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 19th and 20th centuries, two Scottish brothers, William and Robert Chambers, published a weekly magazine in London. The first edition of Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art circulated in 1832 and was priced at one penny.
Recently I stumbled across an article online in their May 1867 publication. It describes a visit to my Dad’s birthplace in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas. While specific details of dates and passengers on this expedition remain a mystery, the article provides a perspective of the life and culture on the island during that era. My last post, Expedition to Paradise, discussed a similar voyage led by an American team approximately two decades later.
Geographically Green Turtle Cay is small. In this close-knit, maritime community, these guests would not have gone unnoticed. I wonder, Which of my great-grandparents were on the Cay and could have interacted with these foreigners? I searched my family tree. I find all my paternal great-great-grandparents, aged mainly in their forties, were rearing their families on the Cay in the 1860’s: John and Rebecca (Saunders) Lowe; Joseph and Sophia (Lowe) Curry; William and Emaline Curry; and Romelda Lowe Carleton. Several of these names were actual grandchildren of some of the earliest Abaco settlers, including South Carolina loyalists Wyannie Malone and Joseph Curry.
The excerpt from the article is below. I have added selected photographs for a visual boost.
Some thousands of miles across the Atlantic, you come to several green islands, of different size and shape. They are not situated off the stormy and inclement coasts of Newfoundland or Labrader, but far away to the south, where the cocoanut tree ripens its fruit, where the most luscious pine-apples exhale their delicious fragrance, and where the hummingbird finds a congenial home, with a flower-garden to ramble through, and honey-dew to sip. These islands, the smaller of which are called Cays, are situated just off the coast of Florida. The one of which I am about to speak lies off the north coast of the large island of Abaco, which, being almost uninhabited, is very slightly cultivated.
The smaller island of Green Turtle Cay has been settled for, I suppose, about fifty years, and has a population of about a thousand. It is five or six miles long, scarcely anywhere exceeds half a mile in width; is covered nearly all over with dense bush; has a fine natural harbour, protected from all winds; and is itself defended to a considerable extent by reefs of rock, which stem the heavy seas as they come rolling over the North Atlantic. In addition to the harbour just mentioned, there are two considerable inlets or sounds at each extremity of the island, which run in a longitudinal direction, each of them from half a mile to a mile in length.
Situated in nearly twenty-six of north latitude, the island enjoys a very mild winter climate, while its summer is oppressively hot. The means of support and occupation which the islanders in this obscure spot possess, are not so limited as might be supposed, and, in fact, with a little fresh blood direct from England or America, a good deal might be made of the place and neighbourhood. There is abundance of fish in the neighbouring seas; and the weather being almost always fine, and the sea calm, the occupation of fishing can be pursued at all times of the year. There are also lobsters, craw-fish, crabs, and occasionally most delicious turtle. There are no oysters. Prawns, which are caught in such plenty in India, and form the basis of that finest of all dishes, prawn-curry, are not found in the Bahamas. They appear, however, on the coasts of the Windward Islands.
Lobsters are caught in a peculiar manner. They are found in plenty along the side of the inlets, which penetrate the Cays. A boat is rowed along the mangrove-bushes which line the margin of these sounds, as they are called. One man is armed with a two pronged spear; a water glass is used to examine the bottom of the sea; and when a lobster is seen, he is saluted with the prongs, and hauled on board. When the tide is low, numbers are easily speared. Turtle is caught in a similar manner, but without the use of the water glass.
Besides fishing, however, there is a far more profitable occupation in which nearly every one on the island can take part. About fifty miles north-west, there is a splendid sponging-ground, and several times a year, boats proceed to this spot and return after a few weeks, each boat bringing perhaps from three hundred to five hundred dozen of sponges. These are sent to Nassau, and sold to the merchants, so that a considerable sum of money is periodically divided amongst the islanders, from a source which scarcely any other part of the world is in possession of. I have been informed that Nassau receives thirty thousand pounds a year from this trade.
The water glass is absolutely necessary in collecting sponges, which often grow at a considerable depth. A pole, from ten to twenty or thirty feet long, with a double claw fastened to the end of it, is let down to the root of the sponge, which is torn from the rock. The natives pretend this is very hard work; probably, however, it would not compare with ploughing or other of our agricultural operations. The sponges, when collected, are found to be tenanted by the worm, as it is culled, and must therefore be placed in the sun, to allow the animal to die. Afterwards, they are well washed in water, until all the animal matter is got rid of, and the bad smell dissipated, when they are brought to market. A bead of sponges of about a dozen or more may be bought for three shillings on the island of Green Turtle Cay.
These two branches of trade, with what the soil itself can yield – namely, bananas, sweet potatoes, and perhaps Indian corn – might be supposed to be quite sufficient for the support of the inhabitants, who consist of men of European and African origin, with a few of a mixed race. In addition, however, to these sources of livelihood, the inhabitants can, all of them if they like, grow oranges for the New York market. The land is cheap, and there is no tax on the produce; besides which, government land is often occupied and cultivated without having been bought at all, or any rent being paid. A negro of my acquaintance told me that he occupied in this way a small plot of land of about an acre or two, on which last summer, with the help of his son, he grew three thousand six hundred pine-apples, for which he received thirty pounds. This plot of ground is on the island of Abaco, which the people usually call the Main. It is separated from the Cay by only two or three miles of delightfully calm and clear water. My black friend having acquired so much money for a few weeks work, took, I believe, a long rest; in fact, with the help of fish and molluscs, of which there is great plenty, he had no necessity to work any more for that year.
Fruit is very cheap: one hundred limes were offered me for sixpence, a few months ago. Pine-apples are abundant, and the finest in flavour I ever tasted. The pine-apples are plucked before they are quite ripe, and shipped for New York, which port they reach in perhaps eight or ten days. There they are immediately sold to a dealer, who soon finds purchasers for them. The oranges come later in the season; they are plucked green, and ripen during the voyage.
