By 1845, Eleuthera led the islands in the Bahamas in growth and export of pineapples. There the first canning factory was established in Governor’s Harbour in 1857. During the following decades, the pineapple industry boomed in the Bahamas. In 1885, over a million pineapples were exported to the United States and England. This tropical fruit wove itself into the fabric of Bahamian culture. Today it is featured in the popular conch salad, local tarts and jams, and it adorns the Bahamian nickel coin.
One of these pineapple plantation owners, Thomas William Griffin Jr. has Bahamian roots dating back to 1700s. Thomas and his Harbour Island bride, Mabel Louisa Hall, helped contribute to this pineapple boom. Mabel’s father, Benjamin Joseph Hall served as Magistrate and Customs Officer . His territory included the Exuma islands.
In 1895, Thomas and Mabel’s baby girl Gwendolyn Mae arrived. Joy now overshadowed grief from a prior child loss. Gwen grew up on the family’s plantation along with her older brother William Edwin ‘Willie” and younger sister Amy Adele – my maternal grandmother. These siblings rode horses and tended goats as the pineapple fields filled the landscape.
After the turn of the 20th century, the Griffin family moved to the colony capital Nassau. Mabel’s widowed sister, Mary Ann ‘Minnie’ Moore, offered accommodations on the family property located downtown Nassau on King and George Streets. Here, Minnie and widowed daughter Nellie Saunders lived in these picturesque Georgian dwellings where they operated boarding rooms for locals and tourists. Opposite, the majestic Christ Church Cathedral points the way up George Street to the Government House on top of the hill.
Here on these streets, siblings Willie Griffin and Amy Griffin met fellow migrants from Marsh Harbour, Abaco. William Jesse Lowe, his wife Mary Odiah Albury and family had also relocated to George Street. Two of their thirteen children, George Basil and Charlotte Marie fell in love with the Eleutherian siblings. Two marriages ensued. George Basil Lowe married Amy Adele Griffin and his sister Charlotte Marie Lowe married William Edwin Griffin.
Spinster Gwen fixed her fascination on the city’s public library just a few blocks away on Shirley Street. This converted jail structure offered Gwen convenient employment. For fifty years, she devoted her life service to the colony of the Bahamas. She shared her book passion with locals and foreign visitors.
Gwen remained at the George Street residence with her parents until the devastating 1942 Bay Street fire. During the middle of that night, the family evacuated. Authorities made the decision to dynamite the residence in order to prevent the fire from spreading across King Street to Christ Church Cathedral.
The Griffin family, devout Methodists, joined the Trinity Methodist congregation on Frederick Street. The late Betty Carey Higgs recalled that Gwen’s mother Mabel ministered her organ musical talent to Trinity parishioners. At Trinity, Gwen developed lifelong friendships with May Johnson Higgs and Alma Saunders. These ladies often assisted in the communion preparation for Trinity.
Gwen and her parents resettled on Princess Street by Government House. Gwen never married. She remained caregiver for her aging parents. Later, Gwen moved to the home of her Trinity friend Alma Saunders on Montrose Avenue. I have fond memories of visits to that home on top of the hill where their white cat Fifi provided entertainment. The two ladies remained roommates until their deaths in the 1980s. Alma worked at the successful Nassau Shop on Bay Street. Her car provided transportation for Gwen who never learned to drive.
Mom Doreen Lowe always referred to her Aunt Gwen as her favorite aunt. When teenager Mom worked on Bay Street, she would visit Aunt Gwen at the library on her lunch break. Aunt Gwen loved to travel. She would visit relatives in Canada and the United States. She enjoyed stamp collecting and bought my sister her first stamp book.
Poise distinguished Aunt Gwen. Refined and tastefully dressed, she included her signature pearl necklace. Mom would provide transportation for Aunt Gwen to patronize the local hair salon. Her nieces and nephews became her children. Her generous heart seemed always open. At Christmastime, she guaranteed us a treat. Often a book to challenge our minds and a box of chocolates to satisfy our cravings.
Aunt Gwen passed away on New Year’s Eve in 1985 at the full age of 90.
William Curry Harllee’s 1935 Kinfolks trilogy has been a treasured resource for generations. In Volume II, Harllee traces the Curry and Kemp families throughout the Bahamas and Key West. Marriages weave in other Bahamian surnames including Lowe, Russell, Saunders, Sawyer and Thompson to name a few.
In 1998 with permission from Harllee’s son, a special reprint of Volume II was pioneered by Joy Lowe Jossi. This comprehensive resource highlights the antecedents, descendants and collateral relatives of (1) Benjamin and Mary Curry and (2) Samuel and Amelia (Russell) Kemp. The front cover artwork was contributed by Alton Roland Lowe.
If you would like to own one of these national treasures, please consider a gift (link below) to benefit the repair and restoration of the Albert Lowe Museum. Known as the first historic museum in the Bahamas, the Albert Lowe Museum resides on the quaint island of Green Turtle Cay. The museum is comprised of two of Abaco’s oldest structures. Although the buildings survived Dorian’s wrath, they were severely damaged. See photographs below (courtesy of Amanda Diedrick).
With a minimum gift of $125 to the Albert Lowe Museum Restoration Project, you will receive a FREE unopened copy of this special edition of Kinfolks (U.S shipping addresses only).
Limited supply – orders are on a first come, first serve basis
In 1903 at Green Turtle Cay’s historic New Plymouth settlement, my paternal grandmother Bessie Caroline Curry was born.
