Cottage by the Sea

Dad loved to reminisce of his boyhood days on Green Turtle Cay.  IMG_E6658He 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.

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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.

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Dad’s boyhood home in the center with the dormer window overlooking the harbour known as Settlement Creek.

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.

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The Walter C. Kendrick family

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

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Dad John Lowe and Mom Doreen Lowe in front of his childhood home.

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.

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Left to Right – John Lowe, Noel Roberts, Ivy Gates Roberts and Doreen Lowe in front of the Albert Lowe Museum.

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.  Photo Apr 18, 6 56 20 PMHe 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.

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Mom & Dad at the base of the steps that lead to the schoolhouse.
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Mom & Dad at the schoolhouse on the top of the hill.

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.

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Danny Albury & John Lowe

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.

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John Lowe in the Memorial Sculpture Garden

 

Expedition to Paradise

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.

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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.

p-12_Brooks.pngOn 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.

Remember These Shores – Part 3

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Mira Lowe Roberts

My Dad John Wesley Lowe spoke fondly of Aunt Mira and her husband Hartley Bernard Roberts.  Dad spent many boyhood days in their home on Green Turtle Cay.  Dad referred to their place as a second home.  After all, when Dad’s father Howard died at a young age, Aunt Mira (Howard’s sister) and Uncle Hartley provided financial and emotional support to the young widow and her toddler.  Dad recalled his mom Bessie Curry Lowe and Aunt Mira spent many afternoons together baking delicious treats, pies and cakes, including Mira’s famous mango layer cake.  The Roberts’ children, Mizpah, Noel and Minnie, developed a sibling-like bond with Dad.

Hartley Roberts & Mira Lowe with children (left to right) Noel, Minnie, Mizpah
Hartley Bernard Roberts & Mira Lowe with children (left to right) Noel, Minnie, Mizpah

 

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Hartley Bernard Roberts

Hartley Bernard Roberts was born in 1889 on Green Turtle Cay into the seafaring family of Captain William Augustus Roberts and Margaret “Muggie” Sawyer. 

In June 911, he married his love, Mira Lowe, daughter of John Aquilla Lowe and Minnie Curry.   Hartley, a distinguished looking man,  was a successful seaman, farmer and merchant.  Dad referred to him as one of the prominent men on the Cay, often elected to represent the island to welcome visiting dignitaries.  If you visit the Memorial Sculpture Gardens on Green Turtle Cay you will find his bust among those recognized for their outstanding contributions to the island community.

Joy Lowe Jossi shares that her father, the late Mr. Clerihew Lowe, recalled…

The Albertine Adoue was the first mailboat that served Abaco that I can remember. She was in service before 1923. The Albertine Adoue, a sailing vessel, a 60′ schooner, was owned by Capt. William Augustus Roberts of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco. His three sons served as captain: Hartley, Osbourne and Rolland.

In 1923, when the mailboat Priscilla replaced the Albertine Adoue, Uncle Hartley continued to serve as captain.  His crew included first mate, Howard Lowe and ship’s cook, Osgood Lowe (Howard’s brother).

Green Turtle Cay Church of God organized in 1913.  Hartley and Mira (holding daughter, Mizpah) are to the far left
Green Turtle Cay Church of God congregation organized in 1913. Hartley Roberts and Mira Lowe Roberts (holding daughter Mizpah) are to the far left

Hartley retired from his duties at sea and stepped into the pulpit of the Church of God of Green Turtle Cay, the oldest Church of God outside the United States.

In 1911 Mira Lowe Roberts was converted under the ministry of two visiting Church of God ministers.  Two years later Carl M. Padgett returned to the tiny island and established the church with eight members, including Mira and Hartley Roberts.  Mira’s father, John Aquilla Lowe served as the first pastor until his death.

A Granddaughter’s Memories

Mira Lowe Roberts was the third child born to John Aquilla Lowe and his wife Minnie Caroline at their home in Green Turtle Cay in 1890. Wilmont and Osgood were older brothers and Mira was 8 years old when her younger brother, Howard, was born.  She had several sisters that did not survive their infancy.

John Aquilla’s family farmed at Munjack Cay, growing fruit and vegetables and Mira and her siblings’ formal schooling was, of necessity, sporadic.

At 21, Mira married Hartley Roberts, a seaman. Their children were Margaret, Noel, Minnie and Lane, who died in infancy.  They lost twins and one other child. Hartley and Mira were considered a good match. Minnie remembered him as a very affectionate and kind father, generous and outgoing but serious minded. Together they, like Mira’s parents, went to farm on the Mainland for weeks at a time, growing fruit and vegetables and sugar cane, from which they processed cane syrup to sell in their shop.