There are two or three fruits on this island which I have not seen in other parts of the world; one of these is the alligator pear, which is of the shape of an English one, and grows on a small tree. It is not much of a fruit, but is very nice for breakfast in hot weather, when it is eaten with pepper and salt. It is one of those fruit for which one acquires a liking in a short time. It is only in season in the summer. The sapodello is another fruit which is not found in any part of India that I am acquainted with. This is a very nice fruit, und resembles bread-pudding, but is very sweet.
There are so many reefs and ledges, sounds and sandbanks, in this part of the world, that wrecks are considered a regular source of income, and the most profitable of all. In fact, although I resided on the island scarcely six months, there were not less than seven wrecks within reach of our boats. The share for salvage which the natives obtain is about half the value of the goods saved; moreover, these being sold by auction in the town, the inhabitants are able to purchase at a cheap rate many of the necessaries and even luxuries of life. In incidentally alluding to the subject of wrecking, I approach a topic of great importance to the real and permanent welfare of the Bahama Islands. It is a matter which has engaged the serious attention of the present governor, who is most laudably desirous of substituting some other occupation more in accordance with the true interests of the inhabitants, than the precarious and demoralising trade of wrecking; the gains from which are at times so great as to deprive the natives of the necessary stimulus to those industrial pursuits which their social wants inculcate. The certainty of the occurrence of a shipwreck sooner or later, naturally diverts the mind from the subject of horticulture, which ought to engage their attention. The temptation also to theft is very great, and too often yielded to. Numerous, however, as are the moral objections to the practice in question, not less so are the difficulties which stand in the way of its reform.
There are several-light houses scattered over the Bahamas, and no doubt many more are required. Still it should be borne in mind that, to make them thoroughly efficient, the keepers should be placed beyond the temptation of a bribe. A salary of eighty pounds a year, with rations for one individual, is sadly insufficient for such a purpose. When residing in that part of the world, I accidentally heard of a keeper who, in spite of the severe economy inevitable with such a salary, contrived both to drink champagne and amass a fortune of several hundred pounds. One is reminded, in short, of the Frenchman’s stone broth, which proved so delicious a repast.
One of the greatest evils connected with Green Turtle Cay is the painful uncertainty of communication. European letters are received at Nassau once a month by the mail from New York and there they will often remain for ten or twenty days, when at length, after patience is worn out from repeated disappointment, a schooner is seen approaching the island, the letters arrive, but cannot be answered until another mail has come from New York. The natives of the place, however, care very little for this uncertain communication, as they have no friends in Europe, and are not given to epistolary correspondence. They find amusement in their boats and schooners, and their daily round of occupation.
At Green Turtle Cay I made my first acquaintance with the humming-bird. His power of wing is wonderful. You are puzzled to decide whether the marvellous little creature is perched on some small twig, or standing in the air, so still is he, whilst his wings are working with tremendous rapidity. Suddenly, he will tumble two or three feet down, and instantly be suspended in mid-air, his wings giving forth their monotonous hum. Then, approaching a flower, he inserts his long bill, still standing in the air, and having extracted its sweets, darts off in another direction.
In the beginning of February, another pleasing visitor makes his appearance-the mocking-bird arrives. His song is something like that of the thrush. The natives of the Cay, however, do not appear to pay any regard to such visitants; all their interest centres in the sea, and the cry of “A wreck!” will send every man running to his boat.
But the ocean here has attractions of another kind. The Bahamas are celebrated for their shells. Some very fine ones are occasionally found on this island, which entirely put to shame anything of the kind which is found on the coasts of India or England. A week’s sojourn on the Cay, if they could suddenly be transported there, would be an immense treat to the frequenters of Scarborough or Brighton. The variety of bushes (some in flower), ferns, &c, would afford amusement to those of horticultural tastes; while the gyrations of the humming-bird, of which there are several species, would be a perpetual source of delight both to old and young. What a never ending source of interest would be offered by that great treasure-store, the sea! What untiring pedestrians would circumambulate its shores! How persevering would be the idolaters of the little shrines, with their doorways of pearl, and their sculptured ornament, fabricated by the creatures of these clear green waters!
For Christmas my wife gave me the recently published coffee table book Those Who Stayedby cousin Amanda Diedrick. The book is illustrated with historic photos and impressive paintings by Bahamian artist Alton Lowe. A must-read for any Bahamian or guest who desires to drop anchor near this charming fishing settlement village, its narrow streets, clapboard homes and colourful flowers reminiscent of a New England town.
To my pleasant surprise, the author included an excerpt of the Chambers article in her book. She discovered this “fascinating glimpse” in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald published in September 1867. How amazing that this small, remote settlement on Green Turtle Cay charms lands across the globe, even during the 1860’s!
The unexpected is often more enjoyable than the planned course. Several months ago while working on a project unrelated to family history, I stumbled across the following article published in Raleigh, North Carolina’s News and Observer in June 1886. The location of Green Turtle Cay caught my attention.
A Scientific Expedition
INVESTIGATIONS BY JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS IN THE BAHAMAS
A few weeks ago Dr. W. K. Brooks, of the John Hopkins University, and a number of scientists sailed from Baltimore for the Bahama islands for the purpose of making scientific investigations in the flora and fauna of the tropics. The following letter has been received at the university from one of the party, descriptive of the headquarters:
GREEN TURTLE CAY, BAHAMA ISLANDS, June 7 – The unusual advantages which this island offers to biology study are at once apparent. The novel scenes of the richness of the fauna and flora on sea and land, the foreign and primitive ways of the people, afford the most striking contrast to all we have been accustomed to at home. In coming from the North to a country like this, where not only the people in their life and habits belong to another world, but every plant and animal one meets is new or unfamiliar, it is difficult to comprehend the whole from the vast sum of details. Notwithstanding the length of the cruise, few of the party suffered from seasickness, and the monotony was relieved by numerous events of interest, such as shark-fishing, the capture of Portuguese man-of-war, trolling for bluefish and collecting in the Gulf stream. We obtained some interesting fish and crustacean from the floating sargassum or “Gulf weed.”
