Our History

History of Clifton

People have lived at Clifton for almost 1000 years. The first inhabitants of The Bahamas were the Lucayans. Their ancestors spread the Taino culture from South America throughout the West Indies. Lucayans survived only a couple decades after Columbus, victims of slavery and disease. In the middle 1780s Clifton was inhabited again, this time by Loyalist planters fleeing the new United States. They were granted Crown Land to establish new plantations. John Wood owned most of the land now in the park and built the Great House near the cliffs. Cotton crops soon exhausted the thin soil, and by the early 1800s, four adjacent plantations at Clifton were acquired by William Wylly. An Attorney General with abolitionist views, Wylly was unpopular with other planters. A slave owner himself, Wylly used his plantation to promote practical reforms in a slave-based plantation economy. Emancipation marked the end of the old plantation agriculture. Clifton was a working farm, but by the 1950s much of the forest land reverted to its natural coppice growth. In 2005 the land with its preserved plantation ruins and landscape was purchased for the first national heritage park of The Bahamas.

Great House

The Clifton Great House, situated on a high ridge with a clear view of the sea as well as the Slave Settlement and other plantation buildings, was built in 1785 by planter John Wood. The style of the house, as well as the yard and buildings surrounding it, is English, by way of Savannah, Georgia. The building was made of cut stone, cemented by lime mortar and covered with lime plaster; it had a basement, a main floor about six feet above the ground, and an attic, probably with dormer windows. There were two large rooms on the main floor with a central hall opening on front and rear porches. The kitchen behind the house was detached to keep the fire and heat away from the main house. John Wood left the Bahamas in 1802. Wood’s land along with three adjacent plantations totaling more than 1000 acres, was acquired by William Wylly, whose family had previously owned a plantation in Savannah named Clifton. Wylly and his family lived there until the 1820s. The house passed through several later owners before a field fire in 1851 burned it to the ground. The architect’s reconstruction shows how the house probably appeared, and what portion is left today.


Throughout the Caribbean, and on the Atlantic coast of America, plantations were the engines of production for the colonial empires of Europe. Successful and wealthy planters participated in a global economy, exporting cotton, sugar, indigo and other valuable products in exchange for manufactured goods. To accommodate Loyalists no longer welcome in the new United States, the British Crown offered grants of land in other colonies, including the Bahamas, and many planters relocated. The plantation at Clifton was established in 1785 by John Wood of Savannah, Georgia. Some of Wood’s relatives and business partners, like Lewis Johnston, Thomas Ross and William Lyford, received adjacent grants. Clifton Plantation, acquired and improved by William Wylly, is formally organized with the Great House commanding a high elevation at the center of a large, square yard enclosed by stone walls. Behind the house were the kitchen and well; in front were the stable and animal pens built of stone. To the north, the Slave Settlement reflected this European pattern on the landscape with seven cabins equally spaced along the road. Nearby at the cliffs, sailing ships found a deep harbor and a wharf where they could transfer people and cargo, connecting Clifton to other Caribbean and Atlantic ports.

Slave Settlement

During the early 1800s there were as many as 67 enslaved people at Clifton. William Wylly’s “Regulations” for the operation of his plantations instruct that each married couple “is entitled to a well-built stone house, consisting of two apartments.” The organization of the cabins, equally spaced along a road, reflects the planter’s sense of order and control, rather than the Africans’ previous way of life. From historical records we know some of the slaves by name, and also that they tended personal gardens and provisioning grounds, planted and tended fields, raised cattle, built stone walls, and occasionally used Wylly’s boat to fish and to take their produce to Nassau. The African community at Clifton included at least 49 enslaved people and four indentured apprentices. At least nine people were African born, mostly older people, while Creoles, born in America or the Bahamas, made up the largest proportion. About one-third of the people were children under 18, and there were at least thirteen married couples living at Clifton. The house yard, behind the cabin, was the primary living space, used for cooking, laundry, childcare and socializing. Some of the cabins at Clifton were lived in as late as the 1950s

Stone Walls

Throughout the park, and elsewhere in The Bahamas, you will see many remnants of stone walls, measuring about three feet high and eighteen inches wide. There are more than 6000 yards of walls, almost 3 ½ miles, within the park. Although they now run through the dense coppice forest, they were originally constructed on cleared land. In 1818, Wylly recorded paying Jack, the under driver, more than 11 pounds for building 300 yards of stone walls at Clifton and Waterloo. Stone walls had many purposes. They defined agricultural fields and provisioning grounds, created animal pens, protected wells, divided some house yards at the Slave Settlement, kept animals out of dangerous solution holes and wetlands, and marked the grand yard of the owner around the Great House. Although some of the walls were illegally removed for their old stone before the park was established, many lengths of wall remain as strong and tall as when they were built more than 200 years ago. They are a key to understanding the historic landscapes at Clifton.

Sacred Space

Before Clifton Heritage National Park was established, the cliffs have long been recognized as a special place for Bahamian people, not only for its connection to the past, but also for the powerful beauty of the sea and the cliffs. This particular spot was selected by Bahamian artist Antonius Roberts to create a historic memorial and a statement of his interest in conservation, preservation and transformation of the environment. The elegant female figures, originally trunks of unwanted Casuarina trees, were carved in place to “mark the triumph of hope and determination to conserve our heritage.” The metal bells overhead, by fellow artist Tyrone Ferguson, add to the visual message. For the sculptor, sacred “encompasses all those things that should be left intact to bear witness to the significance of our cultural heritage.” When you visit the Sacred Space, slow down, reflect a while on who you are and where you came from, on your ancestors, your family and your future.


Between A.D. 1000 and 1500, a Lucayan village stretched along the high ground from Clifton Point to Flipper Beach. From this vantage point, the native Lucayans could easily reach rich fishing and shell fishing grounds by dugout canoe. The sea was their source of food as well as their highway. They were dependent on the sea for turtle, conch, and fish. With traps, lines and hooks, and nets, they caught snapper, grunt, grouper, and parrotfish. They grew manioc and sweet potatoes in garden plots and collected wild foods like pigeon plum. Lucayan archaeological sites often contain great numbers of conch shells with a telltale hole near the spire through which the muscle was cut to remove the animal inside. Their pottery, known as Palmetto Ware, was sometimes decorated with incised lines. Since hard stone is scarce in the islands, they made tools out of heavy conch shells and coral. Nearly 500 Lucayan sites have been identified throughout The Bahamas. Unfortunately, some have already been lost to development or erosion, and others are currently threatened. Protecting the Lucayan village at Clifton is an important step toward preserving this prehistoric culture for future generations to enjoy and study.