The Bahamas has a total land area of approximately 5,300sq.mi spread over 700 islands and 2,500 Cays (pronounced keys). These islands fall into roughly 18 clusters and occupy an area of about 750mi/1,200km (roughly the length of Florida) by 250mi/400km. At its closest point the gap between it and Florida is only about 50 miles.
The total population is about 312,000 with about 2/3 in New Providence (Nassau).
Tourism and offshore banking are the largest industries.
While there is a debate about which island Christopher Columbus discovered on October 12, 1492, it is likely that it was in what is now the Bahamas. Columbus gave the name San Salvador to what was "Lucayos" natives called Guanahani.
Five years later the Spanish returned to take these Indians slaves for its colonies.
The first settlers came in 1647. They were residents of Bermuda seeking greater religious freedom and settled on the island of Eleuthera. In 1649 the British Parliament gave this group a charter making the Bahamas the first republic in the Western Hemisphere.
However, in 1670, Charles II ended the independence when he returned ownership of the land to the South Carolina company.
The Spanish then captured the Bahamas in 1684. The British in turn reestablished themselves through colonization. To this end, Nassau was established as a defensive town and named after King William III whose full title included Prince of Orange Nassau (Orange being in the south of France & Nassau in the Netherlands.)
Within a year of its founding, Nassau became a haven for pirates including the likes of Henry Morgan (later to become governor), Edward (Blackbeard) Teach, John (Calico Jack) Rockham and his lover Mary Read, and a second female pirate Anne Bonny.
By 1718, things were so out of hand that the British king sent Captain Woodes Rogers to restore order. He pardoned the pirates who accepted the government and hanged the rest.
In 1776 Americans captured Fort Montagues in their quest for gunpowder, but only kept it for a day.
In 1782, Nassau was captured by the Spanish and was recaptured by a company of Americans loyal to the British Crown a year later. To do so these Americans used straw-stuffed uniforms to fool the Spanish into thinking they were outnumbered. At that point American loyalists fleeing the new United States settled in the Bahamas with their slaves.
Prosperity followed as did the construction of many public buildings such as government house.
However, the British Emancipation Act of 1838 caused the end of cotton farming. Many of the locals became wreckers (salvagers of wrecked ships), perhaps even helping to cause some of the wrecks.
The American Civil War brought another surge in Nassau's prosperity when it became a center for Southern shippers running the Northern sea blockades and spies. It was in 1861 that the first large hotel, the Royal Victoria was built to host this traffic.
By the end of the century the islands were subsisting on some exports like Sisal (fibers extracted from a type of cactus.) The Bahamas send troops of the two World Wars and profited greatly from rum running during American Prohibition.