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Exploring the History of Crooked Island

Like most of the islands that make up the Bahamas, Crooked Island boasts a temperate climate, gorgeous beaches and sparkling-clear waters. This quiet tropical island covers only 71 square miles, and is part of Acklins Archipelago, a group of islands that surround a beautiful, shallow lagoon called ‘Bight of Acklins’.  The history of Crooked Island speaks of legends, adventure, enterprise and an eventual economic decline; nevertheless, its residents display a proud and independent spirit.

Original Settlers
History of Crooked IslandLittle is known of the early natives of Crooked Island, but records show that American Loyalists came to this group of islands in the late 1780’s, and established vast cotton plantations where thousands of slaves labored. Nearly fifty different plantations were scattered across Crooked Island, thriving until about 1820 when agricultural issues brought about blight, and soil deterioration.

After the abolishment of slavery, the plantations were basically abandoned, leaving the populace to fish and try their hand at farming on a much smaller scale; people relied on what they could catch in the sea and harvest from the land. Although sponge diving sprung up as a new and rather profitable industry, it soon tapered off as well.

Some residents of Crooked Island began harvesting the bark from a local shrub called the Croton Cascarilla. This unusual product was shipped to Italy, where it was used to flavor Campari, a famous local liqueur.

Early Stories
The history of Crooked Island spreads across centuries, and includes Christopher Columbus, who apparently found himself drawn by the enticing fragrance of this archipelago.  Whether Columbus actually coined the term “fragrant islands” after landing near Pittstown Point, or whether Crooked Island was dubbed so after the explorer’s legend spread, the name stuck for generations to come.

Another story states that Columbus called Crooked Island “Isabella” in honor of his Queen, but most now agree that Fortune Island, found just offshore, was more likely the recipient of that royal name.  Its one lasting settlement, Albert Town, has been labeled a ghost town despite its remaining loyal residents. Fortune Point can be seen for miles, apparently making it the ideal ‘rendezvous’ spot for strange doings.  Bahamians came here by the hundreds at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, awaiting seafaring vessels bound for Central America where they would try their fortune in the thriving labor market; hence, the way by which the island got its name.

Relics of the Past

  • Visitors flock to Bird House Lighthouse which is located on a cay just beyond Pittstown Point on Crooked Island.  The structure, standing 112’ above sea level, began operating in 1867.
  • A post office put Pittstown on the map, mainly because it is believed to be the site of the very first post office in the Bahamas.
  • Ruins of British military fortifications can be found on the northern end of the island, at Marine Farms Fortress, where soldiers fought in the War of 1812.
  • Great Hope House gives visitors a feel for the scale of the early plantations. Protected by the Bahamas National Trust, the gardens and orchard thrive while the buildings, built in the era of George V, lie in ruin.
  • True Blue and French Wells are two quaint towns offering a taste of the island’s traditional life style.

With miles of beautiful sandy beaches, lush gardens growing through old ruins, and stories of hope and adventure, the history of Crooked Island makes a visit to this tiny paradise interesting, intriguing, and worthwhile.

 


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