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.

GTC MAP.JPG

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.

GTCChart

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. 

crawfisherman

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. 

sponge.JPG

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.

Those who stayed.png

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!

Advertisements

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.

Brooks.PNG

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.

preachersmap2

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.

solid-rock-1

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.

solid-rock-2

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.

solid-rock-3

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.

solid-rock-4

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.

solid-rock-5

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!  

ridley

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.

ridleys_head

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.

IMG_5049

IMG_5021.JPG

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.

IMG_5015.JPG

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.

img_4829

IMG_5441.JPG

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.

altonimg_4989img_4993

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.

img_4866img_4884img_4886img_4898

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.

img_4931

IMG_5410.JPG

IMG_4927.JPG

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.

  img_3994

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.

 IMG_5116.JPG

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.

IMG_6598.JPG

IMG_5318

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.

IMG_5357

IMG_4948

IMG_5184

IMG_5327

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.

IMG_5134

IMG_4854

IMG_5155

IMG_5037

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.

IMG_5146

IMG_5167

IMG_5439

IMG_5152

IMG_5369c

IMG_5433

IMG_5078

IMG_6437 untitled

IMG_5179.JPG

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.

IMG_4995.JPG

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.

scan0011

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.

IMG_5044

IMG_5491

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.

IMG_5350.JPG

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.

IMG_5122

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.

 

IMG_5118

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.

IMG_5171

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

IMG_5062

G0292150.JPG

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.

 

IMG_5057

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

IMG_5055

IMG_5054

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

IMG_5049

IMG_5042

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).

IMG_5040

 

IMG_5030

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

G0462284.JPG

G0442272.JPG

IMG_5029

Former Government Building site demolished by the 1932 hurricane.

IMG_4985

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

 

IMG_4868

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

IMG_4864IMG_4826

G0452280.JPG

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.

 

IMG_4822

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

IMG_1656a.JPG

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

 

IMG_4832

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.

herman-curry-2-birth-record-blog.jpg

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.

Herman Curry 1925.png

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.

Mae Gates Curry

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.” 

Herman Curry

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.

before-the-hurricane-identified.jpg

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).

 Mae Gates Curry.JPG

 

Old Keg’s Fighting Thompsons

We eagerly anticipate holiday weekends – outdoor barbeques, beach picnics, or lazy days indoors. Perhaps a spectacular fireworks display will bring the perfect ending to the day’s festivities.  With Memorial Day weekend approaching, let us not forget those who sacrificed much, even their lives, for our freedom.

Bahamian history is rich with stories of locals who fought and even gave their blood to serve country and King.  Two years ago, I shared a glimpse on one of those Bahamians, my cousin Warren Lightbourn.  I treasure the photo shared in the article The Price of Freedom that depicted Warren with four other World War II servicemen identified  as Hartis Thompson, Phillip Farrington, Garth Johnson, and George Moseley.  Like Warren, the latter two gave the ultimate sacrifice in their deaths.

Warren Lightbourne and friends

Front L-R:  Hartis Thompson and Philip Farrington.  Back L-R:  Garth Johnson, George Mosely and Warren Lightbourn.*

In recent days, I came across a copy of the Bahamas Handbook that pictured the above photo in an article about the Abaco brothers, surnamed Thompson, who represented the Bahamas and the British Empire during World War II.  Some of these Thompson names immediately sounded familiar to me. Perhaps I had heard Dad John Lowe’s voice recount a story.  Thus this quest began.

Bahamian genealogists suspect that John Old Keg Thompson was born around 1810 at Harbour Island, Bahamas. He married an Elizabeth Russell in 1830 at St. Matthew’s Church in Nassau, Bahamas.  In his autobiography I Wanted Wings, Leonard Thompson recounts the origin of the nickname Old Keg:

He (Old Keg Thompson) and a friend had gone turtle hunting on the east side of Hope Town.  In no time one was spotted and over the side Thompson went to catch the turtle.  His friend waited and waited in the boat, scanning the sea all around, but all he could see was a barrel drifting a long way off.  In desperation he decided to return to the village for help. 

The search party was led by Joshua (Old Keg’s son) who, when he heard about the barrel, stopped and turned back.  “That’s no keg, that’s my father out there!” he exclaimed “Don’t you know he can stay underwater as long as a turtle?”

