During the summer’s dead heat of 1858, Green Turtle Cay residents John Lowe and Rebecca “Becky” Saunders welcomed their first son, John Aquilla Lowe. With three older girls ages 2-6 and no modern conveniences, Becky kept occupied. Encouragement and aid reached out from the hands of the close-knit New Plymouth community known to support each other. Father John felt the hope of his son’s future helping hands to one day farm the challenging sandy soil and fish the Abaco seas.
John and Becky followed a common island practice to name the firstborn male in honor of the father. Paired with an unusual middle name, John Aquilla Lowe, we affectionately know as Grandpa Johnny, my paternal great-grandfather.
John and Becky later added two more sons and another daughter, a complete seven. Like many families on the Cay, the men farmed land situated on islands of the Abaco chain. Travel from Green Turtle Cay to these properties required a sailboat, calm seas and suitable winds to speed passage. Some farmed on the largest island in the Abaco chain commonly called the “Mainland,” a two and half mile sailboat journey. Family tradition indicates Lowe farmland existed north on Munjack Cay. Here they grew fruits and vegetables, even pineapples. This fruit-bearing bromeliad thrived in the sandy low quality soil of the islands and was a popular export commodity during that era.
While in his early twenties, Grandpa Johnny courted a beautiful, young lady, Minnie Curry. Her 2x great-grandmother was Hope Town matriarch Wyannie Malone, a Loyalist who migrated from the Carolinas during the 1780’s.
John and Minnie united in holy matrimony during the mid-1880s. It is said that the ugliest man on the Cay married the prettiest woman on the Cay. Curry women were known for their striking black hair and beautiful facial features.
In 1886 at the age of 27, Grandpa Johnny experienced a spiritual conversion at the island’s massive Methodist church in 1886. Built with hand-carved limestone from the local quarry, this 1200-seat edifice was destroyed during the devastating 1932 hurricane. Grandpa Johnny diligently studied the Bible and preached in the Methodist church.
John Aquilla and wife Minnie started their family. Island records identify four children – Osgood (1886), Edwin (1888), Mira (1890) and my grandfather, Howard (1898). Family tradition suggests that Minnie gave birth to eight children, including a son, Reggie and twin girls, Mamie and Maggie.
Also during this decade, the Plymouth Brethren movement initiated by Jacksonville street preacher Charles Holder came to the Cay. John and Becky Lowe along with their son John Aquilla’s embrace of the Gospel won the tag of some as ‘Holderites’.
On a 2016 trip to Green Turtle, I had the privilege to speak with a granddaughter of Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Minnie. I learned that…
In their early marriage days, Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Minnie spent time in Key West. Grandpa Johnny worked on one of the many schooners that sailed between the islands and Key West. Grandma Minnie missed her birthplace dearly. One day, while Grandpa Johnny was at sea, she and her young children made passage back to Green Turtle Cay. She left her husband a note of her intentions to stay on the Cay. He soon followed.
Tragedy struck during the summer of 1903. Grandma Minnie, in her late thirties, delivered a baby girl. The baby’s death is recorded in the island’s death register three weeks later (see below). A somber reminder of the primitive medical resources during that era. Family tradition tells that Minnie delivered twin girls and suggests the other twin girl died during childbirth.
Teenage son Edwin provided assistance at the family’s farm. He was caught in a surprise summer squall during this tragic 1903 summer. Edwin contracted a fever and passed away two weeks later. Grandma Minnie fell victim to the same fever. She died on August 2, 1903 at the age of 37. Dark sorrow engulfed Grandpa Johnny as he buried his wife and at least two of his children. These untimely deaths are recorded on the same page in the Bahamas Death Register (see below).
Widower Grandpa Johnny labored to care and provide for his three surviving children, now ages fourteen, twelve and five. No doubt the island community befriended the grieving family. Daughter Mira (age 12) played an integral role in raising her brother Howard (age 5).
Grandpa Johnny remained resolved to preach at the Brethren church. When 1910 rolled around, a new wave reached the island shores. The Dixon Pentecostal Research Center notes…
The first ministry of the Church of God outside the United States occurred when Bahamian Edmond S. Barr and his American-born wife, Rebecca, arrived in Nassau in November 1909. Robert M. and Ida Evans, along with Carl Padgett, joined them the following January. Robert Evans and Edmond Barr reportedly visited Green Turtle Cay in 1911 resulting in the conversion of Mira Roberts and the establishment of a mission there. Later appointed as national overseer, Carl M. Padgett returned to the tiny island in 1913 and set the church in order on July 24 with eight members.
Michael Swann in his newly published book, The Holy Jumpers: A Concise History of the Church of God of Prophecy in the Bahamas 1909-1974, notes that the first three members of the Church of God in the Bahama Islands included a (James) Ernest Lowe. This newly organized church commenced March 1910 in the capital city of Nassau with the help of American missionaries, Robert Evans and Carl M. Padgett.
Word of this spirited movement spread to the outer islands. Swann documented a mission work at Current, Eleuthera in 1910. James Ernest Lowe served as pastor of this church during its startup years. James Pearce and his family, prominent Methodists, were some of the inaugural Church of God converts.
In his book, Swann details the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement on Green Turtle Cay as early as November 1910. Robert and Iva Evans led an exploration visit to the Cay. Open-air street meetings were held on subsequent visits. Early converts included John Aquilla Lowe and his daughter Mira Lowe.
In June 1911, a new work was established on Green Turtle Cay and missionary W. C. Hockett designated Grandpa Johnny to oversee the start-up mission. During this same month John Aquilla’s daughter Mira married Green Turtle Cay native Captain Hartley Bernard Roberts.
