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

 

Hartley Roberts
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.

Mailboat_Albertine_Adoue
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!

Map-of-Bahamas-Islands

 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.