These little tropical islands, approximately 386km (240 miles) southeast of Nassau, make up an undiscovered Bahamian frontier outpost. Columbus came this way looking for gold. Much later, Acklins Island, Crooked Island, and their surrounding cays became hideouts for pirates who attacked vessels in the Crooked Island Passage (the narrow waterway Columbus sailed), which separates the two islands. Today a well-known landmark, the Crooked Island Passage Light, built in 1876, guides ships to a safe voyage through the slot. Also known as the Bird Rock Lighthouse, it is a popular nesting spot for ospreys, and the light still lures pilots and sailors to the Pittstown Point Landing Resort. A barrier reef begins near the lighthouse, stretching down off Acklins Island for about 40km (25 miles) to the southeast.
Although Acklins Island and Crooked Island are separate, they are usually mentioned as a unit because of their proximity to each other. Together, the two islands form the shape of a boomerang. Crooked Island, the northern one, is 181 sq. km (70 sq. miles) in area, whereas Acklins Island, to the south, occupies 311 sq. km (120 sq. miles). Both islands, which have good white-sand beaches and offer fishing and scuba diving, are inhabited mainly by fishermen and farmers.
In his controversial 1986 article in National Geographic, Joseph Judge identified Crooked Island as the site of Columbus's second island landing -- the one the explorer called Santa María de la Concepción. Scholars are still arguing over the matter today.
Estimates say that by the end of the 18th century, more than three dozen working plantations were on these islands, begun by Loyalists fleeing mainland North America in the wake of the Revolutionary War. At the peak plantation period, there could have been as many as 1,200 slaves laboring in 3,000 acres of cotton fields, which were later wiped out by a blight. The people who remained on the island survived not only by fishing and farming, but also, beginning in the mid-18th century, by stripping the Croton cascarilla shrub of its bark to produce the flavoring for Campari liquor.