The five administrative districts of the Abacos
|Major islands||Great Abaco Island, Little Abaco Island|
|Area||2,009 km2 (776 sq mi)|
|Largest settlement||Marsh Harbour (pop. 5,728)|
|Population||17,224 (as of 2010)|
|Density||8.6 /km2 (22.3 /sq mi)|
|Ethnic groups||Blacks, Whites, Mixed|
The Abaco Islands lie in the northern Bahamas 180 miles east of south Florida with similar weather with the exception of local patterns. They comprise the main islands of Great Abaco and Little Abaco, along with smaller barrier cays, pronounced keys. The most northerly is Walker's Cay, and its sister island Grand Cay. To the south, the next inhabited islands are Spanish Cay and Green Turtle Cay, with its settlement of New Plymouth, Great Guana Cay, private Scotland Cay, Man-O-War Cay, and Elbow Cay, with its settlement of Hope Town. Southernmost are Tilloo Cay and Lubbers Quarters. Others of note off Abaco's western shore are, one time Gorda Cay now a Disney Island and cruise ship stop and renamed, Castaway Cay. Also in the vicinity is Moore's Island. On the Big Island of Abaco is Marsh Harbour, the Abacos commercial hub and the Bahamas second largest city, plus the resort area of Treasure Cay. Both have airports. A few mainland settlements of significance are Coopers Town and Fox Town in the north and Cherokee and Sandy Point in the south. Sandy Estabrook's - Abaco Guide .Administratively, the Abaco Islands constitute seven of the 31 Local Government Districts of the Bahamas: Grand Cay, North Abaco, Green Turtle Cay, Central Abaco, South Abaco, Moore's Island, and Hope Town.
The Abaco Islands were first inhabited by the Lucayans. The first European settlers of the islands were Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution who arrived in 1783, as was also the case at Cat Island. These original Loyalist settlers made a modest living by salvaging wrecks, by building small wooden boats, and by basic farming.
Pre-Columbian and Spanish eras
The original inhabitants of the Bahamas before the arrival of Europeans were the Lucayans. They were a branch of the Taínos who inhabited most of the Caribbean islands at the time. The Lucayans were the first inhabitants of the Americas encountered by Christopher Columbus. The Spanish started seizing Lucayans as slaves within a few years of Columbus's arrival, and they had all been removed from the Bahamas by 1520. After the extermination of the Lucayans, there were no known permanent settlements in the Bahamas for approximately 130 years.
Spain laid claim to the Bahamas after Columbus' discovery of the islands but showed little interest in them. The Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci spent four months exploring the Bahamas in 1499–1500. Juan de la Cosa's first map of the New World, printed in 1500, shows the Abaco Islands with the name Habacoa. The map in Peter Martyr's first edition of 'De Orbe Novo' in 1511 shows the islands of the Bahamas but does not name them. The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed on Abaco in 1513. The Turin map of 1523 clearly shows Abaco, now named Iucayonique. This remained the most accurate map of the area until the first English maps of the Bahamas were produced. Both John White's map of 1590 and Thomas Hood's map of 1592 show the islands, as did a map produced in 1630 by the Dutchman de Laet. At this time the Spanish empire in the Caribbean was focused on Havana. Spain regarded the, now depopulated, Bahamas as unprofitable and treacherous to navigate;- in 1593 a Spanish fleet of 17 ships was wrecked off Abaco. Also, English and French pirates and freebooters had begun preying on Spanish vessels north of Cuba. A Spanish ordinance of 1561 forbade any merchant ship to enter the Bahamas without an escort. Ownership of the Bahamas passed back and forth between Spain and Great Britain for 150 years, until British ownership was established by treaty in 1783, when Great Britain exchanged East Florida to Spain, receiving the Bahamas in return.
British colonial era
In the summer of 1783, about 1500 Loyalists left New York and moved to Abaco. They planned and built the town of Carleton, probably present day Hope Town. Disputes over food distribution lead some of these settlers to found a rival town at Marsh Harbour. Conflict between disgruntled settlers and the officials responsible for helping became a constant feature of life on the islands. Sea island cotton was first sown by the settlers in 1785 and although both 1786 and 1787 produced good crops, the 1788 crop was blighted by caterpillars. Other settlements on the islands were Green Turtle Cay, Man-o-War Cay, and Sandy Point. In the 1790s, a group of Loyalists from the Carolinas arrived on the islands via Florida, founding the isolated settlement of Cherokee Sound.