After leaving Portsmouth, N.C. Tuesday, the 25th, we lost sight of land until the following Sunday morning, when the long-sought coral islands, which were beginning to assume a decidedly mythical character, at last took shape and became actual objects on the horizon. They appeared at first as a dark green line, which a nearer view resolved into great numbers of rocks and small reefs or cays proper, the largest of which are covered with a dense tropical growth and bordered by overhanging cliffs of gray coral rock, against which the white suf is continually dashed, or by long sandy beaches or pulverized coral, bleached to a chalky whiteness in the sun. The mainland of Abaco may be seen from outside as a faint blue band, either at the inlets between the cays or over the lower rocks. Inside the reed the island is approached to within two or three miles; so that its forests of yellow pine, the huts scattered along the shore, and pineapple fields which might be mistaken for clearings in the woods, are readily seen.
The white, calcareous sand which form beaches on most of the islands is distributed over the ocean bed both outside the cays and between them and the mainland, producing on the water a most remarkable and memorable effect. The color of these entire sounds and channels, extending as far as the eye can reach, varies with the altitude of the sun from the richest emerald through innumerable tints to a transparent greenish white. The people call this “white water,” and the depth is singularly deceptive, since the details of the bottom can be clearly discerned in eight to ten fathoms.
Green Turtle Cay is distinguished from many others like it only in having a better harbor and a small settlement. The town is marked by groups of tall cocoanut palms, which may be seen a long way off, and beneath them, thickly clustered together on the beach, are the black, picturesque huts of the negroes. These are thatched with palm, which is fastened down by poles laid on the roof. They have one or two common rooms, without glass windows or chimneys. The cooking is done out of doors in stone ovens or fireplaces. The houses of the white settlers are small wooden structures, of which the one we occupy is a fair sample. It has two stories of four small rooms each. We use the largest room up stairs as a laboratory. You can form an idea of the size of our house and the street opposite when I tell you we could easily jump from the plaza of the second story into our neighbor’s yard across the way. The small size of the streets, which are scarcely wide enough to allow a good-sized team to pass, strikes one as very odd. They are of the gray coral rock, and in the nest part of the settlement are swept scrupulously clean. There are no horses or cows on the island. There is no market, but there are a few small stores, at which sundry articles may be had at a high price. We had much trouble in finding a cook stove, there being only a very few in town. There is no drugstore or physician in the place, and in consequence Dr. Mills has had more patients than he wished. I am told there are about 600 people in the town, about equally divided, I should think, between blacks and whites. The people as a rule do only so much work as is necessary to supply them with food, which is not much. Nothing is cultivated, strictly speaking, on this clay, but imported fruits and vegetables are simply allowed to grow and take their chances with everything else. The thin soil is apparently rich enough for all.
On the mainland of Abaco, however, the pineapple is cultivated on a large scale. Cocoanuts, bananas, sapodillas, are grown on the Cay and are all now in season. The cocoanut, in fact, is in flower and fruit the year round. Oranges, lemons, limes, soursops, pawpaws, figs are also to be had here in small quantity later in the season, but none are shipped to market. The sapodilla is a fruit I have never seen in Baltimore. It resembled a round rusty apple or potato, and is filled with a brown juicy pulp, which is quite sweet and contains six or eight large black seeds. It is not marketable , as it has to ripen on the tree to be good, and does not last long. They are cheap. At Nassau I was told they could be bought for a shilling (12 cents) a hundred. No fruit I have yet seen equals the pineapple. The average price of a good pineapple is four cents.
This island is covered with a low tropical growth of shrubs and climbing plants, conspicuous among which are numerous cacti, palms, and most interesting of all, the American aloe, whose giant sword-shaped leaves and huge flower stalk form a prominent feature in the landscape.
The heat has been rather oppressive, but Dr. Brooks says he likes it. My thermometer has registered 84 degrees Fahr. right along until this morning, when it dropped to 76 degrees, owing to a very heavy thunder-storm we had in the night. Excepting this, we have had very little rain since landing.
The place is commended by every one as being very healthy; far more so than Nassau.
William Keith Brooks was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1848 and died near Baltimore, Maryland in 1908. As professor of Zoology at the Johns Hopkins University, Brooks formed the Chesapeake Zoological Laboratory in 1878. Over the next the next twenty years, he organized expeditions to Virginia, North Carolina, Jamaica and the Bahamas to study zoology, botany and geology.
Doctor Brooks expected all of his graduate students to spend a season or more at this laboratory. He rightly estimated this as the most valuable experience a student of zoology could have, for in this way the student became acquainted with animals under natural conditions.
On May 1, 1886, one such expedition left Baltimore in a small schooner with Brooks as the pilot. The following is taken from a report by Professor Brooks on The Zoological Work of the Johns Hopkins University, 1878-86, published in the Johns Hopkins University Circulars, Vol. 6, No. 54:
During the season 0f 1886 the zoological students of the University were stationed at three widely separated points of the seacoast. A party of seven under my direction visited the Bahama Islands, two were at Beaufort, and one occupied the University table at the station of the U. S. Fish Commission at Woods Hole. The party which visited the Bahamas consisted of seven persons, and our expedition occupied two months, about half of this being consumed by the journey. The season which is most suitable for our work ends in July, and we had hoped to reach the Islands in time for ten or twelve weeks of work there, but the difficulty which I experienced in my attempts to obtain a proper vessel delayed us in Baltimore, and as we met with many delays after we started, we were nearly three weeks in reaching our destination. We stopped at Beaufort to ship our laboratory outfit and furniture, but the vessel, a schooner of 49 tons, was so small that all the available space was needed for our accommodation, and we were forced to leave part of our outfit behind at Beaufort. We reached our destination, Green Turtle Key, on June 2nd, and remained there until July 1st. The fauna proved to be so rich and varied and so easily accessible that we were able to do good work, notwithstanding the shortness of our stay and the very primitive character of our laboratory. This was a small dwelling house which we rented. It was not very well adapted for our purposes, and we occupied as lodgings the rooms which we used as work rooms.
