Red Bays Bahamas

Over about fifty years after the removal act was passed, hundreds of escaped slaves ended up on Key Biscayne and the shores of what is now Miami-Dade County trying to escape to freedom in the Bahamas. Incredibly, with no navigational equipment, these people made rafts and set themselves adrift in the Atlantic Ocean hoping that currents would take them to the nearest island in the Bahama chain, Andros Island. See Red Bays at the top left of this map. It was the nearest land in the Bahamas that could be reached from Florida.[1]Dunn, p.5.

Red Bays on Andros Island in the Bahamas Islands was settled by escaped slaves from Florida starting in the mid-1800s. The slaves walked the Florida coast to arrive on Key Biscayne from which they launched themselves on the open ocean on rafts they built. Many people died making the crossing. Some were lost in hurricanes as there were no weather forecasters. Others were simple lost at sea having little or no knowledge of navigation. The Red Bays community still exists today. I have visited there twice. It is the most Africanized community in the Bahamas.[2]Dunn, Black Florida History.

The escaped slaves from Florida found freedom here in Red Bays on Andros Island. This island is the most Africanized island in the Bahamas in part because the British navy off loaded slaves they had freed from slave ships once England outlawed slavery. This is a very shallow bay which is why it was chosen. This meant that American and British ships searching for them could not enter these waters. The settlement was so isolated that it was here decades before the British discovered it.

Red Bays is located at the very top left of this map of Andros Island in the Bahamas. It is the closest point to Florida. By 1845 a few dozen Black Seminoles migrated to the southern tip of Florida. From there they were taken by pirates, privateers and Bahamian fishermen to safety and freedom in the Bahamas. Many made the trip by ones and twos in dugout canoes which they built and launched themselves into the Gulf Stream. Winds and currents took them to the western side of Andros Island in the Bahamas. The place they settled permanently is called Red Bays.[3]Dunn, Understanding Our Past, p.2.

Dr. Rosalyn Howard, an anthropologist and expert on the Black Seminoles of Red Bays photographed here on a research trip that I organized to Red Bays in 2009. She is a professor at the University of Central Florida. Dr. Howard lived among the Black Seminoles for more than a year and is treated as a member of the community. It was she who got me introduced to the community which tends to be closed and isolated. These posts are from that trip.[4]Dunn, p.1.

Omelia Marshall was the oldest person living in Red Bays when I visited in 2007. Her grandfather was among the earliest blacks to reach Red Bays from Florida. She was the matriach of the community and taught the other residents many of the African traditions that she learned from the earliest families to arrive on the island. I spent several hours with her over a few days. She was well into her 90s when this image was taken. She is now deceased. [5]Dunn Collection\FIU

By the early 1800s, some escaped slaves and Black Seminoles made it to the shores of Biscayne Bay. From there they launched themselves onto the sea in rafts they made hoping to reach the Bahamas. They had no weather reports. Many perished in the effort to reach freedom in the Bahamas but freedom was worth the risk. Sometimes they encountered Bahamian fisherman camped along the shores of present-day Miami and Key Biscayne who transported them to the Bahamas. This picture was taken on the beach in Red Bays looking toward Florida from which direction the Black Seminoles would have come. I was wondering how many were lost trying to make it to this shore.[6]Dunn, p.6.

My gifted filmmaker Isaac Brown (Jellyfish Productions) at Red Bays. We made a documentary film on Red Bays during my visit . The film, “Black Seminoles in the Bahamas: The Red Bays Story,” has also been donated by Camillus House of Miami to History Miami. Almost all of the main participants in the film are now dead. It is the only known film on Red Bays. A copy of the film is in my collection at the FIU library. [7]Dunn, Understanding Our Past, p.43. Dunn Collection FIU


1 Dunn, p.5.
2 Dunn, Black Florida History.
3 Dunn, Understanding Our Past, p.2.
4 Dunn, p.1.
5 Dunn Collection\FIU
6 Dunn, p.6.
7 Dunn, Understanding Our Past, p.43. Dunn Collection FIU