History of The Exumas

The Exumas were once called Yumey and Suma (names of an Amer-Indian origin) and over time have gone through many changes.

Lucayan Indians were the first to establish colonies here and survived by fishing and farming. They were descendants of The Bahamas' first inhabitants, the Adreans, who travelled by boats from the Mosquito Coast region of Africa. The Spanish arrived in the 1500s and turned the island into a salt mining colony. Pirates also used the islands' many cays and hidden coves as bases from which to conduct raids and hide stolen goods.

It is believed that the islands were not permanently settled until after the American Revolutionary War in the 1700s, when a group of Loyalists sought refuge here with their slaves. They set up cotton plantations which flourished for a brief time but soon declined. Among the Loyalists who came to Exuma were James Braynen, Philip Moore, Roger Kelsall and John Kelsall. Dennis Rolle of Devonshire, England, and his son, Lord John Rolle, brought about 140 slaves and settled on Great Exuma Island at the time when Florida was ceded to Spain.

The first settlements were at Rolleville and Rolle Town and later at Steventon, Ramsey and Mount Thompson. Cotton plantations did not succeed because of soil exhaustion and infestation by the chenille bug. Dennis Rolle then left The Bahamas and put his plantations in the hands of an overseer in Exuma and an attorney in Nassau. His son, Lord John Rolle, inherited his father’s land in 1796, and at emancipation generously deeded his land in commonage to the former slaves. The grateful slaves adopted his surname and today sixty percent of the locals still have the last name Rolle.

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