These snippets provide a teasing glimpse into island life prior the turn of the century. What lured Brooks and his team from Maryland to Green Turtle Cay? What other journals exist that document this expedition? Whose New England style cottage provided shelter and served as Brooks’ makeshift laboratory? Puzzle pieces to uncover.
During the 1886 summer of this expedition, my paternal great-grandparents resided at Green Turtle Cay: John Aquila Lowe (1859-1925), then 28 years, and Wesley Curry (1865-abt 1941), 21 years. Most likely they met and gave assistance to these scientists.
In my last two posts, I shared my vacation’s amateur photos in an attempt to capture the beauty that adorns Green Turtle Cay. Molded by the hands of the Creator, this Bahamian cay is blessed with abundant natural beauty. In addition, her architectural artistry is historically significant and charming. However, the beauty that radiates the brightest to me shines from the families that for generations have built this community.
On each visit, I am compelled to walk the cemetery. The blend of old and new headstones remind me of generational families that wove the social fabric of this remote island. Engraved headstones bring flashback conversations with my Dad, John Lowe. He recalled boyhood memories of these family members and friends, who invested freely in his life. The ocean backdrop calls attention to the courage and fortitude of those first settlers who sought freedom on these shores.
As I framed the camera to capture the contrast of this ancestral cemetery with the ocean, a symbol of life, against this ancestral cemetery, I realized that these particular graves in my camera lens had a unique significance. Three side by side graves of three generations…my dad’s father – Howard Lowe (1898-1927); his grandfather – John Aquila Lowe (1858-1925); and his great grandfather – John Lowe (1823-1898).
I placed hand-picked flowers on my grandfather’s grave. Then I stooped to remove weeds inside the grave’s perimeter. The weeds, like death itself, remind me of Adam’s sin curse that we face.
Generational families like mine lived on this Abaco Cay for hundreds of years. With advancements in transportation, the families have now dispersed around the globe. The social fabric slowly unravels. Remnant loyalist descendants continue the legacy and earn a livelihood on Green Turtle Cay.
This November, the Albert Lowe Museum will celebrate its 40th year. Green Turtle Cay native and renowned artist Alton Lowe is the mastermind behind this wonderful collection of artifacts, photos, paintings and writings. The museum was named in honor of his father William Albert Lowe (1901-1985), a renown woodcarver of ship models. My dad and Albert Lowe are third cousins.
My two Bahamas descendent daughters pose inside a museum room beside Alton Lowe’s classic paintings of two girls from the loyalist era, one looks towards the land and the other towards the sea.
We were blessed to spend some time with Alton at his home. His masterpieces depict Bahamian beauty. Alton kindly coerced me to tickle the ivories on his piano.
As we wandered around the New Plymouth settlement, we found Alton’s older brother, also skilled with his hands. Following in his father’s footsteps, Vertrum Lowe, hand crafted model ships for over 30 years. Vert’s finished models are exact replicas of real ships down to the smallest of details. Tucked away in the heart of New Plymouth, his tiny workshop utilizes every inch of space, including the ceiling, to store the craftsman’s tools and materials.
Just down from the museum on Parliament Street, we visited Green Turtle Cay’s Memorial Sculpture Garden. Here an impressive collection of bronze busts by the late James Mastin surround his life-sized masterpiece entitled The Landing, depicting the arrival of the Loyalists.
My eldest son and I proudly stood amidst a row of Mastin sculptures of Lowe patriarchs. Each has a commemorative and descriptive plaque honoring their contribution to the Cay’s history. A tremendous reminder that our legacy is rich and our calling is purposeful.
No trip would be complete without a visit with Dad’s first cousin, Pearl. Her father Osgood and my Dad’s father Howard were brothers. Charming and devoted to her faith in God, she is one of few islanders alive on the Cay that bridge past with present. Like my Dad, her piecing blue eyes gleamed as she reminisced about days gone by.
I did not inherit my Dad’s extroversion and charisma. On this trip, my genealogical passion pushed me out of my comfort zone to the doorstep of a stranger. How do I introduce myself? I thought as my heart raced. “Hi, I am John Lowe’s son.” Again, those six words opened the door (literal and figurative). I’m reminded of Dad’s love for people.
With open arms, homeowner Viola Lowe Sawyer invited my wife and me inside her charming and simple island cottage. We discussed common roots and reminisced about my Dad’s last visit to the Cay in the early 1990’s where a visit to Viola’s parents, Roger & Nell Lowe, was a must for Dad.Dad had many boyhood stories including hunting trips with Uncle Roger. We left Viola’s home blessed. A stranger now turned into a loving cousin.
The list of people, past and present, who forged the culture of this small settlement is long. Today Lowe and Curry cousins earn their livelihood on streets and waterways where mutual ancestors once called home. Their charming businesses include Lowe’s Green Turtle Cay Ferry, Lowe’s Food Store & Gift Shoppe, Lowe’s Construction, Kool Carts, Sid’s Grocery Store, and Curry’s Food Store. Check them out on your visit to Green Turtle Cay!
Green Turtle Cay’s natural beauty is simply breathtaking. As I stepped on to the Cay in July, I marveled at her natural artistry. Did this allurement persuade my Lowe and Curry forefathers to call it home? I imagined their simple lifestyle surrounded by this vast beauty. Picture their daily survival on rocky land and abundant sea provisions. Our family’s week stay on the Cay gave me the opportunity to explore paths my ancestors forged. I swam in the crystal blue waters where they fished and gathered nature’s healthy bounty for dinner. I gazed into the morning sunrise on the eastern horizon of the Cay.
My amateur photos are a mere teaser as the Cay’s true beauty is best seen first hand. Hues of blue surround white sandy beaches and limestone formations – the trademark of the Bahamian archipelago.
As I walked the narrow streets of New Plymouth settlement built on the water’s edge, I note a maritime community that survived on what the sea offers. Unassuming docks provided a place to tie your vessel after the day’s venture. Handmade sailboats by skilled shipwrights gave transportation to the Abaco mainland or to other nearby cays to harvest fruits and vegetables from family farm plots.
