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.
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.
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).
Generations of Saunders and Curry descendants played along the Green Turtle Cay shores in Abaco, Bahamas. Included in this company were the Curry sisters, Edith “Edie” and Bessie. As noted in prior posts, Edie married Robbie Saunders and Bessie married Howard Lowe. Like their parents and grandparents, they raised their families on this remote Cay of the British Empire. This required reliance on God’s provisions from the land and sea for sustenance.
Here we meet Edie’s son, Donald Robinson Saunders. Born in July 1924, Edie and Robbie welcomed a son into their family, the fourth of five children.
Back (L to R): Donald, Deloris, Cedric. Front (L to R): Sybil, Edie, Audrey.
Three weeks prior to Donald’s birth, Edie’s brother Herman and wife Mae Gates Curry welcomed their first child, daughter Virginia Sylvia (just a few weeks ago, Virgie Curry Carey passed away at the age of 91). The next year (1925), their sister Bessie gave birth to my Dad, John Wesley Lowe. Many from this generation of Abaconians broke the traditional role of raising their families on that same island.
These first cousins, all less than a year apart, spent their school days climbing the hill to the Green Turtle Cay All-Age School and fishing from the dock with occasional tomfoolery.
A former Green Turtle Cay resident recalls:
Most people at the Cay were poor, really poor. Robbie (Saunders) fished with the other men on the Cay. They sold the fish by the pound. If an amberjack was caught at a certain time of the year, people wanted to buy some of this rarer treat.
The 1932 hurricane hovered. Persistent, strong winds weakened and smashed structures. Another perspective will add details of those days of horror.
Donald’s sister, Audrey Saunders, told Joy Lowe Jossi in a telephone interview:
My brother Donald was born 1924 in the stone hotel building that dad had owned. After Donald’s birth, mother was not well. The doctor said that she needed to live where she could breathe the fresh air. That’s when daddy built the house at the seaside. It stands today.
I was 10 years old when the 1932 hurricane shook us at Green Turtle Cay for three days and three nights. Donald was eight years.
Our house, at the water’s edge, held fast. The separate dining room building fell. It blew away into the sea. Sammy Sawyer told us that he watched it float away.
Afraid, we left our house and went to Aunt Lorrie’s house. Both fathers were absent. Mother held Donald close. She paced the room alongside Donald, his hand in hers. Her lower legs and feet swelled from the long days on them.
My daddy and a group of men were on a fishing trip, caught away in the northern cays—Uncle Norwood, Uncle Cecil…and more. We kept watch with every boat that appeared, hoping that the men might return.
During the hurricane, people moved from one house to another for safety. Hartley Key’s roof fell in—some men passed children from one to another and into a dining room window.
After the storm, lots of people slept in our house for shelter—Harold Hodgkins and his sister Nellie, and more…
Besides the hurricane terror, concern reigned for Donald’s father and the group of men caught far away at sea. Missing—ten heads of families. Did they perish in the hurricane? The trauma that gripped hearts imprinted lifelong memories. Exposed, the stranded men survived the hurricane. They took shelter under the canvas of the boat that they dragged ashore. How did the 1932 hurricane impact this eight-year-old boy, Donald?
Donald’s schoolteacher Herbert Roberts and his young bride Emma along with Herbert’s parents took refuge in the stone kitchen of the teacher’s residence (now the Albert Lowe Museum property). Next door, the Captain Hartley Roberts’ large house sheltered nearly a hundred people, including my Dad.
Donald told his sister-in-law Joy Lowe Jossi…
Medical and other relief came from Nassau. The Nassau Board of Works sent Mr. Charles Harry Roberts to erect on the same hilltop site a new school building. The building is still in use. Mr. Harry Robert’s son, Junior Roberts, and I, became friends.
Herbert Roberts (1911-2003) served the Green Turtle Cay community as teacher 1931-1943 with assistant Amy Lowe Roberts. These fine leaders influenced Donald and my Dad.
Donald completed his foundational education at the Green Turtle Cay All-Age School at the age of 16, two years longer than the typical legal age 14. The teacher, R. Herbert Roberts, told his young male students of available jobs at Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera. A wealthy American, Austin Levy, had developed Hatchet Bay Plantations, a dairy and poultry farm.
