Review: Between Swamp and Sea: Bahamian Visitors in Southeast Florida before Miami by Devin Leigh

Preface and Message to my Readers: This is the first in a series of reviews I will feature on this blog.  While most reviews will be of books, this particular review is of an article from an academic journal, written by Devin Leigh, and upcoming pirate historian (of the Zamani Reader Blog).  Based on this article, I hope to see more works on pirate history by Mr. Leigh. I particularly look forward to his doctorate work on Black Caesar and the legends surrounding this slave who sailed with Edward Thatch, otherwise known as Blackbeard.  Originally, I intended to publish a new article post on the blog, but decided to wait for some significant articles to come in from the UK National Archives before publishing it.  Until those documents arrive, I will begin work on my next article.  Hopefully, the article I originally planned on posting can be completed by the end of October or early November.  Meanwhile, please enjoy my review of Mr. Leigh’s article about early Bahamians in southern Florida.

Leigh, Devin. “Between Swamp and Sea: Bahamian Visitors in Southeast Florida before Miami.” The Florida Historical Quarterly 93, no. 4 (Spring 2015), 511-537.

In American society’s greater memory, Florida’s history features many intriguing events occurring along its long and lush coasts.  The northern half of this state thrives in a long post-European contact history that dates to the sixteenth century.  Meanwhile, the southern half of Florida did not feature large population centers until well into the nineteenth century.  The typical interpretation of this region’s history seldom mentions European activities on this coast beyond isolated incidents such as pirate activity.  In his article, “Between Swamp and Sea: Bahamian Visitors in Southeast Florida before Miami,” Devin Leigh, a PhD student in the History Department at the University of California, Davis, and an adjunct history instructor at Solano Community College, exposes this view of the past is a narrative influenced by the themes of urbanization, industrialism, and large scale immigration.  This narrative usually neglects Florida’s strong association with the Bahamas.  Bahamians regularly visited the coast of southern Florida, dating back to the 1680s.  Continue reading

“The Strongest Man Carries the Day,” Life in New Providence, 1716-1717

Excerpt from image of Capt. George Lowther and his Company at Port Mayo in the Gulf of Matique, 1734, showing pirates in a makeshift tent.

Table of Contents:


By 1716, New Providence stood as a stronghold for pirates.  Since past Bahamian residents and governments allowed pirates to enter and use their harbor for generations, this news surprised few among people familiar with New World maritime activity.  John Graves, a former customs collector in Nassau, published a prediction in 1707 that the Bahamas would become a, “Shelter for Pyrates, if left without good Government and some Strength.”  He further predicted, “that one small Pyrat with Fifty Men that are acquainted with the Inhabitants (which too many of them are) shall and will Ruin that Place, and be assisted by the loose Inhabitants; who hitherto have never been Prosecuted to effect, for Aiding, Abetting, and Assisting the said Villains with Provision.”1  Six years later, Grave’s predictions came true.

In the past decade, a premium channel television program, a billion-dollar video game franchise, and popular press publications all helped revive public awareness and interest in the Bahamas and its pirate past.  These shows, games, and books are consistent in the manner they present the history of New Providence.  In telling the stories of the pirates, the narratives usually centered on captains, their crews, and the British officials that confronted them.  The recent portrayals of Nassau tend to follow what Hollywood and artistic mediums has done for generations.  The romanticized image of the typical pirate base set at a remote Caribbean settlement features a group of wooden post-and-beam frame buildings, built near an elegant beach, and populated with pirates gallivanting with attractive women day and night.  This common media depiction, while appealing to general audiences, is two-dimensional.  This weak caricature does not delve deep into understanding what New Providence was like in 1716-1717, when Nassau’s pirate population was at its peak. Continue reading