National Geographic : 1975 Apr
Most of the Bahamas settlers were familiar with forced exile. They came from East Flori da and New York, which had been their first refuges from persecution in their native col onies-primarily Georgia and the Carolinas. From West Florida came Loyalists whose original homes had been farther north. The great Bahamian cotton plantations that gilded the dreams of many southern Loyalists became a fleeting reality. Then in sects, overuse of the soil, and British aboli tion of the slave trade in 1807 doomed any hope of a plantation economy. OMETHING ELSE, something almost in definable, died in Abaco on July 10, 1973. That's when the Union Jack came down. By some quirk of fate, the indepen dence that was so abhorrent to Loyalists two centuries ago came at last to their descendants. And it was engineered by black men, the Bahamas' most enduring Loyalist legacy. "My Britain, my Britain, why hast thou forsaken us?" Norman Albury intoned. It was a few days before "Independence." The 75-year-old sailmaker sat at his kitchen table and spoke to me with despair about Abaco's attempts to become a Crown Colony. Abaco had appealed to Parliament to be exempted from Bahamian independence, to no avail. Then the island's representative sought an audience with Queen Elizabeth II. "She wouldn't even give 'im a hearing," Albury anguished. "When he got back from England he says, 'When they come to take that flag down, don't say nothin', because whatever they put up in its place can't be any worse than the Union Jack. Not now. Eng land doesn't want us at all.' "I say it's only one that hasn't let us down. Blue-water bastions of royalism, islands of the Bahamas offered haven to exiled Southerners in 1783. About 2,500 whites arrived, bringing 4,500 slaves and the hope of re-creating plan tation society, but hurricanes, plant blight, thin soil, and aboli tion of the slave trade doomed the scheme to failure. Most of the settlers who stayed switched to fishing and boatbuilding. Here Maurice Albury works on a dinghy, handcrafted from pine, on Abaco's Man of War Cay (left). Many white descendants, still Loyalist in sentiment, advocated becoming a separate Crown Colony when the rest of the Bahamas became independent from Britain on July 10, 1973.