With four older siblings, the family for farmer Pa Wes Curry and Ma Lilla Carleton Curry would now be complete. Twenty-one year old Bessie fell in love and married mariner Howard Lowe, also a Green Turtle Cay native. After three short years of marriage and a healthy baby boy (my Dad John), Howard (age 29) died due to an infection sustained during his sea travels.
During the early 1940’s, widow Bessie and her teenage son relocated to Nassau to seek medical attention for her ailing Pa Wes. During this transition time, Bessie met widower Ashbourne Lowe, a skilled Abaco carpenter. Widower Ashbourne worked carpentry assignments in Nassau. He pursued a courtship with Bessie that led to their marriage in 1942. Two years later, their union produced a daughter, Janet Caroline Lowe. When his Nassau carpentry work was completed, Ashbourne, Bessie and Janet returned to Green Turtle.
Bessie Curry Lowe holding daughter Janet. Son John stands by her side.
Ashbourne & Bessie Lowe with daughter Janet
Janet attended the Green Turtle Cay All Age School on top of the hill. One of her classmates Estella Curry Lowe recalls…
During school days at break time, we all gathered underneath the big fig tree in the school yard exchanging our stories. At lunch time we all ran down the steps on the hill into town. We went home for lunch at noon. Once we had finished eating, we met and ran back to school before the bell rang!
Janet was a member of the Girls’ Brigade organized by missionary Dr. Walter Kendrick. Estella continues…
We met once a week at widower Dr. Kendrick’s house along with one or two church lady chaperones. Dr. Kendrick played the piano while we all sang. He taught us valuable life lessons and we often played games. When we were finished, a lady chaperone would walk us home.
Every Monday afternoon when school was over, we gathered in Dr. Kendrick’s yard for a game of hockey.
During Flag Day each year in May, the Girls’ Brigade dressed in our uniforms assembled at Dr. Kendrick’s home. We marched a short distance to the Government Building where the Commissioner, Police, and all Government officials gathered. The Girls’ Brigade performed a few songs while everyone paid respects to the British flag.
Janet had a laid back and quiet personality. She never bothered anyone and always gave a ready smile to everyone.
Photo Courtesy of Amanda Diedrick.
Can you identify any of the members of this brigade?
Some of Janet’s teenage friends included siblings Iris and Elayne Lowe, Cynthia Curry, Hilda Curry, Mavis Lowe and Estella Curry. During summers, Janet and her friends enjoyed swimming in Settlement Creek. If the weather prohibited a swim, the teen girls bought conchs from Mr. Herbert Lowe who kept them in a crawl. The girls made conch salad. When the island winter season rolled around, these friends resorted to land activities like bicycling or roller skating. They rode their bicycles down the bumpy coral trails to Gillam Bay. Here they gathered alluring and delicate seashells. These sea treasures they crafted into fashionable jewelry to sell to tourists.
The Cay girls loved to visit Mavis’ home. Her dad Mr. Ludington Lowe would scare them with ghost stories. Many events he claimed to have seen himself! When it was time for the girls to go home, they’d hold each other tightly, expecting one of Mr. Lud’s ghosts to appear at any moment!
Escorted by her dad, Janet and a friend sailed over to Munjack Cay to spend hours harvesting seagrapes and cocoa-plums. As a young teenager, Janet assisted Ms. Tessie Roberts Key in her dry goods store on the Cay.
In the early 1960’s Janet moved to Nassau with her parents. For a temporary period, they lived with my parents’ family in Montague Heights. Soon Janet began to work at the turtle shell jewelers Johnson Brothers located downtown Bay Street.
Her mother Bessie passed away in 1967. Before her passing, Bessie requested cousin Iva Lowe Scholtka to care for her daughter Janet. Iva and Janet became lifelong friends.
Later Janet changed employment on Bay Street to Nassau Jewelers. Her clientele included locals and cruise ship tourists. Here she met a handsome cruise ship worker Alik Sjahri originally from Indonesia.
During the 1970’s, I had changed my work assignment to a Caribbean itinerary with stops in Nassau. One day at sea, I lost the pin to my watch. When we arrived at the next port, Nassau, I searched Bay Street for a jewelry store to fix my watch.
Alik located Nassau Jewelers owned by Mr. Paul Cleare and situated on Bay Street across from John Bull. Behind the counter of the jewelry establishment stood an eager employee Janet Lowe. She quickly solved the sailor’s dilemma. With his timepiece secured on his wrist, Alik returned to the luxury cruise liner. On future port stops, Alik visited the jewelry store maiden. They fell in love and were married in 1974.
Janet and Alik enjoyed time spent with family and friends, especially days at the beach. Janet had no children. She developed a close bond with us, her niece and nephews. She proudly stood as maid of honor at her niece Paula’s wedding. She recalls that Janet graciously bought her a new dress for Paula’s first date.
L to R - Iva Lowe Scholtka, Janet Lowe Sjahri, Alik Sjahri, Iris Lowe Powers
L to R - Paula Lowe Higgs, Janet Caroline Lowe, Donna Cox Serrano
Janet grew up attending church. Her mother was very involved in the Church of God on Green Turtle Cay. Janet would also attend afternoon Sunday school sessions on the island. On the day that her dad passed away in 1986, Janet realized that she needed something more than church. She accepted God’s free gift of salvation.
Janet loved spending time with her cousin Iva in Nassau’s downtown library. She enjoyed baking her signature pound cake with jam filling. Janet and Alik often traveled to the United States on vacations to visit loved ones.
