September 7, 1932 – What Misery Lay Ahead

This is the third post in a three-part series. The first two parts can be found here: September 3, 1932: The Calm Before The Storm and September 5, 1932: Destruction and Devastation.

Abaco Deaths Sept 1932

Government Record of Deaths in Abaco
September 1932

When the wind died down and the rain subsided, the residents of Green Turtle Cay were relieved that the worst was behind them.

But as they emerged from their battered, flooded shelters, they discovered what misery lay ahead.

Six of their own – George Lewis (85), Thomas Roberts (62), Alice Lowe (58), Insley Sawyer (5) and brothers, DeWees and Bert Lowe, (15 and 2, respectively) – had been fatally wounded. Countless others were injured.

Water from Settlement Creek had surged across the lowest part of town and out into the sea of Abaco, destroying the cemetery and unearthing corpses. (Even today, fragments of grave stones remain on the beach that borders the graveyard.)

New Plymouth Waterfront After the 1932 Hurricane. What remains of my grandmother’s house is immediately right of the intact white house at the bottom left of the photo
Aunt Bessie and John Lowe’s house is the white house with a single dormer window, bottom right of photo. (Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum)

“When the storm was over, the aftermath was just as overwhelming,” said John Lowe, son of Pa Herman’s sister, Aunt Bessie. “We were literally walking on house roofs.  Clothes were blown everywhere – hanging in the trees.”

The settlement of New Plymouth was unrecognizable. Most homes were either demolished or washed out to sea. The schoolhouse had collapsed, as had the government wharf and the New Plymouth Hotel. Four churches, including the 1200-seat Methodist church, were lost. The top story of the government building had disappeared, leaving only the jail, and stairs that now led nowhere. Nearly every tree had been toppled.

The two-story building where the Captain Roland Roberts Environmental Center is now located had been hit by another building and shifted four feet from its foundation. The roof from the church next to John’s house was found blocks away in the middle of the settlement. Stone bricks from another church were discovered a half-mile away. John said that, despite being heavily anchored, the mail boat had been dragged seven miles. And according to my grandmother, one of the biggest, heaviest iron crowbars she ever saw was stuck in the roof of the building that now houses the Albert Lowe Museum.

“The fencing around my sister Mirabelle’s grave washed away,” she recalled. “One day, Mama and Daddy stopped to get bay hops for the hogs at a cay nearly seven miles from home. They found Mirabelle’s fencing right up there in the middle of that cay.”

After the Hurricane 2

Surveying the Damage
Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum

Though knocked from its stilts, Aunt Bessie and John’s house survived. Others in the family weren’t as fortunate. One of Pa Herman’s other sisters, Aunt Edie, lost her separate kitchen building. According to John, it blew into the sea and was never seen again. The house of yet another sister, Aunt Emmie, was also destroyed.

And, of course, my grandmother’s family lost their home. All that remained of their beautiful four-bedroom house on the waterfront was a large wood pile.

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.

Island Men Dig Through the Rubble
Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum

The Bahamian government sent some supplies, and private organizations on other islands collected and forwarded donations, but for the most part, Green Turtle Cay residents were left to fend for themselves.

And though they worked tirelessly to pull the shattered pieces of their community back together, New Plymouth never fully regained its previous prosperity. Numerous sponging vessels and sponge beds were damaged by the hurricane and within a few years, disease wiped out what remained of the industry. The timber mills on the Abaco mainland closed, and a fledgling tourism industry was thwarted by the Great Depression. Many local residents left to find work in Nassau or the United States. Most did not return.

For those who remained, mere sustenance was a struggle. “Saturdays,” said my grandmother, “we’d go searching all about to find a penny to buy a tuppence worth of lard to make a stew. Sometimes, I would have to fry the oil out of turbot livers and make the stew that way. When we didn’t have money to buy sugar, Mama would make pie with syrup Daddy ground from sugar cane.”

Eighty-one years ago this week, much was taken from the residents of Green Turtle Cay. Their loved ones were lost, their homes smashed to pieces, their community destroyed. But with the same determination that brought their Loyalist ancestors through post-Revolutionary war persecution to a new life in the tropics, and the resilience that saw those same ancestors through isolation, crop failures, poverty and disease, the people of the cay pulled through, their spirit firmly intact.

Related Stories:

Sept. 5, 1932 – One Family’s Heartbreak

September 1932: Images of the Aftermath

17 thoughts on “September 7, 1932 – What Misery Lay Ahead

    • Hi, Sheila. Thanks for your note. Glad you enjoyed the hurricane piece. Certainly does make you wonder about people who sink millions into homes right on the water… although I can understand wanting to take the risk – Bahamian ocean views are spectacular. 🙂

  1. Amanda, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like for those folks. The only comparison I can draw on from personal experience is Hurricane Floyd, which, while severe, did nowhere near that kind of damage, and Andrew in 1992, also a category 5, albeit very small in size. I didn’t personally experience Andrew, but did go to North Eleuthera a couple of days later to help wherever I could. So did a number of others from Abaco. And it was very bad; 4 dead, 1700 homeless. The difference was, the amount of resources that quickly appeared to help those in need. We Bahamians are like one family; we will take care of each other in times like that . But, 60 years earlier, such a relief effort simply wasn’t possible. Those on Green Turtle Cay and other places were largely on their own. Likewise, in 1999, going through my first major hurricane, coming out of it emotionally battered, but with no more damage than most of the shingles gone off the roof, [I did lose my boat, though.] and seeing aid pour into Abaco from all over, [Even the Jacksonville Jaguars sent a planeload of supplies] I can really feel for those in New Plymouth that simply had to rebuild the best way they could.

