Status: Independent Member of the British Commonwealth
Population: 332,634 (2018 estimate)
Area: 5,359 square miles
Currency: 100 cents = $1 (The Bahamian dollar is on par with the U.S. dollar)
On October 12, 1492, Columbus made his first landfall in what are now the Bahamas — a series of flat coral islands roughly 750 miles along the northern edge of the Caribbean from the Straits of Florida to Hispaniola. The islands were inhabited by the Lucayans, a branch of Taino Indians. Columbus wrote “this country excels all others as far as the day exceeds the night in splendor; the natives [are] the sweetest imaginable … I swear to your Highness there is not a better people in the world.”
Scott 3 with Nassau (A05) cancel (1861)
Two decades later the Governor of Hispaniola had exhausted the supply of local laborers and began to transport the Lucayans to Hispaniola where about 40,000 of them perished. Beyond that, Spain showed little interest in the Bahamas. There is no further record of a Spanish expedition to them, apart from a voyage by Ponce de Leon in his ill-fated search for the Fountain of Youth.
The fortunes of the Bahamas centered on New Providence Island, the only island with a natural harbor and the site of the capital. British settlers arrived in 1629 and the islands became a haven for piracy and lawlessness. To restore order, the British government took direct control of the islands in 1717, a move recognized diplomatically by the French and Spanish in 1783. The Bahamas suffered severe hurricanes and limited agricultural potential. It had brief prosperity as a base for Civil War blockade runners and Prohibition rum runners. Otherwise, its economy endured stagnation and widespread poverty.
The basis of the modern tourist economy began in 1860 when the Royal Victoria Hotel in Nassau attracted American and European “citizens” seeking a warm winter home. Today its economy is based on services — principally tourism and finance. The Bahamas was granted full independence on July 10, 1973.
Postal services were casual until the 18th century. In 1765, Britain established a postmaster in Charleston, South Carolina, with responsibility for the Bahamas and three southern US colonies. The earliest local postmark is 1802. Handstamps were adopted in 1846, and replaced by British stamps in 1858. The first Bahamian stamp — a 1-penny value initially valid only for inter-island mail — came in 1859.
In 1916, the Bahamas agreed to provide a special delivery service for the convenience of Canadian vacationers. Overprinted “Special Delivery,” its stamps were sold in Canada, where mail posted with them received expedited delivery in Nassau. Canadian Special Delivery stamps were sold reciprocally in Nassau. In 1966, the Bahamas converted from the pound to the dollar, reflected first on a set of stamps issued May 25, 1966. Independence was marked in 1973 with a four-stamp set and a souvenir sheet.