"Good morning, gentlemen," said one of the officers as we passed. "Did you come over from Key West?"|
We told him that we did.
"What was the news there when you left, gentlemen?"
There was no news to tell him, and we continued the walk to the hotel. Everything about us was either dazzling white or rich cream-color--streets, houses, stone walls, even the soil in such gardens as we passed. Through a stone archway we entered the hotel grounds, and were soon in the cool office.
The Royal Victoria Hotel, the largest building in the Bahamas, is four stories high, built of native stone of the islands, with long and broad verandas surrounding every story, with one end rounded off like the stern of a steam-boat (so that when you sit there you unconciously keep waiting for the bell to ring and the boat to start,) and with a stone-arched court in front, where a breeze always blows, and where, from breakfast till bed-time, a fair is always in progress.
It looks like an Oriental bazaar. Colored men and women, boys and girls, some of them so nearly white you could hardly tell the difference, and many of them exceedingly pretty, filled the open archways when we reached the hotel, offering for sale all the sorts of curiosities that people usually buy in stange lands and throw away as soon as they get home--canes, baskets, straw hats, shell-work, cocoa-nuts, sponges, flowers, queer fish--nearly everything imaginable.
Twenty people had these things for sale, and a hundred more stood in the background waiting to see something sold. They like to wait, these Nassau darkies. There seems to be no end to their patience. I have seen a colored boy ask at the hotel office for a gentleman before breakfast and wait for him until nearly dinner-time, standing all the while where he could see his man come down stairs.
At last our baggage came up from the schooner, and at last we had the satisfaction of sitting down once more to a civilized meal, in the dining room of the Royal Victorian Hotel, a great room, perfumed with flowers, (it was Feb. 19.) shady and cool, and of eating from tables loaded with good things.
In the hotel office I was delighted to meet Mr. S. S. Morton, of New-York, under whose guidance the Royal Victoria flourishes, and a dozen other New-Yorkers with familiar names. It seemed almost like walking into a Saratoga hotel in Summer. Every door and window, of course, was open, and the thermometer was somewhere about 75°. The Nassau Band was playing on the lawn. Hotel guests were sitting out under the arches and under the trees, talking with the negroes, reading, sewing, smoking. There were some late New-York papers in the reading-room, and maps of the Bahamas on the walls, and comfortable sofas...
In the heat of the afternoon, when visitors and native alike were seeking shady spots for rest and sleep, I walked out to have a look at the city. It lies, I soon found, on the slope of a hill, facing the sea, and looking northward. Near the hill's summit is the Royal Victorian Hotel--so high that you can stand on the front porch and look over most of the city and far out to sea. Quite on the top of the hill is the Governor's house, a large but unpretentious mansion, with handsome grounds.
The hill I speak of might more properly be called a ridge, for it extends a long distance. All the principal part of Nassau lies between the summit and the water. Back of the hill lie some of the most curious places in the world; suburbs of the city, inhabited almost entirely by negroes. Grantstown is the principal one of these, stretching back for a mile or two. There are about four streets running parallel with the water, each one a little higher up the hill, and perhaps a dozen streets at right angles with them, all ending at the wharf. This takes in the business part of the place. Then for a mile in either direction, east of west, are more streets, full of dwellings and little shops.
You can go for miles along a smooth, hard street, white and clean, along the edge of the water. It will take you past the cocoa-nut groves and beautiful white bathing beaches and several forts, and many other things of interest.
Outside of busy Bay-street, I soon found, every negro speaks to every white person he meets, touching his hat, and expecting a nod in return... All the people in Nassau, white or black, are polite and friendly to strangers, and always ready to give them whatever information they want...
The whole island is a mass of rock of the coral limestone order. But to say that it is a rocky islet would give a very erroneous impression of it to a Northern person. With us a rocky place is barren and useless. But this rock is soft, and trees and plants grow in it almost as well as in earth. There is hardly a bare spot on the whole island except where it has been cleared. In some places are large tracts of pine woods; in others the ground is hidden by dense masses of a sort of chapparal, growing 10 or 12 feet high, and nobody would suspect the foundation of it all to be a solid rock.
There is a foot or two of soil in some places that has come from nobody knows where. But the usual process of making a garden is to break up an acre or two of the rock with a sledge and crow-bar, mash it up fine, and mix in enough earth to prevent the ground from hardening again. In this compound anything under the sun will grow, and grow luxuriantly. A man who takes this much trouble to make a garden can have green peas and fresh lettuce and all the other vegetables on his table every day in the year. There is no season when vegetation does not flourish, and when the garden is once made it is always there.
Men go out with crow-bars and set out cocoa-nut trees, and in a few days they are tall and beautiful and bear a cocoa-nut (so the saying goes) for every day in the year. There is nourishment for plants in the material of the rock...
