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History of the Cays

The Lucayans inhabited the Bahamas prior to the arrival of Columbus in 1492.  The Lucayans, originated in South America as the Arawaks and traveled throughout much of the Caribbean by dugout canoe. A peaceful people, the Arawaks were forced to keep on the move by the Caribs, a cannibalistic group, and eventually inhabited the Exumas and other Bahamaian islands between 500-600 AD..

The Lucayans were genourous by nature and shared everything with Columbus. In return, the Spanish enslaved the Lucayans to work in their mines and plantations in Cuba. No descendants of the Lucayans remain today having been obliterated by slavery and desease.

The Exumas had few visitors after the removal of the Lucayans until the arrival of the Privateers, Buccaneers and Pirates in the 1600's and early 1700's. English buccaneers established a settlement on New Providence in the mid 1600's and this became the lawless base for their activities until the arrival of William Rogers in 1718.  A series of conflicts between Spain, England and France created the era of privateering and the pirates that sailed the Bahamas during this period. The English buccaneers in the Bahamas were well positioned to attack the Spanish ships returning to Spain with gold from the New World. When treaties were signed the looting continued and privateers became pirates. The Exumas, including the cays in the Land and Sea Park, were frequently used as hideouts by the Pirates.

The American Revolution created the next wave of immigration to the Bahamas as Loyalists to the English Crown moved to the Bahamas in the late 1700's. Most Loyalists who settled in the Exumas were southerners who moved with their slaves. Although early cotton crops were successful the thin soil of the cays and the attack of the chenille, a ravenous caterpiller, prevented long term cultivation. Loyalists also moved to some of the smaller cays to rasie other crops and animals and ruins can be found on many of the cays including Hawksbill Cay and Warderwich Wells.

The abolition of slavery in 1834 ended the future of cotton in the Exumas and the freed slaves develped skills as fishermen, a tradition evident in the Bahamain communities today.

As a result of their strategic location, the Bahamas became a base for blockade running during the American Civil War. The Bahamas also served as a convienent location for rum-running during prohibition in the Unitied States between 1920 and 1933. During the 1970's and early 1980's  the Bahamas, including the Exumas, became the location of notorious drug smuggling operations.

Today the the clear water and beautiful weather have made the Exumas a premier tourist attraction. The Exuma Land and Sea Park was established in 1958 to preserve and protect this unique environment - serving as a breeding area for the  interests of the the local Bahamian fishing industry and providing a unique experience for visitors to the Bahamas.

The Visitor Center at Exuma Park Headquarters has The Exuma Guide and a variety of other books and publications that will help you learn more about the amazing history of these small cays.


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