Old Keg’s great-grandson, mariner William Maurice Thompson*, was born before the turn of the twentieth century.  In 1914, he married Lena Muriel from the Abaco Albury family.  William ThompsonCaptain Maurice Thompson and Lena were was blessed with eight children.  These children played along the harbor shores of Hope Town on Elbow Cay.  They saw its signature candy-striped, kerosene-powered, lighthouse.

Capt William Thompson

Captain Maurice Thompson

 

 Hope Town was settled in the 1780’s by British Loyalists, some from the Carolinas, seekers of refuge after the American Revolutionary War.  Today, the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town summarizes the origins of the settlement as follows:

Some of the first settlers that came to Hope Town were Wyannie Malone and three of her children Ephraim, David and Young Wyannie who was married to  Jacob Adams.  Both Ephraim (Malone) and Jacob (Adams) had been Loyalist soldiers in South Carolina. In 1807 both of these men received large land grants on Elbow cay.

The deed below shows that Jacob Adams received 260 acres, for his services to King George the Third. deed

Like other island children, Captain Maurice and Lena followed their ancestor’s footsteps in to raise their children on this remote island.  As young men, four of these Thompson sons –  Hartis, Leonard, Chester, and Maurice –  answered the call to fight the enemies of King George during World War II. Because of their heroism, they were dubbed The Fighting Thompsons By Sir Etienne Dupuch, publisher of the Bahamian newspaper, The Tribune.

Below is a synopsis of these brothers.  I encourage you to read some of the links and books referenced in this post and to reflect on their contributions to the freedom we enjoy today.

Hartis Harvin Thompson (1915 – 1997)*

Hartis was the eldest of the eight children.  As a volunteer, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Hartis

His natural athleticism won recognition as a physical fitness instructor.  After his service during the war, Hartis joined Nassau’s air traffic control in 1947.  He was appointed the first Bahamian Acting Director of the Civil Aviation in Nassau in 1953 and Director of Civil Aviation in 1956.  His predecessor, Captain Edward Mole, shared the follow thoughts about Hartis…

I sent for the senior air traffic control officer — one Hartis Thompson, a white Bahamian who had served with the RAF during the war. I told him that from the moment he was appointed Deputy Director, I relied on him to help me sort out our problems and keep the airport running smoothly.  Hartis proved to be a tower of strength, reliable and absolutely loyal.

Hartis is credited with planning, overseeing and building Nassau’s International Airport at Windsor Field , as well as airports on the family islands. The Nassau airport has been renamed the Lynden Pindling International Airport.  Hartis Thompson was appointed Permanent Secretary to the Bahama Islands Ministry of Transport in the late 1960s.

Leonard Maurice Thompson (1917 – 2008)*

Leonard joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). His book I Wanted Wings: The Autobiography of Leonard M. Thompson is an excellent and moving account of his heroism.

A 2013 article in The Abaconian  summarizes this hero as follows:

Leonard Thompson was born in Hope Town, Abaco, on 17 June 1917 and in his memoirs he observed that one day as a young boy everyone was given a holiday to watch the first seaplane land in Hope Town harbour.

It is that day that he attributed to affecting his future life. The plane had been chartered to bring in a doctor to attend the mother of Mr. J.W. Roberts who was very sick at the time. The pilot was Captain A. B. Chalk, an early pioneer of aviation in the Bahamas, and the young Leonard Thompson decided that day he would like to become a pilot like Capt. Chalk. Years later that dream did come true as Mr. Thompson went on to earn his wings.

When war broke out in Britain, Leonard Thompson felt it his duty to offer his services in the war effort. He travelled to Canada where he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and qualified as an aero engine mechanic.

Leonard

After a while he was posted to Elementary Flying Training School and after months of training, in 1942, he finally earned his wings. He was then posted overseas along with 13 of his classmates of whom, sadly, only three returned at the end of the war. While flying as a bomber pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Capt. Thompson was shot down over Germany and detained in a prisoner of war camp for 18 months. Fortunately, he survived the ordeal and was happy to return to Abaco to his new wife and young son whom he had never seen.

After the war, Leonard obtained his commercial pilot’s license and joined Bahamas Airways in 1945.  Later on he started a charter flight company called Skyway Bahamas Ltd.

Richard Chester Thompson (1922 – 2012)*

Chester served in the British Royal Navy.  At age 23, Chester commanded the Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 527.  It was involved in the Battle of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Chester

Chester Thompson graduated from the University of Toronto in 1950 and married that same year.  When he returned to the Bahamas, he served as Out Island Commissioner at Fresh Creek, Andros. Upon the couple’s move to Nassau, Chester started his career in real estate.

