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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 2 (October 1980)

by Sandra Riley

The hitherto unpublished account of W. E. Armbrister's "A Short History of the Bahamas of Recent Date"1 had been buried among the W. E. Armbrister family papers for over a half century. Mrs. Frances Armbrister, wife of the late Cyril Armbrister, escaped a near fatal fire which destroyed her Cat Island home. Many of the family's documents were ruined but this account survived. Mrs. Armbrister's safe keeping and generous contribution has made its publication possible.

Although unsigned, the "Short History" is unmistakably in W. E. Armbrister's hand. By comparison, legal documents written by him are carefully penned except for his signature2 (a thing usually done in haste and with a flourish) which represents the character of the penmanship in the "Short History." The account, scrawled on faintly lined, steel blue stationery, is unfinished.

The Honourable William Edward Armbrister was a member of the Executive Council and Preisdent of the Legislative Council3 and served as a member of the Bahamas House of Assembly for over twenty years.4 Because of ill health, he resigned his post in May5 and died in June, 1907.

It would have been unlike the character of this man, as a devoted worker on behalf of government, simply to languish and die. It is entirely possible that he wrote the "Short History" during the last month of his life and that this is the reason for the sometimes incomprehensible handwriting. This and the choppiness of his discourse resulted from the man's desperate push to finish one more, one final act, worthy of his "prominent place in the public life of the colony."6

The Guardian further characterized W. E. Armbrister as a man who filled his government post in "an able and dignified manner," who, in religious affairs, was a "most conscientious, consistent and indefatigable worker,"7 who "earned the respect and admiration of his fellow citizens by his sterling upright character, and his cheerful and genial disposition," and whose "career both as a public individual and private gentleman" was distinguished by "his invariable courtesy and unswerving honesty of purpose ..."8

W. E. Armbrister, son of John Armbrister, Jr., and Caroline Thurston, was born at the Camp Estate on Cat Island in the Bahamas on the 8th of April, 1819. His father and grandfather were both British Loyalists exiled from America by the Revolution.

No written documentation for the family's movements prior to their time in America has been found to date, but an oral account of the Armbrister family history has passed down through the years and was put into written form by P. W. D. Armbrister. Recorded in the "Family History" is the fact that Thaddeus Armbrister, W. E.'s great grandfather, during the earliest years of the 1700's, went from Ryswick, Holland, to Warsaw, Poland, and then to England where" he married an English woman." Later, "either Thaddeus or his son John, or both, went to South Carolina."9 The first written evidence establishing the presence of an Armbrister in the American colonies was entered in the Carolina Public Records in November, 1758. John Armbrister, baker, mortgaged land in Charleston10 to Gabriel Manigault, merchant, for which Mary Elizabeth Armbrister issued a renunciation of dower.11


If you are interested in the full text of the article, you may order this issue of our Journal for B$5.00 plus s&h by contacting the society.


  1. The original document of W. E. Armbrister's "A Short History of the Bahamas of Recent Date" has been donated by Mrs. Frances Armbrister to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and is available to researchers in the Archives in Nassau. A copy of the original as well as the tryped edition is also availble in the Charlton W. Tebeau Library of Florida History at the Historical Association of Southern Florida, Miami. Hereinafter the account will be referred to as "Short History."
  2. W. E. Armbrister's signature appears on an "Assignment by way of Mortgage of Stock in Trade, W. E. Armbrister to the Nassau Fire and Marine Insurance Company," recorded 30 October, 1905, Book 0.10, pp. 325, Registrar of Records Office, Nassau, New Providence.
  3. Votes of the Legislative Council, 1907, p. 1.
  4. "Obituary for W. E. Armbrister," Nassau Guardian, 22 June, 1907, p. 2., col. 4. Hereinafter cited as Guardian, obit.
  5. Guardian, 22 May 1907, p. 2., col. 2.
  6. Guardian, obit.
  7. W. E. Armbrister was the "the first commissioner of Christ Church when it was made the Cathedral of the Diocese." Guardian, obit.
  8. Guardian, obit.
  9. Oral History submitted by P. W. D. Armbrister (descendant of James Armbrister) taken from the "Archives of The Armbrister Family History." The information was got from Ellen Armbrister Burnside (P. W. D.'s grandmother) who got it from her grandmother, Susanna Ramsey, who was alive in the early 1800's, hence a contemporary of John Armbrister, Jr. Hereinafter cited as the Armbrister "Family History."
  10. "Charleston Deeds 1758-9, "Vol. TT, pp. 419-425. On microfilm in the South Carolina Archives, Columbia. This repository is hereinafter cited as the S. C. Archives.
  11. "Renuciation of Dower 1757-1760," Court of Common Pleas, State of South Carolina. On Nov. 4, 1758 Mary Elizabeth Armbrister released to Gabriel Manigault" ... all and all manner of Dower Right and Title of Dower...." p. 106, S. C. Archives.