A local Bahamian newspaper reported:
In 1936 American Austin Levy purchased 2,000 acres of land at Hatchet Bay and started the successful farm that supplied the Bahamas with all of its milk, poultry, eggs and ice cream. Alice Town residents were fully employed.
In 1940, Dwight Roberts, Preston Albury, and Donald Saunders went to work at Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera. After a few months, Donald left Hatchet Bay. A surprise awaited him on arrival in Nassau. He discovered that his parents and family had come on the mail boat to stay (no cell phones back then). His older sister, Audrey, came to work at the Registrar General’s Office. Donald’s parents kept their house at Green Turtle Cay many years. Around this same time, my Dad and Grandma Bessie also relocated to Nassau.
In Nassau, Mr. Arthur Sands of Purity Bakery hired Robbie Saunders, his former classmate at Boys’ Grammar School. Uncle Robbie, and his son, Donald, worked at Purity Bakery. Bicycles transported Uncle Robbie and Donald to and from Purity Bakery, located on South Market Street just beyond the historic Gregory Arch landmark.
Through the years more Saunders family members joined the bakery crew: Donald’s brother Cedric, some nephews, and Charlie Lowe, spouse of Donald’s sister Deloris.
Donald proved himself reliable and eventually became part owner of Purity Bakery.
A family member says:
Donald, a capable, quiet person, was not given to small talk. He’d tackle any task. On-Call 24-hours, the bakery operation depended on him. If a machine faltered at night, Donald was called. He repaired and maintained the machines. This I could not imagine for him—the person I knew wore long-sleeved white shirt and tie with jacket. Could those hands tinker with grease and oil? Yes. Those strong hands showed no sign of all that they did.
He knew that he had cousin connections with Nassau businessmen Harold Saunders, Postmaster Claude Saunders, and Joseph S. Johnson, as well as Roland Saunders with Burdines of Miami. Historical records reveal Saunders families at Harbour Island, Eleuthera, a century before some moved to Abaco.
In Nassau, Donald lived across the street (Sears Road) from his future wife, Natalie Belle Lowe. From her front porch she would watch the stately, well-dressed young man who worked at Purity Bakery.
Natalie was the second of seven children born to Fanny and Clerihew Lowe of Nassau, formerly of Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas.
Natalie was the personal secretary to attorney Godfrey Higgs at the law firm of Higgs and Johnson.
Natalie refused to date Donald until he committed his life to Christ. On November 24, 1954, he attended a tent crusade where Scottish evangelist Bill Patterson conducted meetings. Donald placed his faith in God that evening. Soon afterwards a courtship with Natalie ensued.
On October 7, 1955, Donald, 31, and Natalie tied the knot at Shirley Heights Gospel Chapel in Nassau.
Three children, two girls and a boy, were born to this union. In June 1965, the family faced adversity with the premature birth of the youngest child. Weighing two pounds, two and a half ounces, the preemie boy Paul had to be airlifted to Miami for care. Dr. Meyers Rassin’s wife, Nurse Rosetta, accompanied the infant.
Donald’s strong family commitment stepped up when a need arose. He demonstrated care for each person. To his sister Audrey’s sons, he became a father figure.
Donald did self-effacement for the higher purpose. In the church group at Nassau’s Shirley Heights Gospel Chapel on Mount Royal Avenue, he supervised construction projects for the church. His home in Nassau included an apartment often used by missionaries.
At the age of 43 years, Donald retired from Purity Bakery upon its sale to Continental Baking Company in 1967. He continued to be a prudent businessman with investments.
In 1972, the family moved to Hollywood, Florida, where they joined the Hollywood Bible Chapel. Donald served as an elder, oversaw building renovations, taught Bible study classes, and preached to local congregations.
Meticulous in his work, his firm belief followed God’s Word, even when it was not popular to do so. He believed in not elevating any earthly man, but in all things to give God the preeminence.
After they moved to Florida, Donald’s son recalled his dad taking him and his sister to a lake to sail. Donald explained how to ‘tack’ and the way to scull—skills he had learned as a boy at Green Turtle Cay.
Donald was a faithful and devoted husband to wife Natalie for 41 years. She assisted him in sermon preparation. A wonderful father, he taught by word and example.
