Tag: Albert Lowe Museum

Are You a Descendant of the First Families of Abaco?

Historian Betty Bruce and Artist Alton Lowe, founder of the Island Roots Heritage Festival

Forty years ago this week, the inaugural Island Roots Heritage Festival took place in Key West and then in Green Turtle Cay .

During the planning for the first Island Roots Festival, Key West historian Betty Bruce – whose ancestors were among those Abaco families who settled Key West – began gathering the names of other Floridians whose roots stretched across the Gulf Stream to the Bahama islands.

She posted a sign-up sheet in the Monroe County Public Library in Key West and put the word out.

Within just a few months, she had gathered several hundred names on a scroll, which now resides in the archives of the Albert Lowe Museum.

Reading through the scroll, you recognize many common Bahamian surnames, such as Pinder, Knowles, Kemp, Symonette and Moss, from the various Bahamian islands including Eleuthera, Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, Long Island, Nassau and Grand Bahama.

Returning to the Sea for Survival

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!

As the 20th century dawned, Green Turtle Cay’s glory days were a distant memory. The U.S., having annexed Hawaii and the Philippines, no longer needed the Bahamian pineapples that once buoyed the local economy.

A once-promising sisal industry had failed to thrive, as locally grown product could not compete with Mexican sisal, which was both less expensive and of superior quality. Blight had wiped out most of the Bahamian sponge supply — once known as some of the best in the world.

“Civic,” an oil painting by Alton Lowe. The Civic was a fishing sloop owned by Alton’s father, Albert Lowe.

But though the sea had failed Bahamian spongers, it provided other vital economic opportunities.

The Founding of Key West

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!

“John Bartlum” (1814-1871) – oil painting by Alton Lowe

The waters around the Florida Keys were a popular site for many Abaco wreckers. In 1825, however, the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Wrecking Act, which stipulated that salvage from any vessel wrecked in American waters must be brought to a U.S. port.

In the years that followed, a number of Abaconians relocated to Key West, then a mostly uninhabited island at the southern end of the chain of Florida Keys.

By 1860, two-thirds of the island’s 3,000 residents were of Bahamian descent, known locally as “Conchs.”

Many Green Turtle Cay natives would be among Key West’s founding families and community leaders, including John Bartlum  and William Curry.

Loyal to the Crown

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!

LOYAL TO THE CROWN - The Loyalists who came to the Bahamas in hopes of establishing a new British empire.

“A New Beginning,” oil painting by Alton Lowe, from the private collection of Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Sands.

At the beginning of the 1780s, the American Revolutionary War had been raging for more than five years. Residents of the American colonies who wished to gain independence from England, known as Patriots, battled those Loyalists who maintained allegiance to the British Crown.

While the former sought autonomy, the latter believed their freedom was more effectively protected by British law than the untested Declaration of Independence.  Absent protection from the Crown, they worried the American colonies would promptly be annexed by the Spanish or French.

About 500,000 residents – 20% of the American population at the time – were Loyalists. In 1783, believing the Patriots stood no chance against England’s considerable might, they were stunned when Britain elected to grant independence to the United States. It would not be the last time the Crown would betray their loyalty.

Key West Celebrates Its Island Roots May 19 and 20

Because it’s an election year, Green Turtle Cay’s Island Roots Heritage Festival is on hiatus for 2017.

But the celebrations will go on in Key West, where they’re holding an event next weekend to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first Island Roots Heritage Festival, held in 1977.

Key West celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Island Roots Heritage Festival on May 19 and 20, 2017.

Alton Lowe and Michelle Roberts of Green Turtle Cay present Key West Mayor Charles McCoy with the New Plymouth flag at the original Island Roots Heritage Festival – May 1977.

The Key West event kicks off on Friday night, May 19th, with a performance by the Barefoot Man and his band at Two Friends Patio Restaurant.

The Barefoot Man (George Nowak) and his band will perform at the Island Roots Heritage Festival in Key West May 19 and 20

On Saturday May 20th, the fun goes from noon until 11:00 pm at the Truman Waterfront Park Field. There will be carnival rides and music, including a performance by children from the Bahama Village Music Program. A variety of vendors will sell food, beverages and island-inspired crafts, and I hear there may even be a Junkanoo rush!

If you’re interested in tracing your own island roots, you won’t want to miss the presentation by Peter Roberts of the Bahamas DNA Project. Peter will have DNA kits available for those who would like to be tested.

Peter Roberts of the Bahamas DNA Project

The sister city relationship between Key West and Green Turtle Cay — first proclaimed in 1977 — will be reaffirmed, and the evening will wrap up with another performance by the Barefoot Man.

