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Visiting the Hermitage Estate - A Memorable Cultural Experience

With several hundred islands and cays around Great and Little Exuma, it is hard to look past the magical beauty and delve into the area’s dark history. However, it is well-worth the time to visit one of the major historical sites in the Bahamas: The Hermitage Estate in Williams Town, on Little Exuma.

The overgrown ruins of the once 970 acre Hermitage Estate serve as an important reminder that cotton plantations and slavery were once part of the island’s way of life. Visitors to the area should not miss the opportunity to view the remains of the foundation of the Cotton House, the oldest building in Exuma. A stroll on the grounds will bring you to a few old tombs that date back to the mid 1700s.

A Little Bit of History
In the 1700s, after the historic American War of Independence, the islands became a haven for Loyalists who fled to the area in order to seek refuge for themselves and their slaves. During this time, many cotton plantations were set up, one of which was The Hermitage Estate. Members of the Ferguson family left the Carolina states and were the first to establish the remote village of Hermitage on Little Exuma. Also among the new settlers were the prominent Lord John Rolle and his father Dennis Rolle, originally from England, along with about 140 slaves.

The cotton plantations flourished but for a short time as soil exhaustion and caterpillar infestation set in. Dennis Rolle left the area and his property was inherited by his son in 1796, who generously divided up the land among the slaves. In turn, they gratefully adopted his surname, and the area came to be known as Rolle Town. During the 1820s, it was the island's largest slave settlement. Today, the family name of Rolle accounts for 60 percent of the native population in the Exuma Islands.

Like all the other early cotton plantations on the Exuma islands, the Hermitage Estate fell to ruins and became part of Exuma’s history. There are three marked graves on its grounds, which have survived the times, each with its own inscription that can still be read: Constance McDonald (1755-1759), George Butler (1759-1822) and Henderson Ferguson (1772-1825). The one unmarked grave is deemed to be the final resting place of a slave, most likely one without a name. The Hermitage Estate is not only an important site for history buffs, but also an interesting attraction for visitors to the islands.

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