Although the area may have been populated previously, the seafaring Taino people moved into the southern Bahamas around the 7th century from Hispaniola and Cuba. These people came to be known as the Lucayans. There were an estimated 40,000+ Lucayans at the time of Columbus' arrival in 1492.
Christopher Columbus's first landfall in the New World was on an island he named San Salvador (known to the Lucayans as Guanahahani) which may be Samana Cay or present-day San Salvador Island (also known as Watling's Island), in the central part of the Bahamas Archipelago. Here, Columbus made contact with the Lucayans and exchanged goods with them.
Parts of the Bahamas as seen from an airplane.
Bahamian Lucayans were later taken to Hispaniola as slaves; and within two decades, Lucayan societies ceased to exist due to forced labour, warfare, massacre, disease, emigration and intermarriage. After the Lucayan population was eliminated, the Bahamian islands were virtually unoccupied. Until English settlers led by William Sayle came from Bermuda seeking religious freedom in 1647. The Eleutheren Adventurers established settlements on the island of Eleuthera which means Freedom. They later discovered New Providence and named it Sayle's Island. To survive, the settlers looted passing ships.
William Sayle asked King Charles II to appoint a group of Lord Proprietors to the Islands. They rented the islands from the king with rights of trading,tax, appointing governors, and administering the country. November 1st, 1670 the islands were granted to William earl of Craven, John Lord Burkley, Christopher Duke of Albermarle, St. George Carteret, Sir Peter Colleton and Anthony Lord Ashley. These Proprietors never visited the islands, they appointed Governors to rule for them.
The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1717. Some 8,000 American Loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas after 1783 from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. This led to many fugitive slaves from the US braving the perils of the Atlantic for the promise of a free life in the Bahamas.
On May 8, 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas.
The British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964. In 1973, the Bahamas became fully independent, but retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1967, Lynden Pindling became the first black premier of the colony, and in 1968 became prime minister. Another black Bahamian, Sir Milo Butler, was appointed governor-general upon Independence. Based on the pillars of tourism and offshore financial services, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. Today, the country enjoys the third highest per capita income in the hemisphere. Despite this, the country faces significant challenges in areas such as education, health care, international narcotics trafficking, correctional facilities and illegal immigration.
The origin of the name "Bahamas" is unclear. It is thought to derive from the Spanish baja mar, meaning "shallow seas"; others trace the name to the Lucayan word for Grand Bahama Island, ba-ha-ma "large upper middle land".