Flower and fauna add splashes of color to the Cay’s rustic canvas. Seagrapes, bougainvillea, and pink hibiscus adorn the scene of these old New England style cottages. Wild roosters, hens and baby chicks find refuge amidst the dense foliage. The sea offers its own unique array of life. Whelks harvested from rocks along island shores provide a delicious high protein stew.
Next month’s blog post will conclude the Remember These Shores articles. I will highlight Green Turtle Cay’s finest feature. Stay tuned!
July ushered in a week’s adventure for our family crew of eight…a stay on Green Turtle Cay in the northern chain of the Abacos, Bahamas.
As I stepped on the Green Turtle Cay shore, the historic significance of this island started to emerge. On this former British Colony island, my Dad John Lowe’s birthplace, about five generations of my paternal ancestors lived. And my mother’s Lowe heritage counts a sixth generation, Captain Gideon Lowe 1752-1833 who lived here.
We visited Green Turtle Cay two years ago as a family on a day trip. Prior to then, I personally had visited only a handful of times…days trips as well. These quick hits were mere teasers. This year I had to stay longer. I wanted to improve my bearings, to walk the beaches Dad walked, and to swim in the seas that he reminisced about in his sunset years.
We had located a lovely rental home on the island months in advance. With our eldest son graduating from college and another son from high school, July came quickly. Our journey began with a short Bahamas Air flight from Palm Beach, Florida to Marsh Harbour, Abaco. A 45-minute taxi ride over the pothole laden roads found the Treasure Cay Ferry dock. Across the sea to the east we see Green Turtle Cay. After a BOLO ferry ride, captained by cousin Nigel Lowe, we landed on Green Turtle Cay shore. A short golf cart ride brought us to our Bita Bay destination. This lovely home was recently built by Lowe’s Construction, more kin.
Each day, with camera in hand, I attempted to capture images that tugged at my heart. After the trip, I sifted through hundreds of photos. I narrowed down my favorites and grouped into broad categories.
This post highlights various island architectural homes and structures, showing various styles. Future posts will showcase other features from our trip.
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‘sexcitement 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 structurewas 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).
I wonder what life was like for my grandparents. They grew up in the early 1900s without cable television, internet, cellular service and social media. Even more unfathomable, common conveniences like refrigeration, electricity, running water and motorized vehicles were unknown. Dad often reminded us that these islanders found happiness not in possessions but in their faith in God, their family and their community.
On February 26, 1903, Pa Wes and Ma Lilla gave birth to my grandmother. With three older sisters and an older brother, Bessie Caroline completed this Curry family. Their ancestors date back to a Curry line, loyalists during the American Revolutionary War that resettled in the British Colony of the Bahamas. The Currys with jet black hair and olive complexion, were known for their striking features.
Unfortunately, at the young age of 10, Bessie lost her mother to what is believed to be a kidney infection. Perhaps this tragedy prepared Bessie for her road ahead. At age 21, Bessie married a handsome, young seaman, Howard Lowe. He served as first mate aboard the Abaco mail boat Priscilla. Fifteen months later a baby boy, John Wesley Lowe – my Dad, was born.
Three years into their marriage, Bessie had to deal with death tragedy again. Howard, age 29, sustained an injury on the boat. The infection soon dealt a fatal blow. A grieving widow with a toddler faced an uncertain future.
Bessie clung to her faith in God during this dark valley.
Her late husband, Howard, had been the Clerk for the Church of God assembly on the island of Green Turtle Cay. Bessie’s house stood next to the church building. Her father-in -law, John Aquila Lowe, served as pastor of what is known as the oldest Church of God assembly outside the United States.
My dad recalled in his journal…
Mother was a dear Christian lady. She kept the church building clean. It adjoined our property; therefore, it was convenient for her. She also attended to the kerosene lamps. She made sure they were filled with oil and prepared for services.
Eventually Bessie’s father, Pa Wes, moved in to help his widowed daughter and grandson. He slept in the upstairs bedroom of this New England style cottage complete with a dormer window that overlooked the public dock and harbour.
A few years ago, I had the privilege to climb that narrow stairway up to the open room. I peered out over Settlement Creek.
Pa Wes became a father figure to his grandson John the next 10 years.
Around 1940, Pa Wes’ health began to decline. Bessie decided to sell the home that her husband had built and the three family members set sail for Nassau. Upon arrival, my dad John (now age 15) sought employment to support his mother. Pa Wes passed away within the year. Once again Bessie dealt with a loved one’s death. Before long, her Nassau path crossed with a fine Green Turtle Cay carpenter, Ashbourne Lowe. Earlier in life, he had lost his spouse, Irene, daughter of Jeremiah Gates and Jessie Isabel Lowe.
In February 1942, Bessie and Ashbourne tied the knot at the Epworth House (Ebenezer Methodist Church parsonage) in Nassau. The newlyweds headed back to Green Turtle Cay. Dad remained in Nassau with his step grandmother, Mildred Pearce Lowe. Dad saved his money earned and purchased a small parcel of land in nearby Shirlea subdivision.
Two years later, in 1944, back in Green Turtle Cay, Bessie and Ashbourne were blessed with a baby girl, Janet. Over the years, this new family of three would visit Nassau to see Dad. During this time,
Ashbourne built a modest home for Dad on his Shirlea parcel of land. They stayed with Dad in this new house for a few months before Dad and Mom were married.
On Green Turtle Cay, Ashbourne and Bessie’s home was near the water’s edge. Known today as Sunset Cottage, this modest home represented another fine piece of handiwork by Grandpa Ashbourne.
A former Green Turtle Cay resident, Estella Curry Lowe, recalls:
I remember visiting your grandmother Bessie’s home on occasion when I would go to play with Janet. We swam off the little beach near their home. I remember Ms. Bessie as a quiet, reserved woman. One feature I do remember well. Each time I went there, Ms. Bessie was always cleaning the house, or the surrounding area – a very tidy lady. She and her husband, Mr. Ashbourne Lowe, got along well with everyone on the Cay.
My sister, Paula, tells:
Grandma Bessie was a special, godly person in my life. She lived most of her life on the island of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco in the Bahamas. She did not have an easy life without the conveniences that we had in the city of Nassau. Widowed when my dad John was two years, she remarried in his late teens.