Nearly all the houses are built out of it. You have only to saw down into the quarries to get the most beautiful big blocks of it that make handsome and substantial houses. The blocks harden by exposure to the air, and in this climate soon become as durable as granite.
Out of the rock, too, water-tanks are built to catch rain water. Every house has its tank. There are springs and wells, but I believe the rain water is considered healthier to drink. It is sweet and pure and quite as good as our Croton.
In the negro settlements in the suburbs there are a number of native Africans... One thing they brought with them from Africa that Nassau ought to profit by... is the knowledge of making the real African thatch, such as their huts at home were covered with. Some of the houses in Grant's Town are roofed with this thatch, and one church there has such a roof--the handsomest roof on the inside that I ever saw, not even excepting our own church buildings.
Strolling along Bay-street, I came to a fine market building, where, every week-day morning, all the fruits and vegetables of the tropics are offered for sale. There are no large producers; all the things come on trays carried on the negroes' heads, and hardly any person brings more than a shilling's worth. In the fish market there are varieties and quantities that Fulton Market might envy.
The streets are all made of the natural rock. It has only to be broken up and smoothed over, and the first rain makes a cement of it, and it becomes as "hard as rock," as it is. They don't know what mud is in Nassau. But I do, because I live in New-Jersey...
W. D. [WILLIAM DRYSDALE who later moved to Nassau, Bahamas, to live]
The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1884 was equivalent to $22.88 in 2007.
The New York Times, November 9, 1858:|
We have files of Nassau papers to the 28th of October.
The Nassau Guardian of the 27th ult., speaking of the effects of the late equinoctials, says:
"The late boisterous weather has created an unusual surge on the northern side of Hog Island, across the bar, and along the shore of the western district of New-Providence. The sea has been breaking over Hog Island Point as far as the lighthouse-keeper's residence, forming a complete cataract, and occasionally the billows have risen half as high as the lighthouse itself. The tide rose yesterday to a considerable height, overflowing the western suburbs of Nassau, and causing much damage to the buildings along shore.
A brig and schooner have been in the offing since yesterday, and another schooner was signalled to-day without any possibility of crossing the bar."
In speaking of the recent gale, the Bahama Herald, of the 23rd of October, says:
"A tremendous sea was thrown up outside, and even in the harbor the fury of the successive blasts was severely felt. Several vessels were driven ashore, and, among the rest, the American brig Flora, and the American schooner Fashion, which were both bilged. The brig was laden with coffee from San Domingo, and the schooner with lumber and shingles. The captain of the brig has engaged hands to discharge the cargo for the sum of two thousand dollars."
We understand that two persons have been arrested and committed to prison for stealing sundry articles from the American schooner Fashion, which was driven ashore in the late blow as above stated.
The Nassau Herald, of the 16th, has a long article in regard to the proposed new line of steamers by the Messrs. Cunard. We extract the following:
"Mr. Cunard has offered to run a large steamer of ten or twelve hundred tons burden between New York, Nassau and Havana, instead of the smaller one of four hundred tons, and fifty-horse power, as first proposed. We understand that the larger vessel will have handsome accommodation for passengers. This is a much better arrangement for us than the former one. The smaller vessel would hardly have answered our purpose. The accommodation must have been indifferent, and the probable rate of a steamer driven by so small a power would have presented few attractions to those accustomed to visit the United States in our fast-sailing schooners.
Mr. Cunard's last proposal also secures us another advantage, not provided for in the first instance. The larger steamer is to run to Havana, and thus place us in frequent and regular communication with a large commercial population, whilst at the same time we shall be able to send and receive through Havana our West India mails as often and as punctually as we have hitherto sent and received them by way of St. Thomas. We have thus an opportunity of obtaining steam communication with New-York without sacrificing direct communication with the West Indies.
In fact, Mr. Cunard's offer gives us a far better chance of steam than we could reasonably have expected, and those among us who may believe that the introduction of this scientific appliance will confer on these communities the commercial and other advantages which in some places it has undeniably drawn after it will eagerly embrace Mr. Cunard's generous offer. The conditions with which that offer is coupled will not, surely, be any hindrance to its acceptance. We believe that compliance with the first condition, respecting port charges, is already provided for. With respect to the second condition--the erection of a quay at which the steamer may be free of charge at all times, a considerable outlay will be necessary, which can only be voted by the Legislature. But the feeling of the House has always been strongly in favor of steam communication with New-York.
The condition respecting the building of a hotel, by means of which visitors may be attracted to our shores, can only be executed by the efforts of private enterprise. A joint-stock company might be formed for the purpose, or some wealthy individual might profitably invest a portion of his capital in this undertaking, and thus promote his own immediate interests, and at the same time give effect to the views and wishes of the Legislature, and prove a benefactor to his country."