Astrolabe

A Property Puzzle

The controversial ownership of Breezy Point on East Caicos — Part 2

By Jeff Dodge

Small stations and residences were built at various points across East Caicos to facilitate the workings of sisal, guano mining, and the cattle industry. This Great House ruin is on an elevation at Breezy Point.

Who were the legitimate owners of East Caicos island, or more specifically, a tract of land at Breezy Point? The answer to this question turns out to be a convoluted story that is proving difficult to unwind. This is Part Two of the story that began in 1807 with the Ingham brothers of Bermuda. Part One was published in the Winter 2023/24 edition of Astrolabe. 

Part One synopsis

In 1807 John and Thomas Ingham Jr. were issued land grants from the governor of the Bahamas for 1,368 acres of land at Breezy Point on East Caicos. John received 480 acres and his brother 888 acres.

John had two children, Rose and Robert, with Eve, a slave owned by John McIntosh. Rose and Robert were manumitted (freed) before John’s death in 1818. His will bequeathed his property, in trust, to his children. The trust, to be managed by his executors, would terminate in 1826 and the property would then belong to John’s children.

Thomas Jr. died in 1823 intestate (without leaving a will); his wife died a few weeks later. Copeland John Stamers, his stepson and the estate administrator, ended up inheriting Thomas Jr.’s 888 acre Breezy Point parcel.

Copeland John Stamers died in 1866 leaving his personal and real property to his three children. His will bequeathed 1,360 acres of land at Breezy Point to his children. His will stated that this included both Thomas Jr.’s land as well as John Ingham’s 480 acre parcel. Stamers claimed John’s land by right of “continued occupancy.” 

No documentation has surfaced to indicate Rose and Robert ever became owners of their father’s 480 acre parcel at Breezy Point. Rose and Robert were only 10 and 12 years old at the time of their father’s death and being the children of a slave could explain why they might not have been made aware of their inheritance. 

In 1871, the three children of Copeland J. Stamers acquired a 99-year lease from the government for additional land on East Caicos. The size of the leased property was not stated, but it probably included most of East Caicos excluding Breezy Point. Nine months later, they sold the 1,288 [sic] acres at Breezy Point and the 99-year lease for the additional land to John N. Reynolds, a salt merchant on South Caicos.The difference between the 1,368 acres granted to the Ingham brothers and the 1,288 acres sold to Reynolds was never explained. 

Note: Various documents have described the land originally granted to the Ingham brothers as being somewhere between 1,288 acres and 1,400 acres in size. Some differences could be attributed to various surveys. 

This overhead photo of Breezy Point on East Caicos depicts the land granted to John and Thomas Ingham Jr. in 1807 by the governor of the Bahamas.

The story continues . . .

John N. Reynolds purchased the 1,288 acre parcel at Breezy Point and the 99 year lease from the children of Copeland J. Stamers in 1871 for $1,000. Reynolds raised cattle on this property in accordance with the terms of the 99 year lease agreement. Bat guano was discovered in caves on the northwest side of East Caicos in the early 1880s. Reynolds exported this valuable fertilizer to Jamaica and other islands until it played out a few years later.

John Reynolds and his will

John Reynolds married Elizabeth Adams around 1876—a few years after the death of Bridget, his first wife. John Reynolds died in March 1890. Eight children and his wife Elizabeth survived him. Reynolds left the 1,288 acre parcel at Breezy Point to Elizabeth and his daughters Grace and Alice. He left the remaining years of the 99 year lease to his wife and all eight of his children.  

A month after the death of John Reynolds, his wife and eight children leased the property they inherited on East Caicos to Jeremiah D. Murphy of Grand Turk for 20 years—the lease was renewable for an additional 10 years. Murphy and his partner used the land to grow sisal, forming the East Caicos Sisal Company in 1891. It is not known what, if anything, the Reynolds family did with their land following the failure of the sisal operation in 1919 and the expiration of Murphy’s lease. 

In 1888, John N. Reynolds advertised in the Royal Gazette (Bermuda) that he wanted to sell or lease his holdings at Breezy Point on East Caicos.

