The earliest known plan of Nassau, Bahamas: “The Republic of Pirates”
By BARKER, Captain John, 1722
An Exact Plan of the Harbour of Providence
- Author: BARKER, Captain John
- Publication date: c1722.
- Physical description: Original manuscript chart, pen and black ink with colour wash, ‘received the 10th July 1723 with a Duplicate of Cap: Phenny’s Letter of 2d March 1722/3’ at the lower right corner, ‘Bahamas Harbour of Providence’ at upper right corner to verso, pencilled gridlines, watermarked Strassburg lily within a crowned shield with ‘WR’ terminal, old folds.
- Dimensions: 420 by 575mm. (16.5 by 22.75 inches).
- Inventory reference: 14509
The map appears to be the manuscript source for several well-known printed maps, including those of Herman Moll, 1729, and Henry Popple, 1733 (see item 31). We have been unable to trace any printed or manuscript work that pre-dates the present example.
History of the Bahamas
The first settlers
Since their discovery on 12 October 1492 by Christopher Columbus, the Bahamas were claimed, and largely ignored, by Spain. The first European settlers were the Company of the Eleutheran Adventurers, who were a group of English Puritans and religious Independents who left Bermuda to settle on the island of Eleuthera between 1646 and 1648. The group was led by William Sayle, Governor of Bermuda, and had been expelled from Bermuda for their failure to swear allegiance to the Crown, and were searching for a place in which they could freely practice their faith. This group represented the first concerted European effort to colonize the Bahamas. Sayle later became the first governor of colonial South Carolina from 1670–71.
In 1670, King Charles II gave the Bahamas to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, who, like the Spanish before them, largely left the islands alone, with the settlement of Charles-town on New Providence, reporting a population of about 900. Government-approved privateering took place, justified as necessary for the defence of the settlement. Despite treaties of peace with Madrid signed in 1677 and 1670, the practice continued and, as a consequence, on 19 January 1684, a Spanish expedition from Cuba reduced the settlement to ruins and carried off Governor Roger Clarke. Under a judgement of the Inquisition he was tortured to death and his body roasted.
In December 1686 a small contingent from Jamaica arrived to re-populate the island under the preacher Thomas Bridges. Various proprietary governors ensued, including Nicholas Trott, who, in 1695, rebuilt the town and added a fort, naming it “Nassau”, after William III, whose Dutch title was William of Orange-Nassau. The era of piracy in the Bahamas began in 1696, when the privateer Henry Every brought his ship ‘The Fancy’ loaded with loot from plundering Indian trade ships into Nassau harbour. Every bribed Governor Trott with gold and silver, and even with “The Fancy” itself, still loaded with 50 tons of elephant tusks and 100 barrels of gunpowder. This established Nassau as a base where pirates could operate safely, although various governors regularly made a show of suppressing piracy. Although the governors were still legally in charge, the pirates became increasingly powerful.
“The Republic of Pirates“
The fort was attacked by the Spanish in 1700, and again by a joint French and Spanish force in 1703. With the War of Spanish Succession raging in Europe, the fort was left in disrepair and undermanned. The treaty of 1713 left many who had privateered under the protection of the flag, unwilling to return to the stricture of navy life and to give up the freedoms they had come to enjoy. Many turned to piracy and found a home in Nassau.
By 1713 there were an estimated 1000 pirates in the town, far outnumbering the 500 inhabitants. This period of pirate rule ran from 1706 to 1718, and the republic was dominated by two famous pirates who were bitter rivals – Benjamin Hornigold and Henry Jennings. Hornigold was mentor to pirates such as the famous Edward Teach (1680–1718), known as “Blackbeard”, along with Sam Bellamy and Stede Bonnet. Jennings was mentor to Charles Vane, ‘Calico’ Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. Despite their rivalries, the pirates formed themselves into the ‘Flying Gang’ and quickly became infamous for their exploits. Blackbeard was later voted by the pirates of Nassau to be their Magistrate, to be in command of their republic and enforce law and order as he saw fit.
