Grandpa Johnny

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.

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1858 Bahamas Birth Register – Entry 2 – Eldest son, John Aquilla Lowe

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.

The 1884 US Consular Reports, accounting for exports (in dollars) to the United States
1884 US Consular Reports, accounting for exports (in dollars) to the United States from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco

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).

Minnie Curry Lowe death regiser
1903 Bahamas Death Register – Entries 1, 4 & 5

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. 

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John A. Lowe (Grandpa Johnny) appointed the pioneering pastor of the Church of God in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco. His wife Mildred (Millie) E. Pearce Lowe was elected as the first clerk.

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.

GTC First Assembly - John A. Lowe and Howard Lowe 2
Front Row (L to R) – Captain Hartley B. Roberts and wife Mira Lowe Roberts holding daughter Mizpah Roberts White, Overseer Carl M. Padgett, unknown, Mildred Pearce Lowe holding son John Estwick “Ekkie” Lowe. Back Row – unknown, William R. Franks, John Aquilla Lowe, Howard Lowe, Osgood Lowe.

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.

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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.

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Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum

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.

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Circa 1950 New Plymouth shoreline depicting the homes of John Aquilla and Mildred Lowe, Howard and Bessie Lowe and the Church of God (photo courtesy of Randy Curry).
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Photo courtesy of Randy Curry.
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Howard and Bessie Lowe’s yellow home sits two houses to the right of the large dock.  The Church of God is located to its immediate right – circa 1970’s (photo courtesy of Randy Curry).
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The Church of God building is on the far left.  The modest home in the middle belonged to Bernice and Irene Curry.  Bernice is pictured on the dock and wife Irene in the doorway of their home along with her sister, Annie (Curry) Lowe – circa 1970’s (photo courtesy of Randy Curry).

 

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Waterfront view during a 1992 New Plymouth visit with my wife and my parents.  The Church of God is the second building from the right (solid green door).  To its immediate left is the home of Howard and Bessie Lowe.

 

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My parents John and Doreen Lowe in front of Howard and Bessie Lowe’s original home where my Dad was born. The Church of God is to the immediate right (circa 1992).
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My parents in front of John Aquilla Lowe’s original home during a 1992 visit to Green Turtle Cay.

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.

 

Expedition to Paradise

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.

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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.

p-12_Brooks.pngOn 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.

Adventures on Eleuthera

Amidst 17th century religious and political turmoil that pushed the Pilgrim Fathers to leave England and settle in America,  approximately seventy Puritans led by Captain William Sayle fled the English colony of Bermuda to seek religious freedom in the Bahamas.  Often credited as the first English settlers in the Bahamas, these brave adventurers crossed the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean in a ship, the William.

As the ship neared the Bahama islands, it struck the notorious Devil’s Backbone reef.  One human life along with all provisions were lost.  The passengers and crew frantically swam to the island’s shore where they found refuge inside a limestone cave, traditionally known as Preacher’s Cave.

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These adventurers called the island Eleutheria (now Eleuthera), from the Greek word for freedom.

Puritans in Massachusetts learned about the misfortune of these Bermudian exiles, who were in desperate need of food.  In 1650, they shipped provisions to these starving emigrants.  In gratitude, the Eleutherian Adventurers sent the ship back to Boston filled with braziletto wood, a source of red dye. The proceeds from the sale of this wood was a large gift to Harvard College.

Preacher’s Cave stands as a reminder of the plight and price of freedom.   I share with permission my cousin Joy Lowe Jossi’s memoirs of her adventure in Eleuthera earlier this year…

Some messages flit in and fall. Others gather embellishment to make the original unrecognizable. Two solid rock messages emerged during my winter 2016 Bahamas stay. Pieces of the early Bahamas settlers took rock form for me during my six weeks of quiet delight at Spanish Wells on St. George’s Cay. My niece, Marie Pinder Ratcliffe, heard that I had not seen the Preacher’s Cave on the northern end of Eleuthera. This historic landmark is where the 1646 group of religious refugees sheltered after their ship tangled with the Devil’s Backbone reef. She decided that my love of the Bahamas people history needed a visit to Preacher’s Cave.  She planned my highlight experience.

