A Taste of History

Written by Chris Kettel, 1982

There is a legend which tells that when God had finished making the world he had some bits and pieces left over which he thoughtfully scattered in a wide arc off the east coast of Florida. The position of our tiny nation in these warm tropical waters so close to North America has shaped our history from the beginning.

lf our islands were the result of some divine whimsy then their first inhabitants were well chosen. Columbus found the Lucayan Indians of the Bahamas to be gentle and generous. Perhaps these people, who invented the hammock, had no word for war and played a good deal of ball, would have been an example to the rest of the world. History records that the entire Bahamian race of Arawak Indians perished during the next half century to satisfy the demands for forced labor in the new Spanish colonies on Cuba and Hispaniola. All that remains in Exuma to mark the passing of what must have been the original ‘beautiful people’ is the occasional find of a stone arrow or axe head known locally as a ‘thunderbolt’.

Apart from the odd pirate who may have stopped off in Exuma for rest and repairs (or perhaps to cache a treasure) many years were to pass before human voices would be heard again.

Exuma figures in the history books once more soon after the American War of Independence when numbers of wealthy mainland planters were casting about for British soil upon which to continue the way of life which had recently been so rudely interrupted. One’ such was Lord Flolle who, while not visiting Exuma himself, dispatched his slaves and overseers with instructions to establish cotton plantations on the large tracts of land to which he had obtained title. The cotton planting venture was not a success due to the deprivations of a variety of Exumian bugs (whose descendants are unfortunately still in business) and the fact that this particular piece of British soil was unpatriotically thin.

Lord John is remembered today in the place names of Rolleville and Rolletown and it is thought that Steventon was the country seat of the Rolles in England. Forbes Hill is named for an overseer and the names Rolle and Forbes are still common in Exuma today. Although little remains to show how these people lived the ‘cotton house’ in Williams Town is largely original and the nearby tombs contain the remains of an overseer family.

After emancipation Lord John willed all his holdings   in Exuma to his ex slaves to be enjoyed by them in perpetuity. To this day ‘Lord Rolle Land’ remains as common property under the control of local committees.

Life for these early Exumians must have been harsh but a certain amount of money was to be made from whatever flotsam washed up on the beaches. W Pieces of ambergris were occasionally found and the cargoes of ships which had come to grief on the reefs could be very valuable. It is not known for certain whether Exumians were involved but Bahamians in general were not above giving fate a gentle nudge and enticing ships onto the rocks by the judicious arrangement of false lights.

Some cash was made by raking salt to supply the fledging cod industry in Newfoundland and the remains of the old solar pans and a pillar to direct shipping can be seen near Williams Town.

Exumians, like their compatriots in other parts of the country, were once involved with the widespread sponging industry and entered with commendable zeal into running liquor to their thirsty brothers and sisters in the United States during prohibition.

During the 20th century the natural beauty of this island and its cays has drawn increasing numbers of visitors from all over the world and many of our people are now involved with the hospitality industry. Farming and fishing remain important both for local consumption and to supply the hotels with fresh food.

. While this is only offered as ‘A Taste of History’ the reader who would know more of our past is referred to Dr. Paul Albury’s ‘The Story of the Bahamas’ and to Robert Wilder’s fictional account of the early settlement of the Exumas called ‘Wind From the Carolinas’.

It is hoped that the accompanying map may help those of our visitors interested in exploring Exuma outside Georgetown. Most settlements have somewhere to obtain a cool drink and to meet people glad to point out places of interest.

Perhaps, in a final gesture of generosity after the world was built, God took the one remaining sliver and set it in the sea off Georgetown and let it be called Stocking Island. If this is so then we should be grateful because it not only gave us some of the most magnificent beaches in the world but also this Elizabeth Harbour in which to enjoy our annual Family Island Regattas.


A Poem

The Exumas
Sail her down, sail her down,
Sail her down to George Town.
Highborne Cay the first: we see,
Yellow Bank is by the lee.
Harvey Cay is in the moon,
Farmers Gay is coming soon.
Now we come to Galliot,

Out in the ocean we must go,
Children’s Bay is passing fast,
Stocking Island came at last.
Nassau gal is all behind,
George Town gal is on my mind.
A wiggle and a giggle and a jamboree,
Great Exuma is the place for me!
Exuma Islands Poem

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