The Explorer’s Dora

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!Capture 1

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.

Eudora Curry MarriageDora 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.

Eudora Curry and William Roberts
William Roberts and Dora Curry Roberts. Photo courtesy of Joan Hatfield, granddaughter.

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.

1871 Death Register

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 and Dora’s home on Green Turtle Cay. Photo courtesy of Lisa McCoy, great granddaughter.

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.

William and Dora’s home on Green Turtle Cay (building to the left with the A frame roof). Photo courtesy of Joan Hatfield.

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.

Three of William and Dora’s children. From L to R – Tessie Roberts Key, Anthony Roberts, Bertha Roberts Hatfield. Photo courtesy of Joan Hatfield.
Dora Curry Roberts and William Roberts. Photo courtesy of Lisa McCoy, great, great granddaughter.
Dora Curry Roberts and William Roberts. Photo courtesy of Lisa McCoy.

……In Loving Memory of…… James W. Hatfield, Sr.

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.

My Mom on the left holding my sister. Jetty Lowe on the right holding her cousin, Jay Hatfield.
On the left, my Mom holding my sister. On the right, Jettie Lowe holding her cousin, Jay Hatfield.

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.

Jay 1
Jay on the left with younger brother, Larry, on the right.

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 2
Hatfield siblings: Larry, Joan and Jay (Left to Right)

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 3
Larry and Jay in Nicaragua.

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 James-Hatfield-1439292165to 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.

The Curry’s

The Curry surname has a rich heritage in Green Turtle Cay (GTC).  In the 1930’s William Curry Harllee devoted an entire section in his Kinfolks masterpiece to this family line, tracing back to loyalists during the Revolutionary War.  This family tree is massive and branches often are tangled with each other as one would expect in such a small community.  My grandfather Howard Lowe descends from the Curry line (one of the GTC’s matriarch’s Binky Curry Lowe), and my grandmother Bessie Caroline Curry Lowe descends from another branch of the Curry line.

Grandma Bessie Curry Lowe was the youngest of five children born to Thomas Wesley Curry aka Pa Wes (b. 1865) and his wife Lila/Lilla Carleton (b. 1866), the daughter of Romelda Jane Lowe from GTC and a Mr. Carleton from the USA.  We suspect Pa Wes married around 1883/1884 and over the following 20 years, five children would be born to this union:  Eudora Isabel (Aunt Dora) born in 1884 married William Bramwell Roberts; Thomas Herman (Uncle Herman) born in 1890 married Marion Mayfield Gates; Mary Edith (Aunt Edie) born 1894 married Gilbert Robinson Saunders; Emma Louise (Aunt Emmie) born in 1900 married Thomas Hutchins Pinder and Bessie Caroline (Grandma Bessie) born 1903 married Howard Lowe.

Eudora Curry and William Roberts
Eudora Curry and William Roberts
Herman Curry
Herman Curry
(photo compliments of Amanda Diedrick, great granddaughter)
Ronald & Edith Saunders
Ronald & Edith Saunders
(photo compliments of Mary McCluskey, granddaughter)
Emma Louise Pinder
Emma Louise Pinder
Grandma Bessie with Ashbourne Lowe and Janet
Grandma Bessie with Ashbourne Lowe and Janet

Over a hundred years later (and with the assistance of technology), the descendants of these five Curry siblings living throughout the Bahamas and the United States are now able to reconnect and share family stories of their ancestors.  Future posts will attempt to highlight each one of these siblings.  Stay tuned.

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

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.