We drove to the Spanish Wells dock in their van, parked and exited. A local operator’s small one-vehicle barge waited for us. He drove the van onto the barge. Secured it. We walked on.

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Our expedition group stood around the vehicle in transport. The younger barge operator-owner produced a chair for the senior passenger’s comfort-safety.  A short ride in the channel to the mainland of Eleuthera ensued.

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Atop the smooth, aqua, warm sea we glided. As I observed this entrepreneur’s business make-do’s, I chuckled to myself in recall of the slogan, It’s better in the Bahamas.

Single side ropes serve to keep us on board. Life jackets do not come with the barge package. Swim ability is expected. I happened to know that our group can swim. Upon arrival at the mainland, Grandma remained seated, watched the younger members clamber up the planks onto the dock. The offered hand of the barge operator helped me walk the plank. Marie’s husband, Richard, reversed the van off the barge. His obedient eye and hand on the wheel followed the  operator’s direction.            

With safe delivery on Eleuthera land, eight of us scrambled into the four-wheel tour car. Drove a few miles along the scrub bushes to the marked Preacher’s Cave turn off. What is the significance of Preacher’s Cave? From accounts that I heard and read over seven decades,  and an old unimpressive picture, I envisioned a small underground cave.

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We walked a trail that soon opened to a cleared area. What a surprise!  A giant cave opening loomed under a hill cover.

The cave entrance sits on ground level with wide open-arms welcome. Nothing like I had imagined. A hilltop roof runs above the cave. Trees grow on the rock mound.

This cave under a 30-40 foot high hill, sits only 150 yards from the shoreline! I listen and hear the ocean breakers roar on the Devil’s Backbone reef. The reef still rages a white froth message.  It reigns in this territory by its hidden underwater rocky threat.

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Marie or Richard took a photo of the van’s other occupants. Right to left: their daughters Nicole and Sarah, my son Dan, his son Noah and daughter Gracie, grandma.

We visited this cave of divine providence that offered refuge to the stranded survivors. Our younger explorers headed to the cave back. I sat on a fallen chunk of limestone at the entrance.  Soon I’m lost in wonderment to absorb the scene’s rich history. The sandy floor would serve well for rest after the shipwreck experience. The spacious room can easily accommodate more than 100 souls.  Facing east, I envision their new day rise to a warm sunshine smile.

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This photo, courtesy of Marie’s sister Helen Pinder, looks out of the cave entry along the path we walked.  Time and weather have opened a few holes in the cave roof to heavenly sunshine. Farther back in the cave, my family climbed rocks to a passage. Through one hole Dan and Noah climbed the cave rocks to the hilltop.  

We wished we could pinpoint the cave’s dig site done under the direction of Florida archaeologist Bob Carr. The DNA tested remains of dwarf bones reveal the fact of a Jewish match. Today at Spanish Wells, dwarfs continue to be born. Without asking, I know of at least six young dwarfs on Spanish Wells today among 1500 residents.  

A few miles east of Preacher’s Cave, we can reach Harbour Island. Many Bahamians trace roots to that location. Today an airport for north Eleuthera sits on the mainland between Harbour Island and Spanish Wells.  A good road links the two places. Boats assist passengers for both places. A fast ferry runs to Harbour Island and Spanish Wells daily from, and back to Nassau late afternoon.

On the inside, a 76-yr-old little girl jumps with glee for this experience on North Eleuthera. On the short walk to the beach, my eyes viewed the signal line of whitecaps above the reef. Local mariners have a wary respect for the Devil’s Backbone reef. Safety dictates distance.

Offshore the north Eleuthera mainland, the wide row of whitecap waves roll. Experienced mariners know that these indicate the presence of the Devil’s Backbone reef. It still waits to undo unsuspecting ships.  This treacherous area requires knowledgeable, wise seaman.  Impassable at times, the shoreline must be hugged to evade the reef.