In June 1971 the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Lynden Pindling, announced his government's plans for independence from Britain. On Abaco, the Greater Abaco Council was formed to lobby for continued British rule. In July 1971 the Greater Abaco Council submitted a petition to the Queen asking that Abaco become a 'completely self-contained and fully self-supporting' territory under British jurisdiction. In August 1971 the British Government refused to consider the petition. The September 1972 general election in the Bahamas showed a clear majority for independence across the country.
However, on Abaco the results were less clear cut. The pro-independence Progressive Liberal Party won one of Abacos two seats by a small majority, while the Free National Movement, who opposed early independence, won the other seat by a large majority. Starting in December 1971, all party talks took place in London to draft a new constitution for the Bahamas. The Greater Abaco Council sent representatives to London for a 'collateral conference' to run alongside the official talks. The British refused to consider making Abaco independent separately from the rest of the Bahamas. The GAC accepted this and the group ceased activity at the end of 1972.
Shortly afterwards, Errington Watkins, the Free National Movement representative for the Abaco-Marsh Harbour seat, formed a successor group, the Council for a Free Abaco. A second petition was organised and signed by half the registered voters on the island. Errington Watkins took this petition to London in May 1973, hoping to influence the Bahamas Independence Order then being debated in the British Parliament. A sympathetic MP, Ronald Bell introduced an amendment that would have excluded Abaco from an independent Bahamas and have the islands remain a British colony. This amendment was defeated in the House of Commons and the Bahamas Independence Order was approved on 22 May 1973. Three weeks later a similar motion on Abaco was defeated in the House of Lords.
A last-ditch attempt by Errington Watkins to pass a resolution in the Bahamas House of Assembly calling for a United Nations supervised referendum on Abaco was easily defeated in June 1973 and the Bahamas became independent on 10 July 1973.
Abaco Independence Movement
In August 1973, shortly after the Bahamas became independent, the Abaco Independence Movement was formed as a political party whose stated aim was self-determination for Abaco within a federal Bahamas. AIM was formed by Chuck Hall and Bert Williams. They sought support from the US Libertarian Party and an American financier named Michael Oliver, who through his libertarian Phoenix Foundation agreed to support AIM financially. Mitchell WerBell, an American arms-dealer and mercenary, also supported AIM. His talk of an armed insurrection and attempts to recruit mercenaries to go to Abaco greatly discredited AIM. The Progressive Liberal Party victory in the 1977 general election, effectively marked the end of the movement.
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The combined population of the islands is about 17,224 as of 2010, and the principal settlement and capital is Marsh Harbour. The racial make up is about 50% white and 50% black.
In addition to Marsh Harbour there are several other settlements on Great Abaco including Cherokee Sound, Coopers Town, Crossing Rock, Green Turtle Cay, Hope Town, Little Harbour, Rocky Point, Sandy Point, Spring City, Treasure Cay, Wilson City, and Winding Bay.
Surrounding Great Abaco are several smaller islands known as cays many of which are popular with tourists visiting the islands. A few notable cays include Castaway Cay (formerly Gorda Cay), Elbow Cay, Tilloo Cay, the Grand Cays, Great Guana Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Moore's Island, and Walker's Cay.
The primary attraction of the Abacos are, its beaches and its waters and of course activities associated with them. Some of the most beautiful powdery white sand you’ll find anywhere making for some spectacular beach-combing. Rent a boat and explore the near by uninhabited islands where you can feel like the only people in the world. The ocean side of the Cays lies the third largest barrier reef in the world with all its offerings. Shallow water snorkeling right off the beach, or if one chooses deeper water scuba with a dive master from one of the many dive shops. Deep Sea Fishing as one might expect is highlighted by half dozen tournaments scattered through the islands in spring and summer. There is even a Lion Fish Derby on Green Turtle Cay. Flats fishing (bonefishing) is world famous in Abaco with guides found in just about every settlement.
