They may have been Long Island boys by birth, but the political party they founded, was born, in an old wooden house, on the rise of East Street in Over The Hill, Nassau.
From a Queen’s coronation in England, to a fact finding trip in Jamaica, to a dilapidated two-story wooden house atop East Street, in Nassau. Herein lies the 1953 path, from idea to tenuous fruition, which begins the origin story, of the first political party, in The Bahamas.
Politics in a pre-modern colonial Bahamas (prior to 1967 Majority Rule), was applied in a way to ensure economic dominance
Critically examining history, in particular —origin stories—remains vitally important to the pillars of heritage, institutions and traditions of our culture. That being said, the origin story of the Progressive Liberal Party is still well worth renewed scrutiny.
Scholars of Caribbean sociopolitical theory, will discover that, Bahamian political ideologies, emanated, almost exclusively, from its racially and ethnically conscious root history. This of course was not particularly unique to a colonial Caribbean. Across the known world, since the history of modern civilisation began, diversity struggled before the long passage of time brought a measure of homogeneity, whether it was in race, ethnicity, religion, resources, skills or commerce.
For The Bahamas, racial identity is highlighted here because it is integral to the origin story of these three political pioneers: William Cartwright, Henry Milton Taylor and Cyril St. John Stevenson.
Popular narratives on the Progressive Liberal Party origin story, have centred on its humble beginnings on Long Island. Anecdotal stories put three— near white, mixed raced men,—on Long Island, at that very moment economic and political frustration would fire them up into forming the very first successful political party in tye nation’s history. This party was meant to take on the Bay Street oligarchy, a group representing a racially controlled economic power block, who also, had long controlled the House of Assembly.
Race politics, it must be said, was also why the original political pioneers of the Progressive Liberal Party – Cartwright, Taylor and Stevenson – became footnotes, instead of highlights, in the PLP’s success post 1967.
Ironically, as time marched on, these men—Cartwright, Stevenson and Taylor—were deemed, too white for the increasingly negro dominated political party they founded.
The very first Council of the Progressive Liberal Party comprised mixed race, white and light skinned Bahamians.
Lynden Pindling, who joined in 1954 was dark skinned. Eventually, as the party’s membership grew—made up of primarily dark skinned blacks —light skinned, mixed race and whites who had been what we would call the first stalwart members, were pushed out.
The problem with the Long Island origin story
According to two of the three men credited with forming the PLP, this anecdotal Long Island story, is not entirely accurate.
Long Island may have been where these men were born, but it is not the birth place of Bahamian political ideology. The birthplace, ironically straddled an area in between the seat of political power, and Over The Hill (historically segregated negro quarters) of New Providence.
If one really thinks about it, Long Island doesn’t fit the narrative. It just doesn’t. Politically speaking, in 1953, New Providence was the capital island where everything—economic and political—was happening.
New Providence was the seat of power. Every inspiration for creating political change could not have been stirred anywhere else, other than, where the House of Assembly sat.
Furthermore, in 1953, when the inspiration for the PLP became reality, two of the three founders sat as Members of the House of Assembly.
Queen’s Coronation, a house on East Street, a fact finding trip Jamaica— June to November 1953 journey to history
William “Bill” Cartwright, remains the least acknowledged figure in the formation of the PLP party.
It must be noted that William Cartwright, in 1953, when the PLP was formed, sat in the House of Assembly, and had been since 1949. Henry Taylor also sat in House of Assembly in 1953, having been elected in 1949.
Cartwright ran into legal problems involving several land deals. Not being able to contest the 1956 general elections, ‘Bill’ Cartwright, for the sake of appearances, left frontline PLP politics. He re-emerged, as a successful magazine publisher in New Providence, but essentially erased from the annals of Party memory.
In 1973, Cartwright recalls, in an article from his successful periodical, Bahamian Review Magazine, that the Progressive Liberal Party truly began in September 1953, at Henry Milton Taylor’s house, which sat atop East Street, across the street from the police barracks.
Lynden Pindling joins the PLP in early 1954
What does founding member Sir Henry Milton Taylor have to say about 1953?
According to Henry M. Taylor’s memoirs, he recounts that even as boy, he had a dream of a legislative system, based on party government, for the Bahama Island’s colony.
Sir Henry notes that the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was, in an indirect way, an inspiration for political change. Stevenson and Cartwright went to England for the coronation.
After Cartwright and Stevenson returned from England, in June 1953—-the two men came back with new conviction for political change.
One historical fact must be inserted here. A number of Bahamians, went to England in June 1953 for the coronation. One person was Cambridge educated lawyer and former legislative council member Alfred Francis Adderley, who shockingly died on the plane trip back to Nassau. Whether this had any impact on Cartwright and Stevenson, we do not know, but it must have factored in somewhere.
Sir Henry then recalls that Cartwright and Stevenson, upon returning from England, then made a hasty trip to Jamaica.
Whatever prompted Cartwright and Stevenson (then a staff reporter at a local newspaper) to decide to form a political party Taylor says he did not know. Nevertheless, when the duo approached him, Sir Henry said he readily agreed to participate in an opportunity to change the colony’s political future.
Stevenson, Taylor and Cartwright would meet every night, at Taylor’s ramshackle, wooden house at East Street Hill, to thrash out the details for an envisioned progressive movement which became a political party.
Meetings then moved to William Cartwright’s office which was on the corner of Bay and Frederick Street.