Baha'mas, or Lucayos (Span. Los Cayos), a chain of British West Indian islands, stretching nearly 600 miles north-westward from near the north coast of Hayti to the east coast of Florida. The chain extends in N. lat. from 21° 42' to 27° 34', and in W. long. from 72° 40' to 79° 5'. There are 20 larger islands, 653 islets or cays, and 2387 reefs. The chief members of the group, if reckoned from the NW., are: Great Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, New Providence, Andros, Cat Island, San Salvador or Watling's Island, Exuma, Long Island, Crooked Island, Acklin, Mariguana, Inagua, Little Inagua. The Caicos (q.v.) and Turk's Island, which geographically belong to the Bahamas, have since 1848 been politically annexed to Jamaica.
The area is 5390 sq. m.; and in 1900 the population was 53,565, of whom about 6500 are Europeans. Of coralline formation, the islands generally are of reef-like shape, long, narrow, and low, the highest hill not exceeding 230 feet. With very little appearance of soil, they derive considerable fertility from the tendency of the porous rock to retain moisture. Sponges are largely found round the shores. Cotton cultivation received a great impulse during the American civil war. The sugar-cane, too, is grown more largely than formerly; but the salt manufacture has ceased to be remunerative. The temperature ranges from 57° to 113° F.; but in the winter the climate is so delightfully temperate as to be often recommended in the United States to sufferers from pulmonary complaints. The annual rainfall is from 43 to 45 inches. In 1866 and 1883 the Bahamas were visited by furious and destructive cyclones.
The Bahamas, Columbus's earliest discovery (1492), were occupied in 1629 by the English, to whom, after various vicissitudes of fortune in the wars with Spain and France, they were ultimately secured by the peace of Versailles (1783). Nassau, in New Providence, is the seat of government. During the American civil war, Nassau became the station for blockade-runners, and thence derived unexampled prosperity; the value of imports and exports rising from £234,029 and £157,350 in 1860, to £5,346,112 and £4,672,398 in 1864. They have greatly declined since; their present annual value, on a four years' average, being £325,000 and £200,000. So far, however, as agriculture is concerned, the impulse then received has been maintained by the Bahamas. Both Baptists and Wesleyans are nearly twice as numerous as members of the Church of England, which was disestablished in 1869. See works by Bacot (2d ed. 1871) and Powles (1888).