Life seems to cycle. Janet and Alik bought a house in Centreville and became neighbors of Ms. Tessie and Mr. Wilbert Key. More than neighbors, Janet served as a substitute daughter to her young life Green Turtle Cay friends after their daughter Jettie Key Lowe moved to Hollywood, Florida.
L to R - Tessie Roberts Key, Janet Lowe Sjahri
Whenever travels would take us to Nassau, we made certain to visit Aunt Janet and Uncle Alik. A tight hug and a warm welcome always awaited.
We devoured tasty slices of pound cake or banana bread. Aunt Janet’s homemade punch and Uncle Alik’s virgin Pina Colada washed down the baked goodies. A basket of native tropical fruit provided send-away gifts. As we chatted in the family room, Janet reminisced about the community of people from a place that was near and dear to her heart – Green Turtle Cay.
Dad loved to reminisce of his boyhood days on Green Turtle Cay. He longed for any opportunity to return. In the early 1990s, my wife and I discovered that Disney’s Premier Cruiselines offered an itinerary that cruised the Abaco islands. Their Big Red Boat made stops to Green Turtle Cay, Man-O-War Cay, and Guana Cay.
Twenty years had elapsed since Dad last visited his birthplace. He and Mom Doreen eagerly packed for this memorable journey accompanied by my wife and me. The four of us departed Port Canaveral on July 2, 1992.
After a routine evacuation drill and slide presentation of the upcoming ports, we feasted on Italian cuisine. That evening we scouted around for the cruise director to explain the unique circumstances of their Green Turtle Cay native passenger. We were given permission to spend the entire day on the island instead of the typical shorter excursion.
For over two centuries, Dad’s ancestors called this New Plymouth settlement home. The guided tour by Dad would be the highlight of any vacation to date.
As we entered the harbor, Dad pointed to a modest cottage nestled in this seaside community. A simple wooden structure stood full of history and memories. This home had miraculously survived the catastrophic 1932 hurricane. According to Dad, the home was built by his father, Howard Lowe.
Inside this home a medical missionary doctor, Walter C. Kendrick, guided Bessie Caroline Curry Lowe as she delivered a son John Wesley Lowe – my Dad in June 1925.
As a common safety precaution in those days, the kitchen was detached and located behind the main living structure. An upstairs room with a dormer window overlooked the harbor. Enough space existed to accommodate Bessie’s widowed father, Thomas Wesley ‘Pa Wes’ Curry.
A portion of the property was donated to allow construction of the first Church of God on the Cay (building pictured on the right in the photo above). The first pastor of the church was Dad’s paternal grandfather, John Aquilla Lowe.
During the early years of my life, my father passed away. Mother was now a widow and had the sole task of looking after a little boy who was left fatherless. Pa Wes (Wesley Curry) lived alone and needed assistance. My mother invited him to stay with us. She was the youngest of his four daughters. Her sisters were Dora, Edith and Emmie. Pa Wes had only one son, Herman Curry.
Our house was built by my dad and had a second floor, suitable for Pa Wes. Since the house was by the water’s edge, it was an ideal place for a farmer to have his sail boat anchored nearby.
Journals of John W. Lowe
When the cruise ship tender docked at Settlement Creek, we raced to our first stop, the Albert Lowe Museum. Here we met curator Ivy Gates Roberts and husband Noel Roberts. First cousins Noel and Dad were also lifelong friends. They shared many island memories formed in Green Turtle Cay and later in Nassau. Ivy proudly provided a detailed tour of the museum’s collection and artifacts. Afterwards, she invited us to their home a few doors down for a tasty Bahamian lunch.
The next destination was the historic cemetery. Dad desired to see the graveside where his father was laid to rest at a young age of 29. The cemetery revealed generations of ancestors that occupied this island settlement. Dad located the tombstone of Bianca Curry. With a spirited resonance in his voice, Dad recalled how “Binkey” (1801-1860) is considered the matriarch of our Curry line in the Bahamas. He noted that her ancestors emigrated from Scotland to South Carolina. They remained Loyalists during the Revolutionary War who left South Carolina after the war for the Bahamas.
From the cemetery we walked up the hill and the thirty steps that led to the schoolhouse. It was the first time for my son and his wife, but for me it was a flashback of the ten years of my life that I attended this school. Mr. Herbert Roberts was the principal at the time.
After leaving the schoolhouse, we determined to locate my friend Laine Curry. He lived within a stone’s throw from the cottage where I was born. We were the best of friends during our boyhood days!
Journals of John W. Lowe
We found Laine inside the family business, Curry’s Food Store. After he and Dad reminisced of their boyhood days, we enjoyed refreshing treats on that hot summer day. In like manner, we had memorable visits with cousins Chester, Thalia and Pearl; cousins Sidney Lowe and daughter Martha; cousin Danny Albury and retired school teacher Amy Roberts.
Our last stop was to the modest cottage of Roger and Nell Lowe. We enjoyed their company and the amazing wild boar hunting stories that Dad and Roger shared. The view out their window that faced west across the Abaco Sea to the Abaco mainland was simply breathtaking.
Dad spent the first 15 years of his life in New Plymouth. Around 1940, Pa Wes needed urgent medical attention in Nassau. Widowed Bessie sold the small cottage for 120 British pounds. With her teenage son and ailing father, Bessie boarded the mail boat bound for Nassau. Though Dad had physically left the place of his birth, Green Turtle Cay never left his heart.