Hartley and his brother, Roland, had opened a grocery, dry goods and notions store, “Roberts and Brothers”, and with Mira’s love of baking she found an opportunity to make and sell cakes and pies in the store. It was always her pleasure to give baked goods to those who could not afford to buy them.

Hartley died of a heart attack when he was but 52 years old. At some point the shop was moved to a little building in front of their home and Mira continued to bake and sew and ‘keep shop’ as a widow.

Mira Roberts at her GTC home (photo courtesy of Karen Roberts Evans)
Mira Lowe Roberts at her GTC home (photo courtesy of Karen Lowe Evans)

In 1950 she began taking extended trips to Nassau when her daughter Minnie and son-in-law Carl moved there for employment.  She took care of Minnie’s one year old baby girl, Karen, while Minnie worked in downtown, Nassau. Then Stephen came along and she had two to look after.  But she continued to spend time in Green Turtle Cay and, with the help of her niece Pearl, maintained a dry goods store until she could no longer travel back ‘home’.  In 1973 she moved permanently to Miami with Minnie and Carl, subsequently moving up to Hollywood, Florida where she died peacefully at the age of 89.

I remember my grandmother being very friendly, affectionate and generous.  Even as children we heard about her many good deeds to others. Her faith was strong and she wanted to be in church whenever the door was open for services. Mira found great contentment being in God’s House with her church family. And in her later days she enjoyed nothing more than quietly sitting surrounded by her family members just listening with a sweet smile on her face. Everyone remembers Mira as a happy, good-natured and patient lady. She was known to be a chatterbox as well, but never in a malicious way. She was loving and understanding of others, just always interested in who was doing what.

by Karen Caroline Lowe Evans, granddaughter

Aunt Mira kept a close eye on her nephew, making sure he had food to eat and clothes to wear.  Dad recalled Uncle Hartley’s courage and compassion during the devastating 1932 hurricane…

In 1932, when I was seven, a Category 5 hurricane hit the Cay.  Mother and I were forced to leave our home on the water’s edge to the safety of Aunt Mira and Uncle Hartley’s home situated more inland.  Many other island residents sought refuge here as well.  During the storm, the house was compromised by flying debris. We were forced to brave the outside wind and rain and relocate to the kitchen, a separate stone structure on the property.  The winds were so strong that everyone had to crawl on the ground. Uncle Hartley knew the wind was too strong for me.  He held me tight in his arms as he crawled to the building.

Mira Lowe Roberts (photo courtesy of Karen Roberts Evans)
Mira Lowe Roberts (photo courtesy of Karen Lowe Evans)

M/V Priscilla

My dad’s boyhood stories would often include references to “Mail Boat Day” – a much-anticipated event in settlements with relatively no contact from the outside world.   Locals gathered in anticipation of receiving letters or packages from relatives in Nassau.   These boats were originally subsidized by the government to transport mail between Nassau and the family island settlements.  In addition, the government set affordable fare rates for passengers as well as transporting freight (food, supplies, building materials) between islands.

According to David Gale in his book titled Ready About…

Before diesels, mailboats throughout the Bahamas were powered by wind, although Abaco’s only sailing mail was Albertine Adoue.  Her history is a strange mix of success and misfortune.  The 60 foot schooner, built in Green Turtle Cay in 1898, was actually built from salvaged materials from a three-masted vessel of the same name that wrecked on the reef behind Spanish Cay.

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Mailboat Albertine Adoue (photo courtesy of Peter Roberts)

 

Cousin Joy Lowe Jossi, recalls the words from her father, Mr. Cleri Lowe…

The Albertine Adoue was the first mailboat that served Abaco that I can remember. She was in service before 1923. The Albertine Adoue, a sailing vessel, a 60′ schooner, was owned by Capt Wm Augustus Roberts of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco. His three sons served as captain:  Hartley, Osbourne and Rolland.

In 1923 it was replaced and upgraded by the Priscilla, a diesel-powered, converted sailboat approximately 100 feet long.  Dad had heard that the boat was purchased by R.W. Sawyer and R. Farrington.  Dad recounts…

The Priscilla docked at the towns of Cherokee Sound, Hope Town, Marsh Harbour, Man-O-War Car, Guana Cay. Its two week voyage would often include stops to Eleuthera as well.  Before the sun would set, we would head down to the beach on the south side of the island to play on the dock as we scanned the horizon for the faint smoke of the diesel engine.   She had to anchor in the harbor at Green Turtle Cay where a twenty foot tender would haul the goods to the dock.  A section towards the bow of the ship penned in various livestock for transport. My pig eventually made the voyage to Nassau to be sold.