Bahamian Member of Parliament George Smith presents the Sister City proclamation to Key West Mayor Charles McCoy – May 1977.

General admission for adults is $5, and includes a wristband so folks can come and go from the event all day. Children will be admitted free, but will still receive a keepsake wristband.

For more details, visit the event’s Facebook page.

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Laying Rope

Every day this week, as a lead up to my Marsh Harbour book signing on Saturday, May 13th, I’ll be sharing historic Abaco photographs and brief excerpts from my new book, Those Who Stayed.

In the late 1880s, believing it held the key to the colony’s economic success, Bahamian Governor Ambrose Shea introduced sisal, a plant that yields a stiff fibre used to make rope, twine, mats and other household items.

Lambert Gates (left) and Vertrum Lowe laying rope, circa 1950. Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

Since the U.S. had no domestic sisal supply, the governor pointed out, there was a ready market nearby. Furthermore, since sisal plants live more than a decade and survive in virtually any condition, they require minimum care.

Wilson City: A Modern Marvel

Every day this week, as a lead up to my Marsh Harbour book signing on Saturday, May 13th, I’ll be sharing historic Abaco photographs and brief excerpts from my new book, Those Who Stayed.

In 1906, an American group calling itself the Bahamas Timber Company obtained a 100-year contract to log pinelands in Abaco. On a site south of Marsh Harbour, they built a state-of-the-art sawmill and an adjacent town, Wilson City, to house employees.

Wilson City (Abaco, Bahamas): A Modern Marvel

Wilson City, Abaco, Bahamas.  Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

A Sweet Glimpse Into Green Turtle Cay’s Past

Just east of New Plymouth’s government buildings, in the yard behind the customs officer’s residence, sits an unremarkable hunk of rusted equipment. All but overgrown by tall grass, it’s easy to overlook. But it actually represents a window into early 20th-century life on Green Turtle Cay.

The rusted remnants of a sugarcane mill, Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas. The years following the turn of the century were lean ones for the residents of New Plymouth. Just a few decades before, the settlement had been vibrant and prosperous. Some of its more adventurous residents made their fortunes as blockade runners during the American Civil War. Others harvested sponges or turtles, or cultivated sisal, citrus and pineapples.

With work plentiful, Green Turtle Cay’s population soared to nearly 2,000. Its streets were lined with large, gracious homes decorated with fine furniture and imported silks and linens.

Faces in Need of Names

Photo #1 - Unidentified Boys

Photo #1 – Unidentified Boys

For me, the best part of genealogical research is finding old photographs. It’s fine to read about ancestors — where they were born, when they were married, when they died — but seeing their eyes, their expressions, even their attire, makes them real in a way words never could.

Photo #2older girl is Virginia Curry - need to identify the two younger children.

Photo #2
Older girl is Virginia Curry – need to identify the two younger children.

Over time, I’ve amassed a collection of old Bahamian photographs, primarily from my late grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury in Nassau and my late uncle, Cuthbert Albury, of Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Though my grandmother was able to identify many faces, I’ve still got dozens of images of people I don’t recognize.

For the next while, I’m going to post small groupings of these photos in hopes that someone can help put names to faces. If the folks in the pictures are ancestors of mine, it would be great to know. If they’re not, I’d love to be able to track down their descendants so I can forward the photos to them.

Do you recognize any of these people or places?

If so, please comment at the bottom of this post or, if you prefer, email me privately. If not, I’d appreciate if you’d forward a link to this page to anyone who might be able to help. (To view full-size images and/or complete captions, just double-click on any photo.)

Finally, I’m always on the hunt for old Abaco photos, particularly of Green Turtle Cay. If you have any you’d like to share, let me know. I’d love to see them.

NOTE: I’m not sure, but I believe most of these photos were taken between the late 1930s and the early 1950s.

This post in the first in a series. Part two: (More) Faces in Need of Names

Related: Putting Names to Faces, Stitches in Time

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.)

September 3, 1932: The Calm Before the Storm

It’s unclear whether New Plymouth’s Loyalist settlers had remarkable foresight or just good fortune. Either way, the tiny settlement was well-situated to capitalize on a series of economic opportunities and by the early 1900s, New Plymouth was a vibrant, prosperous town of 1,500 residents. On September 3, 1932, however, these residents had no inkling of the terror and misfortune lurking beyond the horizon.

Settlement Creek Waterfront Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

Settlement Creek Waterfront, New Plymouth (Prior to 1932)
Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

In the mid-1800s, Green Turtle Cay’s proximity to major shipping lanes east of the Abaco barrier reef made it the wrecking capital of Abaco. At one point, says Steve Dodge in Abaco: The History of an Out Island and its Cays, more than twenty wrecking schooners and forty fishing vessels were based in New Plymouth.