In 1995, Donald was diagnosed with cancer. Donald’s faith remained strong. In pain, he possessed inner peace from his Heavenly Father. In September 1996, Donald was called into the presence of the Lord he learned to love. Lanny Evans, a family friend, wrote and presented the following tribute at Donald’s funeral.
I turn the dial back to the year 1884 and to life for some on the isolated island of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas. At that time Queen Victoria reigned over the United Kingdom of Great Britain – this included our Bahamas colony. Grover Cleveland won the presidential election in the United States, and the cornerstone was laid for the arrival of Statue of Liberty. The US Consular Reports, accounting for exports (in dollars) to the United States provides a glimpse of exports from Green Turtle Cay in their 1884 report. Sniff the aroma of those pineapples!
My great grandfather, Wesley Curry (Pa Wes) celebrated his 19th birthday in February that year. Later in November, he and great grandmother, Lilla Carleton Curry, welcomed a baby girl, Eudora “Dora” Isabel Curry. Before long Dora played on the shores of New Plymouth while her dad undoubtedly contributed to those exports with his farming and fishing skills.
In 1887, their second child, a son, was born. However, this son’s unfortunate death in just a few months brought heartache to this young couple. The death register noted the cause of death as “Teething.” Pa Wes and Ma Lilla persevered through this adversity and were blessed with four more children. The last child, my grandmother, born in 1903.
A month before my grandmother was born, her older sister, Dora, married a Green Turtle Cay seaman, William Bramwell Roberts. He had outstanding blue eyes. Pa Wes, unable to write, gave his consent on the marriage register by his “X” mark.
Dora and William’s union produced seven children. Tragedy claimed the lives of three of them. Roy died from a ruptured appendix when he was seven. His brother, Hubert, fell as a toddler and died from a head concussion. The youngest child, Effie, died about six weeks after birth.
The four surviving children, Vernie, Tessie, Bertha and Anthony grew up on the shores of Green Turtle Cay with their first cousin, my Dad, John. Years later, Anthony pursued Dad to be the General Manager of a furniture store in Nassau. The business grew over a period of 20 years before Dad retired and moved to Florida.
Dora’s husband, William, descended from a long line of seaman – his father and grandfather were sea captains. The Category 3 Hurricane of August 1871 that struck Abaco killed William’s grandfather and two of his uncles, William and Thomas, plus 20 other mariners. This disaster was noted in The Wesleyan Missionary Notices for the Year 1871 (Fourth Series, Volume III, London, Printed By William Nichols, p. 198). On September 18, 1871, Reverend Henry Bleby reported the following:
The damage on the 16th was confined chiefly to Abaco. Mr. Jordan thinks that the hurricane was as severe as that of 1866. The Mission premises at Green Turtle Cay have not suffered much; but the loss throughout the island and amongst the spongers has been very sad. Twenty-three men from the Cay have lost their lives, leaving fourteen families destitute. One poor women lost her husband and two sons.
While the specifics of this calamity have been lost over time, the death register provides a visual of a community’s sorrow. Many young men, perhaps more than one ship’s crew, lost their lives in that hurricane. William’s grandfather (and namesake), the first and oldest on the death register list, may have been the captain of a vessel that floundered in the storm. The Florida Keys Sea Heritage Journal, Volume 15, Number 4 states that “he (William Sr.) and his sons William Jr. and Thomas went out fishing one day and never came back.” Dora’s father-in-law, Ned Roberts, continued his family’s exploration legacy as captain of a cargo ship. Ironically, Captain Ned was also lost at sea in 1900.
William worked on the Abaco mail boat S/V Albertine Adoue operated by the Roberts family. While William explored the seas, Dora managed a small store in their front yard. She sold candy, gum, basic textiles and dry goods and tobacco. When a kerosene refrigerator was added, cold sodas made a treat on a hot summer’s day.
Dora and William lived on Green Turtle Cay until moving to Nassau during the 1950’s.
A former Green Turtle Cay resident shared the following memories with me:
Dora and William had a small “convenience store” in front of their home. During summer nights they, along with a few others, would sit outside the shop on benches and serve customers until they retired for the night. During the afternoons, school children flocked to their little store as they carried quite an assortment of candies. Mr. William was a poet. He would stop the school children to repeat poetry he memorized. He walked with a cane.