After a brief illness at age 64, she went to Heaven in July 1967. I had graduated from high school the prior month. I felt heartbroken by her sudden death.
She and my step grandfather, Ashbourne, whom I called Grandpa, had just moved to Nassau the prior year. I wanted to build our relationship now that she was nearby – hard to do while living on another island. As a child, I visited her twice on Green Turtle Cay. The last time was during the summer of 1962. I will always remember that special trip…
On a Saturday evening in July 1962 my parents, brother and I boarded Captain Sherwin Archer’s boat, theAlmeta Queen in Nassau. We rocked across the shipping lanes of New Providence channel at night, headed to see Grandma in Abaco for a summer vacation. To add to the excitement for this 10 year old, Grandma had no idea we were coming!
Other relatives on the boat included cousins on both sides of the family – Buddy Lowe, Berlin Key and Craig Roberts. Buddy and Berlin transported two small motor boats on the deck of the Almeta Queen. They planned to lower these boats into the water at Marsh Harbour and head towards New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay.
I peered out of the porthole in our tiny cabin that night. My mother recalls her trepidation as the ship leaned heavily to one side due to cargo that shifted. Mother says her knowledge of these cousins’ boats as cargo onboard brought comfort during this overnight passage through rough, deep ocean waters. She also remembers sharks in the water as we disembarked from the dock.
Early the next morning, the Almeta Queen arrived at Marsh Harbour. The crew lowered the two boats. Craig and Berlin jumped in one boat while Buddy and our family filled the other. On this early Sunday morning, we motored off to Green Turtle Cay. The cool, morning breeze blew on our faces. This was my second visit to the Cay. My first visit was by sea plane several years prior.
As we neared the shoreline of the New Plymouth settlement on the Cay, we spotted Grandma on the rocks. There she emptied her pot of fish bones into the ocean. Boiled fish and grits was the traditional Sunday morning breakfast for these islanders.
Grandma Bessie and Grandpa Ashbourne’s wooden house was near the ocean complete with an upstairs storage room filled with junk. I loved to climb the stairs and sift through the treasures. I slept in my Aunt Janet’s bedroom downstairs that faced the street.
For this Nassau girl, Green Turtle Cay seemed such a tiny island with narrow streets. We walked around the island without any fears. Only a handful of cars and trucks were on the island. Life was beautifully simple. A rainwater tank collected water to drink, for baths and laundry. I admit that the taste of rain water was less than desirable. We bathed upstairs in a galvanized, washing tub. Hot water, boiled in a kettle, was carefully transported up the steps by Grandma. Aunt Janet still has the pitcher and basin that Grandma used for washing hands downstairs. No indoor toilets existed although carpenter Grandpa had begun the process to convert a downstairs bedroom into a modern bathroom. In the meantime, we had to use a pail or the out house – if you could endure the stench and the spiders!
A modest kitchen was just off the dining room. Equipped with a sink, it had a bucket underneath to catch the dirty dishwater. All major cooking and baking occurred in the outside kitchen, detached from the main house – the common layout during this era, for safety and cooling reasons.
In the yard, I inspected her chicken coops with laying hens. Curly tail lizards seemed to run around every corner. They could escape under the house raised off the ground. Near the rainwater tank I noticed more galvanized tubs with a scrub board. Grandma was a human washing machine. The summer sun provided more than enough heat to air dry the laundry pinned on clothes lines propped up by wooden poles.
For breakfast, we dined on cornflakes with a careful balance of canned evaporated milk and water. Sugar cubes from her cabinet provided a sweet touch. These were a first for me. The Cay had no overstocked grocery store. No supercenter of our life today.
Small convenience stores sold the staples. Sugar, flour, butter, and cheese, were weighed on scales and often sold by the pound. I felt ecstatic when Grandma asked me to go to Ms. Eva Saunders’ store for supplies.
During this trip, both my younger brother who turned seven and cousin Craig Roberts celebrated their birthdays with a homemade jam layered cake made by one of the ladies on the Cay.
Grandma’s hair was thin. She wore a hair net. When she went to church, she wore a brim hat. We swam in clear turquoise waters. Looked for shells and soaked up the summer sun. When Grandma joined us, I was surprised to see her swim in her dress. She did not own a swimsuit.
In the years that followed, Grandma and Grandpa would visit Nassau for weeks at a time, usually during the summers or Christmas time.
My sister speaks of one particular visit:
When I was six years old, Dad had purchased his first black and white television in a console cabinet. Grandma loved to watch the Art Linkletter show. At bedtime, she would read to my brother and me from our big Bible Story book.
Grandma would often ship boxes of fruit to Dad via the mail boat. Sometimes an extra surprise like cocoa plum preserves was tucked inside. One box yielded a hand made head band for my sister, a reward for good grades in school.
Grandma Bessie was skilled with her hands. A Green Turtle Cay cousin loved her tasty raisin pies. Another remembers Grandma’s zesty lemon pies and guava jam layer cakes – with icing, of course. Bessie and her sister-in-law, Mira Lowe Roberts, baked cakes and pies and sold them by the slice. My siblings loved the smell of her homemade bread.
Grandma Bessie’s daughter, Janet, noted her mother’s cleaning techniques:
Down on her knees, Momma scrubbed the floor using dried turbot skins (queen triggerfish) and a bucket of water. Pails of white sand were toted from the beach to give the yard a fresh, clean look.
Besides her skill as a baker, she was a talented seamstress. The majority of her dresses were handmade. Dad said that many of his shirts as a young boy were made from flour sacks. My sister treasured a handmade quilt from fabric scraps. Quilting was a favorite pastime of the ladies on Green Turtle Cay. Grandma also crafted shell necklaces to sell.
