Bintan first became politically important when Sultan Mahmud of the fallen Sultanate of Malacca fled to Bintan and created a resistance base there after Malacca was taken by the Portuguese forces in 1511. The Portuguese eventually destroyed the stronghold in 1526, and after a few years the Sultanate founded a new capital back on the Malay Peninsula and developed from there.
Bintan was also once the capital of the Sultanate of Johor that grew to considerable political and cultural power from the 17th to the 19th century. The island played a central role in Malay culture.
At the beginning of 18th century the Sultanate of Johor entered into political turmoil and the capital moved back to Bintan as the Bugis took control of the sultanate. In the hands of the Bugis, Bintan became a powerful trading port, attracting regional, Western, Indian and Chinese traders as well as migrants including Chinese much in the same way Malacca developed into a regional power three centuries earlier.
The success of the port caught the attention of the European powers. The British, who controlled Penang, were looking for a new settlement further to the south of the Straits of Malacca that would contain the Dutch expansions and considered Bintan as a possible location.
The Dutch, however, no longer accepted the competition from Bintan and attacked and took control of the island at the end of the 18th century, bringing to an end its local trading supremacy and delaying the British arrival in the area for a few years until the internal power struggle within the sultanate of Riau-Johor offered them the opportunity to take control of the island of Singapore.