Sailing: Sailors are attracted to Abaco's protected harbours from all over the world to "Harbournate" for the winter. For the vacationer, multiple companies offer both sail and power boat charters. Experienced sailers can go it alone in a bare boat charter or for the novice, you can hire a captain, with or without assistant cook. For competitive sailor the pros there is “Regatta Time in Abaco” beginning in July with its first race at Green Turtle Cay.
As for festivals, you cant miss Junkanoo at New Year. It repeats in Summer followed by the Goombay Summer Festival. Also, many of Great Abaco’s settlements have Homecoming Festivals throughout the summer with one of the largest being at Great Abaco’s Sandy Point. Of some renown is the Island Roots Heritage Festival on Green Turtle Cay. And we cant overlook the many art shows, concerts, sporting events, like the open water swim, and believe it or not there is even a Soap Box Derby in Hope Town in the fall. More at Sandy Estabrook's - Abaco Guide
- Pelican Cays Land & Sea Park
- Abaco National Park
- Black Sound Cay National Reserve
- Walker's Cay National Park
- Tilloo Cay National Reserve
- Fowl Cays National Reserve
The Great Abaco Family Fitness weekend takes place every March in Treasure Cay, attracting both domestic and international tourism. The events include an open water swim, sprint & Olympic triathlons, a kids' race, a paddleboarding clinic and race, a cheerleading/dance clinic, and a 5k/10k fun run/walk.
GETTING THERE: Marsh Harbour Airport (MHH) and Treasure Cay Airport (TCB) serve the needs of the Abacos, and all Abaco travel connects or originates in Florida with two US Carriers. Namely, USAir/American Airlines flying as American Eagle/Envoy out of Miami only to Marsh Harbour. United/Continental flying as Silver Airways out of Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Orlando and Tampa. They also fly to Marsh Harbour and limited service to Treasure Cay. Note: Schedules vary seasonally, limited to weekends off season. In this regard re-confirm flights regularly as they can be dropped especially late summer early fall. Lastly, Bahamasair has nonstop flights to Marsh Harbour from Palm Beach. They also fly from other US Cities with connections via Nassau.
CHARTERS: Additionally there are about a dozen small air carriers / charters / even shared charters that usually sell enough flights to fill a plane during season on weekends. A private charter on the popular 8 seat Cessna 402 becomes practical with 3-4 couples. Namely you can fly into Treasure Cay and back from Marsh Harbour if it suits you on your own schedule, allaying connection concerns. You avoid long custom and security lines, no lost luggage, and no hassle. It could be well worth it. The plane is yours, and you can bring as many bags as you like, even your dog. Abaco Air Carriers & Ferries
FERRIES: The Cays can be reached by ferries. Albury’s Ferry Service covers the Southern cays from Marsh Harbour and Lowe’s Green Turtle Ferry leaves from the Treasure Cay ferry dock about a half hour from Marsh Harbour by Taxi. Bahamas Fast Ferry operates between Nassau and Sandy Point on the southern end of Great Abaco on weekends.
GROUND TRANSPORTATION: On the main island cars and boat rentals are available. On some of the cays, rental golf carts and boats are the main mode of transportation, along with bikes or scooters.
The Abaco Islands have been long famous for shipbuilding. Their chief exports are lumber, fruit, and pearl shells. Crawfish (Caribbean spiny lobster) are exported to the United States. Pulpwood is shipped to a Florida plant for processing. Tourism is a major portion of the economy.
The Abaco Islands boast important natural areas, especially important coral reef areas, barrier-island terrestrial habitats and large forests of Bahamian Pine (Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis), some of which still contain old-growth trees. As development expands in the Abacos, local groups have begun to fight for the preservation of their natural resources, such as in the development case on Great Guana Cay.
Notable species of birds include the Bahamian subspecies of Cuban Amazon (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis), which exists only in Cuba, the Cayman Islands, the southern Bahamas and Abaco. This population is unique in that it nests in limestone solution cavities rather than tree cavities. Abaco is also known for its intact elkhorn and staghorn coral structures, and for its critically endangered breed of feral horse, the Abaco Barb.
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Abacos.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Abaco Islands.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1921 Collier's Encyclopedia article Abaco.|
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