The History of Abaco Islands
The lovely Abacos are a picturesque group of islands along the northeastern
edge of the Bahamas. Made up of Great Abaco, Little Abaco and 13 small
cays, the Abacos today are home to nearly 17,000 people.
A Loyalist Past
In the history of Abaco Islands, the original inhabitants were tribes
of Lucayan Indians, who date back to pre-Columbian times. The first Europeans
to arrive were Loyalists, running from the American Revolution and finding
a refuge on these tropical shores just off the Florida coast. The original
occupants had passed on, or moved away. A group of 600 Loyalists from
New York, attracted by the available land, founded the town of Carleton
on Great Abaco. They made their living farming, fishing, and by salvaging
the goods from shipwrecks lying in the shallow reefs that surround the
The settlements blossomed and the population grew to the thousands. However,
the soil eventually became depleted, and cotton crops soon failed. Once
again, the history of Abaco Islands saw the residents pack up and move
on, leaving just a few hundred people behind. With no crops to harvest,
the remaining people went back to making their living from the waters.
A Boat-Building Tradition
From this lifestyle grew the Abacos’ notable reputation for boat-building.
The islands are home to towering pine forests, and are surrounded by the
riches of the Caribbean Sea. It made sense to the residents to begin crafting
boats from the Abaco Pine, a strong wood that would be sturdy enough to
withstand the wind and sea. To this day, residents on many of the islands
and cays are still dedicated to their craft.
The descendants of the original Loyalist settlers, who call themselves
Conky Joes, maintained their faithful spirit. When the Bahamas gained
their independence from Britain, the residents attempted to remain loyal
to the crown. In the 1970s, they took steps to secede from the Bahamas
and form a separate British colony. Some traveled to London England in
order to plead their case in front of Queen Elizabeth II, but their effort
was in vain.
The history of Abaco Islands somewhat repeats itself as the beautiful
islands have become a new kind of beacon; it is a refuge for people seeking
a vacation full of sun, surf and sand. There are four national parks on
these tiny islands and cays, representing some of the most important natural
reserves in the Bahamas. Large forests with many old-growth pines still
exist. The pristine coral reefs around the Abacos are especially important
for they house an incredible diversity of tropical marine life.
Private Islands and a Memorial Tribute
Similar to their predecessors, visitors to these northern Bahamian islands
come for the boating, and the fishing. However, today, they can also enjoy
snorkeling, scuba diving and relaxation. In the 1990s, the Disney Cruise
Line recognized a great travel opportunity, and bought the uninhabited
cay known as Gorda Cay, developing it into its private island port of
call, now known as Castaway Cay.
As a tribute to the history of Abaco Islands, the national monument at
Carleton Point near Treasure Cay on Great Abaco is dedicated to the hearty
spirit of the 600 Loyalists who made these lovely islands their home.
It is a reminder of the independent spirit and resilience that built these