by Larry Smith
by Larry Smith
Despite its small population, the far-flung Bahamas archipelago enjoys impressive features and history as a maritime nation. The country has one of the world’s leading maritime registries with approximately between 1,500 to 1,600 ships carrying the Bahamas flag, and has a good international reputation in the maritime industry.
The Bahamas is home to the Grand Bahama Shipyard, one of the premier ship repair facilities in the world, and the largest cruise ship repair yard in the world. The Freeport Container Port is a significant transshipment center. The country hosts many cruise ships annually, including the largest cruise liners in the world.
The Bahamas archipelago is awash in maritime history. Native peoples navigated canoes to discover a new homeland, part islands but mostly sea, exploited and usurped by colonial greed and slavers in cargo ships, and trafficked by pirates and privateers in sloops and schooners who plundered with zeal over several centuries.
During global and regional wars and tentative or sustained peace, amidst slavery and colonialism, throughout the industrial age, through the waters of the Bahamas passed slave ships, merchant vessels, naval fleets, modern container ships and state-of-the-art cruise liners.
The moderns who made the archipelago their home, relied on the sea for food, trade, transport, sport, enjoyment and an impressive tourism industry, employing an armada of vessels, ingenuity and techniques to tame and when possible master the winds and the waves. Boatbuilding developed into a vibrant industry.
In the 21st century, the Lowell J. Mortimer Maritime Academy, a non-profit educational institution named in honour of the attorney, philanthropist and entrepreneur, represents a significant step in the country’s history as a maritime nation.
by Larry Smith
Last June, a gunman walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina and shot nine people to death at a prayer meeting. The shooter said his goal was to start a race war.
Pictures of the shooter draped with a Confederate battle flag triggered widespread controversy in the US. In the years following the Second World War, this 'southern cross' flag was flown as a symbol of resistance to racial desegregation. It was used especially by the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist group that targeted blacks.
The Charleston massacre led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse, where it had flown ever since 1961. As most people know, South Carolina was where the American Civil War began a hundred years before - when the state's militia shelled a US army garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour.
The bloody war that ensued was fought purely over the issue of slavery. The constitutional compromises reached at independence, which had allowed slave- and non-slave-holding states to co-exist, broke down when the anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860.
There can be no doubt about this. South Carolina's secession document clearly notes that, "A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of president of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”
Condolences from the Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Singapore following the death of the country’s founding father and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, observed: “The late Prime Minister was a contemporary of the late Sir Lynden Pindling ... Sir Lynden often said that he wanted The Bahamas to be the Singapore of the Caribbean.”
There is much that the Bahamas can learn from Singapore and the legacy of Lee. But there are two major attributes required to replicate Singapore’s success, the absence of which makes such success difficult. The two attributes are the personal discipline and work ethic of citizens, and the quality of political leadership.
Bahamians generally lack the discipline and work ethic of Singaporeans. And for all of his gifts and contributions to national development, Sir Lynden, a leading founding father, lacked the strategic vision and commitment to personal incorruptibility and intolerance for state corruption that characterized the rule of Singapore’s Lee.
One of the reasons for Singapore’s success was the example of the incorruptible Lee, who had a fierce commitment to the rule of law and launched a massive anti-corruption program after becoming his country’s leader.
Given his role and person, and the progressive movement’s desire to turn a page from the vast corruption of the white oligarchy and its political instrument the United Bahamian Party (UBP), Sir Lynden had a singular opportunity to foster a new political culture, an opportunity he quickly squandered, setting the country back for generations as the PLP became synonymous with corruption.
by Larry Smith
Despite significant coverage in the American media, the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, Alabama that led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act went almost unnoticed in the Bahamas.
And it’s a safe bet that most Bahamians who didn’t actually live through those tumultuous years are clueless about what happened in their own country at the same time. Hint—the two experiences are closely related.
The substance of these experiences was the suppression of democracy - denying citizens of African descent their right to vote. In the US these citizens were a minority. In the Bahamas, they were the majority. The ancestors of both groups were enslaved for centuries.
The 15th Amendment to the US constitution, ratified in 1870, after the civil war, prohibited states from denying the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” This superseded laws that had directly prohibited black voting.
"As a result, in the former Confederate States...hundreds of thousands of recently-freed slaves registered to vote,” according to the US Justice Department website. "The extension of the franchise was strongly resisted...in a climate in which violence could be used to depress black voter turnout.”
Southern states passed laws that included poll taxes, literacy tests, vouchers of "good character," and disqualification for "crimes of moral turpitude." These were designed to exclude black citizens by allowing white officials to apply them selectively.
By 1910 nearly all black citizens in the former Confederate states were disenfranchised. The long struggle to restore those rights was one of the major focuses of the US civil rights movement, which was led by Rev Martin Luther King jr.
by Larry Smith
It’s been 42 years since the Watergate break-in that eventually forced US President Richard Nixon from office, after an investigation that has been described as one of the greatest achievements of modern journalism.
by Larry Smith
One hundred years ago (on June 28 1914 to be exact), the heir to the throne of the long-vanished Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist struggling for independence.
Germany, then the new rising power of Europe, supported its neighbour Austria-Hungary against Serbia and its patron, Russia; with war declared at the end of July 1914. The British, French and Turks joined in the following month, and by Christmas the various armies had suffered more than three million casualties.
By the time the war ended in November 1918, over 16 million had died and 20 million had been wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. It was known thereafter as the Great War - replacing the Napoleonic Wars for pride of place in European memory.
A hundred years ago, the British Empire encompassed nine million square miles and 348 million people. And about a third of the troops that Britain raised during the war came from the colonies— a million Indians, half a million Canadians, half a million Australians and New Zealanders, 250,000 Africans, and 16,000 West Indians.
The British government has committed over £50 million to this year's centenary commemoration of the First World War. The money is paying for a major refurbishment of London's Imperial War Museum, as well as a national series of commemorative events and lectures which launches in August.
By Richard Coulson
The wind of reparations has been blowing throughout the Caribbean for several years and will soon begin to flutter feathers here in The Bahamas.
by Larry Smith
NORMANDY, France - As we eased along the peaceful wooded lanes in Alan Wilson’s powerful green Bentley, it was hard to believe that one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War lay just around the corner.
There are memorials and museums all over the rolling Norman countryside, but driving up to Mont Ormel we passed a sign identifying "Le Couloir de la Mort” - the corridor of death. This was where the Allied forces that had landed on D-Day, 77 days before, decisively ended the Normandy campaign in August 1944.
“The German army was hemmed in all along this road and suffered terrible casualties trying to escape the Allied pincer movement,” Wilson told me in his best schoolmaster voice. “Artillery and air strikes caused tremendous damage during the retreat and some 40,000 Germans were captured. The stink of death hung over the valley for months."
Since he began coming to Normandy several years ago, following open heart surgery in Nassau by Dr Duane Sands, Wilson has had a lot of time on his hands to bone up on war history and explore the countryside. He now spends several months of the year here, returning to Nassau for the winter.
“I'm fascinated by the history and I love the people,” he said. “The life is so relaxing I can get a lot of reading in, and you don’t even have to lock your door in our village. There’s fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and beautiful bread - not to mention the wine.”
Originally from Yorkshire, Wilson met and married Bahamian Sharon Cadman (former headmistress at St Andrew’s School) in the early 1970s while at Westminster College, a Methodist teacher training institute in Oxford. He taught at Queen’s College in Nassau for a few years before leaving to work in the automotive trade.
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.