Cousin Helen

Late last Tuesday, October 30th, 2018, an unseen heavenly angel escorted cousin Helen Pinder to her eternal home.   Her body’s chains of cancer pain are gone.  Helen’s spirit set free.  Her welcome celebration above ensued as this ransomed saint met her Savior.  Unending Love, Amazing Grace.

Helen and I share the same set of Abaconian great-great-grandparents, Richard James Lowe, Jr and his wife Susan Bianca Key.  While the pool of cousins can seem like an endless ocean, one like Helen Pinder stands tall on the shoreline as a beacon of strength, beauty and grace.  Her Savior’s Light and Love radiates through her to guide and encourage all who pass by.  

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With permission from the family and in loving memory of Helen Grace Pinder, the program from her Memorial Service this past Saturday, November 3rd, 2018 is presented below.

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Our Feisty Red-Headed Island Gal

During June 1935 on the Bahamian settlement of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, William Albert Lowe and wife Annie Estelle Curry gave birth to a little red-head daughter Iva Alice Lowe.   Iva stated that her mother Annie lost her first child, a boy.  Albert and Annie would be blessed with four surviving children: Vertrum, Iva, Alton and Leonard.  Iva recalled…

Daddy was a carpenter and a painter.  He also cut hair.  He fished, sponged, crawfished…worked at anything to make money.  He went with the oil rig when it came to the Bahamas.  Sometime he would be gone for six months.

Albert and Annie’s home sat at the water’s edge of New Plymouth just around the corner from where my Dad John Wesley Lowe was born (son of Howard Lowe and Bessie Curry).  Coincidentally both my Dad’s parents and Iva’s parents were unions of Lowe and Curry families.

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Iva recounted how her mother taught her and older brother Vertrum their ABC’s and to count from 1 to 100.  The siblings learned to spell three letter words before mother Annie sent them to the Green Turtle Cay All Age School under the supervision of Herbert Roberts, Amy Roberts and later Jack Ford.  

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Green Turtle Cay’s All Age School under the direction of Jack Ford and Amy Roberts.

During one of my  home visits with Iva, she proudly revealed the photo above and asked me to ‘pick her out.’  Her glowing red hair beside teacher Ms. Amy made it an easy task for me.  Iva then increased the challenge, ‘Now can you find your Dad’s sister Janet?’  I needed her help now.  She proudly and gladly pointed her out to me.

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Iva Lowe Scholtka (L) and Alice Gates Abury (R)  – classmates in school – circa 1951

Green Turtle Cay classmate Jettie Key Lowe gives a particular Girl Guide memory that always brought laughter between her and Iva.  Under English Leader Mr. Walter Kendrick, Girl Guides Iva and Jettie were paired together to participate in a cooking competition.  The dish they chose to prepare (with help from their moms) was an island favorite, minced crawfish.  In their setting the table, Iva dropped the serving utensil.  These budding chefs came in second place.  Iva now chuckled, “You know what Jettie, we would have won first place if I hadn’t dropped that fork!”

Iva would venture down a foot-trodden alley behind their house to visit with ‘Ms. Bessie’, my grandmother.  Iva reminisced that she admired two glass blue vases widower Bessie displayed in her modest home…perhaps a wedding gift or a travel souvenir from her late seaman husband Howard.  

During an era when young men like Donald Saunders, Anthony Roberts and my Dad John Lowe, all Curry cousins, moved to Nassau for employment, Iva pioneered herself into that same category.  In a move she termed borderline “scandalous,” Iva left Green Turtle Cay in the late 1950’s to pursue a career in Nassau.

There wasn’t anything to do on the Cay.  When I was 21, I went to Nassau to see the dentist.  A native Spanish Wells gentlemen, Clyde Roberts M.B.E. was the assistant to the Registrar General in Nassau.  He asked one his employees Pauline Curry if she knew anyone with good handwriting that needed a job.

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Pauline Albury Curry (L) and Iva Lowe Scholtka (R)

Pauline and I were close friends, and she recommended me.  Jettie Key Lowe also worked there.  I made 8 pounds 10 schillings a week.  We had to write every document by hand!

The Registry was located on the second floor above the Post Office on Bay Street and Parliament Street.  Looking out of the south window you could see the Nassau Public Library.  Iva told of meeting my maternal grandmother’s sister Gwendolyn Griffin during this period.  A native of Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera, Aunt Gwen was the head librarian for the historic octagon library that was formerly a jail.   These two sophisticated working women shared stories of their out island heritage.  Iva said… 

Ms. Griffin was such a darlin’.  At least three times a week, during my lunch hour I would visit her at the library.  I loved books.  I loved the smell of books.  Ms. Griffin would show me the latest books and the best books to read.  She was a charming lady – always well-dressed and neat as a pin.  In conversation I found out her connection to John Lowe (my Dad), and we became great friends.

One day Mr. Archie Taylor wrote Iva a letter to inquire if she would consider employment with Taylor Industries Limited.   Originally located on Bay Street, Taylor Industries was founded in 1945 by cousins Charles and Archie Taylor. In the late 1950’s the store relocated to its present day location on Shirley Street.  Mr. Taylor enticed Iva with a weekly salary of 10 pounds.  Iva devoted almost twenty years to Taylor Industries as an accountant, a passion that she and I shared.  She refined her skills by taking classes at night.  At Taylors she recalled…

I did the books for the gas cylinders first.  Then I transferred to the accounts department.  We were in the electrical business – sold appliances as well.  We had a beautiful system at Taylors.  I posted accounts receivable by hand.  I wrote everything by hand in all the ledgers.

She was loved and respected by her co-workers, especially those in the accounting department, including my cousin Sonia Johnson Rowan Marvin and Edna Malone Kemp.

Iva stayed in close contact with my dad and his sister Janet.  These Green Turtle Cay cousins now immersed in Nassau city-life enjoyed every opportunity to reminisce of their out island childhood days. 

Iva recounted to me the day that my parents John and Doreen Lowe purchased an oil painting from her brother Alton.  Her eyes beamed as she relished the sumptuous signature dinner that followed which Mom prepared – baked shellfish. 

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L to R – Alton Lowe, Iva Lowe Scholtka, Doreen Lowe, John Lowe

Iva and my Dad’s sister Janet were like sisters.  Aunt Janet selected Iva to be her maid of honor at their wedding in Nassau, Bahamas.  These Green Turtle Cay cousins remained in close contact even when Iva relocated to the United States.

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L to R – Iva Lowe Scholtka, Janet Lowe Sjahri, Alik Sjahri, Iris Lowe Powers.  1974

When Iva’s youngest brother Leonard married an American from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she would travel overseas to visit.  During these times, she was introduced to James ‘Jim’ Lawrence Scholtka born in 1926 to  Clarence and Hazel Scholtka.  Jim graduated from Wauwatosa High School in 1944 and joined the US Navy  He served his country in World War II.  The couple fell in love and married on May 28th 1977 in Milwaukee. 

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Jim worked for equipment manufacturer Allis Chalmers in Wisconsin from 1948-1988.  He was a quiet man.  After he retired, the couple relocated to Boca Raton, Florida to enjoy warmer weather.  In winter months they enjoyed Iva’s Green Turtle Cay birthplace.

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Iva Lowe Scholtka and James Scholtka in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco.  Photo creds:  Gloria Chiodo

Joy Lowe Jossi remembers…

Iva entertained royally with natural grace. I loved her descriptive words. A favorite still makes me roar inwardly because of her unique manner, ‘She was a pepper!’ Said with Iva’s love-flavor, her crystal clear word picture made me comprehend the spice of a long-gone person.

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Iva Lowe Schultka (L) with cousin Rosemarie Saunders (R) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo creds:  Mandy Roberts

Iva loved people and enjoyed connecting cousins.  I have met so many wonderful Bahamian cousins as a result.  One such cousin, Amanda ‘Mandy’ Gates Roberts shared the following… 

My favorite memories with Aunt Iva would include visits with her and Uncle Jim in Boca Raton, Florida. Whether we had dinner on the screened-in porch or at a local restaurant, our conversation was always happy.  She always had a good joke to share that resulted in belly laughs.

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Iva Lowe Scholtka (L) and Amanda Gates Roberts (R) Circa 1981.  Photo creds:  Mandy Roberts

We reminisced about the earlier years in the Bahamas and all her Green Turtle Cay and Nassau experiences.  Sometimes if we had shopped all day, we would crash at her house for dessert. Uncle Jim’s favorite was ice cream with hot fudge!  He always looked forward to our visits and he loved his desserts! We would recount the day’s events and shopping finds from department stores including Macy’s and J.C. Penney’s.

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Iva Lowe Scholtka (L) and Amanda Gates Roberts (R) in Boca Raton, Florida.  Photo creds:  Mandy Roberts

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Vivian Russell Saunders (L) and Iva Lowe Scholtka (R) in Boca Raton, Florida.  Photo creds:  Mandy Roberts

Whether by phone or in person, every conversation with Iva lovingly evolved into a reminiscing session of her delightful life on Green Turtle Cay.  I took notes.  Her vivid and detailed insights have brought zest to several of my blog posts. 

