Exuma Salt

The survey map of Great and Little Exuma, drawn by Josiah Tatnall, the surveyor general in 1792, showed the two islands almost completely taken up by the Loyalist planters. The 115 plots which officially totaled 29,150 acres, were owned by 88 different planters of whom 64 owned 100 acres or more, 15 more than 500 acres, and 6 more than 1,000 acres.

Major landholders were Philip Moore, with six strategically scattered plots totaling 2,470 acres, William Telfour, with 2,300 acres in four plots and Denys Rolle and Roger Kelsall, with 1,975 and 1,490 acres respectively, in three plots each.

There were no more than nine plots of unallocated Crown land, totaling about 2,000 acres and comprising mainly lakes, marshes, or otherwise unproductive land, as well as the great salina (salt pond) on Little Exuma.

What did the Loyalist encounter on their arrival: At the time of their arrival in Exuma, the Loyalists found that salt raking was in progress and had been going on for quite a long time.

The Archives Exhibition booklet “The Salt Industry in The Bahamas” stated that:

Exuma perhaps, has the earliest salt history. In the grant of the Bahama Islands to the Lords Proprietors in 1670 “Exuma Salt” was one of the royalties included. In 1788 Exuma produced more than 100,000 bushels of salt and was considered by William Wylly in his “A Short Account of the Bahama Islands” 1789, as being the main salt producing island, and as such should be the seat of Government and the port of entry.

The salt raked at Exuma was mainly exported to the Colonies on the North American coast. The salt ponds in Exuma comprised 223 acres and continued to produce large quantities of salt into the 1860s.

Besides salt raking and the trade, the Loyalists also found a few scattered settlers (whites and their slaves) engaged in agriculture. (W H James p. 25).

Cotton: With the arrival of the Loyalists and their slaves, cotton was planted. American Loyalists hoped to recreate the life they had left behind and supply the textile mills in northern England. W H James in his book Exuma: The Loyalist Years, 1783-1834, stated that “probably the largest production was realized on Long Island, Cat Island and Exuma. These were the great "cotton islands of the period.”

W H James stated that “the harbour at Exuma became second to Nassau, the major cotton port with frequent sailings to London and Liverpool...” It was reported that 4,160 bales were exported from the ports of Nassau and Exuma in 1790, weighing 442 tons. Notices in The Bahama Gazette were 'commonplace' giving notices of ships loaded with cotton departing from Exuma:

April 19, 1791 for London

To sail from Exuma, about the 10th May next The Brigantine.

The Cotton Gin: Planters and slaves in Exuma used Joseph Eve's cotton gin. After the cotton was picked, pods were collected and fed into a machine, known as the “gin” which “separated the fibre from the seeds” by “two parallel rollers spiked with nails, and which turned in opposite directions.” Eve's gin was turned by the wind, horse or cattle, or water power if there was an inlet. The machine was able to gin upwards of 360 pounds of cotton in one day. Charles Dames, a planter on Exuma reported that the gin made the formerly tedious job much easier.

As is well known by 1800, most of the cotton planters in the Bahamas were facing ruin. The failure of cotton was attributed to the exhausted state of the soil, the inexperience of the planters and consequent injudicious planting, the attack of the chenille and red bug, and bad management.

by Dr Gail Saunders for The Nassau Guardian

Exuma Bahamas