During the 1920s, a pleasant, laid-back neighborhood lay east of the capital city of Nassau, Bahamas. Island-style homes were built on the eastern portion of Shirley Street to provide a rustic feel to folks eager to leave Nassau’s city bustle. As locals headed east from Nassau by foot, bicycle or horse n’ buggy, historic landmarks adorned the trail, including the Nassau Public Library, the Royal Victoria Hotel, the three-storey R. H. Curry house (pictured below), St Matthew’s Anglican Church and Ebenezer Methodist Church. At the eastern end of the road that joins East Bay Street, the Montague Beach Hotel on the shoreline overlooked the sheltered bay.
During this era, two young transplants, George BASIL Lowe and Amy Adelle Griffin, traveled on Nassau roads. Their families had relocated to Nassau from the Out Islands during the 1920s. The Lowe family emigrated from Marsh Harbour, Abaco while the Griffin family arrived from Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera.
Basil and Amy met on Nassau’s King Street when they lived downtown. Here they fell in love and married in 1927.
The couple decided to move east to start their family. Basil, a skilled carpenter by trade, erected a modest home on the Shirley Street property where his sister Charlotte MARIE and brother-in-law, William “Willie” Edwin Griffin lived.
Willie Griffin and Amy Griffin, Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera siblings, married two Marsh Harbour, Abaco siblings, Marie and Basil Lowe.
In this Shirley Street home, Amy gave birth to three children: Jean Adell, George Stanley and my mother, Doreen Mae.
Childless Aunt Marie Griffin provided tender help with her sister-in-law Amy’s growing family. Aunt Marie would push baby Doreen in a stroller around the Shirley Street neighborhood. Uncle Willie, a skilled house painter, nurtured a variety of freshwater fish, bees and birds on the property.
As Basil’s carpentry business grew, he saved enough money to purchase a plot of land a short distance west on Shirley Street. He dismantled their two-storey home and relocated it to the new site. Upstairs had separate bedrooms for Doreen and her brother George. Basil converted the downstairs porch into another bedroom for Jean, the oldest sibling. At this location, Amy gave birth to her fourth and last child, Elizabeth “Betty” Evon.
Basil built a carpenter’s workshop on this sizable property to house the artisan’s equipment. Soon he enlisted the help of nephew James RENARD Lowe, son of Basil’s older brother Harvey LAIRD Lowe and Amelia Estelle Key. Mom recalled that her cousin Renard lost a fingertip in a workshop accident.
Basil and Renard’s accomplished reputation spread. They built homes for locals and foreigners. They also handled commercial construction jobs. Their most notable commercial project was a three-storey building on the southeastern corner of East Street and Shirley Street. This building once housed the medical practices of Canadian Dr. Hugh Quackenbush and Dr. Kenneth Eardley.
Adjoining Basil and Amy’s property backyard was the home of Green Turtle Cay native Emma Louise Curry Moree. Mom described an enormous tamarind tree that hugged the property line. The tropical fruit borne was a tart delicacy to Mom, her siblings and other neighborhood children. One afternoon, Mom’s craving was thwarted. The ten-year-old peered up the massive tamarind tree to seek low hanging fruit. She encountered the glare of a large snake’s eyes. She ran!
During Mom’s early years, she attended Queens College classes on the lower level of Trinity Methodist Church. She transferred to the Seventh Day Adventist School on Wulff Road. She rode her bicycle to school via the Kemp Road trail that connected Shirley Street to Wulff Road.
Mom remarked that she could ride her bicycle in safety anywhere over the island during those years. She also enjoyed horse n’ buggy rides west on Shirley Street to visit her Griffin grandparents who lived in downtown Nassau.
At the roadside of the Shirley Street residence, Basil erected a modest grocery, fruit and dairy stand. Industrious residents had several revenue streams.
After school, teenage Doreen served local customers. She shaved snow cones from blocks of ice purchased from Bay Street vendors. These cold treats sold quickly to hot and thirsty travelers on the Shirley Street corridor.
In the late 1940s after World War II, Mom was rushed to the former air force barracks Prospect Ridge Hospital for an appendectomy performed by Dr. Meyer Rassin. Her long episode prevented mom’s completion of high school. She took several evening classes from Mr. Herbert Roberts, former headmaster of Green Turtle Cay’s All Age School.
One afternoon, Bay Street businessman and Eleutherian native Ted Pyfrom, stopped by the home of Basil and Amy. He recruited Mom to work in the Pyfrom businesses on Bay Street between Frederick and Charlotte Streets. Brothers Theodore “Ted” and Sidney Pyfrom owned several businesses in the heart of Nassau. Unbeknownst to Mom at that time, these Pyfrom brothers were cousins that descended from Griffin lineage that dates back to the 1700s in Eleuthera.
In Pyfrom’s Juvenile Shop, Mom assisted customers shopping for baby items and English linen luxuries, including gloves. A dirt alley between the Juvenile shop and Pyfrom’s Carib shop provided a convenient spot for Mom to park her bicycle. During lunch breaks, Mom often walked a couple blocks east to the Nassau Public Library on Shirley Street between Parliament Street and Bank Lane. Librarian Gwendolyn Griffin provided updates on the latest book additions as well as a fond hug to her niece. After all, she was mom’s favorite Aunt Gwen.
In 1950, Mom embarked on her first overseas flight along with her cousin, Nellie Moore Saunders wife of photographer Walter Saunders. The two adventurers explored Miami, Florida where they resided with Nellie’s sister, Adele Moore Mallett, wife of Dr. Eugene Mallett. When Nellie flew back to Nassau, Mom lodged with her first cousin Dorothy Louise Lowe and her husband George HORACE Albury for a few extra days. When Mom returned and landed in Nassau, no one was at the Oakes Airport to meet her – a stranded teenager. A family friend at the airport came to her rescue.