An interesting account of Nassau at the time was given by Captain Matthew Musson who was ‘cast away’ on the island:
“Capt. Mathew Musson to the Council of Trade and Plantations. On March last he was cast away on the Bahamas. At Harbour Island he found about 30 families, with severall pirates, which frequently are comeing and goeing to purchase provissons for the piratts vessells at Providence. There were there two ships of 90 tons which sold provissons to the said pirates, the sailors of which said they belong’d to Boston. At Habakoe one of the Bahamas he found Capt. Thomas Walker and others who had left Providence by reason of the rudeness of the pirates and settled there. They advis’d him that five pirates made ye harbour of Providence their place of rendevous vizt. [Benjamin] Horngold, a sloop with 10 guns and about 80 men; [Henry] Jennings, a sloop with 10 guns and 100 men; [Josiah(s)] Burgiss, a sloop with 8 guns and about 80 men; [Henry?] White, in a small vessell with 30 men and small armes; [Edward] Thatch, a sloop 6 gunns and about 70 men. All took and destroyd ships of all nations except Jennings who took no English; they had taken a Spanish ship of 32 gunns, which they kept in the harbour for a guardship. Ye greatest part of the inhabitants of Providence are. already gone into other adjacent islands to secure themselves from ye pirates, who frequently plunder them. Most of the ships and vessells taken by them they burn and destroy when brought into the harbour and oblidge the menn to take on with them. The inhabitants of those Isles are in a miserable condition at present, but were in great hopes that H.M. would be graciously pleas’d to take such measures, which would speedily enable them to return to Providence their former settlement, there are severall more pirates than he can now give an accot. of that are both to windward and to leward of Providence that may ere this be expected to rendevous there he being apprehensive that unless the Governmt. fortify this place the pirates will to protect themselves. Signed, Mathew Musson. Endorsed, Read 5th July, 1717. 1? pp. [C.O. 5, 1265. No. 73.]”.
Drain the Swamp
In 1718 George I appointed a Royal Governor to clean up the town. Governor Woodes Rogers (c1679-1732), himself an ex-privateer, arrived in July 1718. Rogers had commanded a privateering voyage around the world 1708-11, which included amongst its officers William Dampier. It was on this voyage that they found themselves on Juan Fernandez island on 31 January 1709, driven by storms. Two days later they found Alexander Selkirk, a former crewman of Dampier’s who had been abandoned there for four years. Roger’s ‘Cruising Voyage’, published in 1712, revealed the story to the world, and, in 1719, Daniel Defoe would publish ‘Robinson Crusoe’ based on the tale. Following his return to Bristol, Rogers was approached about the situation in the Bahamas. In 1717 he submitted a proposal to the Lords Commissioners of Trade, subsequently accepted, that the Lords Proprietors of the Bahamas surrender civil and military government of the Bahamas to the Crown, excepting payment of quit rents and royalties. These were then leased to Rogers for twenty-one years. His commission granted him the power to suppress piracy by whatever means he deemed necessary. He also carried a Royal Pardon, which he offered to any pirate willing to give up their way of life. All but two notable pirates accepted: Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Charles Vane.
Blackbeard’s flagship ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge’ ran aground off Beaufort, North Carolina in 1718 and was not rediscovered until 2011. Blackbeard himself died a few months later when Governor Spotswood of Virginia sent two ships after him. His death was recorded in the ‘Boston News-Letter’:
“[Lieutenant Robert] Maynard and Teach themselves begun the fight with their swords, Maynard making a thrust, the point of his sword against Teach’s cartridge box, and bent it to the hilt. Teach broke the guard of it, and wounded Maynard’s fingers but did not disable him, whereupon he jumped back and threw away his sword and fired his pistol, which wounded Teach. Demelt struck in between them with his sword and cut Teach’s face pretty much; in the interim both companies engaged in Maynard’s sloop. Later during the battle, while Teach was loading his pistol he finally died from blood loss. Maynard then cut off his head and hung it from his bow.“
Teach had apparently been shot five times and stabbed more than twenty times before he died. Legends about him arose immediately. His decapitated head, required as evidence of his capture, was taken back to England and hung from a pike in Bath.
Governor Rogers was successful in many ways, but disease and laziness among the work force made progress slow. By 1720 he was deeply in debt and becoming ill himself, so decided to return England to fight his cause. He left Nassau in March 1721 and, on reaching London, pleaded for an allowance and further provisions for defence. It fell on deaf ears and he spent some time in debtor’s prison.
Whilst in England, Rogers learned of the appointment of a new Governor, Captain George Phenney. Shortly after arrival on 1 March 1722, Phenney sent a letter and plan of the harbour back to London to the Board of Trade, later known as the Colonial Office. This plan — the present example — bears a note on the bottom in a contemporary hand stating that it was ‘received the 10th July 1723 with a Duplicate of Cap: Phenny’s Letter of 2d March 1722/3. The original letter dated 1 March, and the duplicate which accompanied this plan, both survive at the National Archives at Kew (MPG 1/253). It was a common practice of the day to send documents in duplicate to ensure safe arrival. Indeed, Phenney wrote on 1 March to Lord Carteret stating:
“The miscarriage of several letters I have sent home with material papers either thro’ the misfortune or ill conduct of the messengers obliges me to send the bearer etc.“
That bearer was his wife, as attested by a later letter to the same of 24 December 1723:
“hope the letters I sent by Mrs. Phenney came safe to your Lordship, tho’ she to my misfortune had not the honor of seeing you. One motive of my sending her was that I might here some papers were certainly deliver’d having been very ill us’d by the person thro’ whose hands I generally convey’d them, which has occasion’d my being blamed for neglects of which I was not guilty”.