Captain William Sayle, with a group from Bermuda in 1646, learned too late about this reef—the William wrecked here. One passenger only did not make it safe to the nearby shore. Once on land no doubt they scouted the terrain. Saw the green hill rise 30-40 feet. Close to the beach, and at ground level, a HUGE cave opening waited for them. In the 70-80 feet wide entry, I see God’s wide-stretched welcome. This shelter He prepared for them. I imagine and feel their grateful praises and songs for safe delivery from the Devil’s Backbone.

Who came to the rescue of these Eleutheran Adventurers? English merchants had financed the expedition. Our Father God of love provided them shelter. He gives faith for us to trust Him for our needed sustenance. Coconut milk and meat, abundant fish, wild berries, and more supply available. Virgin woods ready to cut. History records the fact of wood collected by the survivors and donated to build Harvard University in exchange for needed supplies.

A second solid rock story from our early Bahamas settlers lures my mind to sail along. West of Preacher’s Cave, and within sight of Spanish Wells, lies a point called Ridley’s Head. Who was Ridley? I’ve seen that early Bahamas surname RIDLEY in research records!  

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Yes, we find the name Daniel Ridley of Bermuda, born about 1630. His daughter Elizabeth Ridley married Daniel Pinder, son of Timothy Pinder. A guestimate gives Elizabeth Ridley and Daniel Pinder birth dates about 1660. They named a son Ridley Pinder, born about 1690. This Ridley Pinder named his son Daniel Pinder. Descendant generations in the Bahamas repeated the name Ridley Pinder.

Papa Daniel Ridley remains on watch for his Spanish Wells PINDER descendants – we see their houses in the photo background.

A few Pinder families—one in my maternal line—sailed northwest about 1800 to live at Great Abaco and joined the American Revolution Loyalist newcomers. Abaco is closer to Eleuthera than its 100-mile distance to Nassau. 

We note these solid evidences God has left for us. His divine sculpture stands through centuries in the brown, saltwater-weathered rock. This tall story looms 30-feet high in Ridley’s profile.  Our Almighty God preserves for us this rock history.

ridleys_head
1893 photograph of Ridley’s Head (courtesy of the University of Iowa library).

Today the Pinder surname dominates the Spanish Wells telephone directory pages. Do today’s Spanish Wells children know the truth etched in the name, Ridley’s Head? Have they learned to appreciate this landmark?

To descendants of Preacher’s Cave Dwellers—I am one—most interesting facts bubble up when we stir the pot. Paper trails show blanks. Dead ends now open with DNA fireworks glow. Brings bright hope in facts, while the sparkles fade and fall. New paths invite us. I am left with more questions. My mind search finds rest in the truth of our common fore parents, Adam and Eve. Related we are. Externals vary while we share common heart needs. Our Creator-Maker prompts the inner longing to discover our people. I find my life purpose when I turn to Him.

The reef encounter caused wrecks and loss. Who first found the nearby cave dwelling? Divine provision encourages us to forge ahead. Did the wreck result in the hardy, resilience found in our island people?

Fast forward to us in 2016. We seek to reconstruct family history. History does repeat itself.

My nephew Colin Lowe, instructed me, “We can see the distinct profile of Ridley’s Head from one vantage spot on the sea near the shore as we pass the rock en route from Harbour Island to Spanish Wells. I have a photo of it.” Colin shared his photo of the shoreline head, long known as Ridley’s Head. Wow! News to me. Engraved and preserved in rock by the Master Sculptor.

The color photo of Ridley’s Head promontory shows Spanish Wells on Saint George’s Cay in the background. As I walked the beach on Spanish Wells each morning, I watched the sun rise behind Ridley’s Head. Unknown to me was the fact that the man’s silhouette in rock-bold form lay with a message to us. Papa Ridley’s head stands as a historical marker of an Eleutheran Adventurer. His outlook declares to us, Beware of the Devil’s Backbone.

On a high rock point, Papa Ridley reminds his highly blessed and favoured descendants, Give assent to your pioneer parents. We are called to preserve in story the solid rock evidences left by our Father. The reminder to future generations almost causes me to hear Ridley sing, On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Life on Eleuthera was extremely hard. Some of the settlers returned to Bermuda.  Those resilient few who stayed established foundational Bahamian settlements including Spanish Wells and Harbour Island.