As life unfolded on Shirley Street for this young woman, she noticed a young man who rode his bicycle around the neighborhood. He’d often stop at Basil’s workshop to chat with Renard. These two young men developed a brotherly bond. The visitor’s name was John Wesley Lowe. He had moved to Nassau from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco.
John’s blue eyes locked on petite Doreen. He had now found another reason to increase his visits to Basil’s workshop. History was in the making.
For over a decade, our family vacations in an “Old World” Florida community called Boca Grande. Located on the southwest coast, Boca Grande is situated on a barrier island called Gasparilla, named after the legendary pirate Captain José Gaspar.
The seven-mile tranquil island is void of traffic lights. Pristine beaches stretched along the Gulf deliver a plethora of shell treasures. Two historic lighthouses protect seamen who navigate the waterways. In the early evenings, dolphins play along the shoreline as the Creator paints a masterpiece sunset.
Our family has built wonderful memories within this island community. Shell hunting, beach football, park playtime, lunches at the Loose Caboose, and after Thanksgiving “pink” Friday sales are just a few of our family favorites. This year, however, our island getaway delivered an unexpected twist.
Just before we left this year for our Thanksgiving getaway to Gasparilla Island, I found photos of Thomas Wilson Lowe, a Green Turtle Cay native-born in 1866. After a deeper dive into the life of Thomas Wilson Lowe, I discovered he and wife Eliza Matilda Stirrup Lowe raised their family of nine children on Gasparilla Island.
A visit to the unpretentious, welcoming Boca Grande Historical Society added more to the story. We learned young Thomas Wilson Lowe ran away from home at the tender age of fourteen, the legal age to leave school. He went to work as a cabin boy on a sailing ship that transported pineapples from Green Turtle Cay to Key West.
While in Key West, he met Eliza Matilda Stirrup, also a native Bahamian. She had moved with her parents John Stirrup and Sarah Parker Stirrup from Spanish Wells to Key West. The younger couple married in Key West in July 1889.
From mid-August to mid-January, Thomas would migrate to Florida’s west coast to fish for the mullet around Gasparilla Island. Mullet was salted down in brine and placed in barrels. Thomas sailed the barrels of mullet to Cuba to sell or trade for rum to sell back in the United States. He returned to his Key West home when he wasn’t mullet fishing. Thomas found other ways to supplement his income. He ran freight up and down the west coast of Florida. Grandson Freddy Futch born 1933 noted that his grandfather transported the lumber and other materials to build one of the two lighthouses on Gasparilla Island.
Thomas moved to Tarpon Springs to operate a fleet of sponge boats owned by a Tarpon Springs gentleman. After a weekend family picnic at Anclote Key, the Lowes sailed home to Tarpon Springs. Thomas navigated the larger sailboat with his wife Eliza and daughter Pearl. An employee and son Brian (born 1898) used the smaller sailboat. As they left the cay, heavy fog set in. The smaller sailboat vanished. It never arrived home. When the fog lifted, Thomas searched for his lost son. Brian and his sailboat were never found. Thomas’ employee was miraculously pulled from the water. On board, he died immediately. Unfortunate loss.
Unable to resume life in Tarpon Springs, the grief-stricken Lowes established their home on Gasparilla Island in 1910. Fond of the place where he had fished for mullet, Thomas and Eliza landed their sailboat on the northern end of the island. They lived on their sailboat for several years. A tar-papered shack functioned as a kitchen to cook their meals. They ate fish, oysters, shrimp, scallops, and crabs. The family fished on the beach for mackerel and pompano with nets. His grandson Freddy Futch recalled.
We only took from the sea what we could eat. If we took too much, we carried it to the neighbors. My grandfather would fish for stone crab in the winter. He would catch these crabs alive and put ’em in pens and feed ’em until people bought the large claws from him.
Eliza was a fisherwoman herself. Each morning after baking her Bahamian ‘light bread’ and cleaning the kitchen, she would take her fishing pole and potato sack out to the water to catch dinner. Her grandson Freddy caught fiddler crabs on the beach for bait.
In 1914, Thomas built a three-bedroom home at Gasparilla Village. The Lowes were one of the first residents in this new settlement. With the building of the railroad, a new era dawned in the fishermen’s community. Refrigerated train cars replaced the Cuban “smack” boats.
In 1943, Thomas Wilson Lowe passed away. The Gasparilla Fishery moved its facilities to the mainland of Florida. All the land at the north end of the island was sold to a developer. A few fishing families remained on the island, including Thomas’ sons Albert (1912-1992) and Raymond (1916-1995).
Today Gasparilla Island offers us a thanksgiving place to relax, shop, dine, and unwind. This hidden paradise of beachfront vacation rentals and golf cart dominated streets is one of many coastal communities in Florida with a rich Bahamian legacy.
In 1890 just outside Amsterdam in The Netherlands, August Van Ryn was born. At age 17, he immigrated to New York with his older brother Louis. Two years later, August headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan where he surrendered to a life of full time Gospel ministry.
In 1916, a missionary that served in the Bahamas came to Michigan for a visit. Robert Stewart Stratton traveled to the Bahamas a couple years before to preach the Gospel. Stratton met and married a local Bahamian Lilah Roberts, daughter of John Goodwin Roberts and Emma Marion Roberts of Marsh Harbour, Abaco.
Van Ryn and Stratton served together in Michigan for a few weeks and quickly developed a bond. After the Strattons returned to the Bahamas, he wrote a letter to Van Ryn to express the need of more missionaries to serve the scattered islands.