During a 2015 visit to her home in Boca Raton, Florida, she excused herself from our living room conversation and returned with the striking photo below.  Iva grinned as she proudly proved to me that her now silver hair was once fiery red.  We laughed together. 

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One of my favorite visits was 2017 New Years Day.  With the kids on Christmas break, my wife and I  decided to take the crew to meet Iva and Jim in Boca Raton, Florida.  Iva thought the world of Dad – the feeling was mutual.  Not surprisingly, she extended the same affection to Dad’s children and now his grandchildren. My kids loved her British dialect and witty humor.  When Dad passed away in 2013, Iva remained in regular contact with Mom.  She was clearly motivated by her love of people and not material possessions. 

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Bahamian Gals – L to R – Iva Lowe Scholtka, Doreen Lowe, Irene Gates Lowe

Iva loved family celebrations.  She planned to attend my daughter’s wedding in Jupiter, Florida in July 2017.  She was so excited to also meet our latest addition to the family, Owen born a few months earlier. 

However, in May 2017, Iva suffered a fall and was hospitalized.  For over a year, she faced adversity in the hospital and rehabilitation center.  The pain and suffering could not suppress the twinkle in her eye and her signature smile.  Her island charm embraced all who tended with care and stepped in for a visit.

My wife and I brought one-year-old Owen to meet Iva while in the rehabilitation center.  This surprised visit filled her heart with joy.  She fondly referred to him as ‘little man’ in our conversations over the next few months.  A few days before she passed away on August 6, 2018, I held her frail hand.  She whispered in my ear, ‘I love you.  Give that little man and all those kids a kiss.’

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Excerpts from the eulogy Goodbye English Rose by niece Kristina Lowe

The definition of an English Rose is a very pretty English girl who tends to wear little or no make-up, has pale rosy cheeks, natural hair and is well spoken and ladylike.  These are all the characteristics that describe my Aunt to a tee, and why I affectionately called her my English Rose, that and her love of roses, England, and all things Royal too of course.  She would have fit in perfectly in high society and I hope she is having an elegant Royal tea party right now as she watches over all of us celebrating her life and remembering how much she was loved and will be missed here on Earth.

Yet through it all, her love and caring for her family and friends remained her focus, and in so many, many ways, she was able to show that love to us. This perseverance through adversity is a powerful lesson for us, and I believe it is her legacy. What wonderful lessons she gave us.

  • Keep your priorities straight.
  • Keep that which is most important in focus.
  • Love and care for your family and friends. Let them know in every way you can that you love them
  • Never let adversities or setbacks or any of the distractions in this world keep you from this most important aspect in your life.

My Aunt Iva was a very special lady who became my second mother. She had a big impact on my life. Iva had no need for airs and graces – what you saw was what you got and what you got was a big warm smile – genuine and full of love.

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Iva Lowe Scholtka with her Niece Kristina Lowe and husband Adrian Lowe

She had strong principles that she believed in and lived by every day of her life, but she was never judgmental and loved people for what they were.  She was slow to anger and quick to understand.

Everyone who knew her, loved her.  Iva would welcome everyone into her home with open arms, plenty of food, and you were guaranteed a good story, most likely one you had already heard.

Iva saw the good in everything and encouraged others to do the same.  Her actions and character are behaviors that should be emulated by all of us.  She was a true role model, a person we should try to imitate. My Auntie cared deeply for everyone she knew, whether family, friend or just a member of the community. She had the kindest heart of anyone I knew.  She has touched the lives of so many people, and even though she is gone, her memories will live on in our hearts forever.  She will always be by our side and will be forever missed.  Her inspirational spirit gave us strength in the time of trouble, wisdom in the time of uncertainty, and sharing in the time of happiness, and a full belly of empty calories if none of her other words of wisdom did the trick!

Although she never had any biological children of her own, she had no need because everyone she came in contact with was treated like they belonged to her.  She was everyone’s friend, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt or cousin.

Iva’s memorial service program shown below, compliments of Randy Curry.

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Grandpa Johnny

During the summer’s dead heat of 1858, Green Turtle Cay residents John Lowe and Rebecca “Becky” Saunders welcomed their first son, John Aquilla Lowe.  With three older girls ages 2-6 and no modern conveniences, Becky kept occupied.  Encouragement and aid reached out from the hands of the close-knit New Plymouth community known to support each other.  Father John felt the hope of his son’s future helping hands to one day farm the challenging sandy soil and fish the Abaco seas. 

John and Becky followed a common island practice to name the firstborn male in honor of the father.  Paired with an unusual middle name, John Aquilla Lowe, we affectionately know as Grandpa Johnny, my paternal great-grandfather.

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1858 Bahamas Birth Register – Entry 2 – Eldest son, John Aquilla Lowe

John and Becky later added two more sons and another daughter, a complete seven.  Like many families on the Cay, the men farmed land situated on islands of the Abaco chain.  Travel from Green Turtle Cay to these properties required a sailboat, calm seas and suitable winds to speed passage.  Some farmed on the largest island in the Abaco chain commonly called the “Mainland,” a two and half mile sailboat journey.  Family tradition indicates Lowe farmland existed north on Munjack Cay.  Here they grew fruits and vegetables, even pineapples.  This fruit-bearing bromeliad thrived in the sandy low quality soil of the islands and was a popular export commodity during that era.

The 1884 US Consular Reports, accounting for exports (in dollars) to the United States

1884 US Consular Reports, accounting for exports (in dollars) to the United States from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco

While in his early twenties, Grandpa Johnny courted a beautiful, young lady, Minnie Curry.  Her 2x great-grandmother was Hope Town matriarch Wyannie Malone, a Loyalist who migrated from the Carolinas during the 1780’s. 

John and Minnie united in holy matrimony during the mid-1880s.  It is said that the ugliest man on the Cay married the prettiest woman on the Cay.  Curry women were known for their striking black hair and beautiful facial features.

In 1886 at the age of 27, Grandpa Johnny experienced a spiritual conversion at the island’s massive Methodist church in 1886.  Built with hand-carved limestone from the local quarry, this 1200-seat edifice was destroyed during the devastating 1932 hurricane.  Grandpa Johnny diligently studied the Bible and preached in the Methodist church.

John Aquilla and wife Minnie started their family.  Island records identify four children – Osgood (1886), Edwin (1888), Mira (1890) and my grandfather, Howard (1898).   Family tradition suggests that Minnie gave birth to eight children, including a son, Reggie and twin girls, Mamie and Maggie.

Also during this decade, the Plymouth Brethren movement initiated by Jacksonville street preacher Charles Holder came to the Cay.  John and Becky Lowe along with their son John Aquilla’s embrace of the Gospel won the tag of some as ‘Holderites’.

On a 2016 trip to Green Turtle, I had the privilege to speak with a granddaughter of Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Minnie.  I learned that…

In their early marriage days, Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Minnie spent time in Key West.  Grandpa Johnny worked on one of the many schooners that sailed between the islands and Key West.  Grandma Minnie missed her birthplace dearly.  One day, while Grandpa Johnny was at sea, she and her young children made passage back to Green Turtle Cay.  She left her husband a note of her intentions to stay on the Cay.  He soon followed.

Tragedy struck during the summer of 1903.  Grandma Minnie, in her late thirties, delivered a baby girl.  The baby’s death is recorded in the island’s death register three weeks later (see below).  A somber reminder of the primitive medical resources during that era.  Family tradition tells that Minnie delivered twin girls and suggests the other twin girl died during childbirth.  

Teenage son Edwin provided assistance at the family’s farm.  He was caught in a surprise summer squall during this tragic 1903 summer.   Edwin contracted a fever and passed away two weeks later.  Grandma Minnie fell victim to the same fever.  She died on August 2, 1903 at the age of 37.  Dark sorrow engulfed Grandpa Johnny as he buried his wife and at least two of his children.  These untimely deaths are recorded on the same page in the Bahamas Death Register (see below).

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1903 Bahamas Death Register – Entries 1, 4 & 5

Widower Grandpa Johnny labored to care and provide for his three surviving children, now ages fourteen, twelve and five.  No doubt the island community befriended the grieving family.  Daughter Mira (age 12) played an integral role in raising her brother Howard (age 5).

Grandpa Johnny remained resolved to preach at the Brethren church.  When 1910 rolled around, a new wave reached the island shores.   The Dixon Pentecostal Research Center notes…

The first ministry of the Church of God outside the United States occurred when Bahamian Edmond S. Barr and his American-born wife, Rebecca, arrived in Nassau in November 1909.  Robert M. and Ida Evans, along with Carl Padgett, joined them the following January.  Robert Evans and Edmond Barr reportedly visited Green Turtle Cay in 1911 resulting in the conversion of Mira Roberts and the establishment of a mission there.  Later appointed as national overseer, Carl M. Padgett returned to the tiny island in 1913 and set the church in order on July 24 with eight members.

Michael Swann in his newly published book, The Holy Jumpers:  A Concise History of the Church of God of Prophecy in the Bahamas 1909-1974, notes that the first three members of the Church of God in the Bahama Islands included a (James) Ernest Lowe.  This newly organized church commenced March 1910 in the capital city of Nassau with the help of American missionaries, Robert Evans and Carl M. Padgett.