At an early age, Chester had a love for reading.  He went on to author The Fledgling, a story about his birthplace in Hope Town, Abaco, and The Long Day Wanes … A Memoir of Love and War.

 William Maurice Thompson, Jr. (1923 – 1966)*

Maurice was the fifth son and the youngest of this memorable quartet.  The Abaco Account newspaper article described his service as follows:

He was assigned to the North Atlantic Theatre aboard a destroyer based in England, Scotland and Iceland.  The, came transfer to the Far East where he was posted successively in India, Burma and Ceylon. 

MauriceOne of a bare dozen Royal Navy boys who proudly wore “Bahamas” shoulder patch, Maurice was honourably discharged at the war’s end.

He returned to the Bahamas and served in the Immigration Department in Nassau.  His political involvement included an appointment as Commissioner at the island of Mayaguana in the southern Bahamas.  His passion for his Abaco roots, he never lost.  As President of the Great Abaco Construction Company and head of the real estate company, Marsh Harbour Enterprises, he significantly promoted the growth and development of many Abaco communities including Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbour.

Maurice founded Abaco’s first publication in January 1964, titled The Abaco Account.  While on assignment in Nassau to cover Her Majesty’s visit, he died suddenly of a heart attack.  Gone at the age of 43 years.

As noted above, Old Keg Thompson’s wife was the granddaughter of Jacob Adams and Wyannie Malone Adams.  This makes the Fighting Thompson brothers the 4th great-grandsons of Jacob and Wyannie Adams.  Interestingly enough, I am also the 4th great-grandson of Jacob and Wyannie.   I have a new perspective to reflect on this Memorial Day weekend.

*Source:  The Bahamas Handbook and Businessman’s Annual, A Dupuch Publication, 2007. 

Donald Robinson Saunders

Generations of Saunders and Curry descendants played along the Green Turtle Cay shores in Abaco, Bahamas.  Included in this company were the Curry sisters,  Edith “Edie” and Bessie.  As noted in prior posts, Edie married Robbie Saunders and Bessie married Howard Lowe.  Like their parents and grandparents, they raised their families on this remote Cay of the British Empire.  This required reliance on God’s provisions from the land and sea for sustenance.

Here we meet Edie’s son, Donald Robinson Saunders. Born in July 1924, Edie and Robbie welcomed a son into their family, the fourth of five children.

Ma Saunders Family

Widow Edie with her five children. Photo courtesy of Mary Saunders McCluskey, Donald’s daughter.

Back (L to R): Donald, Deloris, Cedric.  Front (L to R): Sybil, Edie, Audrey.

Donald Saunders Birtha.jpg

Entry #1 – Birth of Virginia Curry to Herman Curry and Mae Gates Curry / Entry #5 – Birth of Donald Saunders to Robbie Saunders and Edith Curry Saunders

Three weeks prior to Donald’s birth, Edie’s brother Herman and wife Mae Gates Curry welcomed their first child, daughter Virginia Sylvia (just a few weeks ago, Virgie Curry Carey passed away at the age of 91).  The next year (1925), their sister Bessie gave birth to my Dad, John Wesley Lowe.  Many from this generation of Abaconians broke the traditional role of raising their families on that same island.

These first cousins, all less than a year apart, spent their school days climbing the hill to the Green Turtle Cay All-Age School and fishing from the dock with occasional tomfoolery.

A former Green Turtle Cay resident recalls:

Most people at the Cay were poor, really poor.  Robbie (Saunders) fished with the other men on the Cay. They sold the fish by the pound. If an amberjack was caught at a certain time of the year, people wanted to buy some of this rarer treat.

The 1932 hurricane hovered. Persistent, strong winds weakened and smashed structures. Another perspective will add details of those days of horror.

Donald’s sister, Audrey Saunders, told Joy Lowe Jossi in a telephone interview:

My brother Donald was born 1924 in the stone hotel building that dad had owned. After Donald’s birth, mother was not well. The doctor said that she needed to live where she could breathe the fresh air. That’s when daddy built the house at the seaside. It stands today.

I was 10 years old when the 1932 hurricane shook us at Green Turtle Cay for three days and three nights. Donald was eight years.       