    • Reggie, I can’t even imagine what it was like back then. I heard a line in a song the other day that said, “And you, of tender years, can’t know the fears that your elders lived by.” That’s so true in this case. Not that hurricanes still don’t do serious damage and rattle our nerves, but these days, we have better forecasting tools and communications and, as you say, available resources. Back then, they were SO isolated, and had no way of knowing if anyone was aware of what had happened. It’s hard today to really envision just how overwhelmed and alone they must have felt. Though they didn’t have much outside help, it sounds like the townspeople pulled together and helped each other — like you say, we Bahamians are all one family.

  2. it’s so difficult to grasp the extent of this sort of destruction! the photos speak volumes. the lack of communication & outside assistance must have been overwhelming to the survivors. so different than today’s responses to disasters.

    • Linda, it’s true. As some of our mutual friends found out last year with Sandy, hurricanes still do a whole lot of damage. But these days, at least we have good forecasting tools, communications and outside resources and support. Back then, they had none of that. What resilient people they must have been, to have the fortitude in a time of such despair to pick themselves up and rebuild their town and their lives.

  3. Amazing. What a struggle for those survivors and perseverance. Thank you for sharing. You must be do proud to be one of them!

    • Angie, I truly am proud of them. My grandmother often told me how difficult it was for the folks of GTC after the ’32 hurricane. The effects of the storm’s devastation were felt for many years afterward. Amazing how much strength they had to persevere.

  4. My great great grandfather Uriah Saunders of Green Turtle is listed on that death record, although he died of cancer, can you imagine the difficulty during such a catastrophe? My great great grandfather James Sands is also listed as being killed by the hurricane in Guana Cay. Love your blog! 🙂

    • Hi, Priscilla. Thanks so much for your note. You know, my grandmother mentioned a Mr. Uriah. She didn’t give me a last name, but when I saw the death records, I realized it must have been Uriah Saunders. She said he had passed right before the storm hit, and had been laid out in a coffin in his house, but the house was destroyed by the storm. What a difficult time that must have been for Mr. Uriah’s family – so much loss all at once. I’m sorry to hear about James Sands as well. What a horrible time it was, for all of Abaco.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. It’s great to have the chance to share some of my family history, and learn about the history of others. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Being the oldest son of John Lowe, l heard his 1932 hurricane stories many times. Not until I saw the pictures earlier this year could I relate to the devastation. Dad went home to heaven this year, and all the family misses his GTC stories. For 80 years, this event was vivid in his mind. His father had died five years earlier, so he went through the storm and the aftermath without his earthly father; however, his heavenly Father watched over him. He said that prayers were lifted up to God all night long.

    • Hi, Paul. Thanks so much for writing. My grandmother was the same way – 70+ years later, the memories were still vivid in her mind. It’s clear that this was an experience that affected them deeply, especially given how young they were at the time. I’m very grateful to Evan and you for sharing your Dad’s recollections with me and with the readers of this blog. There’s no substitute for first-hand accounts.

  6. Enjoyed reading this very much. I love history and even though this is a sad time it really says a lot about the people of Abaco especially who pull together and come out on top of the most devastating situations. I heard my mom tell of incidents in Guana Cay too and how homes were moved and other destroyed and the almost loss of one of her nieces. Thank God for the quick thinking of her brother-in-law who grabbed the child by her big toe and kept her from being swept out to sea.

    • Hi, Retta. Thanks for your comment. I’m really glad you enjoyed the posts. Yes, it was certainly a terrible time, but the resilience of the Abaco people is simply inspiring. Seeing the photos of the devastation, it’s hard to imagine how they found the strength to pick themselves up and go on. Yikes, how scary for your mom’s family – glad they were able to save her niece! I think I read that 5 of the 18 Abaconians killed by the storm were in fact swept out to sea. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying — both for the victims, and for their loved ones, who couldn’t save them.

  7. Hello there,my Mother Pauline Carey Roberts was ten years old when the thirty two hurricane struck, she and her family lived in Hope Town.My Grandfather,Anthony Carey was away and came home to find my Grandmother Maude Bethel Carey and six children homeless.What stories they can tell,we are so fortunate today with all of the technology.We are hoping and praying that the hurricanes all go out to sea this year.

    • Hi, Sandra. Yes, we are certainly fortunate these days to have better forecasting tools and building codes. I read that Hope Town was pretty badly battered as well in 1932. How scary for your grandmother and her children, to lose their home and to have to go through that without their husband/father. Did they rebuild on Hope Town, or did they leave the island after losing their home?

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