Word of this spirited movement spread to the outer islands.  Swann documented a mission work at Current, Eleuthera in 1910.  James Ernest Lowe served as pastor of this church during its startup years.  James Pearce and his family, prominent Methodists, were some of the inaugural Church of God converts.

In his book, Swann details the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement on Green Turtle Cay as early as November 1910.   Robert and Iva Evans led an exploration visit to the Cay.  Open-air street meetings were held on subsequent visits.  Early converts included John Aquilla Lowe and his daughter Mira Lowe. 

In June 1911, a new work was established on Green Turtle Cay and missionary W. C. Hockett designated Grandpa Johnny to oversee the start-up mission.   During this same month John Aquilla’s daughter Mira married Green Turtle Cay native Captain Hartley Bernard Roberts. 

The sister missions at Current, Eleuthera and Green Turtle Cay, Abaco supported each other during much opposition faced from others.  While in this new phase of life, Grandpa Johnny found love again.  In April 1912, he married Mildred ‘Millie’ Elizabeth Pearce, daughter of James Pearce, one of the inaugural members of the Church of God congregation at the Current settlement in Eleuthera. 

During a missionary visit to Green Turtle Cay, Swann recounts in his book the following:

On July, 21, 1913, Carl and Eva Padgett, along with Sam F. Guthrie and Ernest L. Simmons, arrived on New Plymouth aboard the schooner Albertine captained by Hartley B. Roberts.  The newly formed Pentecostal band, along with other locals, assisted Padgett and his entourage with adequate accommodations and rented a hall for the nightly “tarrying” meetings.  Padgett and his accompanying missionaries preached “street services” and conducted house-to-house prayer meetings.  In his official capacity as State Overseer and Bishop, Carl M. Padgett set the Church in order on July 24, 1913, with eight members.

After my correspondence over many years and several layers of permission, the Dixon Pentecostal Center provided me with digital copies of certain pages from the minutes of the Green Turtle Cay Church of God. 

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John A. Lowe (Grandpa Johnny) appointed the pioneering pastor of the Church of God in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco. His wife Mildred (Millie) E. Pearce Lowe was elected as the first clerk.

In 1985, the faded picture below surfaced in a publication of the Church of God World Missions.   Found in the Bible of overseer, Carl M. Padgett after his death, this photograph depicts the only known image of Grandpa Johnny.

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Front Row (L to R) – Captain Hartley B. Roberts and wife Mira Lowe Roberts holding daughter Mizpah Roberts White, Overseer Carl M. Padgett, unknown, Mildred Pearce Lowe holding son John Estwick “Ekkie” Lowe. Back Row – unknown, William R. Franks, John Aquilla Lowe, Howard Lowe, Osgood Lowe.

As evident in the above photograph, Grandpa Johnny started a ‘second’ family with his new bride.  Their union was blessed with five children, John Estwick, Bernard, Ashlin, James Homer and Iris Isabel.

In the following years, Grandpa Johnny received several recognitions and endorsements from the Church of God including ordained Deacon, Evangelist and District Overseer for the sister missions at Current, Eleuthera and Green Turtle Cay, Abaco.

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In the early years, the assembly of worshipers met in private homes, including that of Grandpa Johnny, Captain Hartley Roberts and Howard Lowe.  In 1922, a small piece of waterfront property was purchased for a church site.  The tiny piece of property was not large enough to accommodate a modest church structure.  Next door church members, Howard and Bessie Lowe, donated a portion of their adjacent property to enable the commencement of construction.  The completed structure had an upstairs two-room chamber for visiting missionaries.

Howard Lowe, Grandpa Johnny’s youngest son from his first marriage, joined the congregation in 1914 and served as clerk until his untimely death in 1927 at the age of 29.  Howard’s wife Bessie Caroline Curry Lowe continued to serve in the church.  She trimmed and filled the oil lamps and cleaned the floors before each service. 

Towards the end of 1924, Grandpa Johnny’s health began to decline.  On Friday, March 20, 1925 he fell asleep.  The 1925 Bahamas Death Register identifies his cause of death as dysentery.

His son-in-law, Captain Hartley B. Roberts wrote the following:

On March 20, 1925 the death angel visited the Church of God at Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahama Islands and took away our beloved and faithful pastor, John Aquilla Lowe, age sixty-six years, eight months and eleven days.

Brother Lowe was converted about forty years ago while a follower of the Methodist church at this place.  He later united with the Plymouth Brethren, among whom he had a good report and sought to live up to his profession.  When the doctrine of the holiness reached these shores through Brother Edmund S. Barr and Brother Hockett, he at once became a seeker after truth and real Bible doctrine.  When he saw the light on the same he embraced it and from that day to the day his departure, he stood firm and faithful for the doctrine and faith that was once delivered to the saints.

Through every storm of persecution and tribulation he stood unflinchingly to his post like the Apostle Paul of old.  He was brought before magistrates of the law and was warned and threatened concerning this religion, but through it all the great God gave him power to stand and not be discouraged.  It can be said that he almost gave his life for the Church here.  Having five little children and not getting sufficient support from the Church he had to work very hard and many days he has come home from his farm feeling weak, worn and tired.  But instead of staying home and taking rest he would dress himself and go hold services when only the good Lord knew his feeling.

He was sick about fourteen weeks and suffered greatly.  In the early part of his sickness he prayed to the Lord that if it were His will to spare him a little longer to see his children grow up he would be glad, but when he realized that his call had come he resigned his children and all else and asked the Lord to take him out of his suffering.

We can truly say that we have lost a good pastor and this town has lost a good citizen, but we can thank God that we mourn not as those who have no hope for we expect if we be true and faithful that we will meet him again when the saints go marching home.  He leaves to mourn a wife, eight children, and a host of relatives and friends.

The funeral service was conducted by Brother Baxter and his body was laid to rest in the home cemetery there to await the glorious resurrection morn when all that are asleep in Jesus will come forth to meet their loved ones never to say good-bye any more…

By one who loved him, his son-in law, Hartley Bernard Roberts.

During the devastating 1932 hurricane, my Dad, John Wesley Lowe, recalled that strong winds ripped off the church’s roof and hurled the church bell towards the middle of the island.  The photo below depicts the catastrophic devastation on the island after the hurricane.  Howard and Bessie’s home (bottom right corner), although knocked off its foundation into the street, remained miraculously intact.  To the immediate right of their home, you witness the Church of God with no roof.

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Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum

The photographs below depict the homes of John Aquilla Lowe, his son Howard Lowe and the Church of God over the decades since the 1932 hurricane.

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Circa 1950 New Plymouth shoreline depicting the homes of John Aquilla and Mildred Lowe, Howard and Bessie Lowe and the Church of God (photo courtesy of Randy Curry).

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Photo courtesy of Randy Curry.

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Howard and Bessie Lowe’s yellow home sits two houses to the right of the large dock.  The Church of God is located to its immediate right – circa 1970’s (photo courtesy of Randy Curry).

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The Church of God building is on the far left.  The modest home in the middle belonged to Bernice and Irene Curry.  Bernice is pictured on the dock and wife Irene in the doorway of their home along with her sister, Annie (Curry) Lowe – circa 1970’s (photo courtesy of Randy Curry).

 

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Waterfront view during a 1992 New Plymouth visit with my wife and my parents.  The Church of God is the second building from the right (solid green door).  To its immediate left is the home of Howard and Bessie Lowe.

 

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My parents John and Doreen Lowe in front of Howard and Bessie Lowe’s original home where my Dad was born. The Church of God is to the immediate right (circa 1992).

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My parents in front of John Aquilla Lowe’s original home during a 1992 visit to Green Turtle Cay.

A few months after Grandpa Johnny’s death, his son Howard and wife Bessie welcomed a healthy baby boy.  In Grandpa’s honor, the new parents named their child after the rich legacy of this faithful servant and minister.  Baby John W. Lowe, my Dad, spent the early years of his life in the Church of God on Green Turtle Cay.  After he moved to Nassau and married, he continued to serve in various layman roles for several churches.  Prior to my Dad’s death, he was blessed to see one of his grandchildren start a missions work in Nassau.  The family legacy continues.

 

A Foreign Perspective

During the 19th and 20th centuries, two Scottish brothers, William and Robert Chambers, published a weekly magazine in London.  The first edition of Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art circulated in 1832 and was priced at one penny.

Recently I stumbled across an article online in their May 1867 publication.  It describes a visit to my Dad’s birthplace in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.  While specific details of dates and passengers on this expedition remain a mystery, the article provides a perspective of the life and culture on the island during that era.  My last post, Expedition to Paradise, discussed a similar voyage led by an American team approximately two decades later.

