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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
Abaco Islands, Bahamas 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 Bahamas.
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.

Tourism Today
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 communities.

 


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