A granddaughter shared these memories:
Grandpa’s father, Ned Roberts, was a ship captain, while Grandpa William worked on boats as a crew member. He’d tell me stories about the places where he had been. He was the best grandpa! He had a good voice. He and I would sit at the table and sing hymns by lantern light.
In 1957, their daughter Bertha, her husband and children moved into her parent’s Nassau residence. They provided care for their ailing parents along with Tessie and Anthony. When my parents would visit their home in Nassau, Uncle William would use the hook of his walking cane to latch on to my older brother’s leg.
Another granddaughter shared these memories:
Grandpa was the sweetest and kindest man I know. He was a quiet man. Never spoke a harsh word. Grandma was the opposite. She had a quick temper. He was a tall man who loved to sit on the porch smoking his pipe. The grandkids would fuss and get mad with each other for we all wanted to help him light his pipe. I loved to smell his tobacco when he would puff away.
Grandma died in 1959 after she suffered from a stroke. One night, after her death, the housekeeper put Grandpa to bed. We could hear him talking in his bedroom. As the housekeeper headed to check on Grandpa, a gust of wind shut the door. She opened the door and asked him who he was talking to. He said that he talked to Dora and that she asked him if he was ready to go home. Grandpa died shortly after.
The ocean explorer still talked with his helper Dora as he sailed on to his heavenly home.
In his “A Psalm of Life,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reflects…
Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another, Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, Seeing, shall take heart again.
On September 28, 1951 in West Palm Beach, Florida, James and Albertha “Bertha” Hatfield announced the arrival of their second child, James “Jay” William Hatfield. Bertha’s mother, Dora Curry Roberts, and my Grandma Bessie were two of the five Curry siblings born to Pa Wes and Grandma Lilla. Consequently, Jay and I are second cousins.
In his early years, Jay lived in Miami before moving to Nassau in 1957 with his parents and two siblings, Joan and Larry. His grandparents needed care, and Jay’s mom, Bertha desired to help her siblings, Tessie and Anthony, care for their ailing parents. In Nassau, Jay attended the St. Thomas Moore school until the family moved back to Florida in 1965.
My parents often visited Jay’s parents and grandparents in their home off Centerville. During these visits, Jay and his siblings would shoot marbles on the floor with my older brother and sister. The families also enjoyed beach time together. Jay’s sister recalls…
Every holiday all of the family would go to an area on South Beach in Nassau for a day of picnicking and swimming. I remember your family was there a few times. We would bury the watermelons or throw them in the water to cool them down. We feasted on all the normal Bahamian food. My uncle had a small covered area to keep the food and a changing room as well.
Jay and Larry were your typical mischievous brothers and kept their Uncle Wilbert “on his toes.” He would reprimand them for climbing the trees in the neighborhood, especially the large tamarind tree down the street. When the boys deserved a spanking, they would double their long pants to lessen the impact.
Jay started his own business at the age of seventeen working with tropical fish. He did not have a farm at the time and would purchase from other farmers to ship to his customers. He eventually started his own farm, Jay’s Tropical Fish Farm, and shipped fish daily from the Tampa Airport. He later moved his operations and shipping closer to town and eventually had several employees joining him to run the operation.
Jay traveled to Central and South America, including Brazil and down the Amazon River to see the different fish there. His farm was the first to import South American fish to the United States. He shipped beautiful fish all over the world, including Japan and Canada. One particular fish, called the Black Ghost, had a fin underneath that ran from head to tail. Jay’s farm was the first to have this beautiful black and white fish.
An excerpt from his eulogy…
On Saturday, August 8, 2015, James “Jay” William Hatfield, Sr., passed away at 63. A resident and active member of the Ruskin community for many years, Jay spent his later years traveling to Central America, where he made a home in Nicaragua.
Born in West Palm Beach, Jay spent his early life in the Bahamas developing a passion for the tropical lifestyle and fishing. His hard-working demeanor drove him to the farms of Central Florida as a teenager and eventually led him to establish a successful fish farming business in Ruskin, Florida. By the age of 40, he had traveled the Caribbean and Central America, making many friends and becoming a regular visitor. An imaginative entrepreneur, he had an ongoing list of many ingenious and some downright hilarious ideas paired with the contact list and work ethic to achieve. His unique style, sense of humor, gentle heart and humble demeanor were unforgettable. His kind soul and vivacious spirit will continue to inspire his family for generations to come.