Geographically Green Turtle Cay is small. In this close-knit, maritime community, these guests would not have gone unnoticed.  I wonder, Which of my great-grandparents were on the Cay and could have interacted with these foreigners?  I searched my family tree.  I find all my paternal great-great-grandparents, aged mainly in their forties, were rearing their families on the Cay in the 1860’s:  John and Rebecca (Saunders) Lowe; Joseph and Sophia (Lowe) Curry; William and Emaline Curry; and Romelda Lowe Carleton.  Several of these names were actual grandchildren of some of the earliest Abaco settlers, including South Carolina loyalists Wyannie Malone and Joseph Curry.

The excerpt from the article is below.  I have added selected photographs for a visual boost.Capture.JPG

Some thousands of miles across the Atlantic, you come to several green islands, of different size and shape. They are not situated off the stormy and inclement coasts of Newfoundland or Labrader, but far away to the south, where the cocoanut tree ripens its fruit, where the most luscious pine-apples exhale their delicious fragrance, and where the hummingbird finds a congenial home, with a flower-garden to ramble through, and honey-dew to sip. These islands, the smaller of which are called Cays, are situated just off the coast of Florida. The one of which I am about to speak lies off the north coast of the large island of Abaco, which, being almost uninhabited, is very slightly cultivated.

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The smaller island of Green Turtle Cay has been settled for, I suppose, about fifty years, and has a population of about a thousand. It is five or six miles long, scarcely anywhere exceeds half a mile in width; is covered nearly all over with dense bush; has a fine natural harbour, protected from all winds; and is itself defended to a considerable extent by reefs of rock, which stem the heavy seas as they come rolling over the North Atlantic.  In addition to the harbour just mentioned, there are two considerable inlets or sounds at each extremity of the island, which run in a longitudinal direction, each of them from half a mile to a mile in length.

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Situated in nearly twenty-six of north latitude, the island enjoys a very mild winter climate, while its summer is oppressively hot. The means of support and occupation which the islanders in this obscure spot possess, are not so limited as might be supposed, and, in fact, with a little fresh blood direct from England or America, a good deal might be made of the place and neighbourhood.  There is abundance of fish in the neighbouring seas; and the weather being almost always fine, and the sea calm, the occupation of fishing can be pursued at all times of the year.  There are also lobsters, craw-fish, crabs, and occasionally most delicious turtle.  There are no oysters.  Prawns, which are caught in such plenty in India, and form the basis of that finest of all dishes, prawn-curry, are not found in the Bahamas.  They appear, however, on the coasts of the Windward Islands.

Lobsters are caught in a peculiar manner. They are found in plenty along the side of the inlets, which penetrate the Cays.  A boat is rowed along the mangrove-bushes which line the margin of these sounds, as they are called.  One man is armed with a two pronged spear; a water glass is used to examine the bottom of the sea; and when a lobster is seen, he is saluted with the prongs, and hauled on board.  When the tide is low, numbers are easily speared.  Turtle is caught in a similar manner, but without the use of the water glass. 

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Crawfishermen – oil painting by Bahamian artist Alton Lowe

 

Besides fishing, however, there is a far more profitable occupation in which nearly every one on the island can take part. About fifty miles north-west, there is a splendid sponging-ground, and several times a year, boats proceed to this spot and return after a few weeks, each boat bringing perhaps from three hundred to five hundred dozen of sponges. These are sent to Nassau, and sold to the merchants, so that a considerable sum of money is periodically divided amongst the islanders, from a source which scarcely any other part of the world is in possession of. I have been informed that Nassau receives thirty thousand pounds a year from this trade. 

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The water glass is absolutely necessary in collecting sponges, which often grow at a considerable depth. A pole, from ten to twenty or thirty feet long, with a double claw fastened to the end of it, is let down to the root of the sponge, which is torn from the rock. The natives pretend this is very hard work; probably, however, it would not compare with ploughing or other of our agricultural operations.  The sponges, when collected, are found to be tenanted by the worm, as it is culled, and must therefore be placed in the sun, to allow the animal to die. Afterwards, they are well washed in water, until all the animal matter is got rid of, and the bad smell dissipated, when they are brought to market. A bead of sponges of about a dozen or more may be bought for three shillings on the island of Green Turtle Cay.

These two branches of trade, with what the soil itself can yield – namely, bananas, sweet potatoes, and perhaps Indian corn – might be supposed to be quite sufficient for the support of the inhabitants, who consist of men of European and African origin, with a few of a mixed race. In addition, however, to these sources of livelihood, the inhabitants can, all of them if they like, grow oranges for the New York market. The land is cheap, and there is no tax on the produce; besides which, government land is often occupied and cultivated without having been bought at all, or any rent being paid. A negro of my acquaintance told me that he occupied in this way a small plot of land of about an acre or two, on which last summer, with the help of his son, he grew three thousand six hundred pine-apples, for which he received thirty pounds.  This plot of ground is on the island of Abaco, which the people usually call the Main.  It is separated from the Cay by only two or three miles of delightfully calm and clear water. My black friend having acquired so much money for a few weeks work, took, I believe, a long rest; in fact, with the help of fish and molluscs, of which there is great plenty, he had no necessity to work any more for that year.

Fruit is very cheap: one hundred limes were offered me for sixpence, a few months ago. Pine-apples are abundant, and the finest in flavour I ever tasted.  The pine-apples are plucked before they are quite ripe, and shipped for New York, which port they reach in perhaps eight or ten days.  pineapples.JPGThere they are immediately sold to a dealer, who soon finds purchasers for them.  The oranges come later in the season; they are plucked green, and ripen during the voyage.

There are two or three fruits on this island which I have not seen in other parts of the world; one of these is the alligator pear, which is of the shape of an English one, and grows on a small tree. It is not much of a fruit, but is very nice for breakfast in hot weather, when it is eaten with pepper and salt.  It is one of those fruit for which one acquires a liking in a short time.  It is only in season in the summer.  sapodilla.jpgThe sapodello is another fruit which is not found in any part of India that I am acquainted with.  This is a very nice fruit, und resembles bread-pudding, but is very sweet.

There are so many reefs and ledges, sounds and sandbanks, in this part of the world, that wrecks are considered a regular source of income, and the most profitable of all. In fact, although I resided on the island scarcely six months, there were not less than seven wrecks within reach of our boats.  The share for salvage which the natives obtain is about half the value of the goods saved; moreover, these being sold by auction in the town, the inhabitants are able to purchase at a cheap rate many of the necessaries and even luxuries of life.  In incidentally alluding to the subject of wrecking, I approach a topic of great importance to the real and permanent welfare of the Bahama Islands.  It is a matter which has engaged the serious attention of the present governor, who is most laudably desirous of substituting some other occupation more in accordance with the true interests of the inhabitants, than the precarious and demoralising trade of wrecking; the gains from which are at times so great as to deprive the natives of the necessary stimulus to those industrial pursuits which their social wants inculcate.  The certainty of the occurrence of a shipwreck sooner or later, naturally diverts the mind from the subject of horticulture, which ought to engage their attention.  The temptation also to theft is very great, and too often yielded to.  Numerous, however, as are the moral objections to the practice in question, not less so are the difficulties which stand in the way of its reform.

There are several-light houses scattered over the Bahamas, and no doubt many more are required. Still it should be borne in mind that, to make them thoroughly efficient, the keepers should be placed beyond the temptation of a bribe.  A salary of eighty pounds a year, with rations for one individual, is sadly insufficient for such a purpose.  When residing in that part of the world, I accidentally heard of a keeper who, in spite of the severe economy inevitable with such a salary, contrived both to drink champagne and amass a fortune of several hundred pounds.  One is reminded, in short, of the Frenchman’s stone broth, which proved so delicious a repast.

One of the greatest evils connected with Green Turtle Cay is the painful uncertainty of communication. European letters are received at Nassau once a month by the mail from New York and there they will often remain for ten or twenty days, when at length, after patience is worn out from repeated disappointment, a schooner is seen approaching the island, the letters arrive, but cannot be answered until another mail has come from New York.  The natives of the place, however, care very little for this uncertain communication, as they have no friends in Europe, and are not given to epistolary correspondence.  They find amusement in their boats and schooners, and their daily round of occupation.

At Green Turtle Cay I made my first acquaintance with the humming-bird. His power of wing is wonderful.  hummingbird.JPGYou are puzzled to decide whether the marvellous little creature is perched on some small twig, or standing in the air, so still is he, whilst his wings are working with tremendous rapidity.  Suddenly, he will tumble two or three feet down, and instantly be suspended in mid-air, his wings giving forth their monotonous hum.  Then, approaching a flower, he inserts his long bill, still standing in the air, and having extracted its sweets, darts off in another direction.

In the beginning of February, another pleasing visitor makes his appearance-the mocking-bird arrives. His song is something like that of the thrush.  bahama-mockingbird-variant-abaco-14.jpgThe natives of the Cay, however, do not appear to pay any regard to such visitants; all their interest centres in the sea, and the cry of “A wreck!” will send every man running to his boat.

