Record ID: 59

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or Commonwealth of the Bahamas , country (area: 4,403 sq miles; 1990 pop. 255,056), in the Atlantic Ocean, consisting of some 700 isls. and islets and about 2,400 cays, beginning c.50 miles off SE Florida and extending c.600 miles SE almost to Haiti; 24�00'N 76�00'W� The isls., composed mainly of limestone and coral, rise from a vast submarine plateau. Most of them are generally low, flat, and riverless, with many mangrove swamps, brackish lakes (connected with the ocean by underground passages), and coral reefs and shoals. Fresh water is obtained from rainfall and from desalinization. Navigation is hazardous, and many of the outer isls. are uninhabited and undeveloped, although steps have been taken to improve transportation facilities. Hurricanes occasionally cause severe damage, but the climate is generally excellent� The Bahamas were inhabited by the Lucayos, a group of Arawaks, before the arrival of the Europeans. Christopher Columbus 1st set foot in the New World in the Bahamas (1492), presumably at San Salvador, and claimed the isls. for Spain. Although the Lucayos were not hostile, they were soon exterminated by the Spanish, who did not in fact colonize the isls. The 1st settlements were made in the mid�17th cent. by the English. In 1670 the isls. were granted to the lords proprietors of Carolina, who did not relinquish their claim until 1787, although Woodes Rogers, the 1st royal governor, was appointed in 1717. Under Rogers the pirates and buccaneers (notably Blackbeard) who frequented Bahamian waters were driven off. The Spanish attacked the isls. several times, and an Amer. force held Nassau for a short time in 1776. After the Amer. Revolution many Loyalists settled in the Bahamas, bringing with them slaves to labor on cotton plantations. In 1781 the Spanish captured Nassau and took possession of the whole colony, but under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783) the isls. were ceded to Great Britain. Plantation life gradually died out after the emancipation of slaves in 1834. Blockade-running into Southern ports in the U.S. Civil War enriched some of the islanders, and during the Prohibition era in the U.S. the Bahamas became a base for rum-running. The U.S. leased areas for bases in the Bahamas in World War II and in 1950 signed an agreement with Great Britain for the est. of a proving ground and a tracking station for guided missiles. In 1955 a free trade area was established at the town of Freeport.