Grace Reynolds becomes sole owner

The oldest Reynolds children began moving to Boston from the Turks & Caicos Islands in 1884. Shortly after the death of John Reynolds in 1890, his entire family was living in the US—most of them in the Boston area.

In 1928, Grace became the sole owner of her father’s 1,288 acre parcel at Breezy Point following the death of her mother Elizabeth in 1928—her sister Alice had died in 1909.

Californians try to colonize Grace’s property

In 1938, Richard Irving, a traveling salesman from California, met Grace’s second husband James Lake at a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. Lake, an insurance investigator, was attending a conference there. During their conversation one evening, Lake mentioned that his wife owned land on East Caicos. Irving, distressed with the situation in America for the middle class and his view that the Roosevelt Administration was heading toward socialism, was immediately interested. Irving and Lake developed a plan whereby a small group of like-minded individuals would move to Grace’s inheritance on East Caicos to form a colony.  

In early 1940, a group of 19 “pioneers” left California bound for East Caicos. Grace’s husband James Lake, who had visited the Turks & Caicos Islands a few years earlier, promised the group that many valuable resources awaited them on East Caicos such as wild cattle, fertile land for growing crops, fruit trees, and much more. In addition, Lake told the group they would be self-sufficient within a few months because they could sell the sisal that was growing wild, bat guano from the caves, and the wild donkeys to a dog food company.

It wasn’t long before the group discovered that none of James Lake’s promises were true. Disappointed, most of the group left East Caicos within months of their arrival. The last to leave was James Lake in 1943. Grace, his wife, left the year before. (Read more about the effort to colonize East Caicos at: https://www.timespub.tc/2018/01/modern-crusoes/.)

Grace conveys land to her daughter

Alice Jobling, Grace’s daughter by her first marriage, married James Christensen, a Bermudian, in 1935. Sometime following Grace’s return to Boston in 1942 and before 1949, Grace transferred her land at Breezy Point to Alice, probably by quit claim deed. Apparently at the time it could only be sold or transferred to a British subject and Alice qualified by her marriage to Christensen, a Bermudian.

Christensen visits East Caicos but sells

In June 1949, James Christensen and Herbert Crisson led a party of a dozen Bermudians to East Caicos aboard the M.V. Zolaleta to determine if it could be developed into a tourist resort. They were disappointed with conditions there—especially the millions of mosquitoes. However, they were impressed by the beautiful beaches and the presence of fresh water. The expedition was considered a success—despite the mosquitoes—and group leaders planned to seek £1,000,000 following their return to Bermuda so they could develop the property.

Money to develop Breezy Point following the Christensen expedition never materialized and in 1976 they sold their East Caicos holdings to Solar Enterprises Ltd. of Bermuda.

This shows the chain of ownership for the land at Breezy Point, East Caicos.

Solar Enterprises sell the property

In 1998 the Royal Gazette reported that there were 72 shareholders in Solar Enterprises Ltd. and that the 1,375.5 acre parcel of land on East Caicos was their primary asset. (It’s amazing how the size of this property changes.) It was also reported that a buyer from the State of Maryland had offered to buy the property for $7.09 million—this deal collapsed in December 1998. 

Solar Enterprises Ltd. announced in February 2006 that it had sold the 1,375 acre parcel at Breezy Point for $8.5 million. The company went into voluntary liquidation in late 2006 after paying their shareholders a dividend of $9.25/share. Although the name of the buyer was not reported at the time, it was probably the Arden Group of Philadelphia.

Other attempts to develop East Caicos

Dr. John Bell—the Loyalist period

Dr. John Bell, a Scotsman, arrived on the island of Carriacou (near Grenada) circa 1776. He bought his first property there in 1777 and began growing cotton for export. He continued buying and selling land on Carriacou until at least 1795.

John Bell began visiting The Bahamas in 1789 searching for land beyond Carriacou in order to expand his cotton production. Though no documentary evidence has been found to indicate John Bell was ever a Loyalist, the Crown gave him three land grants in 1791 for 1,100 acres of land on Grand Caicos. Bell was one of at least 83 grantees to receive at least 112 land grants on the Caicos Islands and Providenciales from the British Government between 1789 and 1794. The majority of land grants were on North and Middle Caicos. However at least four were on Providenciales and one was on East Caicos. Most of those receiving these grants were Loyalists from America.