I am always amazed and blessed on each blog’s journey to search for the puzzle pieces of folks who meant so much to my Dad, John Wesley Lowe. Like him, I use that loving term, “our heritage.”
First-hand interviews are typically not an option since most of these kinfolk have departed. I search the internet and through email and of course, FaceBook connect with cousins around the world. Each connection provides unique pieces to this biographical puzzle of a loved one. Without the box cover image of the final product, the search to locate pieces can span months, if not years. The arrival of each new piece brings a renewed excitement for the finished product. Corners and edge pieces are the coolest! While my tendency is to locate every piece of this 5000+ puzzle, I realize the need to display the framework so I can solicit more pieces and encourage others to preserve their family’s roots. Here’s one of the many puzzle frames I lay out on the table…
On October 27, 1894 a second daughter, Mary Edith Curry, arrived into the family of Pa Wes and Ma Lilla. Dad affectionately called her Aunt Edie. Ma Lilla died in her 40s, perhaps around 1913. I speculate that Edie, the middle of 5 children, would have been around 19 and no doubt a huge help to Pa Wes with raising younger sisters, Emmie and Grandma Bessie.
On the day after Christmas (known as Boxing Day in the British Colony of the Bahamas) in 1914, Aunt Edie tied the knot with Gilbert Robinson “Robbie” Saunders in St. Peter’s Church on Green Turtle Cay. Born April 22, 1892, he was fourth of the six children given to James “Jimmy” Benjamin Saunders and Lydia “Lyddie” Jane Sweeting.
Uncle Robbie descends from one of the core lines in the Bahamas— the SAUNDERS surname traces back to 1700. Robbie’s great grandfather, Uriah Saunders, born in Harbour Island, moved to Green Turtle Cay, perhaps after the 1805 hurricane that devastated Harbour Island. Uriah was a successful farmer and a shipwright. The remains of a Carrara marble stone plaque about him sits at Green Turtle Cay, Abaco’s museum. It reads…
to the memory of
Uriah Saunders, Esq.,
who departed this life
on the 22nd August, 1849
in the 57th year of his age.
He has left a widow and five children to mourn his loss.
His end was sudden and unexpected,
but for the solemn event he was blessedly prepared.
He was converted to God through the instrumentality
of the late Wesleyan Missionaries
when about 23 years of age, and from that
period held fast the hope of the Gospel.
He was a zealous advocate for and the unchanging friend of TEMPERENCE.
For industry, honesty and moral worth,
he was held in universal esteem and
finished his course on earth
in the full triumph of faith.
Oh death where is thy sting,
Oh grave where is thy victory.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.
When Uncle Robbie was about 10 years of age, his mother died. In 1903, his older sister, Genie (Eugenia Maud), married Zachary Taylor of Nassau. He owned a drapery manufacturing store on George Street. Genie, an easy-going woman, bore 8 children for Zach. And when her mother died, she took Robbie to live with her family and attend Boys Grammar School in Nassau. Fellow classmates included Etienne Dupuch, later SIR, knighted 1965 (editor of The Tribune) 1899-1991, Alfred Francis Adderley (attorney), Thaddeus Augustus Toote (attorney), and Arthur Hall Sands 1893-1957 (Purity Bakery owner).
Like his sister Genie, Robbie was a quiet gentleman. He returned to Green Turtle Cay around the age of 20. During the Norman’s Castle Lumber Mill years, Uncle Robbie worked as a policeman. Aunt Edie proudly proclaimed in her unique pronunciation, “He had a badge and carried a pistol.” During the Sept 1932 hurricane, he was “down the shore” (northwest shore of Abaco) with a group of men. Exposed, they took shelter under the boat that they dragged ashore.
Aunt Edie and Uncle Robbie were blessed with five children, Sybil, Deloris, Audrey, Donald and Cedric. Dad and first cousin, Donald, were only a year apart in age. As young boys on the Cay, they spent countless hours together attending the All-Age School under the tutelage of Mrs. Amy Roberts and Herbert Roberts. Of course the boys engaged in a little afterschool tomfoolery on the shores of this north Abaco island settlement.