These are the earliest known beginnings of our roots in the Bahamas.

 

 

Like father…Like son

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‘s excitement 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.

herman-curry-2-birth-record-blog.jpg

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.

Herman Curry 1925.png

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.

Pa Herman and Gan Gan Marriage Registration

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.

Mae Gates Curry
Earliest known photo of May Gates Curry.  Courtesy of Amanda Diedrick.

 

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 Curry

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.

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Waterfront town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay prior to 1932.  Homes of siblings Herman and Bessie identified.  Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

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 structure was simple and unadorned — just four tiny rooms and an unfinished attic.

Sisters Lurey and Virginia Curry (circa 1940).  Daughters of Herman and Mae Curry.  Photo Courtesy of Amanda Diedrick.
Herman and May’s daughters, Lurey (left) and Virginia (right) circa 1940.  Photo courtesy of Amanda Diedrick.

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).

 Mae Gates Curry.JPG

 

Old Keg’s Fighting Thompsons

Bahamian history is rich with stories of locals who fought and even gave their blood to serve country and King.  Several years ago, I shared in the article The Price of Freedom a glimpse on one of those Bahamians, my cousin Warren Lightbourn.  It included a  treasured photo shown below that depicts a handsome Warren with four other courageous World War II servicemen – Hartis Thompson, Phillip Farrington, Garth Johnson, and George Moseley.  Like cousin Warren, the Garth Johnson and George Mosely gave the ultimate sacrifice in their deaths.

Warren Lightbourne and friends
Front L-R:  Hartis Thompson and Philip Farrington.  Back L-R:  Garth Johnson, George Mosely and Warren Lightbourn.*

I came across an vintage copy of the Bahamas Handbook that pictured this same photo in an article about the Abaconian Thompson brothers, who represented the Bahamas and the British Empire during World War II.  These Thompson names immediately sounded familiar to me. Perhaps I had heard Dad John Lowe’s voice recount a story.  Thus this quest began.

Bahamian genealogists suspect that John Old Keg Thompson was born around 1810 at Harbour Island, Bahamas. He married an Elizabeth Russell in 1830 at St. Matthew’s Church in Nassau, Bahamas.  In his autobiography I Wanted Wings, Leonard Thompson recounts the origin of the nickname Old Keg:

He (Old Keg Thompson) and a friend had gone turtle hunting on the east side of Hope Town.  In no time one was spotted and over the side Thompson went to catch the turtle.  His friend waited and waited in the boat, scanning the sea all around, but all he could see was a barrel drifting a long way off.  In desperation he decided to return to the village for help.

The search party was led by Joshua (Old Keg’s son) who, when he heard about the barrel, stopped and turned back.  “That’s no keg, that’s my father out there!” he exclaimed “Don’t you know he can stay underwater as long as a turtle?”

Old Keg’s great-grandson, mariner William Maurice Thompson*, was born before the turn of the twentieth century.  In 1914, he married Lena Muriel from the Abaco Albury family.  William ThompsonCaptain Maurice Thompson and Lena were was blessed with a large family of eight children.  They played along the harbor shores of Hope Town on Elbow Cay.  Its signature candy-striped, kerosene-powered, lighthouse majestically stood in the background.

Capt William Thompson
Captain Maurice Thompson

Hope Town was settled in the 1780’s by British Loyalists, some from the Carolinas, seekers of refuge after the American Revolutionary War.  The Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town summarizes the origins of the settlement as follows:

Some of the first settlers that came to Hope Town were Wyannie Malone and three of her children Ephraim, David and Young Wyannie who was married to  Jacob Adams.  Both Ephraim (Malone) and Jacob (Adams) had been Loyalist soldiers in South Carolina. In 1807 both of these men received large land grants on Elbow cay.

The deed below shows that Jacob Adams received 260 acres, for his services to King George the Third. deed

Four of Captain Maurice’s children –  Hartis, Leonard, Chester, and Maurice –  answered the call to fight the enemies of King George during World War II.  Because of their heroism, they were dubbed The Fighting Thompsons By Sir Etienne Dupuch, publisher of the Bahamian newspaper, The Tribune.

