The Eleutheran Adventurers were a group of English Puritans and religious independents who sought a place where they could freely practice their faith in the face of religious and political turmoil. This small, determined group would go on to make history as the first Europeans to establish a concerted effort to colonise the Bahamas in the late 1640s.
The mid-17th century was marked by religious and political instability in England, culminating in the English Civil War. This conflict, which pitted King Charles I against the Parliament of England, eventually led to the rise of Puritan General Oliver Cromwell. This strife spread to Bermuda, a British colony where a civil war resulted in the victory of royalist supporters known as Cavaliers. As a consequence, the colony’s Puritans and independents who refused to swear allegiance to the Crown were expelled from Bermuda.
In search of a place where they could practice their faith without persecution, these individuals turned their gaze towards the Bahamas. Led by William Sayle, they had explored these islands earlier in 1644. Eager to start anew, Sayle took 70 people on an expedition sometime between the spring of 1646 and the autumn of 1648.
Sayle and his assistant Captain Butler began their voyage on two separate vessels – Sayle’s ship was called ‘the William’. However, tensions soon arose between the two leaders over differing interpretations of religious freedom. Ultimately, Sayle left Butler behind and pressed onward towards their destination. The group made landfall on an island known as Cigateo. They renamed it ‘Eleutheria’, derived from the Greek word for “freedom”, though it later became known as Eleuthera.
Upon arrival, the adventurers faced significant challenges. The island’s native Lucayans had been decimated by Spanish slaving activities and European diseases like smallpox. Additionally, the Eleutheran Adventurers encountered a storm that caused their ship to run aground on treacherous rocks called the Devil’s Backbone, north of Spanish Wells. Though they managed to make their way ashore and find shelter in Preacher’s Cave, they lost all of their provisions and were left without food.
Despite these hardships, the Eleutheran Adventurers persevered, holding religious services in Preacher’s Cave annually for the next century in gratitude for their survival. Their unwavering determination and commitment to creating a place where they could practice their faith laid the foundation for what would become the Bahamas we know today.