History of Elbow Cay
Elbow Cay is part of the Abaco Islands, situated just a few miles east of the Great Abaco mainland.
While it was visited by the Lucayan people (the original inhabitants of the Bahamas) over 600 years ago, Elbow Cay’s first permanent residents were British loyalists, who fled there when America declared its independence in 1785.
They included Wyannie Malone, who was one of the first to arrive along with three of her children, Ephraim, David and Wyannie. Wyannie junior was married to Jacob Adams who, along with Ephraim, was a loyalist soldier in South Carolina. Both men received large land grants from King George III in thanks for their service.
Hope Town is Elbow Cay’s largest village and was originally the administrative center of the Abaco Islands (until Marsh Harbour took over this role in the 1960s). To this day one of the stores in Hope Town is still run by a descendent of Wyannie Malone.
Wreckers and pirates
The inhabitants of Elbow Cay, like elsewhere in the Abacos, survived by fishing and salvaging ships wrecked on Elbow Reef; there were limited trade options for this isolated group of islands. The Hope Town wreckers, who salvaged cargo from wrecked ships, were also credited with saving many lives from the sinking vessels.
There is also a strong history of pirates and freebooters in Elbow Cay and throughout the Abaco Islands.
In the 1850s Elbow Cay, like many Bahamian islands, was struck by a cholera epidemic. Around 100 lives were lost and today their memories are preserved in the Cholera Cemetery.
Hope Town lighthouse
In 1864 the Hope Town lighthouse was established to try and reduce the number of shipwrecks – much to the annoyance of the wreckers! Many inhabitants refused to give the lighthouse workers fresh water and it’s said that boats filled with building materials were deliberately scuppered.
Today the lighthouse remains one the few manually operated, kerosene-fueled lighthouses in the world.
During the 1800s Elbow Cay’s importance in the boat building trade grew and it became known as the “Boat Building Capital of Abaco”. At its height, Hope Town was homeport to more than 200 vessels.
Modern day Elbow Cay
In 1958 the Marsh Harbour Airport was opened and, shortly after, Albury’s Ferry Service to Elbow Cay was established. This suddenly provided the islands with many more opportunities, particularly for tourism. It also brought the first TVs and outboard motors to Elbow Cay.
In September 2019 Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the east coast of Elbow Cay with winds reaching up to 185mph (295kph). There was terrible damage throughout the island. Thankfully, no residents of Elbow Cay lost their lives to the storm, but many emerged from the shelters to find their homes and businesses destroyed. The ability to rebuild after such devastation is testament to the determination and positivity of the people of Elbow Cay.
A bright future
Today tourism is the main industry on Elbow Cay, with many excellent hotels and rental homes, such as Sea Oats, providing visitors with the perfect vacation spot.
If you’d like to learn more, then you’ll enjoy a visit to the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town, which opened in 1977.