The Bahamas is located in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba, Hispaniola and the Caribbean Sea, northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and southeast of the United States of America . Its total land area is almost 14 000 km², with an estimated population of 330,000. Its capital is Nassau.
Originally inhabited by Arawakan Taino people, The Bahamas were the site of Columbus' first landfall in the New World in 1492. Although the Spanish never colonised The Bahamas, they shipped the native Lucayans to slavery in Hispaniola. The islands were mostly deserted from 1513 to 1650, when British colonists from Bermuda settled on the island of Eleuthera.
The Bahamas became a crown colony in 1718 when the British clamped down on piracy. Following the American War of Independence, thousands of pro-British loyalists and enslaved Africans moved to The Bahamas and set up a plantation economy. The slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1807 and many Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy were settled in The Bahamas during the 19th century. Slavery itself was abolished in 1834 and the descendants of enslaved and liberated African form the bulk of The Bahamas's population today.
Economic activity is mostly based on tourism and financial services. A relatively high degree of economic freedom has made The Bahamas one of the most prosperous countries in the Caribbean region.
The closest island to the United States is Bimini, which is also known as the gateway to The Bahamas. The island of Abaco is to the east of Grand Bahama. The southeasternmost island is Inagua. The largest island is Andros Island. Other inhabited islands include Eleuthera, Cat Island, Long Island, San Salvador Island, Acklins, Crooked Island, Exuma and Mayaguana. Nassau, capital city of The Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and three more extensive submarine features called Mouchoir Bank, Silver Bank, and Navidad Bank, are geographically a continuation of The Bahamas, but not part of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
The climate of the Bahamas is subtropical to tropical, and is moderated significantly by the waters of the Gulf Stream, particularly in winter. Conversely, this often proves very dangerous in the summer and autumn, when hurricanes pass near or through the islands. Hurricane Andrew hit the northern islands during the 1992 Atlantic hurricane season, and Hurricane Floyd hit most of the islands during the 1999 Atlantic hurricane season.
Hurricane Frances hit in 2004. Also in 2004, the northern Bahamas were hit by a less potent Hurricane Jeanne. In 2005 the northern islands were once again struck, this time by Hurricane Wilma. In Grand Bahama, storm surges and high winds destroyed homes and schools, floated graves and made roughly 1,000 people homeless.
While there has never been a freeze reported in the Bahamas, the temperature can fall as low as 2–3 °C during Arctic outbreaks that affect nearby Florida. Snow was reported to have mixed with rain in Freeport in January 1977, the same time that it snowed in the Miami area. The temperature was about 5 °C at the time.
Taino people moved into the uninhabited southern Bahamas from Hispaniola and Cuba around the 7th century AD. These people came to be known as the Lucayans. There were an estimated 30,000+ Lucayans at the time of Columbus's arrival in 1492. Christopher Columbus's first landfall in the New World was on an island named San Salvador , which is generally accepted to be present-day San Salvador Island, (also known as Watling's Island) in the southeastern Bahamas.
An alternative theory holds that Columbus landed to the southeast on Samana Cay, according to calculations made in 1986 by National Geographic writer and editor Joseph Judge based on Columbus's log. Evidence in support of this remains inconclusive. On the landfall island, Columbus made first contact with the Lucayans and exchanged goods with them.
The Spaniards who followed Columbus depopulated the islands, carrying most of the indigenous people off into slavery. The Lucayans throughout The Bahamas were wiped out by exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity. The smallpox that ravaged the Taino indians after Columbus's arrival wiped out half of the population in what is now The Bahamas.
It is generally assumed that the islands were uninhabited by Europeans until the mid-17th century. However, recent research suggests that there may have been attempts to settle the islands by groups from Spain, France, and Britain, as well as by other Amerindians. In 1648, the Eleutherian Adventurers migrated from Bermuda. These English Puritans established the first permanent European settlement on an island which they named Eleuthera—the name derives from the Greek word for freedom. They later settled New Providence, naming it Sayle's Island after one of their leaders. To survive, the settlers resorted to salvaged goods from wrecks.
In 1670 King Charles II granted the islands to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas, who rented the islands from the king with rights of trading, tax, appointing governors, and administering the country.
During proprietary rule, the Bahamas became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard. To restore orderly government, The Bahamas were made a British crown colony in 1718 under the royal governorship of Woodes Rogers, who, after a difficult struggle, succeeded in suppressing piracy. In 1720 he led local militia to drive off a Spanish attack.
During the American War of Independence, the islands were a target for American naval forces under the command of Commodore Ezekial Hopkins. The capital of Nassau on the island of New Providence was occupied by US Marines for a fortnight.
In 1782, following the British defeat at Yorktown, a Spanish fleet appeared off the coast of Nassau, which surrendered without a fight.
After American independence, some 7,300 loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. These Americans established plantations on several islands and became a political force in the capital. The small population became mostly African from this point on.
The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, which led to the forced settlement on Bahamian islands of thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy. Slavery itself was finally abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1834.
Modern political development began after the Second World War. The first political parties were formed in the 1950s and the British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964, with Roland Symonette of the United Bahamian Party as the first premier.
In 1967, Lynden Pindling of the Progressive Liberal Party became the first black premier of the colony, and in 1968 the title was changed to prime minister. In 1973, The Bahamas became fully independent, but retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Sir Milo Butler was appointed the first black governor-general shortly after independence.
Based on the twin pillars of tourism and offshore finance, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. However, there remain significant challenges in areas such as education, health care, international narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration from Haiti.
The origin of the name "Bahamas" is unclear. It may derive from the Spanish baja mar, meaning "shallow seas"; or the Lucayan word for Grand Bahama Island, ba-ha-ma "large upper middle land".