M/V Priscilla (photo courtesty of the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum)
M/V Priscilla (photo courtesty of the Wyannie Malone Historical Society)

The Priscilla was more than a mailboat to our family, it was a livelihood.  Dad’s father, Howard, was a mate on the vessel until his death in 1927.  Family legend has it that Howard had a knee accident on the boat and subsequently died from the infection at the age of 29,  Howard’s brother, Osgood, worked as the cook on the Priscilla.  The Priscilla was captained at that time by Hartley Robert’s, who had married Howard’s sister, Mira, in 1911.  This seafaring Roberts family  had captained these Abaco mailboats for several generations.  One can only imagine the tales these brothers, Howard, Osgood, and Hartley (brother-in-law) experienced as they navigated the treacherous Abaco seas and Atlantic ocean!

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 Many mailboats have served the Abacos since the Priscilla, all documented in a unique blog, MailboatsBahamas – dedicated to the history of mail boats of the Bahamas from the 1800s to the present day.  The Priscilla is included as well as the well-known Stede Bonnett and Deborak K, the latter of which I myself made a voyage on to Abaco during the early 1970’s.

Aboard the Deborah K with my Mom on the left and my brother on the right, passing the  Hope Town lighthouse.
Aboard the Deborah K with my Mom on the left and my brother on the right, passing the Hope Town lighthouse.

 

 Special thanks to a great friend and adopted Bahamian, Joanie Weber, for sharing information that inspired me to pen this article.

 

 

First mate

My grandfather, Howard Lowe, had a brief life on this earth.  He was born on April 20, 1898 in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco.  According to the entry in the Bahamas Death Register on November 11, 1927, he died at the age the age of 29 of chronic rheumatism.  He married Bessie Caroline Curry on March 3, 1924 and fifteen months later they became the proud parents of a baby boy John Wesley Lowe, my Dad.

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Passport photo of Howard Lowe – 1919

The only tangible item that Dad possessed from his father was a passport.  Howard was twenty-one at the time his passport was issued.  The photograph inside was the only picture of Howard in our possession for years.

The passport denotes “given at Government House, Nassau, in the Colony of the Bahamas, the 15th day of September 1919.”   The Description of Bearer includes the following interesting features of Howard:  blue eyes (a Lowe staple), dark brown hair, a sharp nose, a prominent chin, and a “tear on left cheek.”  His height…five feet seven inches.  Two officals stamps tell us he  travelled to Miami, Florida for work as a fisherman, one trip from September 16 through September 30, 1919 and a second in May 1920.

In March of 1914, a month prior to his sixteenth birthday, Howard was added to the Green Turtle Cay Church of God assembly.  The church was organized in July 1913 and Howard’s father, John Aquila Lowe, was appointed as the first pastor.  In 1915, Howard was appointed Clerk of the church and continued in that role until his death in 1927.

Howard Lowe Death Register
Bahamas Death Register Howard Lowe – November 11, 1927

In May 2013, the church celebrated its 100 anniversary and has the distinction of being the oldest Church of God assembly outside the United States (Oldest World Missions Congregation Turns 100 Today).  My wife and I had the privilege to attend this anniversary service where my grandfather, Howard, was honored for his years of service as Clerk of the church.

Howard Lowe, my father, the youngest son of John Aquilla Lowe and Minnie Curry, grew up on the tranquil island of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco in the Bahamas.  As a young man, he enlisted with Hartley Roberts, his brother-in-law, working as the first mate on the mail boat, Priscilla.

I have no recollection on my father.  His journey on this earth was brief. Five months prior to his thirtieth birthday, he was called to his heavenly home.  His cause of death remains somewhat a mystery.  An infected knee, perhaps an injury on the mail boat, could have played a role.  At his funeral, two British pennies were used to keep his eyes closed.

Journals of John W. Lowe

The minutes of the church noted the following on November 11, 1927…

Brother Howard Lowe, Clerk of the Church of God at Green Turtle Cay, fell asleep in Jesus.  He left a bright and glorious testimony saying it was well with my soul.  He leaves a loving wife and one little son to mourn his departure.

W.A. Barelis, Pastor

A formal tombstone was also commissioned by the Church of God for the 100th anniversary celebration.  My cousin’s recent blog post  (Green Turtle Cay’s Historic Cemetery – Little House by the Ferrygives a fantastic picturesque synopsis of this historic cemetery, where many of her and my ancestors are laid to rest.

grave

 

Thomas Wesley “Pa Wes” Curry

The name Wesley derives from Anglo-Norman origins.  It means a field to the west (wes = west / lea = field).  The name’s popularity increased in the 18th century in honor of Methodist founder, John Wesley.  In my family, that name carries great significance.  This name given to my paternal great-grandfather and passed down three generations.

Thomas Wesley “Pa Wes” Curry was born in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco on February 28, 1865 to William and Emmaline Curry.  (siblings)

He married Lila Carleton, who was the daughter of Romelda Lowe.

