My dad’s boyhood stories would often include references to “Mail Boat Day” – a much-anticipated event in settlements with relatively no contact from the outside world. Locals gathered in anticipation of receiving letters or packages from relatives in Nassau. These boats were originally subsidized by the government to transport mail between Nassau and the family island settlements. In addition, the government set affordable fare rates for passengers as well as transporting freight (food, supplies, building materials) between islands.
According to David Gale in his book titled Ready About…
Before diesels, mailboats throughout the Bahamas were powered by wind, although Abaco’s only sailing mail was Albertine Adoue. Her history is a strange mix of success and misfortune. The 60 foot schooner, built in Green Turtle Cay in 1898, was actually built from salvaged materials from a three-masted vessel of the same name that wrecked on the reef behind Spanish Cay.
Cousin Joy Lowe Jossi, recalls the words from her father, Mr. Cleri Lowe…
The Albertine Adoue was the first mailboat that served Abaco that I can remember. She was in service before 1923. The Albertine Adoue, a sailing vessel, a 60′ schooner, was owned by Capt Wm Augustus Roberts of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco. His three sons served as captain: Hartley, Osbourne and Rolland.
In 1923 it was replaced and upgraded by the Priscilla, a diesel-powered, converted sailboat approximately 100 feet long. Dad had heard that the boat was purchased by R.W. Sawyer and R. Farrington. Dad recounts…
The Priscilla docked at the towns of Cherokee Sound, Hope Town, Marsh Harbour, Man-O-War Car, Guana Cay. Its two week voyage would often include stops to Eleuthera as well. Before the sun would set, we would head down to the beach on the south side of the island to play on the dock as we scanned the horizon for the faint smoke of the diesel engine. She had to anchor in the harbor at Green Turtle Cay where a twenty foot tender would haul the goods to the dock. A section towards the bow of the ship penned in various livestock for transport. My pig eventually made the voyage to Nassau to be sold.
The Priscilla was more than a mailboat to our family, it was a livelihood. Dad’s father, Howard, was a mate on the vessel until his death in 1927. Family legend has it that Howard had a knee accident on the boat and subsequently died from the infection at the age of 29, Howard’s brother, Osgood, worked as the cook on the Priscilla. The Priscilla was captained at that time by Hartley Robert’s, who had married Howard’s sister, Mira, in 1911. This seafaring Roberts family had captained these Abaco mailboats for several generations. One can only imagine the tales these brothers, Howard, Osgood, and Hartley (brother-in-law) experienced as they navigated the treacherous Abaco seas and Atlantic ocean!
Many mailboats have served the Abacos since the Priscilla, all documented in a unique blog, MailboatsBahamas – dedicated to the history of mail boats of the Bahamas from the 1800s to the present day. The Priscilla is included as well as the well-known Stede Bonnett and Deborak K, the latter of which I myself made a voyage on to Abaco during the early 1970’s.
Special thanks to a great friend and adopted Bahamian, Joanie Weber, for sharing information that inspired me to pen this article.