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The Eleutheran Adventurers were a group of English Puritans and religious Independents who left Bermuda to settle on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas in the late 1640s. This group represents the first concerted European effort to colonize the Bahamas – no effort was made while the islands were under Spanish rule – but their claim to the islands would not survive the political turmoil of the Restoration in England.
The mid-17th century was a period of constant religious and political turmoil in England and in Europe which culminated in the English Civil Wars, the first of which was fought between the king, Charles I and Parliament, represented by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell. This conflict spread to Bermuda where a period of civil strife resulted in a victory for the supporters of the Royalist party in the English Civil War. The struggle eventually led to the expulsion of those who did not swear allegiance to the Crown, particularly the colony's Puritans and independents. The small group of Puritan settlers, led by a man named William Sayle, searched for a place in which they could freely practice their faith.
The English had laid claim to the Bahamas in 1629, but had made no permanent settlements. In 1644, in the midst of the English Civil War, the Bermudian Independent Puritans sent an expedition to explore these new islands, but one vessel was lost and the other failed to find a suitable island. Nevertheless, sometime between spring 1646 and autumn 1648, Sayle took some seventy people to settle in the Bahamas. They made landfall on the island called Cigateo, which they named Eleutheria, from the Greek word for "freedom", although the name later became Eleuthera. The island's original inhabitants, the Lucayans, had been decimated through the slaving activities of the Spanish and the numerous European diseases, especially smallpox, that followed.
The colony was not an immediate success. Its soil yielded little production and the settlers barely got by during their first years. Sayle, however, was a very resourceful man, and secured a number of supplies from the mainland colonies. Despite this the colony did not do much better in the following years and in the end only a few hardcore settlers from the original Eleutherans were left. Sayle himself went on to become Governor of South Carolina, but continued to have a vested personal interest in Eleuthera. He used this influence to secure some trade for the island and so helped the community through its infancy.
This episode is thought to be the historical source of Andrew Marvell's poem "Bermudas," written in praise of the Puritan settlers of the New World, and one of the earliest statements of the so-called "American Dream". According to the Norton Anthology of English Literature (7th ed., p. 1686), "The poem was probably written after 1653, when Marvell took up residence in the house of John Oxenbridge, who had twice visited the Bermudas."
- "History of the Bahamas". Retrieved 18 April 2010.
- Sandra Riley, Thelma B. Peters. Homeward Bound: A History of the Bahama Islands to 1850 with a Definitive Study of Abaco in the American Loyalist Plantation Period. RILEY HALL, 2000. Retrieved April 18, 2010.