But the ocean here has attractions of another kind. The Bahamas are celebrated for their shells. Some very fine ones are occasionally found on this island, which entirely put to shame anything of the kind which is found on the coasts of India or England. A week’s sojourn on the Cay, if they could suddenly be transported there, would be an immense treat to the frequenters of Scarborough or Brighton. Conch_shell_2.jpgThe variety of bushes (some in flower), ferns, &c, would afford amusement to those of horticultural tastes; while the gyrations of the humming-bird, of which there are several species, would be a perpetual source of delight both to old and young.  What a never ending source of interest would be offered by that great treasure-store, the sea!  What untiring pedestrians would circumambulate its shores! How persevering would be the idolaters of the little shrines, with their doorways of pearl, and their sculptured ornament, fabricated by the creatures of these clear green waters!

For Christmas my wife gave me the recently published coffee table book Those Who Stayed by cousin Amanda Diedrick.  The book is illustrated with historic photos and impressive paintings by Bahamian artist Alton Lowe.  A must-read for any Bahamian or guest who desires to drop anchor near this charming fishing settlement village, its narrow streets, clapboard homes and colourful flowers reminiscent of a New England town.

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To my pleasant surprise, the author included an excerpt of the Chambers article in her book.  She discovered this “fascinating glimpse” in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald published in September 1867.  How amazing that this small, remote settlement on Green Turtle Cay charms lands across the globe, even during the 1860’s!

Expedition to Paradise

The unexpected is often more enjoyable than the planned course.  Several months ago while working on a project unrelated to family history, I stumbled across the following article published in Raleigh, North Carolina’s News and Observer in June 1886.   The location of Green Turtle Cay caught my attention.

A Scientific Expedition

INVESTIGATIONS BY JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS IN THE BAHAMAS

A few weeks ago Dr. W. K. Brooks, of the John Hopkins University, and a number of scientists sailed from Baltimore for the Bahama islands for the purpose of making scientific investigations in the flora and fauna of the tropics.  The following letter has been received at the university from one of the party, descriptive of the headquarters:

GREEN TURTLE CAY, BAHAMA ISLANDS, June 7 – The unusual advantages which this island offers to biology study are at once apparent.  The novel scenes of the richness of the fauna and flora on sea and land, the foreign and primitive ways of the people, afford the most striking contrast to all we have been accustomed to at home.  In coming from the North to a country like this, where not only the people in their life and habits belong to another world, but every plant and animal one meets is new or unfamiliar, it is difficult to comprehend the whole from the vast sum of details.  Notwithstanding the length of the cruise, few of the party suffered from seasickness, and the monotony was relieved by numerous events of interest, such as shark-fishing, the capture of Portuguese man-of-war, trolling for bluefish and collecting in the Gulf stream.  We obtained some interesting fish and crustacean from the floating sargassum or “Gulf weed.”

After leaving Portsmouth, N.C. Tuesday, the 25th, we lost sight of land until the following Sunday morning, when the long-sought coral islands, which were beginning to assume a decidedly mythical character, at last took shape and became actual objects on the horizon.  They appeared at first as a dark green line, which a nearer view resolved into great numbers of rocks and small reefs or cays proper, the largest of which are covered with a dense tropical growth and bordered by overhanging cliffs of gray coral rock, against which the white suf is continually dashed, or by long sandy beaches or pulverized coral, bleached to a chalky whiteness in the sun.  The mainland of Abaco may be seen from outside as a faint blue band, either at the inlets between the cays or over the lower rocks.  Inside the reed the island is approached to within two or three miles; so that its forests of yellow pine, the huts scattered along the shore, and pineapple fields which might be mistaken for clearings in the woods, are readily seen.

The white, calcareous sand which form beaches on  most of the islands is distributed over the ocean bed both outside the cays and between them and the mainland, producing on the water a most remarkable and memorable effect.  The color of these entire sounds and channels, extending as far as the eye can reach, varies with the altitude of the sun from the richest emerald through innumerable tints to a transparent greenish white.  The people call this “white water,” and the depth is singularly deceptive, since the details of the bottom can be clearly discerned in eight to ten fathoms.

Green Turtle Cay is distinguished from many others like it only in having a better harbor and a small settlement.  The town is marked by groups of tall cocoanut palms, which may be seen a long way off, and beneath them, thickly clustered together on the beach, are the black, picturesque huts of the negroes.  These are thatched with palm, which is fastened down by poles laid on the roof.  They have one or two common rooms, without glass windows or chimneys.  The cooking is done out of doors in stone ovens or fireplaces.  The houses of the white settlers are small wooden structures, of which the one we occupy is a fair sample.  It has two stories of four small rooms each.  We use the largest room up stairs as a laboratory.  You can form an idea of the size of our house and the street opposite when I tell you we could easily jump from the plaza of the second story into our neighbor’s yard across the way.  The small size of the streets, which are scarcely wide enough to allow a good-sized team to pass, strikes one as very odd.  They are of the gray coral rock, and in the nest part of the settlement are swept scrupulously clean.  There are no horses or cows on the island.  There is no market, but there are a few small stores, at which sundry articles may be had at a high price.  We had much trouble in finding a cook stove, there being only a very few in town.  There is no drugstore or physician in the place, and in consequence Dr. Mills has had more patients than he wished.  I am told there are about 600 people in the town, about equally divided, I should think, between blacks and whites.  The people as a rule do only so much work as is necessary to supply them with food, which is not much.  Nothing is cultivated, strictly speaking, on this clay, but imported fruits and vegetables are simply allowed to grow and take their chances with everything else.  The thin soil is apparently rich enough for all.

On the mainland of Abaco, however, the pineapple is cultivated on a large scale.  Cocoanuts, bananas, sapodillas, are grown on the Cay and are all now in season.  The cocoanut, in fact, is in flower and fruit the year round. Oranges, lemons, limes, soursops, pawpaws, figs are also to be had here in small quantity later in the season, but none are shipped to market.  The sapodilla is a fruit I have never seen in Baltimore.  It resembled a round rusty apple or potato, and is filled with a brown juicy pulp, which is quite sweet and contains six or eight large black seeds.  It is not marketable , as it has to ripen on the tree to be good, and does not last long.  They are cheap.  At Nassau I was told they could be bought for a shilling (12 cents) a hundred.  No fruit I have yet seen equals the pineapple.  The average price of a good pineapple is four cents. 

This island is covered with a low tropical growth of shrubs and climbing plants, conspicuous among which are numerous cacti, palms, and most interesting of all, the American aloe, whose giant sword-shaped leaves and huge flower stalk form a prominent feature in the landscape.

The heat has been rather oppressive, but Dr. Brooks says he likes it.  My thermometer has registered 84 degrees Fahr. right along until this morning, when it dropped to 76 degrees, owing to a very heavy thunder-storm we had in the night.  Excepting this, we have had very little rain since landing.

The place is commended by every one as being very healthy; far more so than Nassau.

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William Keith Brooks was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1848 and died near Baltimore, Maryland in 1908.  As professor of Zoology at the Johns Hopkins University, Brooks formed the Chesapeake Zoological Laboratory in 1878.  Over the next the next twenty years, he organized expeditions to Virginia, North Carolina, Jamaica and the Bahamas to study zoology, botany and geology.

Doctor Brooks expected all of his graduate students to spend a season or more at this laboratory. He rightly estimated this as the most valuable experience a student of zoology could have, for in this way the student became acquainted with animals under natural conditions.

p-12_Brooks.pngOn May 1, 1886, one such expedition left Baltimore in a small schooner with Brooks as the pilot.  The following is taken from a report by Professor Brooks on The Zoological Work of the Johns Hopkins University, 1878-86, published in the Johns Hopkins University Circulars, Vol. 6, No. 54:

During the season 0f 1886 the zoological students of the University were stationed at three widely separated points of the seacoast.  A party of seven under my direction visited the Bahama Islands, two were at Beaufort, and one occupied the University table at the station of the U. S. Fish Commission at Woods Hole. The party which visited the Bahamas consisted of seven persons, and our expedition occupied two months, about half of this being consumed by the journey. The season which is most suitable for our work ends in July, and we had hoped to reach the Islands in time for ten or twelve weeks of work there, but the difficulty which I experienced in my attempts to obtain a proper vessel delayed us in Baltimore, and as we met with many delays after we started, we were nearly three weeks in reaching our destination. We stopped at Beaufort to ship our laboratory outfit and furniture, but the vessel, a schooner of 49 tons, was so small that all the available space was needed for our accommodation, and we were forced to leave part of our outfit behind at Beaufort. We reached our destination, Green Turtle Key, on June 2nd, and remained there until July 1st. The fauna proved to be so rich and varied and so easily accessible that we were able to do good work, notwithstanding the shortness of our stay and the very primitive character of our laboratory. This was a small dwelling house which we rented. It was not very well adapted for our purposes, and we occupied as lodgings the rooms which we used as work rooms. 

These snippets provide a teasing glimpse into island life prior the turn of the century.  What lured Brooks and his team from Maryland to Green Turtle Cay?  What other journals exist that document this expedition?  Whose New England style cottage provided shelter and served as Brooks’ makeshift laboratory?  Puzzle pieces to uncover.

During the 1886 summer of this expedition, my paternal great-grandparents resided at Green Turtle Cay:  John Aquila Lowe (1859-1925), then 28 years, and Wesley Curry (1865-abt 1941), 21 years.  Most likely they met and gave assistance to these scientists.