The sister missions at Current, Eleuthera and Green Turtle Cay, Abaco supported each other during much opposition faced from others. While in this new phase of life, Grandpa Johnny found love again. In April 1912, he married Mildred ‘Millie’ Elizabeth Pearce, daughter of James Pearce, one of the inaugural members of the Church of God congregation at the Current settlement in Eleuthera.
During a missionary visit to Green Turtle Cay, Swann recounts in his book the following:
On July, 21, 1913, Carl and Eva Padgett, along with Sam F. Guthrie and Ernest L. Simmons, arrived on New Plymouth aboard the schooner Albertine captained by Hartley B. Roberts. The newly formed Pentecostal band, along with other locals, assisted Padgett and his entourage with adequate accommodations and rented a hall for the nightly “tarrying” meetings. Padgett and his accompanying missionaries preached “street services” and conducted house-to-house prayer meetings. In his official capacity as State Overseer and Bishop, Carl M. Padgett set the Church in order on July 24, 1913, with eight members.
After my correspondence over many years and several layers of permission, the Dixon Pentecostal Center provided me with digital copies of certain pages from the minutes of the Green Turtle Cay Church of God.
In 1985, the faded picture below surfaced in a publication of the Church of God World Missions. Found in the Bible of overseer, Carl M. Padgett after his death, this photograph depicts the only known image of Grandpa Johnny.
As evident in the above photograph, Grandpa Johnny started a ‘second’ family with his new bride. Their union was blessed with five children, John Estwick, Bernard, Ashlin, James Homer and Iris Isabel.
In the following years, Grandpa Johnny received several recognitions and endorsements from the Church of God including ordained Deacon, Evangelist and District Overseer for the sister missions at Current, Eleuthera and Green Turtle Cay, Abaco.
In the early years, the assembly of worshipers met in private homes, including that of Grandpa Johnny, Captain Hartley Roberts and Howard Lowe. In 1922, a small piece of waterfront property was purchased for a church site. The tiny piece of property was not large enough to accommodate a modest church structure. Next door church members, Howard and Bessie Lowe, donated a portion of their adjacent property to enable the commencement of construction. The completed structure had an upstairs two-room chamber for visiting missionaries.
Howard Lowe, Grandpa Johnny’s youngest son from his first marriage, joined the congregation in 1914 and served as clerk until his untimely death in 1927 at the age of 29. Howard’s wife Bessie Caroline Curry Lowe continued to serve in the church. She trimmed and filled the oil lamps and cleaned the floors before each service.
Towards the end of 1924, Grandpa Johnny’s health began to decline. On Friday, March 20, 1925 he fell asleep. The 1925 Bahamas Death Register identifies his cause of death as dysentery.
His son-in-law, Captain Hartley B. Roberts wrote the following:
On March 20, 1925 the death angel visited the Church of God at Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahama Islands and took away our beloved and faithful pastor, John Aquilla Lowe, age sixty-six years, eight months and eleven days.
Brother Lowe was converted about forty years ago while a follower of the Methodist church at this place. He later united with the Plymouth Brethren, among whom he had a good report and sought to live up to his profession. When the doctrine of the holiness reached these shores through Brother Edmund S. Barr and Brother Hockett, he at once became a seeker after truth and real Bible doctrine. When he saw the light on the same he embraced it and from that day to the day his departure, he stood firm and faithful for the doctrine and faith that was once delivered to the saints.
Through every storm of persecution and tribulation he stood unflinchingly to his post like the Apostle Paul of old. He was brought before magistrates of the law and was warned and threatened concerning this religion, but through it all the great God gave him power to stand and not be discouraged. It can be said that he almost gave his life for the Church here. Having five little children and not getting sufficient support from the Church he had to work very hard and many days he has come home from his farm feeling weak, worn and tired. But instead of staying home and taking rest he would dress himself and go hold services when only the good Lord knew his feeling.
He was sick about fourteen weeks and suffered greatly. In the early part of his sickness he prayed to the Lord that if it were His will to spare him a little longer to see his children grow up he would be glad, but when he realized that his call had come he resigned his children and all else and asked the Lord to take him out of his suffering.
We can truly say that we have lost a good pastor and this town has lost a good citizen, but we can thank God that we mourn not as those who have no hope for we expect if we be true and faithful that we will meet him again when the saints go marching home. He leaves to mourn a wife, eight children, and a host of relatives and friends.
The funeral service was conducted by Brother Baxter and his body was laid to rest in the home cemetery there to await the glorious resurrection morn when all that are asleep in Jesus will come forth to meet their loved ones never to say good-bye any more…
By one who loved him, his son-in law, Hartley Bernard Roberts.
During the devastating 1932 hurricane, my Dad, John Wesley Lowe, recalled that strong winds ripped off the church’s roof and hurled the church bell towards the middle of the island. The photo below depicts the catastrophic devastation on the island after the hurricane. Howard and Bessie’s home (bottom right corner), although knocked off its foundation into the street, remained miraculously intact. To the immediate right of their home, you witness the Church of God with no roof.
The photographs below depict the homes of John Aquilla Lowe, his son Howard Lowe and the Church of God over the decades since the 1932 hurricane.
A few months after Grandpa Johnny’s death, his son Howard and wife Bessie welcomed a healthy baby boy. In Grandpa’s honor, the new parents named their child after the rich legacy of this faithful servant and minister. Baby John W. Lowe, my Dad, spent the early years of his life in the Church of God on Green Turtle Cay. After he moved to Nassau and married, he continued to serve in various layman roles for several churches. Prior to my Dad’s death, he was blessed to see one of his grandchildren start a missions work in Nassau. The family legacy continues.