On December 31, 1916, August Van Ryn found himself in a small motor-driven boat heading from Miami, Florida to Nassau, Bahamas where he was welcomed by Robert and Lilah Stratton and their baby girl. They visited Nassau for a few days before they boarded a sailboat to Marsh Harbour, Abaco.
August Van Ryn also fell in love with Bahamian native Persis Roberts, who was the sister of Stratton’s wife Lilah. Even though, August only intended to stay in the Bahamas for couple months, his ministry in the islands lasted over thirteen years.
One of his amazing journal entries describes his experience at Marsh Harbour during the severe hurricane of October 1926.
The night before everything broke loose it was a lovely, balmy evening…So we went to bed, but were awakened around midnight by the roaring of the wind, when the violence began to smash the town. The velocity of the wind increased till it blew close to 200 miles an hour…Our house stood firm…as the gale increased that night it drove the heavy rain through the roof and in turn this soaked through the upstairs floor and into the rooms downstairs. I spent part of the night trying to dry things out a little. But the house stood.
Then, about 7 o’clock in the morning there fell a complete calm. It was a really eerie sensation-this perfect calm seconds after the raging wind…Our house stood close to the water-not to the ocean itself, but to inland waters with direct access to the ocean in the distance some five miles away. It was from there – from the Atlantic – that the tidal wave came and drove its furious course in till it reached our town…a solid wall of water about six feet high. It smashed against our house; drove in the front door and windows and broke away an addition to my house I had recently built.
Now the water stood about two or three feet high in our living room. It was too deep for us with our small children to remain there so we stood together on the stairs that led to the second floor. There we stood with our four little children, not knowing what to do; but we could and did pray…And then, in a few minutes more, the real tidal wave rolled in. We could hear its fearful roar before we could see it; it was a solid wall of water rising about twenty feet high. When my wife and I saw it bearing down on us and on our home, we kissed each other and I said to her, “Goodbye darling, we’ll see each other in the glory.”
The wave struck the house and smashed it to smithereens. I myself apparently went through the glass window on the stairway by which we stood, for my leg had great big cuts in it. The next thing I knew I came to my senses lying on a piece of wreckage. I had been knocked unconscious and had lost our dear baby. When I came to, I saw my wife in the raging waters further inland, with the three small children clinging to her and she to them.
This sensational experience left a deep impression on my wife and me, and as a result, has brought us rich spiritual blessing. When all you have on earth is taken from you in a few seconds; what use is it to set your heart and mind on things below? We deeply felt the sudden loss, of course, of our dear Pearl Eleanor, but God has blessed it all throughout the following years in so many ways. We shall see our darling baby again – in His presence.
The Van Ryns continued to serve in the islands for three more years. August Van Ryn and Robert Stratton had a 52-foot yacht named Evangel built for their ministry travel to the islands. The Evangel’s anchor held fast during the 1926 hurricane. The Evangel was said to be the only vessel that came through the storm without any damage.
August Van Ryn authored many Bible study books including his autobiography “Sixty Years In His Service.” In his latter years, fearful of losing his eyesight, he memorized the entire New Testament. This man and his ministry were both a tribute to his God and King.
Hope Town was settled in 1785 by British loyalists who fled after the American Revolutionary War. Situated on one of Abaco’s barrier reef islands, Hope Town is easily recognized by its candy-striped lighthouse that towers over the settlement of New England style clapboard cottages and narrow bicycle lanes.
Here during the 1860’s, William Michael Carey (son of William Carey and Mariah Russell) was born. He courted and married Emiline Adina Russell (daughter of William Henry Russell and Jane Anne Malone – great granddaughter of Hope Town’s loyalist matriarch Wyannie Malone).
William Michael and Emiline Adina married during the early 1880’s and had at least six offspring: William Michael, Jr. (1885), Laura Alice (1887), Samuel Edwin (1890), James Percy (1892), Anthony Burrell (1897) and Rowena Gwendoline (1904).
Anthony Burrell Carey fell in love with Rosa Maude Bethel from Cherokee Sound, Abaco. They married in Hope Town’s Wesleyan Church in 1921 by Gilbert Moon.
Anthony and Rosa Maude reared eight children: Rosa Pauline (1922), Percy (1923), Betty Adina (1925), Gwenyth Charity (1927), Thelma Rosalie (1929), Mildred Cecilia (1932), William Winer (1935), and Doris Catherine (1939).
The family cottage sat on the hill’s high ground opposite the school house. From their upstairs bedroom window at night, the Carey children watched with fascination the lighthouse beam’s rotation. Like many Hope Town residents, Anthony made his livelihood on the sea. Along with Samuel Edwin, the brothers transported goods from Cuba to Miami.
Anthony’s daughter, Betty Adina, reminisced her fond fishing memories with her dad. They hauled schools of jacks out of the Abaco Sea. Betty sculled the boat to allow her dad to strike a turtle, a local delicacy. She learned a host of maritime skills from her dad.
Betty recalled a local sailboat race held during the island’s celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday in May. Earlier that month, an Englishman arrived at Hope Town to do lighthouse maintenance. He offered Betty the use of his small sailboat for the race. Betty won the race and was awarded an English £1 (one pound), the grand prize.
Betty Adina Carey and my Dad John Wesley Lowe were both Abaconians born in 1925. Although they grew up on separate barrier islands, each had vivid memories of the 1932 hurricane that decimated the islands.
