From RUM CAY, MY HOME by Delores Wilson

 

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 gathered.

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.

OTHER INDUSTRIES

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 Bahamas.

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.

 

 

 

 

From the Back Cover of "Rum Cay, My Home"

Delores Wilson is the first born of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Scavella. She is a resident of  Port Nelson, Rum Cay, Bahamas, one of the smaller southern islands and the second  landfall of Christopher Columbus. Delores or "lauris" as she is affectionately called,  spent her very early childhood in Rum Cay living with her grandmother Ms. Ethelyn  Jane Franks, a descendant of Colonel Deveaux from Cat Island.

She came to Nassau at age fourteen and except for summers in Andros with her aunt  Ms.Ruth Culmer, she stayed in the city. She received her education at the public  school, got married and had a daughter Donna, and taught at St. Barnabas Church  School.

One day Lauris did the unthinkable. She packed up herself and chIld and returned to  Rum Cay "to live." It was her determination and inner strength that was put to a severe  test. She started a small bar, drug store, tourist shop and eventually survived. In time  she built a home and a restaurant The home was destroyed by fire some years back  and Lauris came to town and was able to convince friends and family to help her rebuild. 

Lauris was always a leader and her leadership abilities are seen in the place she occupies in the community of Port Nelson. She is chairman of most of the Government Boards and her advice is sought in matters pertaining to the island.

Although we all considered Lauris "smart" we were not aware of her literary ability. It was during a hospitalization, having little to do, that she wrote of her experiences in Rum Cay and the history of the Island.

Her style is simple and very readable. It is an excellent source of insider information about Rum Cay and how to appreciate Bahamian Island life.

Her book is available for purchase at her restaurant, Kay’s place, in Port Nelson, Rum Cay.