The Spanish gave the island the name “Gran Bajamar” — or great shallows.
Since the American Civil War the economy of Grand Bahama has been tied to the United States of America — during the Civil War Grand Bahama was a source of smuggled goods needed by the South; during prohibition it was alcohol; today, Bahamians import the bulk of their goods through the United States paid for by the money derived primarily from tourism (our “export”) — and smuggling still goes on through the illegal — in both the U.S. and Bahamas — drug trade.
Modern Grand Bahama Island is driven primarily by the vision of an American businessman Wallace Groves. Where others saw a mass of pine trees, Groves saw an international tourist destination for Americans, much like Cuba.
During the early 1950s American investor, Wallace Groves, and British financier, Sir Charles Hayward pioneered development on Grand Bahama Island. Their vision for development led to negotiations with the Government of The Bahamas and the signing of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. The Agreement, executed on August 4th, 1955, created, the ‘Port Area’, and gave birth to the City of Freeport — wherein the government granted 50,000 acres of land to The Grand Bahama Port Authority Limited (GBPA).
The agreement required the dredging of a deep-water harbour at Hawksbill Creek in the western sector of the Port Area. It also granted to GBPA responsibility for the provision, management, and administration of all infrastructure, municipal and community services, and for development of 50,000 acres of crown grant land which was later extended to 138,000 acres. This, together with an additional 12,000 acres purchased by the GBPA from other parties, forms the 160,000 acre ‘Port Area’.
The agreement also conveyed to the area the legacy of a “free port” with substantial tax concessions for financial, commercial and industrial enterprises (extended until 2054).