Below is a synopsis of these brothers.  I encourage you to click the links and read the books referenced in this post as you reflect on their contributions to the freedom we enjoy today.

Hartis Harvin Thompson (1915 – 1997)*

Hartis

Hartis was the eldest of the eight children.  As a volunteer, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF).

His natural athleticism won recognition as a physical fitness instructor.  After his service during the war, Hartis joined Nassau’s air traffic control in 1947.  He was appointed the first Bahamian Acting Director of the Civil Aviation in Nassau in 1953 and Director of Civil Aviation in 1956.  His predecessor, Captain Edward Mole, shared the follow thoughts about Hartis…

I sent for the senior air traffic control officer — one Hartis Thompson, a white Bahamian who had served with the RAF during the war. I told him that from the moment he was appointed Deputy Director, I relied on him to help me sort out our problems and keep the airport running smoothly.  Hartis proved to be a tower of strength, reliable and absolutely loyal.

Hartis is credited with planning, overseeing and building Nassau’s International Airport at Windsor Field , as well as airports on the family islands. The Nassau airport has been renamed the Lynden Pindling International Airport.  Hartis Thompson was appointed Permanent Secretary to the Bahama Islands Ministry of Transport in the late 1960s.

Leonard Maurice Thompson (1917 – 2008)*

Leonard joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). His book I Wanted Wings: The Autobiography of Leonard M. Thompson is an excellent and moving account of his heroism.

A 2013 article in The Abaconian  summarizes this hero as follows:

LeonardLeonard Thompson was born in Hope Town, Abaco, on 17 June 1917 and in his memoirs he observed that one day as a young boy everyone was given a holiday to watch the first seaplane land in Hope Town harbour.

It is that day that he attributed to affecting his future life. The plane had been chartered to bring in a doctor to attend the mother of Mr. J.W. Roberts who was very sick at the time. The pilot was Captain A. B. Chalk, an early pioneer of aviation in the Bahamas, and the young Leonard Thompson decided that day he would like to become a pilot like Capt. Chalk. Years later that dream did come true as Mr. Thompson went on to earn his wings.

When war broke out in Britain, Leonard Thompson felt it his duty to offer his services in the war effort. He traveled to Canada where he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and qualified as an aero engine mechanic.

After a while he was posted to Elementary Flying Training School and after months of training, in 1942, he finally earned his wings. He was then posted overseas along with 13 of his classmates of whom, sadly, only three returned at the end of the war. While flying as a bomber pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Capt. Thompson was shot down over Germany and detained in a prisoner of war camp for 18 months. Fortunately, he survived the ordeal and was happy to return to Abaco to his new wife and young son whom he had never seen.

After the war, Leonard obtained his commercial pilot’s license and joined Bahamas Airways in 1945.  Later on he started a charter flight company called Skyway Bahamas Ltd.

Richard Chester Thompson (1922 – 2012)*

Chester served in the British Royal Navy.  At age 23, Chester commanded the Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 527.  It was involved in the Battle of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Chester

Chester Thompson graduated from the University of Toronto in 1950 and married that same year.  When he returned to the Bahamas, he served as Out Island Commissioner at Fresh Creek, Andros. Upon the couple’s move to Nassau, Chester started his career in real estate.

At an early age, Chester had a love for reading.  He went on to author The Fledgling, a story about his birthplace in Hope Town, Abaco, and The Long Day Wanes … A Memoir of Love and War.

William Maurice Thompson, Jr. (1923 – 1966)*

Maurice was the fifth son and the youngest of this memorable quartet.  The Abaco Account newspaper article described his service as follows:

He was assigned to the North Atlantic Theatre aboard a destroyer based in England, Scotland and Iceland.  Then came a transfer to the Far East where he was posted successively in India, Burma and Ceylon.

MauriceOne of a bare dozen Royal Navy boys who proudly wore “Bahamas” shoulder patch, Maurice was honourably discharged at the war’s end.

