The Bahamas extends 760 miles from the coast of Florida on the north-west almost to Haiti on the south-east. The group consists of 700 islands and 2,400 cays with an area of 5,358 sq. miles (13,878 sq. km.). Thirty of the islands are inhabited.
The principal islands include Abaco, Acklins, Andros, Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Exuma, Grand Bahama, Harbour Island, Inagua, Long Island, Mayaguana, New Providence (where the capital, Nassau, is located), Ragged Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador and Spanish Wells. The highest point in The Bahamas is 206-ft. Mount Alvernia on Cat Island. Once known as Como Hill, Mount Alvernia overlooks The Bight.
The 2000 census disclosed that the population of The Bahamas totaled 306,611, with 155,896 females and 147,715 males. Ninety percent of the total population lives on New Providence, Grand Bahama and Abaco. New Providence has 69.9 percent of the population, Grand Bahama and Abaco with 15.5 percent, and 10.3 percent are scattered on the remaining islands and cays.
The original inhabitants of The Bahamas were Arawak Indians, who had migrated through the Antilles from South America. Within a few decades after Columbus landed on San Salvador in 1492, the Spanish had depopulated the islands by shipping the peaceful Arawaks to slavery in the mines of Hispaniola and Cuba, where they died by the thousands.
The first permanent settlement in The Bahamas was established by a group of English settlers from Bermuda called the Company of Eleutheran Adventurers, who organized a community on what is now the island of Eleuthera in 1647, seeking religious freedom.
During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, piracy flourished in the islands because of their proximity to important shipping lanes. The power of the buccaneers was crushed by Woodes Rogers, the first Royal Governor, who established orderly conduct in 1718.
In 1776, a U.S. naval squadron captured Nassau, but withdrew after only one day. Following the American War of Independence, some 6,000 American loyalists and their slaves settled in The Bahamas.
The American Civil War brought prosperity to The Bahamas, which served as a transfer point for munitions and medical supplies to be run through the northern blockade of Confederate ports. Cotton from the south was the main commodity of exchange.
During the prohibition era in the United States, from 1917 to 1933, The Bahamas again prospered because of its proximity to the mainland. This time the islands supplied liquor for American rumrunners. Taking advantage of the colony’s ideal weather conditions, the Royal Air Force used The Bahamas as a flight training area during World War II. The islands were also used by British and American units hunting German submarines.
In the post-war years, The Bahamas has become one of the world’s foremost vacation resorts. In 1950 about 40,000 visitors wintered in The Bahamas. In 2003, according to statistics supplied by the Ministry of Tourism, the total visitor arrivals rose by 4.3 percent to 4.6 million, consolidating the 5.3 percent improvement attained in 2002 and placing to 1.4 million, after consecutive declines in 2001 and 2002 of 3.6 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. Growth in sea arrivals abated to 5.4 percent from 9.0 percent in 2002, for 3.2 million visitors. Tourism now accounts for just over 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Financial services, an important engine of The Bahamian economy, are responsible for 15 percent of GDP. The number of banks and trust companies licensed to operate within The Bahamas decreased by 17 to 284 during 2003. The vast majority of them are branches, subsidiaries or affiliates of major banking institutions in North and South America and Western Europe. In addition, data from the Office of Registrar of Insurance Companies indicate that the number of licensed insurance companies, brokers and agents and managers in The Bahamas increased by one to 163 at end 2003, bringing the number of licensed insurance companies operating in the domestic sector to 137, while the number of external insurers remained at 26.
Information courtesy of Bahamas Information Services and Department of Archives