Betty told that her father and Uncle Edwin happened to be away on a Miami cargo haul when the tempest approached. Her mother Maude and her six children hunkered down in their clapboard cottage. Neighbor Trelawny “Lawn” Malone (1884-1958), a seacaptain, peeked out at the Carey house. As winds strengthened, Captain Lawn witnessed the Carey roof shake. Maude and the children were in imminent danger. Lawn braved the wind’s fury and dodged flying debris as he headed to the Carey home. He held ten-year-old Pauline tightly in his arms as he returned home. He started back to rescue younger sister Betty and returned with Betty safe in his arms. The storm intensified. To his dismay, Captain Lawn was unable to return to the Carey home for the other Carey children. As a father of five himself, he felt helpless.
Maude remained with her nine-year-old son Percy and his three youngest sisters – ages five, three and five months. She decided to seek shelter under the school house across the road. As Percy prepared to evacuate, the winds hurled him towards the school house door. Maude retrieved him and sheltered him underneath the school floor.
Maude braved the raging elements as she crawled one by one with each child to the school’s safety. During Maude’s final trip, the wind’s violence sucked five month old Mildred from Maude’s arm. Baby Millie disappeared into the storm. Instinctively, Maude risked her life to search for her baby. Miraculously she located Millie buried in sand. As she held her tightly, the pair crawled back under the schoolhouse.
When the winds subsided, Lawn and Louise quickly came to Maude’s rescue. Baby Millie needed prompt attention. Her mouth, nose and ears were filled with beach sand. The wind force of the sand punctured Millie’s eardrum.
When Anthony returned home from his sea travels, he saw the community devastation. His house gone! His daughter Betty recalled…
Dad came up over the hill and saw the condition we were in. We were sitting on the steps of Ms. Louise home. He threw himself on the ground and cried, “My God, what am I going to do with my family?”
Their entire home was destroyed. Betty stated…
We found nothing. We were homeless, food-less, and clothes-less. Momma couldn’t even find a pot! I wore a pair of unions for the longest time. We slept on the floor of my cousin’s Sidney’s home.
Uncle Mait (Maude’s brother) lived in Florida. When he heard of the devastation, he packed two large boxes for us – one with food and the other with clothing. Uncle Mait shipped them on the Betty K with Captain Howard Sweeting.
The family vessel that the Carey brothers sailed was severely damaged during the hurricane. The depression years loomed as Anthony now sought any means to provide for his family. After several years of hardship and struggle, Anthony and his family relocated to Nassau. He learned carpentry skills and worked with contractors Mr. Morton Turtle and Chester Bethel. Anthony later returned to his seafaring passion and worked as a cook with Captain Wade on the Arawak. He was noted for his sumptuous stews.
In Nassau, Betty and her siblings attended the Seventh Day Adventist School on the top of Hawkins Hill. She loved her teacher, Ms. Lawrence, a true mother-type.
After finishing school, Betty landed employment at JP Sands grocery store on Bay Street. She fell in love and was soon engaged to Sergeant Lloyd Henderson Fraser, son of Scottish missionary James Fraser and local Vera Gladys Malone. Lloyd served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. On August 11, 1944, a few weeks before their wedding date, twenty year old Lloyd perished over London.
During this tragic time, Betty lived with her sister Pauline and husband Charles Eastborn Roberts in Shirley Heights on New Providence island, Bahamas. Pauline and Charles rented this home from Ralph and Miriam Higgs, who lived nearby.
During an afternoon of chores, Betty struggled to tote a large bucket filled with rainwater back to her home. Walter Leroy Higgs noticed the damsel in distress and offered his assistance. Their relationship grew and in September 1945, Walter and Betty tied the knot in the parsonage of Trinity Methodist Church. They were blessed with two boys, Leroy Anthony and Lloyd Walter.
In 1970, son Leroy Anthony Higgs married my sister Paula Mae Lowe. This union connected the Lowe family to the Higgs/Carey family. For decades, these Bahamian families shared many special memories both in Nassau and in Florida.
In September 2018 at the age of 93, Betty Adina Carey Higgs was carried by God’s angels to be reunited with her husband Walter.
Memories of Nana – by granddaughter Chantal Higgs Chung
I enjoyed hearing Nana tell stories about her childhood in Hope Town, Abaco. Her experience and survival through the 1932 hurricane was nothing short of miraculous. Even though radio warnings were received on that island, no one expected the hurricane to be such a formidable storm. Nana recalled that the barometric pressure dropped extremely low. She described the “clouds lay in the roads like banks of snow.” Nana and her siblings hunkered down in their wooden home with only their mom. During that time, her dad was out at sea on a schooner. They transported bananas and sugar between Cuba and Miami.
Nana loved her family. One of my favorite childhood memories was the summer of 1985 when I was 12. We lived in Nassau, Bahamas while Nana lived in Miami, Florida. After Nana persuaded my mom, I visited Nana’s Florida home for a couple summer weeks. Nana introduced me to numerous Carey cousins who lived in Miami. We created great memories as we shopped in Miami stores for souvenirs. We enjoyed the outdoors and often fed neighborhood ducks. On several occasions, we visited with her Czechoslovakian neighbor where we delighted in homemade pastries.
My favorite dish of Nana’s is chicken ’n spaghetti. We eagerly anticipated this tasty meal on our visits. She taught her granddaughters the secret family recipe. We continue to cook this simple but delicious meal in her memory.
Nana loved to crochet. She taught me the basics. She blessed others with her crochet handiwork that included potholders, blankets, and hats.