About 1965, Grandma and Grandpa moved to Nassau permanently. Their daughter Janet had secured a job with Johnson Brothers on Bay Street. The three rented an upstairs dwelling in Sears Addition. In May of that year, my parents, my three older siblings, Grandma, Grandpa and daughter Janet cruised to Miami. Grandma had struggled with thyroid issues. Now a goiter surgery awaited her in the United States. In Miami, they met up with family friend and minister, Earle Weech. He provided transportation and comfort to the anxious family. He coordinated a trip to Miami’s Sea Aquarium and Crandon Park Zoo to occupy their minds while grandma was in the hospital.
Two years later, Bessie and Ashbourne travelled to Titusville, Florida to visit with Ruth Tedder, Bessie’s niece, her sister Emmie’s daughter. On the trip back by boat to Nassau a passenger commented to Bessie that her eyes looked yellow. Soon she was admitted to the Rassin Hospital (now the Doctors Hospital). After several weeks in the hospital, Dr. Meyer Rassin, (the Surgeon General for the Royal Air Force stationed in Nassau during World War II) who took up residency, recommended the family seek treatment in the United States. Earle Weech accompanied the worried travelers. Prior to the trip, they moved from Sears Addition to a home in Centerville owned by her nephew, Anthony Roberts.
On the operating table in Miami, the surgeons concluded she might live a month. She was brought back to Nassau. Grandma passed away a few days later on July 27, 1967 at the age of 64.
Here’s what my cousin, Iva Lowe Scholtka, gives:
At the Cay, they lived next door to us. I’d go to the church and help Bessie clean the lamps on the wall. She always had a smile on her face. She kept her house so clean that you could eat off the floor.
In Nassau, I went to see her in the hospital. She had cancer of the liver. Her skin was as yellow as a pumpkin. I will never forget that. She took my hand and said “I’m going” and then she pled, “Please be a friend to my Janet.”
My sister concludes:
Forty years had passed before I had the opportunity to return to Green Turtle Cay. In May 2002, my deceased husband, Leroy, knew that I longed to return to Dad’s birthplace.
Leroy’s health was in rapid deterioration. This became our last vacation together. While on the ferry to Green Turtle Cay that day, we passed the cluster of rocks where Grandma stood back in the summer of 1962. My emotions flooded. In a flashback, I saw the many wonderful memories with my loving Grandma.
My dad, John Wesley Lowe, enjoyed the simple, carefree island life that Green Turtle Cay, Abaco offered during the 1930s and 1940s. A meager handful of tattered photos exist today to capture his life during that era. Dad’s eyes always gleamed in delight as he reminisced of the summer fun memories and the selfless people who comprised this close knit community.
After dad’s passing, I realized that my documentation of his memories was far from adequate. I discovered this Green Turtle life photo below in his collection. No names detailed on these mystery faces: a handsome teenager dressed in Sunday’s best posed with two island youngsters. A New Plymouth cottage complete with dormer windows and a wood burning stove provides the historic backdrop.
My quest for answers began. I emailed the charming picture to several contacts with Green Turtle Cay roots. A quick reply from my cousin Estella Curry Lowe (named after Pa Harry’s wife) identified the young teenager as her uncle, Reginald “Reggie” Harold Roberts, born in April 1925 to seaman Harry Roberts (1892-1976) and Estella Louise Lowe (1895-1927).
Reggie’s mother, Estella Louise, is the daughter of Jabez Gilbert Lowe Jr., a great-great-grandson of our patriarch Captain Gideon Lowe, Jr.
The amazing twist it that my cousin also identified the two toddlers as her brother Allan Curry and herself! These siblings soon shared with me Green Turtle Cay memories of their Roberts family heritage.
In January 1927, two years after Reggie’s birth, tragedy struck the home of Harry and Estella Roberts. Ma Estella lost her life during childbirth. The baby girl perished as well. Pa Harry faced the daunting task of rearing their five children, four brothers and one sister, ages 11, 9, 7, 5 and 2. Hawkins Havlock Lowe and wife Paulena Lenora Roberts cared for Pa Harry’s five year old daughter, Roselyn. At the age of 12 years, Roselyn returned to Pa Harry to be his helper at home.
Reginald Harold Roberts (passport photo courtesy of Estella Lowe)
Reggie and my Dad were born in 1925. They hiked up the island hill to school in the mornings and horsed around on the docks in the afternoons. They both left for the capital city Nassau to seek employment after finishing Green Turtle Cay’s All Age School.
Reggie’s older brother Reuben had already moved to Nassau in 1936. John Reuben Roberts was born in Green Turtle Cay in 1915 and named after his grandfather John Roberts IV (1864-1908). Reuben married Lula Alberth ‘Bertha’ Roberts in 1935 at Green Turtle Cay. They separated and divorced in 1946.
In Nassau, Reuben worked for Stafford Sands, Sr. at City Meat Market where he trained as a meat cutter. Reuben later recounted that his salary in 1938 was five British pounds per week. Reuben played a key role in securing my Dad’s employment at City Meat Market in the early 1940s.
In 1943 Reuben and former Green Turtle Cay buddies, brothers Gussie and Jack Roberts, volunteered to serve in World War II. Reuben joined the U.S. Army on November 11 at the age of 28. After training in southern England, he was deployed to Easy Red, Normandy.
In 1946 Reuben became an American citizen. That same year misfortune met his brother Reggie. Seaman Reggie often ran on a banana boat to South America with Green Turtle Cay native Kenneth Lowe. On a trip from Nassau to the United States, he was brutally assaulted while at port in Miami. He received no medical treatment and headed back to Nassau where he died as a result of internal injuries. Reggie was 20 years old and engaged. Pa Harry was devastated. Summoned, he went to Nassau to identify Reggie’s body. Reuben also flew to Nassau to check on his brother.
Cousin Allan shared with me several war stories that Reuben had recounted to him.
One day when my unit prepared to hit the beach, we encountered resistance from the enemy on the shore. We were located about three to five miles off shore at that time. The commander of our ship called for the big guns that could reach up to seven miles.
When the ship fired, she rolled from side to side. It felt like we were about to capsize. After an hour of bombing the shoreline, our troops landed.
To avoid being shelled during the attack, I positioned myself firmly pressed against the ramp of the landing barge. But when the ramp dropped, I fell in the water.
