Hope Town, Bahamas: A settlement of Carolinians who ran away from home

Published 11:31 am Monday, March 2, 2015

FRED BONNER | CONTRIBUTED PHOTO OPP: The inter-island ferry “Donnie IX” backs up to the lower dock at Hope Town. In the background is the historic Elbow Reef Lighthouse, the most photographed spot in the Abacos.

PHOTO OPP: The inter-island ferry “Donnie IX” backs up to the lower dock at Hope Town. In the background is the historic Elbow Reef Lighthouse, the most photographed spot in the Abacos.

It’s been about 30 years since a new cousin in-law invited us to visit her at their family vacation home in the Bahamas. I’d never visited these islands before and asked where this Hope Town was located.

She patiently told me that Hope Town is a relatively small village located on Elbow Cay, a small island about 20 miles long by a little over a mile wide at its largest point.  It’s just one island of thousands of islands of the Bahamas and is part of the Abacos.

When I asked if there were any casinos with water slides and nightclubs, she laughingly replied that Hope Town is a very quiet, picturesque village on one of the “out islands” of the Abacos and if you were looking for night life, you won’t find it in Hope Town.

The best jumping-off spot for a visit to Hope Town is to catch a flight form the U.S. mainland to Marsh Harbor on the Great Abaco Island. From Marsh Harbor, you’ll either need to rent a seaworthy boat to cross about 8 miles of the open water of the Sea of Abaco to Hope Town. These relatively shallow waters are reminiscent of our own Pamlico Sound and the shoals are constantly shifting.

Don’t attempt to boat in these waters unless you have a seaworthy vessel and know where the channels are. There’s a new “Cruising Guide To Abaco Bahamas for 2015” for sale in Marsh Harbor and it’s worth every penny you may pay for it.

If you don’t want to worry about having your own boat, there is a private inter-island ferry service operated from Marsh Harbor to Hope Town. This is like a big school bus that takes not only visitors to the islands in the area, but takes all the school kids from the various islands to the big public and private schools in Marsh Harbor as well.

Over the years since our family started visiting Hope Town, we’ve learned that this small island of Elbow Cay was settled by primarily North Carolinians who had pledged their loyalty to England during America’s Revolutionary War. The new Americans were not very happy with the Loyalist who’d backed the King of England and when pressure was brought to bear on them they packed up whatever belongings they could save and had a ship take them to this relatively unknown Bahamian Island called Elbow Cay. Hope Town was founded by people from the Carolinas.

Over the years as Hope Town and Elbow Cay developed, it was home to about every pirate and privateer you can name, including Beaufort County’s own, Blackbeard. The current historic lighthouse in Hopetown was placed on Elbow Reef to warn mariners away from this reef. Hundreds of shipwrecks are still being discovered as divers explore these waters. Many of the older homes in Hope Town still display rusted cannons that were recovered from the Elbow Reef.

Over time, we learned that we were not the only Eastern North Carolinians who regularly visit Hope Town. Betty Stewart, Edgar Taft, Tom and Carolyn Travethan, Harry Wetmore and wife Carolyn, all from Beaufort County, are just a few of the locals who frequent Hope Town. Numerous family engagements and subsequent weddings have also happened in Hope Town.

The Abacos are especially noted for its fabulous sport fishing and in particular, the bonefish angling. Another noted (ex) Beaufort Countian, Dr. Sam Williams, liked the bone fishing there and eventually wound up running a special bone fishing website to direct other anglers at excellent bonefish angling on a worldwide scale. Aurora natives John and Judy Hudnell are currently in the Abacos, trying their luck on the bonefish.

Incidentally, the bonefish is the National Fish of the Bahamas and it is against the law to keep (kill) one while fishing there.

It seems that you run into Tar Heels about everywhere you turn in Hope Town. In a recent visit to the Abaco Inn on the south end of Elbow Cay, we noticed that there were books on sale there touting the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina and novels on “Winds From the Carolinas.”

After having spent many a Christmas’s in Hope Town many local Beaufort Countians have wondered just why the Hope Town and Elbow Cay Santa Claus had such an eastern North Carolina accent. The barefoot Santa would sit on the Hope Town harbor mail dock just before Christmas and let the local kids pay a visit.  They wondered why Santa always talked like he had marbles in his mouth and kept talking about “hoie toide ‘n the fish ain’t bit’n t’nite.”

If you might be looking for a fancy Bahamas vacation spot with lots of life night activity, casinos, moonlight cruises, amusement parks and such, Hope Town isn’t your place. Many of the people you might run into there will be from eastern North Carolina and they’re visiting there because it’s a nice quiet place to relax, fish, visit friends and maybe find a little romance on a small island in the Bahamas.

Once you’ve made friends in Hope Town, don’t be surprised to have your old and new friends come down to the Hope Town harbor dock to see you off as you leave. They’ll still be waving good-by to you as you look off the back of the Donnie IX as it pulls away from Hope Town. You’ll be back!