Thursday, February 19, 2009


Eleuthera is an island in The Bahamas whose history is worth noting on this blog. The Taino or Arawak or Lucayan Indians populated the island until the Spanish deported them as slaves and the island was uninhabited from 1550 or so until 1648 when settlers arrived from the island of Bermuda.

Bermuda was established as a colony of the British Crown following the 1609 shipwreck of the Sea Venture, a resupply vessel sent to aid the newly-formed settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. That shipwreck, as recounted by William Strachey, is said to have served as the inspiration for William Shakespeare's The Tempest, and John Rolfe is counted among those shipwreck-founders. The Church of England became firmly established on Bermuda and conflict eventually arose between the ecclesiastical authorities and English Puritans who had immigrated there. As early as 1644, those Puritans were seeking other islands within The Bahamas to settle as a means of escaping religious persecution on Bermuda. Under the leadership of William Sayle, a group of Adventurers selected the island of Sigatoo (Cigatoo) as the site of their new promised land, and renamed it Eleutheria (Greek for 'freedom') -- later renamed Eleuthera (Greek for 'free'). On July 9, 1647, Sayle and twenty-five other men signed what was to become Eleuthera's constitution for the next two decades or so, the Articles and Orders of the Eleutherian Adventurers. Although the 1638 Fundamental Orders of Connecticut lays claim to being the first written constitution, the Eleutherian Articles and Orders was an important early contribution to republican government in the New World.

During the Puritan era of Eleuthera, William Sayle was the governor for most of this period. It was an impoverished colony. Church services were held for a time at what become known as the Preachers Cave. The Puritan colony also settled a nearby island with greater success, renaming it New Providence (which is the site of the present Bahamian capital, Nassau). It was so named because there was another Puritan colony in existence then which became known as Old Providence of Isla de Providencia off the coast of Nicaragua, having been established by the Puritan Providence Island Company in 1629, which also established another short-lived colony on Tortuga, off Haiti from 1631-1635.

The Puritan Eleutherian government lacked royal support following the Restoration, and in 1670 Royalist claims forced the Puritan settlers to seek refuge elsewhere. It was then that William Sayle led a group to South Carolina and founded the town of Charleston, becoming the first governor of South Carolina as well.

Thus, Puritan colonists settled The Bahamas (Eleuthera and New Providence), as well as Charleston, South Carolina, and their legacy includes one of the earliest written constitutions in the New World.

Some of this Eleutherian history was most recently obliquely referred to in the 2008 movie Fool's Gold. Portions of the movie were filmed on Eleuthera as well.

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