Bahamas can be characterized by two words: sustained struggle.

On Friday, January 10, we will celebrate the first public holiday to commemorate the day that majority rule came to The Bahamas on that date in 1967.  It was a life-changing event that catapulted the lives of many thousands to unimaginable heights.  Therefore this week and during the month of January, we would like to Consider This… what were some of the milestones along the way on the centuries-long march to majority rule?

Although it is difficult to capture all the important landmarks on the march to majority rule in a single column, and while we acknowledge that there are many unsung heroes of the movement, we want to highlight several important events that should be remembered as creating the framework for the achievement of majority rule as we approach this public holiday.

Early days and accelerated population

When Christopher Columbus and other European explorers first discovered these islands beginning in 1492, they met Lucayans, Arawak-speaking Amerindians who arrived in The Bahamas between 500 AD and 600 AD, originating in the South American mainland, having first settled in Cuba and Hispaniola.

For the next few centuries after Columbus’ arrival, Europeans, Americans and those who lived in our islands developed significant trading relationships.  When the Loyalists, those individuals who remained loyal to the English Crown during the American Revolution and became refugees in search of a home when the Crown lost to the rebels, fled the new United States, upwards of 5,000 people, including Loyalists and their many slaves, settled in the Bahama Islands, bringing their ideals with them.  It was with their arrival that the infamous trade in human cargo – the trans-Atlantic slave trade – reached its zenith here.  As was the case in North America and the Caribbean, African slaves were brought to market at Vendue House in downtown Nassau and were subjected to the same inhumane abuses that were experienced wherever the trade flourished.

In these islands, slavery came to be recognized as a perversion, and consequently, there were many instances, both recorded and not, that demonstrated the sustained struggle against this perversion and inculcated a determination to achieve equality in Bahamians.  This week, we will review a few instances of different kinds of early rebellion against conditions of servitude that marked the struggle and shaped the Bahamian psyche as it continued to yearn for total freedom.

Uprising at Farquharson’s Plantation

Charles Farquharson owned a prosperous plantation on San Salvador, growing a variety of crops including cotton.  He is particularly remarkable in Bahamian history as his journal was preserved and, through it, we have perhaps the only look at the everyday life of a Bahamian plantation owner and his slaves.  The journal also affords us the bare outlines of an incident on the Farquharson plantation in early 1832 that amounted to an uprising against the brutality of James, a mulatto son of the owner, who was left in charge while Farquharson was in Nassau.

It was when James decided to resort to physical punishment yet again over a minor incident that Farquharson’s chief driver, Alick, took exception to this habitual brutality and struck back, hitting young Farquharson with a heavy cudgel before he was dragged off by the other slaves who immediately gathered around the fray in a threatening manner.

Although no more violence is reported, Charles Farquharson faced great opposition as he tried to reason with his slaves the following morning.  Unfortunately, when three of the ringleaders were sent to Nassau for trial the following March, more violence was threatened by the Farquharson slaves.  Finally, after time spent at hard labor in the Nassau workhouse, all except Alick were returned to San Salvador.  Alick, for his crime of not tolerating abuse, was ordered sold and never saw San Salvador again.


A few years before the Farquharson plantation unrest, there was the legendary slave revolt in Exuma led by Pompey.  It was early 1830 and, with only three days notice, a group of 77 of Lord Rolle’s slaves were told they were to be sent to Cat Island.  No husbands or wives or any children under 14 were to be separated but they were only given one weekend to pick their pea and bean crops, thrash their corn and dispose of their livestock.  Moreover, they would have to abandon fields of Indian corn that had just been planted.

With 32-year-old slave Pompey leading them, most of the slaves involved hid in the bush for five weeks until their provisions ran out.  It was at that point that 44 of them, representing nine families and three single slaves, stole Lord Rolle’s salt boat and sailed it to Nassau in an effort to personally put their case in front of the governor, Sir James Carmichael Smyth.

Sadly, the slaves were taken into custody and thrown into the workhouse before seeing the governor.  The adult slaves were tried immediately as runaways and most of them, including five women – two of whom were nursing babies – were sentenced to be flogged.

Although he had not been kept apprised of the events surrounding this case, when the governor, known for his sympathy towards slaves, found out, he was furious, immediately firing the police magistrate and the two justices of the peace involved in the case.  He also ordered Pompey and his group of rebels to be taken back to Exuma.

When they arrived back at Steventon, they were joyously hailed as heroes and subsequently all the other slaves refused to work.  This behavior alarmed those in authority over them so they called for military reinforcements from Nassau, telling the governor that an armed slave insurrection was imminent.  Fifty soldiers and the chief constable of The Bahamas landed in Exuma during the night of June 20, 1830.  The slaves were quiet but not prepared to go to work, saying that they had understood they were to be made free.  After a thorough search of the slave houses, the soldiers only found 25 old muskets and very small amounts of powder and shot, putting the idea of an armed insurrection to rest.

However, the soldiers were still worried and decided to march to Rolleville, another slave village, to search there.  Pompey knew a short-cut and reached Rolleville before the soldiers, warning the slaves there who hid in the bush.  Although only three muskets were found in Rolleville, Pompey was captured and taken back to Steventon where his public punishment of 39 lashes persuaded the slaves to go back to work.

Most of the soldiers returned to Nassau and Lord Rolle’s slaves were reportedly left “quiet and industrious” by the chief constable.  But Pompey’s rebellion was really the first time that Bahamian slaves had resisted a transfer and succeeded, establishing that Bahamian slaves could not be moved without their consent, a major achievement in beginning to establish that slaves were people who had civil rights.  The protest that arose when the flogging of the women became known throughout abolitionist circles gave great impetus to legislation, including the bill that granted full emancipation that would finally occur four years later.

Next week in part two of this series, we will look at how some 20th century events continued the march to majority rule, preparing even more Bahamians for the struggle that was begun by Alick and Pompey as they bravely stood up for their rights so long ago.


• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services.  He served 15 years in Parliament.  Please send your comments to

January 06, 2014


- The March to Majority Rule, Part 2>>>

- The March to Majority Rule, Part 3>>>

- The March to Majority Rule, Part 4>>>