He returned to the Bahamas and served in the Immigration Department in Nassau.  His political involvement included an appointment as Commissioner at the island of Mayaguana in the southern Bahamas.  His passion for his Abaco roots, he never lost.  As President of the Great Abaco Construction Company and head of the real estate company, Marsh Harbour Enterprises, he significantly promoted the growth and development of many Abaco communities including Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbour.

Maurice founded Abaco’s first publication in January 1964, titled The Abaco Account.  While on assignment in Nassau to cover Her Majesty’s visit, he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 43.

As noted above, Old Keg Thompson’s wife was the granddaughter of Jacob Adams and Wyannie Malone Adams.  This makes the Fighting Thompson brothers the 4th great-grandsons of Jacob and Wyannie Adams.  I too am a 4th great-grandson of Jacob and Wyannie.

As we enjoy an outdoor barbecue, a beach picnic, or just a lazy day indoors this weekend, let us not forget those who sacrificed much, even their lives, for our freedom.

*Source:  The Bahamas Handbook and Businessman’s Annual, A Dupuch Publication, 2007. 

Donald Robinson Saunders

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.

Ma Saunders Family
Widow Edie with her five children. Photo courtesy of Mary Saunders McCluskey, Donald’s daughter.

Back (L to R): Donald, Deloris, Cedric.  Front (L to R): Sybil, Edie, Audrey.

Donald Saunders Birtha.jpg
Entry #1 – Birth of Virginia Curry to Herman Curry and Mae Gates Curry / Entry #5 – Birth of Donald Saunders to Robbie Saunders and Edith Curry Saunders

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.

022 Don R Sdrs  .jpg
Donald R. Saunders.  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi.

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.

N Nat Marg garage roof Sdrs hse
Sisters Natalie (L) and Marg (R). Saunders home porch in the background (circa 1953).  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi

Natalie was the second of seven children born to Fanny and Clerihew Lowe of Nassau, formerly of Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas.

082 sweet Nat Marg
Sisters Natalie (L) and Marg (R) (circa 1954).  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi.

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.

084 Marg Donald Nat ~1954
L to R – Marg Lowe, Donald Saunders, Natalie Lowe (circa 1954).  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi

On October 7, 1955, Donald, 31, and Natalie tied the knot at Shirley Heights Gospel Chapel in Nassau.

Donald Saunders and Natalie Lowe Marriage.jpgThree 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.

DNM
Donald Saunders and Natalie Lowe Saunders with daughter Mary (circa 1959).  Photo courtesy of grandson, Christopher McCluskey.

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.

N Papa & Nat's fam 1993 bw
L to R – Brian McCluskey, Christopher McCluskey, Mary Saunders McCluskey, Natalie Lowe Saunders, Donald Saunders, Judy Saunders, Paul Saunders.  Seated in front – Clerihew Lowe (circa 1993).  Photo courtesy of Joy Lowe Jossi.

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.

DNSa
Donald Saunders and Natalie Lowe Saunders in front of Hollywood Bible Chapel (circa 1978).  Photo courtesy of grandson Christopher McCluskey.

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.

scan0078.jpg
Natalie Lowe Saunders and Donald Saunders (circa 1982).  Photo from collection of John and Doreen Lowe.

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.

