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The Commonwealth
The Bahamas


Caribbean and Americas

Did you know:

Robert Antoni, born in The Bahamas in 1958, was winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book award with his novel, Divina Trace, in 1992.

The country is a coral archipelago of about 700 islands and more than 2,000 cays and rocks.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1973
Population: 377,000 (2013)
GDP: –0.3% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 51
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT minus 5hr
Currency: Bahamian dollar (B$)


Area: 13,939 sq km
Coastline: 3,540km
Capital city: Nassau
Population density (per sq. km): 27

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a coral archipelago of around 700 islands and more than 2,000 rocks and cays in the West Atlantic south-east of the coast of Florida, USA, and north­east of Cuba. It straddles the Tropic of Cancer and stretches 970 km.

Main towns:

Nassau (capital, pop. 241,200 in 2010) on New Providence; Freeport (44,300), West End (13,100) and High Rock (3,900) on Grand Bahama; Cooper’s Town (9,300) and Marsh Harbour (5,800) on Abaco; Freetown (4,300) and Spanish Wells (1,800) on Eleuthera; Andros Town (2,300) on Andros; and Clarence Town (1,700) on Long Island.


The total road system extends to some 2,700 km, about 60 per cent of it paved. There are almost 1,000 km of roads on New Providence (some of which are privately owned), 209 km of roads on Eleuthera, 156 km on Grand Bahama, and more than 885 km on the Out Islands.

Main ports are Nassau (New Providence), Freeport (Grand Bahama) and Matthew Town (Inagua). The Out Islands are served by a mail boat that leaves Nassau several times a week.

The principal airports are Lynden Pindling International (16 km west of Nasau) and Freeport International (5 km from Freeport), and some 50 airports or airstrips in all.

International relations:

The Bahamas is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community (though not the CARICOM Single Market and Economy), Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of American States and United Nations.


About 30 islands are inhabited, the most important of which are New Providence, in the middle of the group, where the capital Nassau is situated, and Grand Bahama, the northernmost, with the city of Freeport. The other islands are known collectively as the Family Islands or Out Islands. The islands lie on a submarine shelf which rises steeply from deep waters in the east; to the west lie the shallow waters of the Great Bahama Bank. The islands, built of coralline limestone to an undersea depth of about 1,500 metres, are low-lying. The highest, Cat Island, rises to 62 metres at Mount Alvernia; Grand Bahama barely reaches 12 metres. The limestone rock of the islands is permeable and there are no streams. The water supply is taken from wells or collected from rainwater.


The climate is cooler than other countries in the Caribbean region but still pleasantly mild in winter. Winter temperatures average 21°C, summer temperatures 30°C. Most of the rain (averaging 1,100 mm p.a.) falls in May–June and September–October and there are frequent thunderstorms in summer. The Bahamas islands are subject to hurricanes during June–November.


The most significant environmental issues are coral reef decay and solid waste disposal.


The soil is thin, and generally infertile, but cultivation has produced exotic flowers (as well as subtropical fruit and vegetables) on the more developed islands. Some islands have large areas of pine forests. Forest covers 51 per cent of the land area and there was no significant loss of forest cover during 1990–2011.


Animal life is restricted to small species, such as agouti, frogs, iguana and bats. The Inagua National Park on Great Inagua Island is the home of more than 50,000 flamingos, the largest flock in the world and The Bahamas’ national bird.


The Bahamas was one of the few areas in the region in which the Arawak people were not displaced by the more warlike Caribs. When, in 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landing in the New World in The Bahamas, the people who met him were Arawaks who, he wrote, ‘have opened their hearts to us. We have become great friends.’ Columbus is believed to have landed at Watling’s Island (Amerindian: Guanahani; Columbus’s designation: San Salvador). But within some 20 years, the Spaniards had enslaved or transported the Arawaks; some 40,000 were transported to Hispaniola where they died working in mines. British pirates also used the islands, and in 1629 the islands were given their first constitution as part of the Carolinas (USA). The first British settlers were refugees from religious persecution under Charles I, in Cigatoo in 1648. The island was renamed Eleuthera, meaning freedom. The settlers introduced the plantation economy and African slave labour.

An early form of democratic government, with a bicameral parliament and elected lower house, developed but was abolished in 1717, when the Crown resumed government. Although the other colonial powers did not formally dispute possession, the settlers were at times harassed by the French and Spanish as well as by pirates. Fortunes fluctuated. The population soared in the late 18th century with the arrival from America of Loyalist families and their slaves after the American Revolution. In 1783–84 the population was 4,058; by 1789, it was more than 11,000, with the white settlers forming a significant minority. The abolition of slavery in 1834 caused major economic changes as the islands had been used as a centre of slave-trading.

In 1861–65 the islands enjoyed prosperity as a depot for ships running the blockade against the Confederate States during the American Civil War. Decline followed, however, compounded by a severe hurricane in 1866.

Prosperity returned in the 20th century, when the islands became an entrepot for the American bootlegging trade during prohibition. More conventional industries also developed, supplying sisal, conch shells for cameo brooch-making, pineapples and sponges. The sponge industry reached a peak in 1901 during generally lean years but collapsed in 1939 as a result of fungal diseases. In the early 1950s the islands again prospered; the success of tourism, and later offshore banking, produced phenomenal growth. In 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was founded to represent black interests in a system till then still dominated by whites.

In 1964, a new constitution set up a ministerial system of government, and the legislature was reformed to represent majority interests. After the subsequent general election in 1967, the United Bahamian Party (the so-called ‘Bay Street Boys’) was forced into opposition for the first time in the assembly’s history. Lynden Pindling, leader of the PLP, formed a government with the support of the Labour Party. The PLP won the next two general elections outright, and Pindling led The Bahamas to independence under a new constitution on 10 July 1973.

Pindling and the PLP continued in power until 1992, when they were ousted by the Free National Movement (FNM), led by Hubert Ingraham, a former PLP minister, the FNM winning 32 seats to the PLP’s 17. Subsequent investigations gave the FNM another seat, taking their total to 33.

History of the Bahamas

BAHAMAS The Journey to Majority Rule 1 of 3

Nassau In The Bahamas, 1950s

Learn more about The Bahamas on The Commonwealth site Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Narrative of a trip to the Bahamas
by Allen, Glover Morrill (1904) (pdf)

A Unicorn In The Bahamas
by Rosita Forges (1940) (pdf)

Official Reports of the Out Islands of the Bahamas
By Thos. Chapman Harvey (1858) (pdf)

Bahamas (North-America) Vacation Travel Video Guide

Why it’s Better in The Bahamas

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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