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by Shaq Gibson 2 min read

Did you know that before Harbour Island became the unofficial Crown Jewel of the Caribbean it was actually the capital of the Bahamas? Known as “Briland'' by its inhabitants, our narrow 3.5 miles island is one of the oldest settlements in the Bahamas and was once the second largest city after Nassau. 

Harbour Island

We’ve organized a brief history of the island for you. If you’re a true history buff, we recommended you look into booking a private golf cart tour from one of our local guides. It goes without saying that nothing can replace the sincere warmth and welcoming spirit of a Briland local. 

Originally, Harbour Island and Eleuthera were home to the Lucayan and Arawak People. Christopher Colombus famously discovered the Bahamas in 1492 and wiped out the local indigenous populations by the middle of the 16th century. The island would remain uninhabited for 100 years until some ministers fleeing religious persecution from England settled the island in 1650.

Harbour Island Church

That all changed in 1717 when the settlement surrendered to the British Crown, officially making Eleuthera and Harbour Island a part of the colony of the Bahamas. The complex coral systems around Briland made it notorious for shipwrecks. Naturally, wrecking became an important source of income for the island’s inhabitants. In the 18th century, residents of Harbour Island carried special licenses to assist wrecked ships in return for a third of the recovered loot.

As the settlement grew, so did it’s economy. Prosperous years were on the horizon as ship building, sugar refinement, and a prohibition-fueled rum boom stimulated the local economy.

You may be wondering how Dunmore Town, Harbour Island’s only town, got it’s name. It turns out that the governor of Virginia fled to the Bahamas during the American Revolutionary war. He was awarded the title of Lord Dunmore, Governor of the Bahamas and settled in a Victorian cottage on Bay Street. He was responsible for the urban planning of the town you see today!

World War I became a major turning point for the island. As the global depression affected the island’s economy it’s idyllic pink sand beaches and tropical environment had no choice but to step into the spotlight. The island started becoming a tourism destination in the 1920’s, and exponentially grew when Bahamas Airways began flying to the island in 1941. Since then, tourism has been the island’s main industry.

In 1973, the colony claimed its independence and became a member of the British Commonwealth with its own parliament, flag, and national anthem. 

Harbour Island Locals

Interested in learning more about the history of our island? Ask our concierge team about our private guided tours in Harbour Island and Eleuthera. 

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