Adventures on Eleuthera

Amidst 17th century religious and political turmoil that pushed the Pilgrim Fathers to leave England and settle in America,  approximately seventy Puritans led by Captain William Sayle fled the English colony of Bermuda to seek religious freedom in the Bahamas.  Often credited as the first English settlers in the Bahamas, these brave adventurers crossed the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean in a ship, the William.

As the ship neared the Bahama islands, it struck the notorious Devil’s Backbone reef.  One human life along with all provisions were lost.  The passengers and crew frantically swam to the island’s shore where they found refuge inside a limestone cave, traditionally known as Preacher’s Cave.

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These adventurers called the island Eleutheria (now Eleuthera), from the Greek word for freedom.

Puritans in Massachusetts learned about the misfortune of these Bermudian exiles, who were in desperate need of food.  In 1650, they shipped provisions to these starving emigrants.  In gratitude, the Eleutherian Adventurers sent the ship back to Boston filled with braziletto wood, a source of red dye. The proceeds from the sale of this wood was a large gift to Harvard College.

Preacher’s Cave stands as a reminder of the plight and price of freedom.   I share with permission my cousin Joy Lowe Jossi’s memoirs of her adventure in Eleuthera earlier this year…

Some messages flit in and fall. Others gather embellishment to make the original unrecognizable. Two solid rock messages emerged during my winter 2016 Bahamas stay. Pieces of the early Bahamas settlers took rock form for me during my six weeks of quiet delight at Spanish Wells on St. George’s Cay. My niece, Marie Pinder Ratcliffe, heard that I had not seen the Preacher’s Cave on the northern end of Eleuthera. This historic landmark is where the 1646 group of religious refugees sheltered after their ship tangled with the Devil’s Backbone reef. She decided that my love of the Bahamas people history needed a visit to Preacher’s Cave.  She planned my highlight experience.

We drove to the Spanish Wells dock in their van, parked and exited. A local operator’s small one-vehicle barge waited for us. He drove the van onto the barge. Secured it. We walked on.

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Our expedition group stood around the vehicle in transport. The younger barge operator-owner produced a chair for the senior passenger’s comfort-safety.  A short ride in the channel to the mainland of Eleuthera ensued.

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Atop the smooth, aqua, warm sea we glided. As I observed this entrepreneur’s business make-do’s, I chuckled to myself in recall of the slogan, It’s better in the Bahamas.

Single side ropes serve to keep us on board. Life jackets do not come with the barge package. Swim ability is expected. I happened to know that our group can swim. Upon arrival at the mainland, Grandma remained seated, watched the younger members clamber up the planks onto the dock. The offered hand of the barge operator helped me walk the plank. Marie’s husband, Richard, reversed the van off the barge. His obedient eye and hand on the wheel followed the  operator’s direction.            

With safe delivery on Eleuthera land, eight of us scrambled into the four-wheel tour car. Drove a few miles along the scrub bushes to the marked Preacher’s Cave turn off. What is the significance of Preacher’s Cave? From accounts that I heard and read over seven decades,  and an old unimpressive picture, I envisioned a small underground cave.

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We walked a trail that soon opened to a cleared area. What a surprise!  A giant cave opening loomed under a hill cover.

The cave entrance sits on ground level with wide open-arms welcome. Nothing like I had imagined. A hilltop roof runs above the cave. Trees grow on the rock mound.

This cave under a 30-40 foot high hill, sits only 150 yards from the shoreline! I listen and hear the ocean breakers roar on the Devil’s Backbone reef. The reef still rages a white froth message.  It reigns in this territory by its hidden underwater rocky threat.

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Marie or Richard took a photo of the van’s other occupants. Right to left: their daughters Nicole and Sarah, my son Dan, his son Noah and daughter Gracie, grandma.

We visited this cave of divine providence that offered refuge to the stranded survivors. Our younger explorers headed to the cave back. I sat on a fallen chunk of limestone at the entrance.  Soon I’m lost in wonderment to absorb the scene’s rich history. The sandy floor would serve well for rest after the shipwreck experience. The spacious room can easily accommodate more than 100 souls.  Facing east, I envision their new day rise to a warm sunshine smile.

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This photo, courtesy of Marie’s sister Helen Pinder, looks out of the cave entry along the path we walked.  Time and weather have opened a few holes in the cave roof to heavenly sunshine. Farther back in the cave, my family climbed rocks to a passage. Through one hole Dan and Noah climbed the cave rocks to the hilltop.  

We wished we could pinpoint the cave’s dig site done under the direction of Florida archaeologist Bob Carr. The DNA tested remains of dwarf bones reveal the fact of a Jewish match. Today at Spanish Wells, dwarfs continue to be born. Without asking, I know of at least six young dwarfs on Spanish Wells today among 1500 residents.  

A few miles east of Preacher’s Cave, we can reach Harbour Island. Many Bahamians trace roots to that location. Today an airport for north Eleuthera sits on the mainland between Harbour Island and Spanish Wells.  A good road links the two places. Boats assist passengers for both places. A fast ferry runs to Harbour Island and Spanish Wells daily from, and back to Nassau late afternoon.

On the inside, a 76-yr-old little girl jumps with glee for this experience on North Eleuthera. On the short walk to the beach, my eyes viewed the signal line of whitecaps above the reef. Local mariners have a wary respect for the Devil’s Backbone reef. Safety dictates distance.

Offshore the north Eleuthera mainland, the wide row of whitecap waves roll. Experienced mariners know that these indicate the presence of the Devil’s Backbone reef. It still waits to undo unsuspecting ships.  This treacherous area requires knowledgeable, wise seaman.  Impassable at times, the shoreline must be hugged to evade the reef.

Captain William Sayle, with a group from Bermuda in 1646, learned too late about this reef—the William wrecked here. One passenger only did not make it safe to the nearby shore. Once on land no doubt they scouted the terrain. Saw the green hill rise 30-40 feet. Close to the beach, and at ground level, a HUGE cave opening waited for them. In the 70-80 feet wide entry, I see God’s wide-stretched welcome. This shelter He prepared for them. I imagine and feel their grateful praises and songs for safe delivery from the Devil’s Backbone.

Who came to the rescue of these Eleutheran Adventurers? English merchants had financed the expedition. Our Father God of love provided them shelter. He gives faith for us to trust Him for our needed sustenance. Coconut milk and meat, abundant fish, wild berries, and more supply available. Virgin woods ready to cut. History records the fact of wood collected by the survivors and donated to build Harvard University in exchange for needed supplies.

A second solid rock story from our early Bahamas settlers lures my mind to sail along. West of Preacher’s Cave, and within sight of Spanish Wells, lies a point called Ridley’s Head. Who was Ridley? I’ve seen that early Bahamas surname RIDLEY in research records!  

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Yes, we find the name Daniel Ridley of Bermuda, born about 1630. His daughter Elizabeth Ridley married Daniel Pinder, son of Timothy Pinder. A guestimate gives Elizabeth Ridley and Daniel Pinder birth dates about 1660. They named a son Ridley Pinder, born about 1690. This Ridley Pinder named his son Daniel Pinder. Descendant generations in the Bahamas repeated the name Ridley Pinder.

Papa Daniel Ridley remains on watch for his Spanish Wells PINDER descendants – we see their houses in the photo background.

A few Pinder families—one in my maternal line—sailed northwest about 1800 to live at Great Abaco and joined the American Revolution Loyalist newcomers. Abaco is closer to Eleuthera than its 100-mile distance to Nassau. 

We note these solid evidences God has left for us. His divine sculpture stands through centuries in the brown, saltwater-weathered rock. This tall story looms 30-feet high in Ridley’s profile.  Our Almighty God preserves for us this rock history.

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1893 photograph of Ridley’s Head (courtesy of the University of Iowa library).

Today the Pinder surname dominates the Spanish Wells telephone directory pages. Do today’s Spanish Wells children know the truth etched in the name, Ridley’s Head? Have they learned to appreciate this landmark?

To descendants of Preacher’s Cave Dwellers—I am one—most interesting facts bubble up when we stir the pot. Paper trails show blanks. Dead ends now open with DNA fireworks glow. Brings bright hope in facts, while the sparkles fade and fall. New paths invite us. I am left with more questions. My mind search finds rest in the truth of our common fore parents, Adam and Eve. Related we are. Externals vary while we share common heart needs. Our Creator-Maker prompts the inner longing to discover our people. I find my life purpose when I turn to Him.

The reef encounter caused wrecks and loss. Who first found the nearby cave dwelling? Divine provision encourages us to forge ahead. Did the wreck result in the hardy, resilience found in our island people?

Fast forward to us in 2016. We seek to reconstruct family history. History does repeat itself.

My nephew Colin Lowe, instructed me, “We can see the distinct profile of Ridley’s Head from one vantage spot on the sea near the shore as we pass the rock en route from Harbour Island to Spanish Wells. I have a photo of it.” Colin shared his photo of the shoreline head, long known as Ridley’s Head. Wow! News to me. Engraved and preserved in rock by the Master Sculptor.

