The Bahamas, formally the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is an archipelago state in the Atlantic Ocean, north of Cuba and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic); northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands; southeast of the US state of Florida; and east of the Florida Keys. Nassau, on the island of New Providence, serves as its capital. The term “The Bahamas” may apply to either the country itself or to the broader island chain it shares with the Turks and Caicos Islands. According to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s mandate/manifesto, the Bahamas territory includes 470,000 km2 (180,000 sq mi) of maritime area.
In 1492, Columbus made his first landing in the New World in the Bahamas. Lucayan, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Taino people, occupied the islands at the time. Although the Spanish never colonized the Bahamas, they transported the indigenous Lucayans to Hispaniola as slaves. From 1513 until 1648, the islands were largely abandoned until English colonists from Bermuda arrived on the island of Eleuthera.
In 1718, when the British cracked down on piracy, the Bahamas became a British Crown province. The Crown relocated hundreds of American Loyalists in the Bahamas after the American War of Independence; they brought their slaves and built plantations on land concessions. Africans made up the vast bulk of the population throughout this time period. The Bahamas became a haven for freed African slaves for several reasons: the Royal Navy resettled Africans liberated from illegal slave ships here; American slaves and Seminoles escaped from Florida here; and the government freed American slaves transported on United States domestic ships that arrived in the Bahamas due to bad weather. Slavery was abolished in the Bahamas in 1834. Today, descendants of slaves and free Africans make up almost 90% of the population; slavery-related problems pervade society.
In 1973, the Bahamas became an independent Commonwealth country, with Queen Elizabeth II serving as queen. The Bahamas is one of the wealthiest nations in the Americas in terms of gross domestic product per capita (behind the United States and Canada), with an economy centered on tourism and finance.