Edie and Robbie’s two oldest children, Sybil and Deloris, were the talk of the town with their double wedding on May 6, 1939. In the new wooden Methodist Church—the original large, quarried stone edifice fell in the 1932 hurricane—the young, single English minister, William Charles Dyer performed the marriage ceremony. No doubt Grandma Bessie and Dad were in attendance at her nieces’ unique double wedding (the following year the minister would marry Diana Higgs from Spanish Wells).
Around 1940, the Saunders family moved to Nassau. Their youngest daughter, Audrey, had heard of a job at the Registrar General’s office. Her older brother, Donald, had worked at Hatchet Bay Plantations on Eleuthera just a few months. He decided to move to Nassau. On arrival in Nassau, he discovered that his parents and family had come on the mail boat to stay (no cell phones back then). Around this same time, Dad and Grandma Bessie also relocated to Nassau.
In Nassau, Mr. Arthur Sands of Purity Bakery hired his classmate, Uncle Robbie, and Robbie’s son, Donald, to work at Purity Bakery. Uncle Robbie rode his bicycle to and from Purity Bakery located on South Market Street. Soon his son-in-law, Charlie Lowe, spouse of Deloris, joined the bakery crew.
Memories from a granddaughter of Edie…
Ma loved to cook. She would have our family and Uncle Cedric’s family over each Sunday for lunch as long as she was able. She enjoyed making johnnycakes and guava duffs. I’ve never had another guava duff as good as hers.
She believed in staying out of the sun. If any of us kids got sunburned, she put us in the tub with water and vinegar. What a smell! Ma also had a folksy cure for all ills. I remember drinking many cups of mint tea made from mint grown in her yard.
Although seldom leaving her home in the later years, she kept busy. She swept her large porch and front steps each day. When she could no longer take care of herself, she moved in with her daughter, Deloris. Ma never liked doctors or hospitals, and my recollection is she died in Aunt Deloris’ home.
A cousin recalls…
Edie had a feisty side. Her loud fuss with neighborhood children confiscated any ball that crossed her wall. She’d hold the ball high. Refused to return it.
The children played in a circle that faced her front door. One day Dr. Hugh Quackenbush came out from a patient visit. He greeted the boys with, “My turn!” He took the bat. One threw the ball. He whacked it hard. Through Edie’s screen door went the ball, into the house!
“Go, get it,” ordered the doctor. Not one boy would venture into the gate and house. So there went Dr. Quackenbush—into the house! He retrieved the ball. He threw the ball back. The boys stood in awe.
Edie served her family with all her heart. When grandchildren came, she sewed pretty dresses for Margaret at Green Turtle Cay. Edie would call the neighbor girl, Val Taylor, to come and help her. She said that Val was the size of Margaret, so she had Val put the dress on for fitting. Later, when her grandsons lived next door, she showered love on them.
A great granddaughter of Edie also adds…
She baked yeast rolls and johnnycake for her whole family every Saturday. She had a huge kidney mango tree in her yard and loved to give mangoes to all the grandchildren and great grandchildren.
In his senior years, Uncle Robbie would attend Shirley Heights Chapel on Mount Royal Avenue. He sat towards the back in his quiet demeanor. A family diary noted, 29 Dec 1960. Mr. Robbie Saunders professed to be saved this pm. Like his esteemed forebear Uriah, in conversion Uncle Robbie prepared for his eternal future in Heaven.
Uncle Robbie died in June 1970, a year after I was born. However, Aunt Edie lived to the ripe old age of 91. As a young boy, I tagged along with my Mom and Dad to visit her. She was tender and loving with a smile every time she saw us. The scarf she draped and wore around her head intrigued me. Why did she wear it? I learned that it covered a large tumor on her jaw. Her disdain of doctors prevented any sort of treatment. Ironically, her grandmother, Romelda Lowe Carleton, had two jaw tumors. I pause to recall a personal surgery to remove a growing tumor from the same region on my jaw. Might there be a genetic trace?
Aunt Edie departed this world in November 1985. She lived the longest of the five children of Pa Wes and Ma Lilla. I always appreciated seeing Aunt Edie, perhaps it gave me a tangible, visible sense of her sister, Grandma Bessie, who I never met.
Will you come to the table and fit more pieces into the puzzle picture of Edie Curry and Robbie Saunders? Stay tuned.
