by Larry Smith
TREASURE CAY, Abaco — During a visit to the site of Abaco’s first loyalist settlement last week, Antiquities Corporation chief Dr Keith Tinker and senior archaeologist Dr Michael Pateman retrieved cultural remains for analysis and talked about organising an archaeological survey this summer.
I wrote a column on Carleton following a personal visit earlier this year, and was able to accompany Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation representatives to the site last week for a brief walkabout. Also present were Tim Blakely of the Treasure Sands Club, which now owns the property; and Matt Claridge of the Abaco Defenders, a public interest group.
Remains of a loyalist-era settlement lie scattered over the landscape just off Treasure Cay Drive, the road that connects to the Abaco highway between the public beach and the adjacent creek. Last week, we collected brick and pottery fragments, bottle glass, and a heavily corroded iron object that looked like a ship's cleat.
And this week, Tinker confirmed that "there is sufficient evidence for the area to be considered a significant heritage site," and called for construction to cease pending further investigation.
"I will be writing a report for the Office of the Prime Minister stating this," he told me. "We also want signage to be installed identifying the area as a heritage site. The evidence is there and the site needs to be researched.”
In the 1980s, Florida archaeologist Robert Carr, historians Steve Dodge and Sandra Riley, civic leader Alton Lowe and others explored the area after researching land grants. They turned up loyalist-era artefacts, including pottery, bottle glass, oven bricks, military tunic buttons, musket balls, sewing implements, shells and animal bone remains. Most of these items are housed at the Albert Lowe museum on Green Turtle Cay.
A bronze plaque on the point just beyond the beach commemorates the 1983 bicentennial of the original loyalist landing on Abaco, but disturbance of this historic area by development has been ongoing for years, with little thought for either the environment or the original settlement.
The Treasure Sands property on which part of Carleton once stood was acquired by an English entrepreneur named Sir Alford Houstoun-Boswall some 30 years ago. In 2010 Sir Alford and his on-site partner Tim Blakely, who is an ex-Royal Navy bodybuilder and celebrity personal trainer, opened a high-end restaurant and clubhouse next to the public beach.
Last year they began clearing the scrub on the creek side of the road to prepare for a small cottage colony and spa that Blakely wants to name Carleton Village. But dredging was halted amid rising public concern over the environmental impact and the permitting process. Critics say the developers had planned to dredge a channel along the entire three-mile creek out to Treasure Cay Marina - a charge that Blakely brands as “scaremongering”.
The project was approved by the government last May, subject only to an environmental management plan vetted by the BEST Commission. There was no requirement for an environmental impact assessment, or for an archaeological survey.
This work contravenes the Planning & Subdivisions Act, which requires an EIA for any development on “sensitive lands”, like wetlands. The purpose is to "promote sustainable development in a healthy natural environment”, to "protect and conserve the natural and cultural heritage” of the Bahamas, and to provide for greater transparency in planning and permitting.
These objectives appear to have been ignored. But the proposed development is now going through a local town planning process. And the AMMC has confirmed it as a heritage site.
The Treasure Sands development is the latest effort to capitalise on Treasure Cay’s fabulous three-and-a-half-mile beach. The original second home/marina/golf course resort was launched in the 1950s by the late Leonard Thompson, but is now owned by German-Bahamian investor Ludwig Meister.
Local government officials and property owners began asking for information about the project. A spokesman for the Treasure Cay resort perhaps summed up these objections best: "Treasure Cay Ltd and the Treasure Cay homeowners still do not know exactly what Treasure Sands Club plans to build, except what we have read in the newspapers. Since this project is immediately adjacent to our resort, it would be helpful to know what is planned for the area and also get the right information released to the public.”
When loyalist emigres arrived here from New York in 1783 (after the American Revolution), Carleton Creek opened to the sea where the public beach huts stand today. The anchorage proved unsuitable for large vessels. And in any event, within a year of their arrival most of the settlers revolted and moved 20 miles to the south to found a new settlement at what they called Marsh’s Harbour. Within three years of this split, after several hurricanes, Carleton essentially ceased to exist.
However, the site should be as historically significant to Abaco as Jamestown, Virginia is to Americans. Jamestown was the first English settlement in North America. Over 200 colonists arrived there in 1607 but the settlement was abandoned in the 1690s, after which it was largely forgotten. In recent years, it has become a major archaeological and tourist site. Unfortunately, no effort has been made so far to capitalise on the Carleton settlement since the initial explorations back in the 1980s.
Steve Dodge was the first to identify the Carleton site in 1979, while researching records in Nassau for his book Abaco: History of an Out Island. Carr’s excavations a few years later indicated that the site was a loyalist settlement in the area originally known as Carleton. Survey records were provided to the government at the time, but interest waned and memories faded.
Of course, Carleton was not the first human settlement on Abaco. There were Lucayan Indians living here from about 900 years ago. But this area was settled by 250 whites and free blacks who sailed from New York in 1783. They named their settlement after Sir Guy Carleton, the general who supervised the British evacuation from America, and who carried out the Crown's promise of freedom to slaves who had joined the British during the war.
Since the 1980s no further archaeological work has been undertaken here. And the recent clearing of some three acres by Treasure Sands caused extensive damage according to Carr, who re-visited the area last November at the invitation of the Abaco Defenders.
The artefacts recovered from the site recently will be sent to the University of Florida for further expert analysis, and an archeological survey may be planned for later this year. it is not just a matter of looking for more bricks and artefacts but also locating house foundations and other features to reconstruct the settlement pattern. This is done by mapping the artifacts and features in place.
During my visit in January, Blakely said he was thinking of setting up a small museum as part of the Treasure Sands development, and would name a restaurant after the New York tavern where the loyalists signed up for their Abaco journey. "We are very open to cooperation with anyone who wishes to survey the site,” he told me at the time.
Clearly, the historical value of the Carleton site can only enhance the proposed development. However, minor construction work on the site continues.