Our house, at the water’s edge, held fast. The separate dining room building fell. It blew away into the sea. Sammy Sawyer told us that he watched it float away. 

Afraid, we left our house and went to Aunt Lorrie’s house. Both fathers were absent. Mother held Donald close. She paced the room alongside Donald, his hand in hers. Her lower legs and feet swelled from the long days on them. 

My daddy and a group of men were on a fishing trip, caught away in the northern cays—Uncle Norwood, Uncle Cecil…and more. We kept watch with every boat that appeared, hoping that the men might return.

During the hurricane, people moved from one house to another for safety. Hartley Key’s roof fell in—some men passed children from one to another and into a dining room window.  

After the storm, lots of people slept in our house for shelter—Harold Hodgkins and his sister Nellie, and more…

Besides the hurricane terror, concern reigned for Donald’s father and the group of men caught far away at sea. Missing—ten heads of families. Did they perish in the hurricane?  The trauma that gripped hearts imprinted lifelong memories.  Exposed, the stranded men survived the hurricane.  They took shelter under the canvas of the boat that they dragged ashore. How did the 1932 hurricane impact this eight-year-old boy, Donald?

Donald’s schoolteacher Herbert Roberts and his young bride Emma along with Herbert’s parents took refuge in the stone kitchen of the teacher’s residence (now the Albert Lowe Museum property). Next door, the Captain Hartley Roberts’ large house sheltered nearly a hundred people, including my Dad.

Donald told his sister-in-law Joy Lowe Jossi…

Medical and other relief came from Nassau. The Nassau Board of Works sent Mr. Charles Harry Roberts to erect on the same hilltop site a new school building. The building is still in use. Mr. Harry Robert’s son, Junior Roberts, and I, became friends.

Herbert Roberts (1911-2003) served the Green Turtle Cay community as teacher 1931-1943 with assistant Amy Lowe Roberts. These fine leaders influenced Donald and my Dad.

Donald completed his foundational education at the Green Turtle Cay All-Age School at the age of 16, two years longer than the typical legal age 14.  The teacher, R. Herbert Roberts, told his young male students of available jobs at Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera. A wealthy American, Austin Levy, had developed Hatchet Bay Plantations, a dairy and poultry farm.

A local Bahamian newspaper reported:

In 1936 American Austin Levy purchased 2,000 acres of land at Hatchet Bay and started the successful farm that supplied the Bahamas with all of its milk, poultry, eggs and ice cream. Alice Town residents were fully employed.

In 1940, Dwight Roberts, Preston Albury, and Donald Saunders went to work at Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera. After a few months, Donald left Hatchet Bay. A surprise awaited him on arrival in Nassau. He discovered that his parents and family had come on the mail boat to stay (no cell phones back then). His older sister, Audrey, came to work at the Registrar General’s Office. Donald’s parents kept their house at Green Turtle Cay many years. Around this same time, my Dad and Grandma Bessie also relocated to Nassau.

In Nassau, Mr. Arthur Sands of Purity Bakery hired Robbie Saunders, his former classmate at Boys’ Grammar School. Uncle Robbie, and his son, Donald, worked at Purity Bakery. Bicycles transported Uncle Robbie and Donald to and from Purity Bakery, located on South Market Street just beyond the historic Gregory Arch landmark.

Through the years more Saunders family members joined the bakery crew: Donald’s brother Cedric, some nephews, and Charlie Lowe, spouse of Donald’s sister Deloris.

Donald proved himself reliable and eventually became part owner of Purity Bakery.

022 Don R Sdrs  .jpg

Donald R. Saunders.  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi.

A family member says:

Donald, a capable, quiet person, was not given to small talk. He’d tackle any task. On-Call 24-hours, the bakery operation depended on him. If a machine faltered at night, Donald was called. He repaired and maintained the machines. This I could not imagine for him—the person I knew wore long-sleeved white shirt and tie with jacket. Could those hands tinker with grease and oil? Yes. Those strong hands showed no sign of all that they did.

He knew that he had cousin connections with Nassau businessmen Harold Saunders, Postmaster Claude Saunders, and Joseph S. Johnson, as well as Roland Saunders with Burdines of Miami. Historical records reveal Saunders families at Harbour Island, Eleuthera, a century before some moved to Abaco.

In Nassau, Donald lived across the street (Sears Road) from his future wife, Natalie Belle Lowe.  From her front porch she would watch the stately, well-dressed young man who worked at Purity Bakery.

