Transient fishermen, wreckers, and pirates knew of Hope Town’s well protected Harbour and undoubtedly made use of it during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but there was no permanent settlement at Hope Town until after the American Revolution (1775-1783). Those who opposed this war for independence and favored continued association with Great Britain was called loyalists, and they were not welcomed in the new United States. Several groups of these political refugees arrived in Abaco in 1783 and 1784; they established settlements on Great Abaco Island which they hoped would grow into great mercantile centers.
This dream was not to be, but in 1785 a small group of the refugees settled in Hope Town. Wyannie Malone and her four children, formerly of Charleston, South Carolina, were among them, and the loyalists were soon joined by migrants from Harbour Island, Eleuthera, an older Bahamian settlement. An economy based on subsistence fishing as well as farming made the settlement viable, though it was certainly not prosperous. It did become the most significant settlement in Southern Abaco, and it was a seat for local government in Abaco until 1959.
During Hope Town’s slow but steady growth during much of the nineteenth century, its economy was supplemented by the salvaging of cargoes from ships which wrecked on Elbow Reef lying just east of the town. Some wrecks brought relative prosperity for a few months, but then the town returned to subsistence fishing and farming. Wrecking ceased to be important after the construction of the Hope Town lighthouse in 1863. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s many of Hope Town’s residents became engaged in producing goods for export to the United States. These included pineapples during the 1880’s and later sisal and sponges and lumber; the population of the town grew to about one thousand persons. Each of these commodities seemed, at first, to be the economic salvation of the town, but then simply provided sustenance for a period of years before being eclipsed by some new activity. During World War I inflated freight rated led to the construction of large schooners in Hope Town, culminating with the launching of the 150-foot Abaco, Bahamas in 1922. Unfortunately, freight rates declined after the end of World War I, and the vessel was uneconomic by the time it was launched. Hope Town failed to become a center for shipping, but the 1920’s were years which brought change to the lives of the people of Hope Town.
In 1923 a diesel-powered mail boat provided Hope Town with its first motorized mail and freight service to Nassau, and in 1924 a wireless station at Hope Town provided the settlement with its first direct communications link with the outside world. Despite these modernization, Hope Town’s economy remained depressed, and many persons, especially young people, left the town to find work in Nassau or in Florida. It was not until after the depression and World War II that Hope Town gained new viability as a tourist destination. First yachtsmen came. Some of them purchased land and built winter retreats. Later small tourists resorts were built and in 1959 the opening of an airport on Great Abaco Island made Hope Town much more accessible for tourists from the United States. Hope Town’s present prosperity is based, in large part, on the continuing growth of tourism, but during the 1980’s there were still men in Hope Town who fished from Abaco dinghies for a living.
Residential electric service and telephones came to Hope Town only during the last half of the twentieth century, and motorized traffic is still limited on its streets in the twenty first century. Hope Town remains, for the most part, a walking town. Clearly much of the past survives in Hope Town alongside the new and the modern, making Hope Town a very unique and charming place.
Professor Emeritus of History
Wyannie Malone Historical Museum
Hope Town, Abaco
For more on Hope Town’s interesting history please visit www.hopetownmuseum.com or stop in for a visit to the Wyannie Malone Museum while you are here.
LEARN ABOUT THE ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE. CLICK HERE