Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Patriarch of French Cay

Mr. Nelson at his dock in French Cay.

Mr. Nelson Has Wisdom for All Ages

Nelson Jackson, the son of Oliver Jackson and Leona Jackson nee McNab, was born on July 22, 1928 in a wooden house on a Roatan hill facing big French Cay. He was the youngest of seven: three brothers and four sisters.

According to family records, Joseph Cromwell Jackson, Nelson’s grandfather and the founder of the Jackson families on Roatan came from Charleston, South Carolina just after the Civil War. One can sense the history looking into the eyes of Mr. Nelson. He is weathered, but nimble and he is full of energy.

At age ten, young Nelson started attending a local one-room school in French Cay run by Mrs. Minor Woods. She used “The Royal Readers” set of schoolbooks to teach the local children basic skills in reading and writing. “Who really taught me how to read and write was Mrs. Ora Webster,” remembers Mr. Nelson. Young Nelson only attended three grades of schooling, but “This is equivalent of what you get at graduation today.”

There were manatees living all over Roatan feeding on turtle grass

While most French Cay people gathered fresh water to drink from rooftops, when there was no rain, they had to walk a kilometer to the gully to fetch water. “We had a lot of hard work we were doing. We were very poor,” Mr. Nelson recalls about life in the 1930s. The only food stuffs brought in from the mainland was rice and people would gather coconuts to sell to La Ceiba where Standard Fruit Company reigned supreme. “We got [US] 60 cents for every 100 coconuts,” he remembers.

The island was full of large mammals: deer and sea cows were all around. There were manatees living all over Roatan feeding on turtle grass. “There was one living around Fantasy Island and another one by Jonesville,” remembers Mr. Nelson. “He nearly turned one boat over.”

Mr. Nelson works on a wooden boat in French Harbour dry dock.

In the 1940s there were two houses on the Little French Cay, five on the Big French Cay and five on Roatan proper across from the cays. There were just a handful of families living here: the Jacksons, Johnsons, Dixons, Woods and Lowells. In 1941 Mr. Nelson said goodbye to his older brother Roswell Jackson who enlisted in US navy and went off to fight the Germans in World War II. Young Nelson was too young and stayed behind. He only listened to the stories of his brother’s adventures on the beaches of Normandy.

At 22 Mr. Nelson married Nelly Dixon and devoted his time to farming and raising cattle. The couple had 11 children. In 1961 he went off to work on a tugboat in Jacksonville, Florida. He would go back and forth between his family and US for seven long years. Eventually he came back to Roatan and farmed some more. In 1971 Mr. Nelson picked another contract to run a boat between Palm Beach and the Bahamas.

After returning to the island Mr. Nelson for 33 years worked with Seth Arch at the French harbor dry dock as the dry dock supervisor. Mr. Nelson has a spiritual attitude about his long life. “[I live] with the mercy and the blessing of the Lord. Without Him you couldn’t live,” says Mr. Nelson.

Today Mr. Neslon is a valued family patriarch. He still farms and raises cattle on his French Cay property. He also cultivates banana plants, plantains, watermelon, tomatoes, beans, yams, cassavas, chickens. Mr. Nelson also looks after his 90 foot shrimp fishing boat ‘Cabo II’ and always ready to chat about the past.

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