The Bahamas are a group of islands located east of Florida
and north of Cuba
. They got their name from Christopher Columbus
, who derived the name from the phrase Baja Mar
, "low water."
Before Columbus arrived at San Salvador Island in 1492, the Bahamas were inhabited by two successive groups of Native Americans. The first group, probably from Cuba, arrived around 300 AD. Around 1000, they were displaced by Lucayan migrants from the Lesser Antilles, whose population grew to around 40,000 by the time Columbus arrived.
Columbus and his fellow Spanish explorers enslaved the Lucayans and sent most of them to Hispaniola to work in mines. Within 25 years, slavery and disease had wiped out the Bahamian Lucayan population. The Spanish chose not to settle in the Bahamas, so the archipelago was more or less deserted for a century.
In 1648, a group of Puritans from Massachusetts built a colony on the island of Eleuthera. Their first year was rough and marked by conflict over food that split the Eleutherans into two communities, Governor's Harbour and Preacher's Cave. Eventually, they received supplies from the mainland and reunified again, forming the first modern settlement in the Bahamas.
It was hardly a peaceful area, though—pirates (arrrrr!) were beginning to use the 700 islands of the Bahamas to hide their booty. The port of Nassau, which the British founded in 1670, became a haven for piracy and privateers, and it was eventually destroyed by Spanish ships in 1695. When it was rebuilt, it didn't last for long: French and Spanish ships came back to destroy it again in 1703.
Finally, in 1718, Britain made the Bahamas a crown colony, and appointed a governor to restore order. There was finally some peace in the islands, and it lasted all the way through the American Revolution. Many British loyalists from the mainland came to the Bahamas after the war.
During the Civil War, the Bahamas became the headquarters of British trade with the Confederate States of America. Small blockade runners would go from Nassau to Charleston, South Carolina with manufactured goods, and bring back cotton for British mills. The end of the Civil War muted the Bahamian economy, but Prohibition brought money back into the islands, as smugglers began running whiskey and rum from Nassau to the mainland.
Prohibition also brought American tourists to the islands. Although Amendment XXI ended that burst of activity, the tourist industry came back in full force after the Cuban Revolution made Havana's glitzy resorts off-limits to Americans. Cruise ships began their regular calls at Nassau, and money began flowing in again. The Bahamas were now economically viable on their own, and the British granted the islands independence on July 10, 1973.
Nowadays, the Bahamas are popular as a transshipment point for illegal drugs.
Two-thirds of the 300,000 Bahamians live in or around Nassau. Grand Bahama Island, Abaco Island, Eleuthera Island, and Andros Island are the other main islands.
85% of Bahamians are black, and 13% are white. Although unemployment is a major problem, GDP per capita is around $15,000, making the Bahamas one of the wealthier countries in the Americas.
The Bahamian parliament is divided into a Senate and a House of Assembly. There's a prime minister, a cabinet, and all the other institutions you'd expect to find in a Commonwealth country. Parliament is divided fairly evenly between the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party. Everyone stands for election every five years.