Bell’s largest land grant was for 720 acres on what is now Middle Caicos. An 80 acre grant was for a small island west of the passage Windward Going Through (between Middle and East Caicos) and the third grant was for 300 acres eastward of Windward Going Through on East Caicos. Over the next few years Bell purchased more land, greatly expanding the size of his Caicos holdings. Bell created two plantations on his Caicos property that he named Increase and Industry. Though Bell built a house and planted 300 acres of cotton on Middle Caicos, he probably spent most of his time on Carriacou because, though never married, Bell had two families on Carriacou as well as several plantations to manage.

Bell wrote his will on the island of Guadeloupe in 1800 and died shortly thereafter. His will bequeathed his Carriacou properties to his daughter Mary Ann and her mother Alziere; to his three children by Margaret, his manumitted slave; and to his Scottish nieces and nephews. Bell’s will did not mention his Increase or Industry plantations on the Caicos Islands.

An 1801 inventory of Dr. Bell’s Caicos properties records that his Increase Plantation had grown to 1,470 acres and that Industry Plantation consisted of about 1,000 acres. The inventory reiterated that Bell’s properties included 300 acres on East Caicos that were separately valued at £150. What Bell did with his East Caicos acreage is unknown, however it is unlikely this land was planted or developed.

By 1800, cotton production in The Bahamas was in decline due to insect infestations, worn out soil, and low cotton prices. Many cotton planters were selling or abandoning their properties. Since John Bell did not mention Increase or Industry Plantations in his will, it’s assumed he abandoned them or left them to his slaves. However, slaves typically could not afford to maintain an estate like Bell’s. Though the final disposition of Bell’s Caicos property is unknown, it probably reverted to government ownership within a few years of his death.

John Houseman – Developer

Retired British S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) officer and journalist John Houseman, his wife, and their two children, having obtained a government lease for land on East Caicos, moved there in 1968 to establish a hotel. Houseman gave up the plan eight months later and moved back to Grand Turk. He became the editor of the Conch News.

Richard Padgett – Developer

British developer Richard Padgett built a house on Providenciales in 1996. His plan was to build a hotel and develop the property that was once the Third Turtle Club. 

In early 2005, Padgett acquired 92 acres of government land near Breezy Point on East Caicos. (The 99-year lease the Stamers children sold to John Reynolds in 1871 had expired and it’s likely the property reverted to government ownership even earlier). Pagett acquired this land without a survey and later complained to the government that he needed an easement across other property for better access to Breezy Point. He also complained that he had lost 18 acres of beachfront property due to erosion. In 2007, the government agreed to exchange Padgett’s 92 acre parcel for three parcels of government land totaling about 540 acres—a very sweet deal indeed.

Between August 2003 and August 2009 Padgett had been making hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal payments to corrupt senior government officials for favorable real estate deals. In May 2013, Padgett pleaded guilty to bribery and filing false documents.

Due to ill health, Padgett, then living in England, was given a suspended jail sentence for bribing Turks & Caicos Islands government ministers. Under the settlement agreement, Padgett transferred all his properties back to the government plus a cash contribution of $75,000 to cover the cost of the investigation. In March 2009, as the result of the corruption investigation, the premier of the TCI resigned. Five months later the United Kingdom suspended Turks & Caicos self-government and the British governor took over direct rule until October 2012.

Breezy Point today

Today Breezy Point remains vacant land—no one lives there and it has not been developed. But, it has had a long and interesting history since the Ingham brothers became the owners by way of land grants in 1807.  At left is a summary chart of the many who have owned this land at Breezy Point. Who will be the next owner?  Will East Caicos be developed for the cruise ship industry or become a resort? Only time will tell. Some would like it to remain the largest undeveloped island in the Caribbean.

The author wishes to thank the following individuals for their valuable contributions:  Linda Abend of Bermuda for searching the Bermuda Archives for original documents; John Adams, former Bermuda Government Archivist now living in the UK; and Beth Wagstaff, genealogical researcher, Auckland, N.Z.



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