A HISTORIC MONUMENT TO MARITIME HISTORY: CHEROKEE, ABACO
The small and – until quite recently – remote settlement of Cherokee is said to have been founded by one Colonel Thomas Brown with his cohort of Loyalists from the Carolinas. The origin of the name has given rise to various theories, one of which stems from Col. Brown’s supposed link to Cherokee Indians.
The early settlers established themselves at this natural harbour, and life there was largely dependent on the sea. Fishing provided food, wrecking provided goods and presumably the wherewithal for trade or barter. In due course, boat building became an important part of the community, as with other places on Abaco (e.g. Man-o-War Cay). Later still, smack fishing with the locally made boats brought stability and no doubt a degree of prosperity to the community.
The monument, and in the background right, the comms tower & the new SHELL MUSEUM
The fishing smacks of Cherokee were designed to carry 5 sails rather than the usual 7 sails. Not being a sailor, I can’t tell if this was just a local stylistic choice, or for simplicity, or perhaps for a specific sea-going reason in that particular area. As a tribute to this honourable industry, in October 1988 the community of Cherokee Sound erected a fine monument near the famous LONG DOCK dedicated to the Cherokee fishermen and their smacks, and naming many of the vessels involved over many decades.
The monument also sets out the long history of smack fishing dating from the early c19 until the 1960s, by which time the advent of the diesel engine had begun to make setting the sails for fishing redundant. The moving tribute speaks to the great pride of the community in its history and its forbears.
The short poem, with the authorship shown as Anon, is in fact based on a sea-song written by a non-seafaring Scotsman called Allan Cunningham (1784- 1842), A Wet sheet and a flowing sea – said to be his best known song. The full version is given at the end, and you’ll see that the second verse (with some minor changes) is the part chosen to form the shorter tribute.
The monument also includes a panel dedicated to the fishermen of the community who lost their lives in plying their trade from 1890 onwards. It is notable that every one of them bears a family name familiar to this day on Abaco in the succeeding generations.
A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea by Alan Cunningham (1784- 1842)
A Wet sheet and a flowing sea,
A wind that follows fast
And fills the white and rustling sail
And bends the gallant mast;
And bends the gallant mast, my boys,
While like the eagle free –
Away the good ship flies, and leaves
Old England on the lee.
“O for a soft and gentle wind!”
I heard a fair one cry:
But give to me the snoring breeze
And white waves heaving high;
And white waves heaving high, my lads,
The good ship tight and free –
The world of waters is our home,
And merry men are we.
There’s tempest in yon hornèd moon,
And lightning in yon cloud:
But hark the music, mariners!
The wind is piping loud;
The wind is piping loud, my boys,
The lightning flashes free –
While the hollow oak our palace is,
Our heritage the sea.
Credits & research: Keith Salvesen, Kaderin Mills / BNT, Bahamas.com, National Geographic, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism