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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).