When the U.S. Civil War stifled the trade that necessitated shipping, locals turned to cultivating and exporting pineapples which, by the late 1800s, were the mainstay of New Plymouth’s economy.

Unfortunately, the cay’s soil was soon exhausted, fruit often spoiled due to weather-related shipping delays, and U.S. pineapple imports diminished with that country’s acquisition of Hawaii. But the economic gap created by Green Turtle Cay’s waning pineapple industry was soon filled.

Latrine Excavation Yields Curious Artifacts

I have to smile whenever I see the “latrine exhibit” at the Albert Lowe Museum.

Liquor Bottles from Museum Latrine

Retired museum manager, Mrs. Ivy Roberts, says that while excavating the property’s latrine area, workers uncovered a number of intriguing artifacts. Their discoveries included several tobacco pipes, broken glassware and pottery, children’s toys, an inkwell, a pocket watch – and dozens of liquor bottles.

Turns out that during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the men of Green Turtle Cay, afraid their wives would discover their illicit imbibing, hid the evidence in the one place nobody was likely to look.

These interesting finds were almost enough to inspire us to excavate the site where Fish Hooks’ outhouse once stood. Almost.

Latrine Bottles

Related Posts:  

Putting Names to Faces

Photo Exhibit Documents 40 Years of Cay History

Photo Exhibit Documents 40 Years of Cay History

museum 3Each time I visit Green Turtle Cay’s Albert Lowe Museum, I uncover something I previously missed (like this photo), or I discover some recently added treasure. During my most recent visit, I found an entire new exhibition to explore.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Bahamian independence, the museum has assembled an extensive collection of photographs documenting key cultural events on Green Turtle Cay during the past four decades.

Attic Archaeology

Recently, I spent a morning exploring the attic at Fish Hooks. Though my expedition revealed little of material worth, it uncovered many items that, in terms of family history, are priceless.

The attic (site of our future master bedroom)

The attic (site of our future master bedroom)

I found at least four bed frames (reminders that this cozy cottage once housed a family of five), and a dining table and several other small tables that I’m told were hand-made by Pa Herman and my grandfather, Lionel Albury.

While I don’t know the origin of the wooden dining chairs I discovered, I do recall them from my childhood visits, and old photos show they’ve been in the family for nearly 70 years.

There’s a suitcase stuffed with sheets, towels and curtains, and though most are yellowed and crumbling, I’m hoping a few pieces may be salvageable.

Beneath a mismatched assortment of plates, cups and glasses, I came across a lovely (and seemingly complete) set of vintage Grindley English china.

China Set

I found a weathered old cutting board and rusty scales, likely used by Pa Herman to clean and weigh the fish he sold. And the collection of tools I discovered – saws, a hammer, a pick axe, a wood plane – were no doubt used to build this house.

Pa Herman's scales

Pa Herman’s scales

Among my favourite finds were a battered, dog-eared children’s “West Indian Reader,” twenty-five years’ worth of electric bill receipts dating back to the 1950s, and what I imagine was Ma May’s version of a junk drawer – a soup tureen filled with the miscellany of life: a single marble, half a dozen rusty keys, light bulbs, loose buttons, bobby pins, a red plastic toy rabbit and (no surprise) tiny weights and fish hooks.

West Indian Reader

West Indian Reader

Decades' worth of electric receipts.

Decades’ worth of electric receipts.

I couldn’t help but smile at the dozens of greeting cards sent to Pa Herman and Ma May by their children and, later, their grandchildren. Such simple and universal items, but sweet reminders of those who lived in and loved this house before us.

Greeting cards from the 1940s and 1950s.

Greeting cards from the 1940s and 1950s.

Many of my attic discoveries are worn, rusted or beyond use. These, we’ll restore and display or donate to the Albert Lowe Museum.

Happily, other items, like the bed frames and Pa Herman’s tables, can definitely be reused. There’s a set of gorgeous mahogany bedposts that I hope we can incorporate into a four-poster bed, and a wooden settee which, with some spiffy new cushions, will fit perfectly in Fish Hooks’ tiny living room. Once repaired, those ancient wood dining chairs will find new life in our kitchen, and the galvanized buckets in which we kids used to bathe before the house had running water might make pretty planters or perhaps ice buckets.

But the slop buckets we used rather than trekking to the outhouse in the middle of the night? Those I can gladly live without.

Related Posts:

We’ve Hooked the Small One

Fish Hooks Update – The Inspection

And Then There Were These

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