Bermuda, or Bermuda Islands, an archipelago and a British dependency in the Atlantic Ocean, about 750 miles (1,200 km) east-southeast of New York City. Bermuda consists of several main islands, largest of which is Great Bermuda Island, and scores of islets, rocks, and coral reefs. The main islands are connected by bridges or causeways, and collectively are often called Bermuda. The main chain is about 21 miles (34 km) long and up to 3 miles (5 km) wide, and has an area of about 20 square miles (52 km2). The islands are hilly and covered by luxuriant vegetation. The climate, tempered by the warm Gulf Stream, is pleasantly mild.
Bermuda's economy is based primarily on international financial sources and tourism. The islands offer sunny beaches and fine resorts.
Because of lenient tax laws, which provide tax shelters for foreign companies, many international finance and insurance companies have located here. Manufacturing, fishing, and agriculture are only slightly developed. Bermuda has few exports and for most of its needs depends on imports.
Thousands of foreigners reside on the islands. Hamilton is the capital and largest town. Nearly two-thirds of the Bermudians are of African ancestry; the rest are mostly of British descent. The leading churches are the Church of England and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Elementary education is compulsory. There is virtually no illiteracy.
The constitution of 1968 gave Bermuda a large degree of internal self-rule. It is a parliamentary democracy, in which the British monarch is the head of state. A premier is head of government and leader of the majority political party. An elected 36-member House of Assembly, whose members serve 5-year terms, and an appointed 11-member Senate make up the legislative assembly. The king or queen appoints a governor who is responsible for external affairs, defense, and the police. Senators are appointed by the governor following each House election.
Bermuda was sighted in 1503 by the Spanish mariner Juan de Bermúdez. In 1609 a shipwrecked group of Virginia-bound colonists led by Sir George Somers spent 10 months on the islands; this led to the founding of St. George by the Virginia Company in 1612. In 1684 the colony was placed directly under the British crown. Hamilton replaced St. George as the capital in 1815.
For many years Bermuda remained an obscure outpost of British civilization. Change came with the tourist industry, which began early in the 20th century, grew more rapidly after 1930, and boomed after World War II. In 1968 universal adult suffrage was granted. (Previously, only property owners could vote.) Since the early 1970's, the Progressive-Labour party, made up mostly of blacks, has been advocating independence from Britain. In a 1995 referendum, however, a majority of Bermudans voted in favor of retaining colonial status.