One of the first things that tourists in Freeport and the rest of Grand Bahama notice – particularly when they go shopping or pay for a meal – is that the Bahamian dollar is equivalent to the American dollar. While this may be fortuitous for travelers – there’s no need to exchange currency before your trip – there’s actually a reason for it… one that dates back more than 150 years.
Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, Grand Bahama had largely been left alone by the outside world. At various times, it had been claimed by the Spanish and the British – and had been used as a base of operations for such pirates as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Henry Morgan – but as of the late 1830s, the island’s population numbered only in the hundreds. Further, many of those people had abandoned the island for the greater opportunities on New Providence, in the city of Nassau.
Grand Bahama’s fortunes changed with the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War. The United States is just 55 miles away from Grand Bahama, making the island a strategic location – particularly since the Confederacy was under a strict Union blockade and embargo. In desperate need of sugar, cotton and weapons, the South sought help from smugglers operating out the Grand Bahama town of West End. These smugglers were able to command hefty prices, and this led to a temporary boom in the island’s economy.
The next time Grand Bahama got involved in the smuggling business was during another dark chapter in U.S. history: Prohibition. When the 18th Amendment was passed in 1920 – banning the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol – it immediately created a demand that offshore (but relatively close) locales such as Grand Bahama and Cuba could help fill. Prohibition brought warehouses, distilleries, bars, supply stores and inns to West End. The town’s smugglers had the system down to a science. They’d sail off at night, with ropes dragging huge cylinders of liquor behind them. If the American Coast Guard pursued, they would simply cut the ropes, wait for the patrol to leave, and then recover them.
Just as it was during the Civil War, however, as soon the U.S. solved its problem (with the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933), Grand Bahama’s economy dove and people started fishing again. It was only with the rise of tourism that the economy gained more stability. This ideal was cemented in 1955, with the signing of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement – a document that authorized the creation of a town that catered to both industry and tourists. That town is Freeport, a premeditated paradise offering almost every kind of vacation activity imaginable.
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