West Indies, the great archipelago which extends in a vast curve from Florida in North America to the north coast of South America, separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Mexican Gulf and the Caribbean Sea. The name still bears testimony to the belief cherished by Columbus that when he reached in the Bahamas (q.v.) the outlying portion of the New World he was actually on or close to that old-world India he was seeking. The name Antilles (q.v.), which is applied to the whole of the islands save the Bahamas, retains a trace of the belief in the old submerged continent of Antiglia. The table gives their area, population, and political connection (see also the several articles thereon):

West Indian Islands.

Area.

Pop.

Hayti............................................................

10,204

1,347,150

Dominican Republic....................................

18,045

610,000

Cuba..............................

40,000

1,572,845

Porto Rico (United States).......................

3,606

953,243

Jamaica (British).......................................

4,373

795,398

Trinidad (British).......................................

1,754

281,120

Barbadoes (British).....................................

166

197,792

Windward Islands (British) -

Grenada....................................................

133

66,762

St Vincent.............................................

133

48,424

Tobago....................................................

114

18,880

St Lucia....................................................

233

51,881

Leeward Isles (British) -

Antigua and Barbuda..........................

170

34,904

Montserrat.......................................

32

12,894

St Kitt's (and Anguilla)..........................

100

34,271

Nevis ....................................................

50

13,306

Dominica.................................................

291

29,924

Part of Virgin Islands..........................

57

5,115

Bahamas..................................................

4,404

53,735

Guadeloupe, etc. (French).......................

503

179,243

Martinique, etc. (French).........................

381

203,781

St Bartholomew (French)........................

8

2,700

Curacao, Saba, etc. (Dutch)....................

403

53,046

Danish Islands (in Virgin group) -

St Thomas................................................

23

35,156

St Croix....................................................

73

St John.........................

20

Total ......................................

85,276

6,601,570

Calcareous rocks predominate, in some cases overlying granite and other igneous rocks; some of the minor Antilles are wholly volcanic; coral-reefs are found on many of them. All the islands except the northern Bahamas are tropical, and are liable to severe hurricanes. The productions are luxuriant and varied. Great events were the discovery (1492); the Spanish occupation; the introduction of negro slaves (1525) to take the place of the native Carib Indians, decimated by forced labour on the plantations; the development of the sugar industry; the gradual intrusion in the 17th century of French, English, and Dutch. Between 1635 and 1719 France secured Guadeloupe, Martinique, Grenada, and St Vincent; in 1632 Tobago and Curacao became Dutch; in 1623-1763 England obtained possession of St Christopher, Barbadoes, Antigua, Dominica, and the Grenadines. England's growing power at sea forced France to cede St Lucia, Grenada, and St Vincent; and there was fierce fighting in these regions, Rodney's defeat of the French fleet off Dominica in 1782 being one of the great naval battles of the world. The West Indies were long haunted by the Buccaneers, and some were used by Britain as penal settlements. The abolition of slavery in the English islands (1834-38), however creditable to the public conscience, was regarded by the planters and their friends as the main reason for the great decline in prosperity, from which the islands have but partially recovered. See works by M. G. Lewis (1834), Champlain (1859), Trollope (1859; new ed. 1869), Bates (1878), Kingsley (1869), Acosta (Hakluyt Soc. 1880), Eden (1881), Eves (new ed. 1891), Froude (1888), Paton (1888), Bulkeley (1890).