Blockade Running from Nassau

From 1861-65, writes Richard Drysdale, during the American Civil War, Nassau in the Bahamas thrived on trade with the Confederacy.

In 1861 the Bahamas was all but a forgotten colony. Its 7,000 or so inhabitants, most of whom lived in Nassau, had a precarious livelihood as there was little economic enterprise that could provide more than a basic standard of living. Various forms of enterprise had been tried and had usually collapsed. Piracy and privateering were of the past.

Poor soils had hindered the development of large-scale commercial agriculture, and sugar and tobacco could be more easily and more profitably grown elsewhere. Cotton had done well at first, only to fall victim to the Chenille bug. Sustained economic growth seemed an impossibility and poverty was widespread.

T.E. Taylor, who was to become one of the most renowned blockade-runners out of Nassau during the American Civil War, accurately placed the Bahamas in perspective when he wrote:

‘Their Lilliputian politics went on from year to year undisturbed and uncared for; there was nothing to mark their place in the world but a dusty pigeon-hole somewhere in the Colonial Office... everyone was poor... and lazily hopeless of any further development... and the whole air of the sleepy settlement had been one of indolent acquiescence in its own obscurity.’

All this changed suddenly with the advent of the American Civil War. Nassau became a thriving, prosperous port, the like of which the inhabitants had never seen or had dared to dream possible. The cause of the transformation was simple: the Confederacy, having no industry to speak of, was dependent on imported war material and other manufactured items to sustain its war effort. These came from Europe to Bermuda, Havana and Nassau where they were trans-shipped and run into the Southern ports of Galveston, New Orleans, Wilmington, Charleston and Savannah.

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