The indigenous Lukaya people were present on what is now known as The Bahamas when Christopher Columbus made his first New World landfall at San Salvador in 1492. San Salvador is one of over 700 islands and 2,400 cays (keys), lying to the southeast of Florida and northeast of Cuba, that make up the country. Only 30 of the islands are inhabited today.
Even though the earliest foreign influence on the Bahamas came from the Spanish, it became a British settlement from 1647 and officially a colony by 1783. The country gained independence and Commonwealth status in 1973.
As was the case with many islands of the Caribbean, slaves were imported by the Europeans to work the sugar plantations and processing factories. At one point, in the late 1700s, British loyalists escaping the American independence movement moved to the islands from several US states with their slaves. The United Kingdom Emancipation Act was passed by Parliament in 1834, abolishing slavery in all British holdings. Today, about 85% of the Bahamas’ population are descendants of former African slaves.
While English is the official language, the common speech is Bahamas Creole English.
Christianity prevails in the Bahamas, with greater than 95% claiming adherence to one of several Protestant denominations, or to Roman Catholicism.