Green Turtle Cay's Golden Age

Alton Lowe, whose oil paintings are featured in Those Who Stayed, won’t be able to join me in Nassau for this Saturday’s book signing at Logos Bookstore. This week, as a tribute to Alton, I’m featuring some of his gorgeous paintings and corresponding excerpts from the book. Hope to see you at Logos on Saturday!

During the late 1800s, A series of successful ventures – wrecking, pineapple, citrus and sisal cultivation, sponging and boatbuilding – converged to create a period of extraordinary prosperity on Green Turtle Cay.

“The Golden Age,” an oil painting by Alton Lowe

Sleepy New Plymouth blossomed into a bustling community of 1,800. Green Turtle Cay became an official port of entry and the seat for all of Abaco. Stars and stripes flew over the home and office of newly appointed U.S. Consul, E. Willis Bethel.

Tidy rows of gracious two- and three-story wood and quarried-stone homes with breezy verandas and dormer windows lined the shore of Settlement Creek, where dozens of sloops, schooners and fishing dinghies bobbed in the harbour. Colourful croton and hibiscus bushes and flaming poinciana trees edged neat, narrow streets.

Inside, the homes were lavishly appointed with elegant carved wood furniture, silk and lace curtains and marble-topped tables made locally by the Russell family, who imported the stone from Charleston and exported finished products to the U.S. Tables were set with fine china, crystal, silver and linens.

A large, well-appointed public library, furnished with thousands of volumes, was established on the property where the town administrator’s office now stands.

“Parliament Street,” an oil painting by Alton Lowe

Evenings, at a dance hall known as “the Lodge”, young ladies gathered along one side of the room, completed dance cards clutched in gloved hands. “They knew before they arrived at the dance who they would dance with for the evening,” Alton says. Lined along the opposite wall, their dance partners awaited their turn at a graceful waltz or lively polka. “It was very formal.”

Other leisure activities enjoyed by the members of New Plymouth society included dinner parties, water sports, beach picnics and, for the men, hog hunting trips to the Abaco mainland. In the breezy shade of their verandahs, ladies embroidered or pieced together intricate quilts.

Some circulated autograph books, small leather-bound notebooks they sent to friends and family members who would write a note or poem inside before returning them.

It had taken them a century, but the residents of Abaco had finally realized the dreams of their Loyalist ancestors, creating a life of elegance and gentility. Sadly, the gaiety would not last.

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