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The Bahamas

Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is an independent English-speaking nation in the West Indies. An archipelago of 700 islands and cays (which are small islands), the Bahamas is located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Florida in the United States, north of Cuba and the Caribbean, and west of the British dependency of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Western Hemisphere in The Bahamas. He encountered friendly Arawak Indians and exchanged gifts with them. Spanish slave traders later captured native Lucayan Indians to work in gold mines in Hispaniola, and within 25 years, all Lucayans perished. Without a source of slaves, the Spanish did not bother to colonize the islands. In 1647 during the time of the English Civil War, a group of Puritan religious refugees from the royalist colony of Bermuda, the Eleutheran Adventurers, founded the first permanent European settlement in The Bahamas and gave Eleuthera Island its name. Similar groups of settlers formed governments in The Bahamas, but the isolated cays sheltered pirates and wreckers through the 17th century. Charles II granted land in the Bahamas to the Lords proprietors of Carolina, but the islands were left entirely to themselves. After Charles Town was destroyed by a joint French and Spanish fleet in 1703, the local pirates proclaimed an anarchic 'Privateers' Republic' with Edward Teach— better known as Blackbeard— for chief magistrate.

But when the islands became a British Crown Colony in 1717, the first Royal Governor, a reformed pirate named Woodes Rogers, brought law and order to The Bahamas in 1718, when he expelled the buccaneers who had used the islands as hideouts. After the American Revolution the British government issued land grants to a group of British Loyalists, and the sparse population of The Bahamas tripled in a few years. The planters thought to grow cotton, but the limy soil was unsuited, and the plantations soon failed. Many of the current inhabitants are descended from the slave population brought to work on the Loyalist plantations. When the U.K. outlawed the slave trade in 1807, the Royal Navy began intercepting ships and depositing freed slaves in The Bahamas. Plantation life was finished after the emancipation of remaining slaves in 1834.

During the American Civil War, The Bahamas prospered as a center of Confederate blockade-running, bringing out cotton for the mills of England and running in arms and munitions. After World War I, the islands served as a base for American rumrunners. During World War II, the Allies centered their flight training and antisubmarine operations for the Caribbean in The Bahamas. Since Havana closed to American tourists in 1961, The Bahamas has developed into a major tourist resort and at the same time the establishment of Freeport as a free trade zone (1955) developed an off-shore financial services center with a reputation for a tolerant atmosphere.

Bahamians achieved self-government through a series of constitutional and political steps, attaining internal self-government in 1964 and full independence within the Commonwealth on July 10, 1973.

When Europeans first arrived, they reported the Bahamas were lushly forested. The forests were cleared during plantation days and have not regrown.

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