“As We Knew Him”
Just a Man…
GOD’s Man
GOD’s Man of Purpose
GOD’s Man of Purposefully Planned Action
GOD’s Man Always Eager to Venture out for HIM
Just a Man…
But a Godly Man
A Man Who Knew the MIND OF GOD
Seeking IT with a Prayerful Passion
And a Zeal to Know HIS WILL and Do HIS WORK
And to See Others Brought Into the KINGDOM
Just a Man…
A Faithful Family Man
A Man Whose Heart and Soul
Glowed with the Warmth of GOD’s LOVE
Glowing for His Family, for You, for Me
Fueling and Firing His Every Activity
Just a Man…
But a Strong, Tall Friend
An Enduring, Faithful Friend
An Always Understanding Friend
A Forgiving Friend
A Friend Long on Godly Counsel and Time
Just a Man…
An “Assembly Man”
Committed to CHRIST’s CHURCH
A Man Who Loved GOD’s People
Burdened for Their Growth and Christian Maturity
Committed to Building – to the GLORY OF GOD
Just a Man…
But a Servant/Leader
A Student of the WORD
A Teacher of That Which He Had Learned
Faithful to Impart True Knowledge
A Wise Counselor, Applying the WORD to Life
Just a Man…
A Tender, Caring, Compassionate Man
A Generous, Giving Man
A Man of Wise Discernment
A Man of Common Sense
A Man Who Redeemed His Time
Just a Man…
But a Tireless Visionary
A “Maker of Things to Happen”
A Successful Man
An Example of a Man
A Trustworthy Man to All and to Whomever
Just a Man…
A Strong Man, Who Conveyed Strength
A Confident Man, Who Inspired Confidence
A Gentleman, Who Taught Meekness
A Righteous Man, Who Encouraged the Just
An Honest Man, Who Seeks Truth
Just a Man…
But a Blessed Man
A Greatly Favored Man
A Very Much Loved Man
Donald
As We Knew Him to Be
DRS
Donald R. Saunders (circa 1955). Photo courtesy of grandson Christopher McCluskey.

On the Street Where You Live

Pa Wes’ health continued to deteriorate and Grandma Bessie made the decision to seek treatment in Nassau.  Not knowing what the future would hold, she sold the homestead in Green Turtle Cay and with her son (my dad) and her dad (Pa Wes), set sail for Nassau, the country’s capital situated on the island of New Providence.

Upon arrival, the weary travelers sought respite in the home of Emmie Pinder, Grandma’s sister.  Aunt Emmie lived in the “suburbs” of Shirley Street.  With an exceptionally pleasant and outgoing personality, Emmie would soon introduce her new boarders to next door neighbors, Mr. & Mrs. G. Basil Lowe.

Dad recounted in his journal…

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. While down there, we got to know the family of Mr. & Mrs. G. Basil Lowe, who were neighbours of Aunt Emmie.  They had three girls and one son.  Little did I know that one of the girls would become my dear wife.

Grandma Bessie, a widow of 15+ years, would find love again in New Providence and in 1942 married Ashbourne Lowe, a fine carpenter by trade.  Shirlea HouseThe newlyweds resided in a two bedroom home built by the groom in the Shirlea subdivision off Shirley Street, a few blocks away from Emmie’s home.  Dad, sixteen at the time, and a proud owner of a bicycle, peddled down Shirley Street to his new job at City Market on the corner of Bay Street and East Street.

Mr. G. Basil Lowe’s carpentry workshop was situated in back of his home on Shirley Street and equipped with the finest of tools.  His nephew, Renard, was this carpenter’s “right-hand” man.  Renard and Dad – just a few years apart in age – soon bonded and developed a lifelong friendship. Dad would often bike to the workshop to hang out with Renard.  During that time period, Dad started courting one of G. Basil’s daughters, and in 1951, Dad and Mom were married.

Before marriage
One of the few photos of Dad and Mom before marriage

Working with a frugal budget, they were married by Pastor Davies at the Assembly of God parsonage off Shirley Street with the reception across the street at the home of the groom’s parents. Family and friends gathered around the modest home to share in the joyous occasion.

Mom located stylish platform heeled shoes from along the storefronts on Bay Street where she found a seamstress to fashion a wedding gown for that special day.  Family members lent their creative talents and added a special touch.  Grandpa Basil’s sister, Aunt Winnie crafted the wedding arch from Coconut fronds and other tropical foliage while older sister, Marie delicately constructed the bride’s veil.  A bouquet of white gladiolas served as the bride’s bouquet.

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Wedding - Basil on far left
The Bridal Party (l to r) G. Basil Lowe (father of the bride); Gail Smith (friend of the bride) Mom, Dad, George Lowe (brother of the bride). Photo taken by Maurice Lightbourn (cousin of the bride)

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On March 2, 1951, two loyalist descendants made a vow on Shirley Street that would last over 60 years.  After the wedding, Grandma Bessie moved back to Green Turtle Cay while Mom and Dad settled into the house in Shirlea and began their lifelong journey together.

