Nevis is a small island in the Caribbean Sea that forms part of the inner arc of the Leeward Islands chain of the West Indies. It is located near the northern end of the Lesser Antilles archipelago, about 350 km east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 80 km west of Antigua. Its area is 93 km² and capital is Charlestown.
Nevis and the island of Saint Kitts to the northwest form the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The two islands are separated by a shallow two-mile (3.22 km) channel known as "The Narrows". Nevis is conical in shape with a volcanic peak known as Nevis Peak at its centre. The island is fringed on its western and northern coastlines by sandy beaches that are composed of a mixture of white coral sand with brown and black sand which was eroded and washed down from the volcanic rocks that make up the island. The gently-sloping coastal plain (0.6 miles/1 km wide) has natural freshwater springs as well as non-potable volcanic hot springs, especially along the western coast.
The island was named Oualie ("Land of Beautiful Waters") by the Caribs and Dulcina ("Sweet Island") by the early British settlers. The name, Nevis, is derived from the Spanish, Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (which means Our Lady of the Snows); the name first appears on maps in the 16th century. Nevis is also known by the sobriquet "Queen of the Caribees", which it earned in the 18th century, when its sugar plantations created much wealth for the British.
Nevis is of particular historical significance to Americans because it was the birthplace and early childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. For the British, Nevis is the place where Horatio Nelson was stationed as a young sea captain, and is where he met and married a Nevisian, Frances Nisbet, the young widow of a plantation-owner.
The majority of the approximately 12,000 citizens of Nevis are of primarily African descent. English is the official language, and the literacy rate, 98 percent, is one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.