The color photo of Ridley’s Head promontory shows Spanish Wells on Saint George’s Cay in the background. As I walked the beach on Spanish Wells each morning, I watched the sun rise behind Ridley’s Head. Unknown to me was the fact that the man’s silhouette in rock-bold form lay with a message to us. Papa Ridley’s head stands as a historical marker of an Eleutheran Adventurer. His outlook declares to us, Beware of the Devil’s Backbone.

On a high rock point, Papa Ridley reminds his highly blessed and favoured descendants, Give assent to your pioneer parents. We are called to preserve in story the solid rock evidences left by our Father. The reminder to future generations almost causes me to hear Ridley sing, On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Life on Eleuthera was extremely hard. Some of the settlers returned to Bermuda.  Those resilient few who stayed established foundational Bahamian settlements including Spanish Wells and Harbour Island.

These are the earliest known beginnings of our roots in the Bahamas.

 

 

Remember These Shores – Part 3

In my last two posts, I shared my vacation’s amateur photos in an attempt to capture the beauty that adorns Green Turtle Cay.  Molded by the hands of the Creator, this Bahamian cay is blessed with abundant natural beauty.  In addition, her architectural artistry is historically significant and charming.  However, the beauty that radiates the brightest to me shines from the families that for generations have built this community.

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On each visit, I am compelled to walk the cemetery.  The blend of old and new headstones remind me of generational families that wove the social fabric of this remote island.  Engraved headstones bring flashback conversations with my Dad, John Lowe. He recalled boyhood memories of these family members and friends, who invested freely in his life.  The ocean backdrop calls attention to the courage and fortitude of those first settlers who sought freedom on these shores.

As I framed the camera to capture the contrast of this ancestral cemetery with the ocean, a symbol of life, against this ancestral cemetery, I realized that these particular graves in my camera lens had a unique significance.  Three side by side graves of three generations…my dad’s father – Howard Lowe (1898-1927); his grandfather – John Aquila Lowe (1858-1925); and his great grandfather – John Lowe (1823-1898).

I placed hand-picked flowers on my grandfather’s grave.  Then I stooped to remove weeds inside the grave’s perimeter.  The weeds, like death itself, remind me of Adam’s sin curse that we face.

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Generational families like mine lived on this Abaco Cay for hundreds of years.  With advancements in transportation, the families have now dispersed around the globe.  The social fabric slowly unravels.  Remnant loyalist descendants continue the legacy and earn a livelihood on Green Turtle Cay.

This November, the Albert Lowe Museum will celebrate its 40th year.  Green Turtle Cay native and renowned artist Alton Lowe is the mastermind behind this wonderful collection of artifacts, photos, paintings and writings.  The museum was named in honor of his father William Albert Lowe (1901-1985), a renown woodcarver of ship models.  My dad and Albert Lowe are third cousins.

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My two Bahamas descendent daughters pose inside a museum room beside Alton Lowe’s classic paintings of two girls from the loyalist era,  one looks towards the land and the other towards the sea.

We were blessed to spend some time with Alton at his home. His masterpieces depict Bahamian beauty.  Alton kindly coerced me to tickle the ivories on his piano.

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As we wandered around the New Plymouth settlement, we found Alton’s older brother, also skilled with his hands.  Following in his father’s footsteps, Vertrum Lowe, hand crafted model ships for over 30 years.  Vert’s finished models are exact replicas of real ships down to the smallest of details.  Tucked away in the heart of New Plymouth, his tiny workshop utilizes every inch of space, including the ceiling, to store the craftsman’s tools and materials.

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Just down from the museum on Parliament Street, we visited Green Turtle Cay’s Memorial Sculpture Garden.  Here an impressive collection of bronze busts by the late James Mastin surround his life-sized  masterpiece entitled The Landing, depicting the arrival of the Loyalists.

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My eldest son and I proudly stood amidst a row of Mastin sculptures of Lowe patriarchs. Each has a commemorative and descriptive plaque honoring their contribution to the Cay’s history.  A tremendous reminder that our legacy is rich and our calling is purposeful.

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No trip would be complete without a visit with Dad’s first cousin, Pearl.  Her father Osgood and my Dad’s father Howard were brothers.  Charming and devoted to her faith in God, she is one of few islanders alive on the Cay that bridge past with present.  Like my Dad, her piecing blue eyes gleamed as she reminisced about days gone by.

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I did not inherit my Dad’s extroversion and charisma.  On this trip, my genealogical passion pushed me out of my comfort zone to the doorstep of a stranger.  How do I introduce myself?  I thought as my heart raced.   “Hi, I am John Lowe’s son.”  Again, those six words opened the door (literal and figurative). I’m reminded of Dad’s love for people.

With open arms, homeowner Viola Lowe Sawyer  invited my wife and me inside her charming and simple island cottage.  We discussed common roots and reminisced about my Dad’s last visit to the Cay in the early 1990’s where a visit to Viola’s parents, Roger & Nell Lowe, was a must for Dad.  Dad had many boyhood stories including hunting trips with Uncle Roger.  We left Viola’s home blessed.  A stranger now turned into a loving cousin.

The list of people, past and present, who forged the culture of this small settlement is  long. Today Lowe and Curry cousins earn their livelihood on streets and waterways where mutual ancestors once called home. Their charming businesses include Lowe’s Green Turtle Cay Ferry, Lowe’s Food Store & Gift Shoppe, Lowe’s Construction, Kool Carts, Sid’s Grocery Store, and Curry’s Food Store.  Check them out on your visit to Green Turtle Cay!

Remember These Shores – Part 2

Green Turtle Cay’s natural beauty is simply breathtaking.  As I stepped on to the Cay in July, I marveled at her natural artistry.  Did this allurement persuade my Lowe and Curry forefathers to call it home?  I imagined their simple lifestyle surrounded by this vast beauty.  Picture their daily survival on rocky land and abundant sea provisions.   Our family’s week stay on the Cay gave me the opportunity to explore paths my ancestors forged.  I swam in the crystal blue waters where they fished and gathered nature’s healthy bounty for dinner.  I gazed into the morning sunrise on the eastern horizon of the Cay.

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My amateur photos are a mere teaser as the Cay’s true beauty is best seen first hand.  Hues of blue surround white sandy beaches and limestone formations – the trademark of the Bahamian archipelago.

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As I walked the narrow streets of New Plymouth settlement built on the water’s edge, I note a maritime community that survived on what the sea offers.  Unassuming docks provided a place to tie your vessel after the day’s venture.  Handmade sailboats by skilled shipwrights gave transportation to the Abaco mainland or to other nearby cays to harvest fruits and vegetables from family farm plots.

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Flower and fauna add splashes of color to the Cay’s rustic canvas.  Seagrapes, bougainvillea, and pink hibiscus adorn the scene of these old New England style cottages. Wild roosters, hens and baby chicks find refuge amidst the dense foliage.  The sea offers its own unique array of life.  Whelks harvested from rocks along island shores provide a delicious high protein stew.

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Next month’s blog post will conclude the Remember These Shores articles.  I will highlight Green Turtle Cay’s finest feature.  Stay tuned!

Remember These Shores – Part 1

July ushered in a week’s adventure for our family crew of eight…a stay on Green Turtle Cay in the northern chain of the Abacos, Bahamas.

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Signed created by cousin Randy Curry

As I stepped on the Green Turtle Cay shore, the historic significance of this island started to emerge. On this former British Colony island, my Dad John Lowe’s birthplace, about five generations of my paternal ancestors lived.  And my mother’s Lowe heritage counts a sixth generation, Captain Gideon Lowe 1752-1833 who lived here.

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Dad and Mom in front of his boyhood home on his last visit to Green Turtle Cay (circa 1992).

 We visited Green Turtle Cay two years ago as a family on a day trip.  Prior to then, I personally had visited only a handful of times…days trips as well.  These quick hits were mere teasers.  This year I had to stay longer.  I wanted to improve my bearings, to walk the beaches Dad walked, and to swim in the seas that he reminisced about in his sunset years.

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Walking Parliament Street…the pink wall of historic Augustus Roberts home c. 1840, now New Plymouth Inn.  Picket fence of the Sculptor Gardens.

 We had located a lovely rental home on the island months in advance.  With our eldest son graduating from college and another son from high school, July came quickly.  Our journey began with a short Bahamas Air flight from Palm Beach, Florida to Marsh Harbour, Abaco.  A 45-minute taxi ride over the pothole laden roads found the Treasure Cay Ferry dock.  Across the sea to the east we see Green Turtle Cay. After a BOLO ferry ride, captained by cousin Nigel Lowe, we landed on Green Turtle Cay shore. A short golf cart ride brought us to our Bita Bay destination.  This lovely home was recently built by Lowe’s Construction, more kin.

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My daughter Gwyneth with fiancé Nick in front of our Bita Bay rental.

 

Each day, with camera in hand, I attempted to capture images that tugged at my heart.  After the trip, I sifted through hundreds of photos.  I narrowed down my favorites and grouped into broad categories.

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Home of Roger Lowe (1914-2000) and Nell Pinder Lowe (1914-2000).  In 1992,  we enjoyed their company and the view that looks west across the Abaco Sea to the Abaco mainland.

