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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A bit of history for you...

Today was paperwork day aboard, (bills, correspondence of all shapes and sizes, etc) so it wasn't exactly an exciting morning, but it was necessary. Unfortunately, it was also rather time-consuming. Thus, we thought we'd give you a bit of background on Harbour Island and its history (culled and distilled from various internet sources), which is way more interesting than our day today!

Harbour Island, called 'Briland' by its locals, is situated a mile off the coast of North Eleuthera Island and are accessible only by water taxi or private boat. About 3 miles long and maybe a half mile across, Harbour Island has a population of over 1,500 'Brilanders', mainly made up of farmers, fishermen, resort and service workers, all with their unique Bahamian accent and warm personality. Today, most inhabitants travel around by golf cart, the island being way too small to accomodate more than a few cars or trucks. Wild roosters stroll the downtown streets, and are an emblem of the island.

Harbour Island is famous for its three-mile-long pink sand beach and the colonial-style settlement of Dunmore Town, with its pretty pastel gingerbread houses and white picket fences. Many of the island's 1700-era houses date back to post-and-beam construction without the use of nails, and many have been painstakingly kept up or restored. It's a stunningly lovely town to walk about and enjoy.

As far as its official beginnings, Harbour Island was settled about 1650 when a band of privateers and ministers fleeing religious persecution in England and Bermuda established an independent government here. Captain William Sayle (a former governor of Bermuda) obtained a charter for the colony from Britain, and was one of its leaders. Autonomy was short-lived, for in 1717, Eleuthera and Harbour Island became part of The Colony of The Bahamas, under the British Crown.

After the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776, many of the English Loyalists (Tories) fled New York, Georgia and the Carolinas either to Florida (then English-owned), or to the Bahamas. The Treaty of Versailles in 1783 restored Florida to Spain, and a great number of the recently-transplanted Florida Loyalists then had to flee again, this time to the Bahamas to remain under the British flag. One of the first Loyalist settlements in the Bahamas to be established was on Harbour Island, when the former Governor of Virginia, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, having fled America, was asked to create a settlement for American Loyalist refugees. Lord Dunmore founded the town in 1791, and laid it out into 190 lots. By 1788, about 9,300 Tories had fled to the Bahamas and more would follow, but they all had experienced life in the U.S. (Interesting how much history we share, and never knew it!)

Harbour Island was a noted shipyard and sugar refinement center in the late 1800s, and the resourceful residents have also made their way in the world as skilled shipbuilders and farmers. The island itself has little fertile soil, but residents were given land to farm on the “mainland” (Eleuthera) in 1783, and much of that original grant is still being tilled by Brilanders today. Besides shipbuilding, farming of citrus, pineapples and tomatoes made Harbour Island fairly prosperous until World War I. The first regular tourist business, which provides the bulk of the island’s livelihood today, began in 1941 with weekly flights on BahamasAir’s predecessor, Bahamas Airways.

So, enough of the history lesson for today....we'll see what tomorrow brings!! Thanks for following the blog!


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