N Nat Marg garage roof Sdrs hse

Sisters Natalie (L) and Marg (R). Saunders home porch in the background (circa 1953).  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi

Natalie was the second of seven children born to Fanny and Clerihew Lowe of Nassau, formerly of Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas.

082 sweet Nat Marg

Sisters Natalie (L) and Marg (R) (circa 1954).  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi.

Natalie was the personal secretary to attorney Godfrey Higgs at the law firm of Higgs and Johnson.

 

Natalie refused to date Donald until he committed his life to Christ. On November 24, 1954, he attended a tent crusade where Scottish evangelist Bill Patterson conducted meetings. Donald placed his faith in God that evening. Soon afterwards a courtship with Natalie ensued.

084 Marg Donald Nat ~1954

L to R – Marg Lowe, Donald Saunders, Natalie Lowe (circa 1954).  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi

On October 7, 1955, Donald, 31, and Natalie tied the knot at Shirley Heights Gospel Chapel in Nassau.

Donald Saunders and Natalie Lowe Marriage.jpgThree children, two girls and a boy, were born to this union. In June 1965, the family faced adversity with the premature birth of the youngest child. Weighing two pounds, two and a half ounces, the preemie boy Paul had to be airlifted to Miami for care. Dr. Meyers Rassin’s wife, Nurse Rosetta, accompanied the infant.

DNM

Donald Saunders and Natalie Lowe Saunders with daughter Mary (circa 1959).  Photo courtesy of grandson, Christopher McCluskey.

Donald’s strong family commitment stepped up when a need arose. He demonstrated care for each person. To his sister Audrey’s sons, he became a father figure.

Donald did self-effacement for the higher purpose. In the church group at Nassau’s Shirley Heights Gospel Chapel on Mount Royal Avenue, he supervised construction projects for the church. His home in Nassau included an apartment often used by missionaries.

At the age of 43 years, Donald retired from Purity Bakery upon its sale to Continental Baking Company in 1967. He continued to be a prudent businessman with investments.

N Papa & Nat's fam 1993 bw

L to R – Brian McCluskey, Christopher McCluskey, Mary Saunders McCluskey, Natalie Lowe Saunders, Donald Saunders, Judy Saunders, Paul Saunders.  Seated in front – Clerihew Lowe (circa 1993).  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi.

In 1972, the family moved to Hollywood, Florida, where they joined the Hollywood Bible Chapel. Donald served as an elder, oversaw building renovations, taught Bible study classes, and preached to local congregations.

DNSa

Donald Saunders and Natalie Lowe Saunders in front of Hollywood Bible Chapel (circa 1978).  Photo courtesy of grandson Christopher McCluskey.

Meticulous in his work, his firm belief followed God’s Word, even when it was not popular to do so. He believed in not elevating any earthly man, but in all things to give God the preeminence.

After they moved to Florida, Donald’s son recalled his dad taking him and his sister to a lake to sail. Donald explained how to ‘tack’ and the way to scull—skills he had learned as a boy at Green Turtle Cay.

Donald was a faithful and devoted husband to wife Natalie for 41 years. She assisted him in sermon preparation. A wonderful father, he taught by word and example.

scan0078.jpg

Natalie Lowe Saunders and Donald Saunders (circa 1982).  Photo from collection of John and Doreen Lowe.

In 1995, Donald was diagnosed with cancer. Donald’s faith remained strong. In pain, he possessed inner peace from his Heavenly Father. In September 1996, Donald was called into the presence of the Lord he learned to love.  Lanny Evans, a family friend, wrote and presented the following tribute at Donald’s funeral.