In Loving Memory of John B. White, Sr.

I recently attended the memorial service of my cousin, John Bernard White, Sr.  As friends and family assembled at Cross Community Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, I reconnected with cousins not seen in over 30 years.  

We all witnessed a beautiful memorial service that celebrated the life of a distinguished leader, who positively impacted everyone he met.  Various family members, Church of God officials, and prominent attorneys from the community reflected on the influence of this spiritual giant.  While I sat in the auditorium, I reflected on the times in the early 1990’s when our paths crossed in Palm Beach County’s business community.

My Dad often reminisced how John’s grandparents, Hartley and Mira Lowe Roberts, helped raise him on Green Turtle Cay.  When Dad was three, his young father Howard past away.  Uncle Hartley and Aunt Mira took special interest in their little nephew and his widowed mother.  

Hartley & Mira Roberts with children (left to right) Noel, Minnie, Mizpah
Hartley Bernard Roberts & Mira Lowe with children (left to right) Noel Augustus, Minnie Caroline and Margaret Mizpah

Dad often reminded John White that he pushed him around the New Plymouth settlement in a baby carriage.  Even though Dad and John White built successful careers in different countries, they stayed in contact and would make special effort to see each other during their travels.  

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L to R – Doreen Lowe, Lowell “Buddy” Lowe, Jettie Key Lowe, Roy White, Margaret “Peggy” White, John White, Sr., Evan Lowe, Mizpah White, Jean Ogle White, John Lowe

Dad retired from his career in Nassau, Bahamas, and settled in Palm Beach County, Florida.  When I graduated from college with an accounting degree, Dad connected me with cousin John White, a CPA and prominent attorney in Palm Beach County.  

Ironically, John White’s office was across the street from where I worked.  John and I would often see each at community events.  Several times I sat in his office and listened intently to his excellent career advice.  His outlook was always positive, witty and encouraging.   He truly made an impact on those who knew him.

At the memorial service, I noticed the photo below of John in his University of Miami marching band uniform.  His brother Roy elaborated on John’s tremendous musical talent.  As an accomplished clarinetist, John used his talent to earn scholarship funds for his education.

John B White Sr

Obituary for John Bernard White, Sr.

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.   Proverbs 22:1

John Bernard White, Sr., age 77, of North Palm Beach, Florida departed this life in the early morning hours of January 20, 2014. Mr. White graduated from Miami Jackson High School in 1955 and then attended the University of Miami where he earned his BBA, MBA, and JD. After graduating from the University of Miami with accounting and law degrees, Mr. White attended New York University and earned his LLM. He was recruited by Shutts & Bowen Law Firm, one of Miami’s oldest law firms, shortly before graduating from NYU and practiced law with the Firm for the next 40 years. Mr. White became a partner early in his career with Shutts & Bowen and eventually became a managing partner and opened the Firm’s first branch office in West Palm Beach, Florida.

After retiring from Shutts & Bowen and up until his passing, Mr. White continued to practice law and served as legal counsel to the three (3) Florida State Offices of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) as well as many independent churches throughout the State of Florida. He was a member of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and served as a Youth Leader, Sunday School Teacher, Sunday School Superintendent, Choir Director and Council member in many of their local Churches in South Florida. Mr. White was preceded in death by his father, Reverend Porter M. White, a missionary and pastor for the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee); his mother, Margaret Mizpah White (Roberts), daughter of a Bahamian “Mailboat” Captain; and his sister, Mira Diane White.

He leaves behind his wife of 52 years, Jeanette (Ogle) White; 3 Sons, John B. (Marilu) White, Jr., Scott (Chris) White; and David (Monica) White; Grandsons, Anthony, Brandon, Brian and Bruce White, all of North Palm Beach, Florida; Sisters, Peggy (Bill) White of Ketchikan, Alaska, and Debbie Norman of Orlando, Florida; and Brothers, James (Sharyn) White of Palm Springs, Florida and David White of St. Petersburg, Florida, many Nieces and Nephews.

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John White and Jean Ogle White with their three sons, John White, Jr., Scott and David.