THE SALT INDUSTRY
The major industries of Rum
Cay, which provided a lot of jobs for the people and brought an
income to the island, were salt, sisal and pineapple. The
history of the salt industry predates the coming of the Lords
Proprietors in 1670; their grant of the Bahamas Island by
Charles II included salt royalties.
At the turn of the 18th Century
it was said that there was sufficient salt in the Bahamian salt
ponds to furnish the new plantations and colonies of the North
American coast. By 1821 the salt pond or lake of Rum Cay located
just east of Port Nelson comprised nearly 650 acres.
The Port Nelson salt lake was
set up for large production. The lake was joined to the ocean in
two places for control of the lake's waters. The canal on the
eastern end of the island had a gate that was used to regulate
the flow of water into the pond. The other canal came out on the
southern end of the island by the town dock. It was used to
drain water out of the pond when too full or after a damaging
rainfall. The salt was taken during the summer months May, June,
July and August because that is the driest and hottest time of
the year. The hot, dry weather evaporates the water and salt
crystals form in a crust on top of the water, which can then be
In the mid-19th century Rum Cay
was the second most important salt producing island in the
Bahamas. Together with Watlings Island, Rum Cay produced 300,000
bushels of salt in 1802. Rum Cay was recognized as a salt island
in 1849 when it produced nearly a half million bushels. The
failure of Rum Cay salt industry in the late 19th century has
been attributed to the imposition of high American import
tariffs. In 1908 a hurricane damaged the salt pond but it was
fixable; the hurricane of 1926 broke the dam and the salt
business in Rum Cay was finished. Today, salt is still raked in
small quantities but only for local consumption.
THE PINEAPPLE INDUSTRY
On Rum Cay, the pine industry
was on the western end of the island where there is good red
pine soil. The families that ran the business were the Butlers
and Deveaux. May, June and July were the months for harvesting
the pineapple. People from around the island would go to help do
the pickings. They would cut, bag, and then carry it down to the
beach where the boats picked them up.
At one time this prolific cash
crop brought much prosperity and people from all over the
Bahamas and elsewhere to settle on this island. But this
industry went down as people died or moved away from the area.
Rumor has it that specimens of the plant were sent to Hawaii
that soon stole the market. The hurricane of 1926 came and
destroyed much of what was left in production, putting a final
damper on the industry.
The growing of sisal for rope
was the other big industry in Rum Cay's history. To harvest the
fiber the leaves are cut off at the base of the plant and
wrapped up into bundles. The bundles are thrown into the lake
until it rots which takes one to two weeks. Then the leaves are
beaten on piles of rock and washed out and hung on lines to dry.
When dried they were made into bales and sent off to Nassau.
This lasted until the 1930's when nylon rope took its place.
Another way to make money was
collecting shells to send to Nassau to be used in jewelry
making. According to what kind of shell, the price was one
shilling to six dollars per quart.
THE DIVE INDUSTRY
In 1981 a new light rose on the
sleepy shores of Rum Cay-The Rum Cay Diving Club. David
Melville, who always loved the island, one day decided to make
something special here. His idea was not geared for profit bur
rather for providing employment to the community of Rum Cay and
establishing one of the most unique vacation spots in the
The Rum Cay Diving Club was one
of a kind-diving on spectacular, pristine dive sites in a
relaxed, friendly, small-island atmosphere. One dive site was
called Grand Canyon where gigantic coral walls rose from 60 feet
down to the surface and another was called Chimney because you
entered the coral reef through a natural hole that looked like a
hearth and left up a tunnel "chimney" straight up
through the reef. Fish life was abundant on all sites. The fish
were so friendly that they even had names-one Nassau grouper was
called "Hot Lips" because of its red lips and another
beautiful Queen Angelfish was called Princess Di.
Hurricane Lily destroyed the
buildings of the Rum Cay Diving Club.