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!

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.