Nana’s love for God was evident in her prayer life and church involvement. We worshiped in church together during that summer. She willingly helped and gave to others despite her frugal means. I miss her encouraging reminder that she daily prayed for me.
Memories of Nana – by granddaughter Sophia Higgs Farmer
Nana was a humble, loving, caring, and giving person. She loved her family and demonstrated that love by time spent with us. She taught me to crochet and always helped me in the kitchen. She delighted in playtime with her great grandchildren. She made each of us feel special and loved.
Papa Walter bragged “Nana’s a good cooker.” Nana taught us how to cook our family favorite dish, chicken ‘n spaghetti.
Her life exhibited a sincere love for her Creator and Savior. She offered counsel and guidance on all aspects of life. I remember her advice on church attire. “How would you dress to meet the Queen of England? Well then, how much more you should dress in your best to meet with the Lord?”
A funny, quirky phrase that Nana said, “He never cracked his kisser to me.” She explained the meaning. It describes someone who ignored you. Nana had a great sense of humor!
During the 1940’s, young men from Green Turtle Cay headed to the nation’s capital Nassau to seek employment. Two such lads included my Dad, John Wesley Lowe, and his cousin, Earl Anthony ‘Tony’ Roberts, grandsons of Thomas Wesley Curry and Lilla Carleton.
Dad landed a job at Maura Lumber Company and was promoted to manage the paint department under the leadership of World War II pilot John Maura. Dad built a successful career at Maura’s for nearly 20 years.
During the 1960’s, cousin Tony Roberts acquired a struggling furniture store in the Centreville district of New Providence. He actively recruited Dad with his retail expertise to manage this new operation. Family ties held strong. Dad left his successful career at Maura’s to help cousin Tony. It was a risky and bittersweet decision for Dad. He had built many strong relationships with coworkers and had an endless list of satisfied customers.
For the next 22 years, Dad devoted himself to transform Robert’s Furniture Company into one of the island’s leading furniture retail operations. His devotion led many to believe he was the actual owner of the company.
Dad expanded the existing showroom with adjacent properties. He oversaw the construction of an additional two story warehouse. During this building phase, Dad retrieved old bottles buried underground that were exposed during site preparations. Their origins remain a mystery, perhaps from the prohibition era. These bottles are proudly displayed today.
During my high school years, Dad gave me the opportunity to work in the store. He was careful not to show special treatment. I swept floors, emptied the trash, assembled furniture, organized the warehouse, cashiered, assisted customers, and answered phones. Dad taught that you do what it takes to get the job done.
Dad recognized I planned to pursue a college degree in Accounting. During my senior year of high school he challenged his business office employees to “show me the ropes.” Under their supervision, I reconciled the cash register drawer, prepared the daily deposit, posted sales orders, recorded payments to manual Accounts Receivable ledgers and typed customer statements. No computers existed.
While I greatly value those educational experiences, I was mesmerized with Dad’s leadership skills. Dad understood the value of building relationships with both employees and customers. Without a high school or college diploma, Dad was skilled in the art of sales and management. He listened. He gladly entertained “interruptions” from office duties to engage in conversations with customers. People visited the store just to say hello to Dad.
His reputation extended to the family islands as well. Satisfied customers expressed gratitude with gifts of their livelihood: lobster, conch and fish.
My sister recalls..
Dad loved to create the finest window displays with the latest furniture and artwork. He sold everything from bedroom suites, living and dining room sets, appliances, mattresses, artwork, lamps, linens, draperies and baby furniture. Expecting mothers would register for their baby shower. Dad always took the time with his customers.
Christmastime was especially memorable. We brightened the store with classic 1980’s foil tinsel decorations to signal the beginning of the Christmas season. Traditional promotional calendars were handed out to all patrons. In addition, Dad purchased boxes of assorted chocolate and French perfumes and colognes to present to valued customers. These gifts were wrapped in festive paper by Mom at night.
The staff at Robert’s Furniture adored Dad. Many of them built long careers. A few employees during my tenure included Maude Ferguson, Bloneva Moss, Oliver Hall, Paul Bethel, Mr. Turnquest and Mr. Gibson. Others employees over the two decades included cousin Noel Roberts, Freddie Albury, Billy Sands, and Rochelle Weech McCabe
During those 20 years at Robert’s Furniture, Dad formed lasting friendships with sales representatives from the United States. During vacations to Florida, salesmen such as Paul Gorin and Roland Brown treated our family to special meals and excursions. Mr. Brown recommended Dad consider the coastal town of Jupiter, Florida as a retirement home. With it’s lighthouse, beaches and waterways, Jupiter reminded Dad of his homeland.
In 1988 after almost 50 years of employment in Nassau, Dad retired and moved to Jupiter, Florida until his passing in 2013. His work ethic is forever instilled in me. I am blessed and challenged by his life that demonstrated it is better to give than to receive.
Late last Tuesday, October 30th, 2018, an unseen heavenly angel escorted cousin Helen Pinder to her eternal home. Her body’s chains of cancer pain are gone. Helen’s spirit set free. Her welcome celebration above ensued as this ransomed saint met her Savior. Unending Love, Amazing Grace.
Helen and I share the same set of Abaconian great-great-grandparents, Richard James Lowe, Jr and his wife Susan Bianca Key. While the pool of cousins can seem like an endless ocean, one like Helen Pinder stands tall on the shoreline as a beacon of strength, beauty and grace. Her Savior’s Light and Love radiates through her to guide and encourage all who pass by.
With permission from the family and in loving memory of Helen Grace Pinder, the program from her Memorial Service this past Saturday, November 3rd, 2018 is presented below.