Many Bahamians think crime is a recent phenomenon in The Bahamas. Think again. One need only read our country’s history to see that we are not alone – crime has been a problem from the beginning settlers. While some of us are revisionists of our country’s history, discarding everything that happened in The Bahamas prior to independence in 1973, this is unwise, because there is much we can learn from our past.
In the 18th Century, piracy was running rampant in The Bahamas. People were afraid to venture out at night, as drunken pirates terrorised the streets. Further, pirates seized vessels at sea, massacring everyone on board and looting the booty. Instead of calling today’s criminals thugs and gangsters, perhaps, we should be calling them pirates.
During this period, The Bahamas was described by the Governor of Bermuda as, “a sink or nest of infamous rascals”. The crime situation in Nassau had become so insufferable that King George 1, who succeeded Queen Anne in 1714, sent Woodes Rogers to The Bahamas with a mission to eradicate piracy. Woodes Rogers arrived on New Providence with a complement of soldiers and went to work. By the time he was finished, The Bahamas had a new motto, “Piracy expelled, commerce restored.”
Eradicating Piracy The Woodes Rogers Way: How did Woodes Rogers, the first Royal Governor, expel piracy from The Bahamas? The key factors were the implementation of a royal pardon followed swiftly by capital punishment. Known as the “King’s Pardon,” in 1718 Woodes Rogers gave clemency to all pirates who surrendered. After the period of clemency had ended, he declared martial law: anyone convicted of piracy was sentenced to death. On December 9, 1718, Woodes Rogers brought ten men charged with piracy to trial. Nine of them were convicted. Three days later, Woodes Rogers pardoned one and publicly hanged the remaining eight. One of the condemned men, Thomas Morris, muttered as he climbed the gallows, “We have a good governor, but a harsh one.”
After the executions, the population of Nassau was visibly shaken and some of the residents conspired to overthrow Woodes Rogers and restore the island to piracy. However, the conspirators did not receive the support of the general population, who were pleased by Woodes Rogers’ resolve. Woodes Rogers ordered the dissenters flogged and released as harmless. He then proceeded to rebuild the island’s fortifications, which had fallen into disrepair in the pirate’s domain. Under the rule of Woodes Rodgers, piracy was soon completely eradicated from The Bahamas.
One man, Woodes Rogers, eradicated piracy from The Bahamas in the 18th Century. One man can once again eradicate crime from our present Bahama land. The Bahamas is currently in a state of war. During his time, Woodes Rogers declared martial law and implemented capital punishment to solve the problem.
Perhaps martial law should be declared once more.
A key quality of Woodes Rogers’ character was his speedy resolve. He did not take a gradual, long term, approach to eradicating piracy. Once he decided piracy must go, he stopped at nothing to pursue this task. With the recent killings in New Providence, a line has been drawn in the sand, and the Government of The Bahamas must stop at nothing to ensure that crime is eradicated from these shores.
David F Allen
Bahamas Law Chambers