On another night, the Sergeant arrived at camp to enlist ten volunteers for a mission. I was selected, but since I was the only barber, the Sergeant needed me to stay behind to cut the hair of several men, including my commanding officer. The group of men that went on that mission were never heard from again.
I remember a night mission to blow up a bridge once our troops landed. However, our unit was ambushed on the bridge. Only one other soldier besides myself survived that dreadful attack.
I can’t forget freezing nights of prolonged huddling in fox holes. Soldiers emerged from the fox holes extremely cramped. They screamed in pain while Army Medics warmed and stretched out their limbs.
After the war Reuben was discharged in Jacksonville, Florida. He soon headed south to Miami to be with family. His maternal Uncle Curtis Lowe operated the first barbershop in the Miami International Airport. Able and ready, Reuben applied his barber skills. Opposite the barber shop sat Pan American Airlines’ check-in counter. Here Reuben met and married Marjorie Hanford Pippinger in 1947. Reuben transitioned back to the food service industry. He worked as a meat cutter for Winn Dixie and later as a store manager for Food Fair. In 1969, Reuben and Marjorie moved to Key Largo where he continued his career well into retirement years. He passed away in 2004.
Allan registered his Uncle Reuben as a World War II veteran in the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. On this Memorial Day weekend, we pause and honor John Reuben Roberts and all those who have sacrificed at great cost to preserve our freedom.
One mystery photo initiated an amazing journey through this Roberts family!
Perhaps one of the most oft repeated boyhood stories Dad eagerly shared gave us a glimpse into the mischief and tomfoolery on the shores of Green Turtle Cay. Before the days of television and other electronics, the “great outdoors” occupied the kids on the Cay. This particular story occurred amidst the excitement on a sunny, “mail boat day” not too far from the steps of Dad’s home. Mail boats, such as the M/V Priscillaand the M/V Stede Bonnet, were critical to the economy of the island during that era.
We were about eight or nine years of age. On a particular day when the tide was low, the freight boat used by the M/V Priscilla tendered the cargo to the public dock for the merchants on the island. Folks gathered with excitement waiting to receive their goods. A young man brought to the dock a very large wagon to help transport some of this cargo. It had four large iron wheels and a handle made of iron for the means of pulling and steering that large wagon. While waiting on the dock, that young man decided to give some of the boys a “joy ride” by pulling it around on the dock. Laine Curry and I were the two smallest of the boys, so we were placed in the center of the wagon while several of the larger boys sat around the edge. After several times around the dock and going a little faster each time, the operator lost control and the wagon plunged off the dock. The older boys who sat around the edge were able to jump off; however, Laine and I, stuck in the center, went over the edge of the dock. The wagon turned upside down with the two of us falling into a small dinghy, about six or seven feet in length, tied to the dock below. The dinghy was built with two open compartments. We landed perfectly inside the dinghy, Laine in one compartment at the bow, and I in the other compartment at the stern. That large iron wagon landing over us; however, we were sheltered inside those compartments. Another inch apart from where we fell, we would have been crushed to death. It was indeed a miracle from our heavenly Father. I just want to thank Him for His mercy and protection that day.
In 1992 when my wife and I visited the Cay with Dad, we stopped first to look at the home where dad was born, a quaint cottage by the sea. Dad’s journal noted…
After leaving there, we decided to go and see my friend Laine Curry, who lived about two hundred feet from the little cottage. We were the best of friends during our boyhood days.
Ladford Chamberlaine “Laine” Curry was born on February 19, 1924 to Bernice and Irene Curry at Norman’s Castle, Abaco, a pine logging town close to present day Treasure Cay Airport. Norman’s Castle was where Bernice found employment, however, he and Irene reared their children on Green Turtle Cay land that has been in their family for well over 100 years. Dad and Laine were basically next door neighbors until the construction of the small Church of God building sometime in the 1920’s. With just over a year’s age difference between Dad and Laine, one can easily understand why they shared many boyhood memories.
Laine’s dad, Bernice Curry, was born in Green Turtle Cay in the 1880’s. At the age of 20, he married Ida Bethel from Cherokee Sound, Abaco. According to the minutes of the Church of God in Green Turtle Cay, Bernice and Ida joined the congregation on March 7, 1914, less than a year after missionary Carl M. Padgett established the church on the island where my great grandfather, John A. Lowe, was the first pastor and my grandfather, Howard Lowe, church clerk. The minutes of the church from my grandfather note the unexpected death of Ida at age 31.
Three years later, Bernice found love again in the lovely Irene Curry, daughter of Ladford and Gracie Curry. In 1989 and over 100 years of age, Pa Bernice or “Ole B”, as he was affectionately known, was called by his Lord and Savior to his final home.
The original homestead was destroyed in the 1932 hurricane that devastated the Cay. Bernice rebuilt the home seen in the photo below. He is pictured on the dock and his wife, Irene, is outside in front of the house. Her sister, Annie Curry Lowe, wife of Albert Lowe renowned model shipbuilder, is standing in the door. The church stood directly between Dad’s house and Laine’s house. As encouragement for service to the Lord, both of these lads were paid by the church for various duties, including ring the bell on Sunday mornings.
In November 1950, Laine married Pauline Mae Albury, daughter of Jim & Hattie Albury of Cherokee Sound, Abaco. Pauline was born just a few days before the ’32 hurricane hit Cherokee Sound. Through writing this article, I was blessed to connect with Laine’s son, Randy, who shared the following about his dad’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Dad worked on the M/V Betty K and also his brother Clifton’s boat, the Flying Fish. After moving to Nassau, he worked at John S. George Hardware & Marine. In the mid 60’s, he opened his own clothing store next to Home Furniture in Palmdale right under the bowling alley. We moved to Miami in the late 60’s where he owned apartments next to the Hialeah Race Track. In 1973, he moved back to Green Turtle Cay where he resided until his passing on March 28, 1999.
The legacy lives on…today the Curry homestead shares a residential and commercial two story building owned by Laine’s son, Randy, as well as Curry’s Sunset Grocery owned and operated by his daughter, Debbie.