 

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Home of Roger and Nell’s daughter Viola Lowe, widow of Joe Sawyer.  Our visit with her was charming, informative and too short.

 This post highlights various island architectural homes and structures, showing various styles.  Future posts will showcase other features from our trip.

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Government Post Office built after the 1932 hurricane, decorated for Independence Day.

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John A. Lowe (1859-1925) with 2X great grandson Wes Lowe.  In 1913 John A. Lowe pastored the Church of God congregation in this building.

 

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Home built by William Albert Lowe (1901-1985).

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Home built by Gerald Key (1917-1994) and Merlee Lowe Key

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The late Curtis Curry (1930-2009) house inherited from his father Theodore Cromwell Curry (1901-1974).  This loyalist cottage was built on the Abaco Mainland, disassembled, and brought to Green Turtle Cay (c. 1860).

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Sunset Cottage – home of Grandma Bessie Curry Lowe (1903-1967) and her husband Asbourne Lowe (1902-1986).

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Former Government Building site demolished by the 1932 hurricane.

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Home of mailboat Captain Roland Roberts (1893-1945).  Built around 1863 out of Abaco pine. 

 

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Narrow pathway leads to cousin Vertrum Lowe, skilled in the art of model shipbuilding like his father William Albert Lowe.

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Pink shutters adorn home built by Uncle Robbie Saunders (1892-1970) and Edith Curry (1894-1985).  The home stood fast during the 1932 hurricane.  The separate kitchen-dining room structure flew away to the sea.

 

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One of our favorite stops to the home of Pearl Lowe, my Dad’s first cousin.

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Little House by the Ferry – home of Uncle Herman Curry (1890-1958) and Mae Gates Curry (1901-1984).

 

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Like father…Like son

Green Turtle Cay’s pineapple industry was in decline by 1890.  The local men turned to the sea to harvest one of nature’s unique creatures, sponges.  The population of this seafaring, loyalist community had reached 1500.

In April 1890, island residents – my great grandparents – Thomas Wesley Curry (Pa Wes) and Lilla Carleton Curry (Ma Lilla) anticipated the arrival of another child.  Their firstborn Eudora‘s excitement peaked with the prospect of a playmate.  Two years earlier, their son Herman had died in infancy.  As time for delivery drew nigh, the young parents’ elation heightened, yet mixed with uneasiness.

These events of grief and sorrow were private moments. Early evening porch conversations avoided uncomfortable topics.  Their loss lay buried with the passage of time.  Through Bahamian Civil Registration records, we uncover the past and attempt to understand the pain.  Cousin Amanda Diedrick, another descendant of Pa Wes, used these records to untangle confusion on Herman’s birth.  She shared this amazing discovery in her blog post A Family Mystery Solved.

Ma Lilla gave birth to another son, Thomas Herman Curry, on April 21, 1890.  A common practice in that era named the child after the deceased sibling.  Undoubtedly as the years unfolded, Herman remained a humble reminder to the parents that blessings can emerge from tragedy.

Herman and his dad shared the same first name (Thomas), but interestingly enough, they were called by their middle names – another common practice in that era.   Soon three younger sisters completed the Curry sibling brood of five.

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As the only son, Herman and Pa Wes had a close relationship.  Each day the young apprentice learned and practiced life skills in fishing and farming with his dad.  Even as an aged grandfather, Pa Wes, continued to teach these skills  to his grandson, my Dad John Lowe – skills needed to survive on  a remote island.   This biblical principal of providing for your family Dad valued and taught his offspring.

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Earlier this year cousin Amanda Diedrick received this early photo  of Herman Curry (circa 1925). Her family discovered it while rummaging through old documents.

In December 1919, at the age of 29, Herman Curry married Marion Mayfield Gates, daughter of Jeremiah Gates and Jessie Isabel Lowe Gates.  All lived at Green Turtle Cay.

Incidentally, Jessie Isabel Lowe and my Dad descend from Benjamin Lowe (~1800-1878),  who married loyalist descendant Bianca “Binky” Curry.  This Benjamin’s genealogical puzzle piece has yet to be attached to patriarch Captain Gideon Lowe.  It is suspected that he may be a nephew of Gideon.

Pa Herman and Gan Gan Marriage Registration

May Gates Curry gave birth to five children, four girls and one boy.  Tragically, two of them died – a son at birth and a  daughter Mirabelle at age six.  Like his parents, Herman and May memorialized Mirabelle by conveying that name to a later daughter.

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Earliest known photo of May Gates Curry.  Courtesy of Amanda Diedrick.

 

Great granddaughter Amanda Diedrick shared family memories of Pa Herman:

Pa Herman farmed watermelons on a plot of land he owned on Green Turtle Cay’s Black Sound. He also farmed on Munjack Cay where he grew tomatoes, peas, beans, and potatoes. He fished and sold his catch to workers on the mail boats or at the lumber camp at Norman’s Castle. He had a fishing boat with a well (one of the few on the Cay).  Fish stayed fresh longer.

We found the wooden mast of his boat beneath the house (Fish Hooks) when we moved it. Prior to the 1932 hurricane, when they had a bigger house, he had a little room in the cellar where he would clean fish and sell it.

On Saturday evenings at Green Turtle Cay, Herman and May often walked to the residence of older sister, Dora. While engaged in porch conversation, the sea breeze carried Herman’s deep belly laugh down the street.

Memoirs from Herman and May’s eldest child, Lurey Curry Albury:

Daddy had a smaller boat at first, then he upgraded to a larger one with a fish well in it. One day he came in with his boat loaded down with amberjacks. Another day he came with the biggest loggerhead turtle you ever saw tied up beside his boat. Back then, fish was a ha’penny a pound, about three cents. Amberjacks were four cents. When the mail boat Priscilla arrived, Daddy would get up and clean a dollar’s worth of fish, and that was as much as he could carry in both hands.

He would go fishing seven miles from home. He often dropped Mama at Munjack Cay to work the farm while he would go out to the reef. It was dangerous. If anything happened to him in that little dinghy, Mama would never know. His boat sunk once. After that incident, daughter Virgie (Virginia) would stare out the upstairs window and cry when Daddy left. She could see his boat sail around the Bluff. He’d have just a little piece of sail up.

Herman’s granddaughter noted that her grandparents lived in Nassau several months out of the year. They resided with their daughter, Virginia (just recently she passed away). In Nassau, Herman worked as a night watchman at Purity Bakery.

This operations was managed at the time by Herman’s nephew, a child of his sister, Edie. His granddaughter remembers Pa Herman and Ma May returned to Green Turtle Cay in the summers.  He loved to spend time with his grandchildren on his boat.

A former Green Turtle Cay resident, Iva Lowe Scholtka, recalled:

Mr. Herman was a charmin’ man.  He used his toes to unsuspectingly grab your foot.  You thought a crab bit you.  I visited them often on the Cay.  Ms. May had a lovely disposition…a hard worker.  She tended to the crops in the field with Mr. Herman. They often fished together. 

I often watched her make hats from platting sisal.  She joined the sisal pieces until she had the needed length to craft the hat.  She clipped off the ends and  used a tumbler (drinking glass) on top of her dining table to smooth out the sisal. 

It was a Sunday tradition on the Cay to eat fish and grits.  However, one morning during the week I went to visit.  To my surprise, Mr. Herman and Ms. May were eating fish and grits.  I said, “But it’s not Sunday!”  Ms. May remarked, “It tastes good throughout the week too!”

Whenever anyone in the town asked Mr. Herman the best month to plant a certain crop, Herman would preface his response with a smirk, “Well, I can you tell you…May is the best!”

Later on in life they spent several months each year in Nassau.  They returned to the Cay during the summers.  Residents marked the screech of seagulls as a sign of beginning of summer.  The residents would then say, “Mr. Herman and Ms. May should be here shortly.” 

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Herman and May’s home faced the water’s edge of New Plymouth creek just a few houses from his sister Bessie’s (my grandmother) home.

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Waterfront town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay prior to 1932.  Homes of siblings Herman and Bessie identified.  Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

Herman and May’s original home was destroyed in the 1932 hurricane.  Amanda Diedrick described:

Out of this rubble, and with their own hands, Pa Herman and Ma May built a new house for their family. “Mama used to put on Daddy’s overalls and climb up on that steep roof to nail shingles,” my grandmother recalled. Unlike their former home, with its large dormer windows and broad, breezy porch, the new structure was simple and unadorned — just four tiny rooms and an unfinished attic.

Sisters Lurey and Virginia Curry (circa 1940).  Daughters of Herman and Mae Curry.  Photo Courtesy of Amanda Diedrick.

Herman and May’s daughters, Lurey (left) and Virginia (right) circa 1940.  Photo courtesy of Amanda Diedrick.

In 1958, cancer claimed Herman’s mortal body.  Like his father, Pa Wes, Herman was a kind and gentle person.  Aunt May lived another 25+ years.  As a young teenager, I was fortunate to visit her with my Dad.  Aunt May passed away in 1984.  I saved the program from her memorial service that my Dad and I attended.  (front cover below).

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