“As We Knew Him”
Just a Man…
GOD’s Man
GOD’s Man of Purpose
GOD’s Man of Purposefully Planned Action
GOD’s Man Always Eager to Venture out for HIM
Just a Man…
But a Godly Man
A Man Who Knew the MIND OF GOD
Seeking IT with a Prayerful Passion
And a Zeal to Know HIS WILL and Do HIS WORK
And to See Others Brought Into the KINGDOM
Just a Man…
A Faithful Family Man
A Man Whose Heart and Soul
Glowed with the Warmth of GOD’s LOVE
Glowing for His Family, for You, for Me
Fueling and Firing His Every Activity
Just a Man…
But a Strong, Tall Friend
An Enduring, Faithful Friend
An Always Understanding Friend
A Forgiving Friend
A Friend Long on Godly Counsel and Time
Just a Man…
An “Assembly Man”
Committed to CHRIST’s CHURCH
A Man Who Loved GOD’s People
Burdened for Their Growth and Christian Maturity
Committed to Building – to the GLORY OF GOD
Just a Man…
But a Servant/Leader
A Student of the WORD
A Teacher of That Which He Had Learned
Faithful to Impart True Knowledge
A Wise Counselor, Applying the WORD to Life
Just a Man…
A Tender, Caring, Compassionate Man
A Generous, Giving Man
A Man of Wise Discernment
A Man of Common Sense
A Man Who Redeemed His Time
Just a Man…
But a Tireless Visionary
A “Maker of Things to Happen”
A Successful Man
An Example of a Man
A Trustworthy Man to All and to Whomever
Just a Man…
A Strong Man, Who Conveyed Strength
A Confident Man, Who Inspired Confidence
A Gentleman, Who Taught Meekness
A Righteous Man, Who Encouraged the Just
An Honest Man, Who Seeks Truth
Just a Man…
But a Blessed Man
A Greatly Favored Man
A Very Much Loved Man
Donald
As We Knew Him to Be
DRS

Donald R. Saunders (circa 1955). Photo courtesy of grandson Christopher McCluskey.

Royalty on Island Shores

The month of March not only brings blossoming spring flowers,  but also British royalty to the shores of the Bahamas, whose clear aquamarine waters and white sandy beaches are simply breathtaking for both the poor and the prosperous.

The island nation’s British legacy started in the early 1700’s when King George I appointed an English sea captain, Woodes Rogers, as first Royal Governor of the Bahamas.  British monarchs reigned until the nation’s independence in July 1973.  The country remains a member of the British Commonwealth.

A few weeks ago Prince Edward and wife, Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex arrived in the Nassau for the GGYA (Governor General’s Youth Award) presentations.  Their Royal visit  included a quick stop to Abaco, including picturesque Hope Town, a loyalist settlement rich in Bahamian history.  Explore its island heritage with a stop to the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum. Wyannie Malone (my 5th great grandmother) is considered to be the first documented resident of Hope Town.  The South Carolina widow and her three children arrived in 1785.

Hopetown, Elbow Cay.jpg

Hope Town on Elbow Cay, Abaco, in the Bahamas with its candy-striped lighthouse – one of the last manual lighthouses in the world.

Queen Elizabeth II stepped onto Bahamian shores while touring Caribbean Commonwealth nations in 1966, 1975, 1977, and 1985.  Her last visit was in March 1994. On these historic occasions, an air of excitement builds on the island as locals crowd the streets to catch a glimpse of Royalty.

594626305.jpg

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip – Rawson Square, Nassau, Bahamas (1966).

Sailing into Nassau Harbour aboard the 412 foot-long Royal Yacht Britannia, Princess Margaret (the Queen’s sister) and her entourage landed in Nassau in 1955.  On this voyage, the 24 year old Royal emissary toured several of the British Colonies in the West Indies, including Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada, Dominica and the Bahamas.

The Governor of the Bahamas greeted Princess Margaret at Prince George Dock.  She observed a local regatta from the yacht of Sir Stafford Sands, dubbed the Bahamian  “Father of Tourism.”  Incidentally, his wife, Winifred Maude Moore, is my cousin.

Other trip highlights included a public school address at Clifton Pier and a reception at the Government House with over 1600 guests, dignitaries and notable residents. A quick getaway to a private retreat on Rose Island provided a brief respite for the busy princess.

Perhaps the most notable event was a tour of the recently opened Bahamas General Hospital.  During this ceremony, the hospital’s name was officially changed to The Princess Margaret Hospital, and a tree planted in honor of this occasion.

Below are a few of the pictures contained within Dad’s souvenir booklet from this Royal visit (February 26, 1955 – March 2, 1955). Uncertain as to how he obtained this piece of history.  Was he amidst the crowd of eager bystanders?

The cover is stamped with  the succinct and swift motto from Governor Woodes Rogers…Expulsis Piratis/Restituta Commercia – Piracy Expelled, Commerce Restored.

scan0078scan0075scan0077scan0080scan0076scan0079scan0074

For additional photographs of royal visits to the Bahamas, please enjoy the fine collection on one of my favorite sites…OldBahamas.com.