Y2K…who can forget the anticipation of watching the calendar roll forward to the year 2000? Now rewind the clock back 100 years to find Pa Wes with an “expecting” Ma Lilla perched on the porch of their Green Turtle Cay cottage, pondering a similar anticipation while ushering in the New Year 1900.
The oldest child, Dora, blossoming into a beautiful, fifteen year-old teenager, instinctively helped her expectant mother with younger siblings, Herman and Edie, 9 and 5, respectively. As August rolled around closing out another hot island summer, this Curry family welcomed a new addition, Emma Louise.
At age seventeen, Aunt Emmie married widower Thomas Hutchings Pinder, son of mariner, John Frederick Pinder and Euphemia Russell. Thomas and Emma raised three children along the shores of Green Turtle Cay. In 1935, Thomas passed away, leaving a young widow, who with her three children, left the Cay and settled on Shirley Street just outside the city of Nassau. New neighbors, Mr. & Mrs. G. Basil Lowe (Dad’s future in-laws) welcomed this widow and her family.
Aunt Emmie was special to Dad, who recalled her as having “a sweet personality” evidenced by her love and hospitality displayed while Dad transitioned from the Cay to the city life in Nassau. Dad boarded with Aunt Emmie when Pa Wes was transported to Nassau for medical treatment. During this difficult period of watching an ailing and weakening grandfather leave this world, these Green Turtle Cay cousins bonded even closer.
Emmie’s youngest daughter, Ruth, the closest to Dad in age and disposition, stayed in contact with Dad even after she moved to the United States. I remember as a teenager, Ruth mailed several pictures of Curry relatives to Dad. The most cherished and treasured picture be being the only known picture of our Curry patriarch, Pa Wes.
No surprise that Emmie would find love again from a widower, Lockhart Moree, son of Joseph and Adelaide Moree with roots in Long Island, Bahamas.
On May 1, 1958, cancer took the life of Aunt Emmie at the young age of 57. In recent years (thanks to the internet), I’ve been able to locate and connect with only one of her descendants, a grandson who now lives a few hours away…time for a road trip. As second cousins, we must keep the legacy alive.
After publishing my last post, my cousin, Amanda, shared with me the photo below from the same resource mentioned in my last post. This death register shows the name (H. Herman Curry), date of death (June 30, 1888) and cause of death (teething) for this “unknown” Curry child of Wesley & Lilla Curry. No surprise that two years later in 1890, they would name their next child, Thomas Herman Curry.
During the 1980’s, my interest in family history started to perculate. As a teenager, I was fascinated by Dad’s boyhood stories about life on an out island, and as you would expect, his stories included names of family and friends that impacted him, both in Green Turtle Cay and Nassau. I took crude, handwritten notes as he explained their relationship to me. Needing to visualize faces, my pursuit for photographs began. However, a camera was considered a “luxury item” on this remote island, which explained the scarcity of pictures. Hurricanes often destroyed the few pictures that did exist.
Thirty years later, we are overwhelmed with the capabilities that technology advancements provide from digital photography, to online forums and research tools, to websites, email and FaceBook that allow us to connect, collect, share, inquire and research from devices as small as a phone (which can also function as a camera!)
For those that may not be aware, one of these tools that has continued to spark my interest in research is an image collection stored by Family Search. This resource has helped to confirm dates, proper names and identify parents, cause of death, occupation, etc. The searching process is tedious, but I have often compared family research to an archaeologist’s excavation site.
A CASE STUDY…the photo above is a sample page from the Birth Registers, indicating a son born to Pa Wes and his wife Lilla on August 14, 1887. Collective family knowledge only recalled one son of Wes and Lilla, Herman, born April 21, 1890. This additional child, a son, was discovered while I was searching for other records. Searching the death records would possibly confirm that this son died as an infant or early toddler, a tragedy that often occurred during those times.
Bahamas, Civil Registration, 1850-1959. (Civil registration, including births, marriages and deaths, for the Bahamas)
This collection will include records from 1850 to 1959. The records include births, marriages, and deaths from civil registration in different districts of the Bahamas. Earlier records are handwritten in narrative style; later records are handwritten in formatted records. The text of the records is in English. Records are listed in chronological order.
While family research involves a combination of methods and tools, this one by far has been most rewarding for me! If you have a few hours to spare and a specific curiosity, grab a cup of coffee and let the search begin.