Cleola Sawyer has lived all of her 82 years on Mainland Abaco. Seventy one of those years she has spent in Dundas Town but the first eleven she spent in Old Place and South Side. This was a small settlement located north west of Marsh Harbour on the south west coast between Fire Road and Blackwood along with the settlements of Blackwood and Grape Tree. Born in 1931, Mrs. Sawyer was the last of three boys and three girls born to Nathaniel and Delrone Smith.
Although many of the details of her early childhood have now faded from memory, Mrs. Sawyer does recall various details of her childhood home. The settlement was a small one of about one hundred people. One small ‘petty shop’ sold a few staples such as rice, grits and cream but for anything else people had to travel all the way to Cooper’s Town.
This trip was a half-day’s journey on foot since there was no road transportation and it took a couple of hours just to walk one way. Those fortunate enough to own a boat could make a quicker and faster journey by sea. The mail boat, bringing supplies from Nassau, was unable to get into Old Place so only went as far as Green Turtle Cay.
Residents of Old Place would, therefore, have to travel to the cay for many of their supplies. Anything out of the ordinary such as furniture, clothing, etc. would be purchased from Florida during trips made there by the men in their fishing boats. During rough weather the mail boat could not pass Whale Cay and so then no grocery supplies arrived and so sometimes for two or three weeks people had to make do with what they were able to raise themselves.
Mrs. Sawyer remembers how scarce money was and people could not get many of the things they needed. Things were rationed and apportioned out by the shopkeeper according to how many people were in the family. He kept a record and she remembers that it was hardly possible to get any rice.
Fortunately, many of the families had farms so they could get something to eat. Her father was a farmer and so the family was able to have potatoes, corn (grits), and sugarcane which they also ground into syrup. “We also had fish and conch so we did not go hungry,” she says. Most families also raised chickens for meat and eggs, goats for meat and milk, and hogs.
“We attended school in a one-room schoolhouse after the larger school was destroyed by the disastrous 1932 hurricane. I remember two of my teachers, Cecil McIntosh of Fire Road and Jacob Saunders of Old Place who was Head teacher. There were two churches in Old Place, the Baptist and the Methodist. I attended the Methodist church which was later dismantled and carried up to Dundas Town where it was re-erected.”
Mrs. Sawyer is still a very faithful member of St Andrews Methodist Church in Dundas Town which has been rebuilt in recent years. Anglicans of Old Place had to travel to Blackwood to church and those attending the Church of God had to travel to Coopers Town.
“Growing up was hard because sponging died out and there was little money but fortunately the men were able to take up crawfishing. We would go to school barefoot because we had to save our shoes for church and we had to be very careful with whatever we did have. After school and in the holidays we would help our parents in the fields. Life was hard, but was fun.”
Old Place suffered devastation in the 1932 hurricane which destroyed all of the homes but fortunately no lives were lost and the hardy residents rebuilt smaller homes and continued on with their lives. After such widespread destruction the government of the day decided to move the people of Old Place, Southside and Grape Tree to an area on the western border of Marsh Harbour which would be more protected and also people would be closer to employment opportunities.
This area was named Dundas Town after Lord Dundas, the Governor of the Bahamas at the time. Each family was given five acres of land on which a two-room house was built. The men came first to cultivate the land and assist the government in building the houses then their families joined them.
Everyone and their goods were brought by sea in Captain Sherwin Archer’s boat, ‘The Arena.’ Some of the families did not want to come south to Dundas Town so remained in the north in the settlements of Coopers Town and Blackwood. “I was pleased and excited to come from Old Place and I liked it in Dundas Town,” remembers Mrs. Sawyer. She still lives on the same piece of land today, though not in the same building.
The home she lives in now is larger but the original two room house still stands in the back, a reminder of times gone by.
Mrs. Sawyer looks back on how different times were when she was young. “It was altogether different, Marsh Harbour was nothing then and there were no cars. There were just a few wealthy families, the Strattons, the Roberts and the Lowes. People treated each other with love and respect and had more manners. If a young person did not speak to an older person they would get beaten. In those days parents disciplined their children but nowadays too many children rule their parents. Although I enjoyed my childhood in Old Place I have been very happy in Dundas Town,” declares Mrs. Sawyer.