A transcription of the accompanying letter identifies the mapmaker to be Captain John Barker:
“Governor Phenney to the Council of Trade and Plantations. I do myself the honor to enclose several papers for your Lordships’ inspection, with a draft of the harbour and the designd Church, which (the materials being arriv’d) will with God’s blessing be soon completed… [Refers to enclosed accounts of excise and tonage duties]… “in which I did all my endeavour to be a good husband. I am forct to struggle with a great many difficultys in great measure for want of an Assembly which the people here impatient have again addrest H.M. for.”… [Refers to enclosed trials of pirates etc]… The people of Catt Island have lately quitted that remote place having been so often plunder’d and disturb’d, and now are settled partly on Islathera, others on Harbour Island and Providence. These latter came here but two days ago, and intend imediately to begin a plantation. Captain Barker H.M. Engineer will deliver your Lordships drafts of the forts and hornwork necessary for the defence of the place, and how far we have proceeded. I am designing to open a way into the center of the Island where I don’t doubt finding good land for planting. Our present sett of people being mostly seafaring men have not any great notions that way. I have letters from several people of credit and substance that they will speedily come and settle here, and dont in the least question the encrease of our numbers when our fortifications are perfected, and especially if we have an Assembly. P.S. The misfortune of a limekiln not being regularly burnt has retarded our work on the King Bastion, but I shall set fire to one this week of about 7,000 bushels, which will enable us to finish it with all possible expedition. [Signed,] G. Phenney. [Endorsed,] Recd. 13th, Read 14th June, 1723. 1 ? pp. [Enclosed]’ [BHO]
The “enclosed draft” referred to in the letter is the present map. Little is known about Captain John Barker. Phenney wrote to Charles Delafaye (under-secretary to the Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle) on 24 December 1723 stating: —
“I have enclos’d a draft of the Fort the only one I have yet done, fearing lest Mr. [John] Barker who promised me to lay one before your Lordship has not been so good as his word. That person was brought hither and recommended as one of H.M. Engineers and a man of probity by Governor Rogers in their way as they first pretended to St. Lucia, and he had address enough to impose upon me so far that I believed it when I mention’d him to your Lordship, but having heard since by good hands from Bermuda and home a character quite the reverse, I am oblig’d in duty to let your Lordship know it, tho’ I blush whilst I am doing it, lest he should have an opportunity thro’ my means to tell your Lordship any untruths in relation to this place”.
This map found its way into the hands of Sir William Strickland. The number of paid commissioners of the Board of Trade was set at eight. One of these was Thomas Pelham-Holles (First Duke of Newcastle) who served from 1717–41. In 1724 he was named Secretary of State for the Southern Department, which included all the American colonies. His predecessor was John Carteret (1690–1763). His younger brother was Henry Pelham-Holles (1694–1754), who served as Secretary of War from 1724–30. That position passed to Sir William Strickland from 1730–35. This, or something similar, is likely the way the present manuscript map arrived in the Strickland family, where it remained until the twentieth century.
The map is centred on the Fort at Nassau and illustrates the ‘Eastern Battery’ at ‘Devil’s Pt.’, now the site of Fort Montagu. Opposite is ‘Hogg Island’, now known as Paradise Island. Between them is the small ‘Potters Key’, so-named today, and the conduit for the bridges between the two. ‘Long Key’ remains the same, but Silver Key is known today as ‘Crystal Cay’. ‘Spencer’s Pt.’ is present, and ‘Rush’s Bay’ has since been renamed ‘Goodman Bay’. The harbour area is marked with depth soundings in feet. The whole bears a pencil grid that, on close examination, has been drawn on the paper before the map. This was the guide by which the copy was made.
The map is undoubtedly the source for the first printed plan of the harbour by Hermann Moll, included in the first edition of the ‘Atlas Minor’ published in 1729. It was also the source for Henry Popple’s landmark wall map insert, published in 1733 (see item 31). Moll had for some time an interest in maps which helped to promote British interests. Indeed, he often placed legends strongly supporting British claims. That had likely brought him to the attention of the Board of Trade. By 1724 he was one of the pre-eminent mapmakers in Britain.
1. Collection of Sir William Strickland (c1686-1735), fourth Baronet, of Boynton, Yorkshire, M.P. for Carlisle, and Scarborough, 1722–35, and Secretary of State for War, 1730–1735.
2. Edward C. Lowe, catalogue no. 146, item 29, 1951, sold to:
3. Alexander Orr Vietor (1913–1981), curator of maps at Yale University from 1943 to 1978.
4. Thence by descent.