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A Brief History of the Bahamas

Eighty-five percent of the Bahamian population is of African descent. Many Africans arrived in the Bahama Islands when they were a staging area for the slave trade in the early 1800's. Others arrived with thousands of British loyalists who left the American colonies at the time of the Revolutionary War.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the New World on the island of San Salvador in the eastern Bahamas. After observing the shallow sea around the islands, he said "baja mar" (low water or sea), and effectively named the area The Bahamas, or The Islands of the Shallow Sea.

Non-Arawak people - perhaps from Cuba - lived in The Islands Of The Bahamas as early as 300 to 400 AD. They were later followed by Lucayan Indians. Neither group of people left a written history, but what they did leave - drawings, pottery, tools and bones - gives insight into their daily lives. There were about 40,000 Lucayans when Columbus arrived, but this population soon dwindled to nothing after being enslaved.

In 1647, a group of English and Bermudan religious refugees, the Eleutheran Adventurers, founded the first permanent settlement in the area and gave Eleuthera Island its name. The islands became a British crown colony in 1717.

At the time of the American Civil War, The Bahamas prospered as a center of Confederate blockade-running. After World War I, the area served as a base for American Prohibition rum runners. During World War II, the Allies centered training there for the area. Bahamians gained "internal self -government" in 1964 and full independence within the Commonwealth on July 10, 1973.