Their union produced five surviving children: Eudora Isabel, Thomas Herman, Mary Edith, Emma Louise and my grandmother Bessie Caroline.

My dad John Wesley Lowe recalled that  Pa Wes lived on the southern part of the island.

In 1924 and at the age of 21, Bessie Caroline married the love of her life, Howard Lowe.  The following year a son was born, John Wesley Lowe.  Howard’s life on earth would come to an abrupt end two years later leaving a young widow and her toddler.  Pa Wes thought it best to move in with his youngest daughter and thus become a father figure for Dad.  He gave his house and land to one of his granddaughters, Tessie Roberts Key.  Tessie’s daughter recalls Pa Wes, walking stick in one hand and a lantern in the other, taking strolls just before sunset to visit his granddaughter.   She also recalls a huge almond tree in that yard that supported a rope swing, which Pa Wes crafted for Tessie’s children.  Dad remembers Pa Wes on occasion smoking a pipe.  Miss Bessie’s shop sold tobacco in plugs, and he would buy a portion of a plug, worth about three cents.

Pa Wes displayed excellent farmer skills.  As a young lad, I sailed with him to his farmland on the Abaco mainland.  He proudly showed me bunches of bananas and fields of pineapples.  The lovely odor of ripe pineapples .  He also farmed on Crab Cay situated to the north of Green Turtle Cay.  He grew melons, cassava, beans and potatoes there.

He told me of an interesting story about his change in plans from fishing to farming.  He had fished many years to support his family, but on a particular frustrating fishing day, he decided to end his fishing career.  He gathered all of his equipment, a tin can of lines, hooks and sinkers, and tossed it overboard and decided to go into farming.        

Journals of John W. Lowe

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Map depicting the distance travelled by Pa Wes in his 12′ sailboat
between Green Turtle Cay, Crab Cay and the Abaco Mainland

According to Dad, Pa Wes farmed 20 acres on the Abaco Mainland left by deceased son-in-law, Howard to grow bananas and pineapples. Pa Wes used a 12’ sailboat to navigate the hour trip, depending on the wind,  to Crab Cay as well as to the Abaco Mainland. Leaving early in the morning, he set sail from Green Turtle Cay to farm all day.   To provide relief from the scorching sun as well as inclement weather, he constructed a simple ten by twelve foot shack on the Abaco Mainland farm from materials that he hauled over from Green Turtle Cay.

Around 1940, Pa Wes became very ill.  Grandma Bessie sold her house in Green Turtle Cay and moved to Nassau to seek medical treatment for her father.  My Dad recalls…

At the age of fifteen, my grandfather, Wesley, became very ill.  A decision was made to take him to stay with his daughter, Emmie in Nassau, New Providence. My mother and I went along on the mail boat.

Journals of John W. Lowe

Wesley Curry Land Purchase
1934 Bill of Sale
Pa Wes purchasing land on Green Turtle Cay

Pa Wes died soon afterwards and was buried in the cemetery of the Church of God on Fowler Street.  The exact date of death still remains a mystery as well as details on his wife, Lila Carleton. Dad had no recollection of her and could only recall her first name.  Pa Wes’ legacy lives on…both me and my eldest son share the middle name, Wesley.

The Beginning

GTCChartA favorite place to visit is the quaint town of New Plymouth on the southern tip of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco in the Bahamas.  This close-knit island community is full of historical significance.  Many residents trace their ancestral roots to Loyalists during the American Revolutionary War.  On this cay, approximately three miles long and half-mile wide, my dad John Wesley Lowe was born.

Dad fostered my passion for family history.  His boyhood stories of life on Green Turtle Cay captivated my attention.  Life was unpretentious but entertaining during the 1930’s and 1940’s.  There were no automobiles, no electricity, and certainly no technology.  Dad’s father Howard Lowe died at the age of 29.  A young widowed mother struggled to provide for her son.  The community pitched in to help.  Dad remained grateful to those that encouraged him.  In his journal, Dad noted…

The seventh day of June 1925 was a special day for my parents, Howard & Bessie Lowe.  It was a joyous occasion for them to have a baby boy added to the family.  A name was chosen from each of my grandfathers, John (Lowe)and Wesley (Curry).  It was on a small island located in the northern part of the Bahamas known as Green Turtle Cay chosen by my fore-parents to raise their families for more than two hundred years.

Beside its beauty, there were many good features of the island.  The sandy beaches and beautiful harbours made it convenient for the fisherman to store their boats.  Because of the abundance of seafood, they were able to feed their families.  Fish, lobster and conch were plentiful.  Occasionally, we would have turtle meat for dinner.  With the help of hunting dogs, the men on the island would often catch wild pigs.  It was quite a treat to have pork for a change!

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Earliest photo of Dad John Wesley Lowe
 
JWL
John Wesley Lowe