… and George Washington Slept Here Too
By Richard Varr
Candlelight flickered on a rainy evening when more than 30 of us sat down in Barbados’ George Washington House for a true colonial dinner. On the menu: mahi-mahi yam pie with plantains, and lamb stew with pearl barley and sweet potatoes – something George Washington may have dined on during his 1751 visit to Barbados. At 19, the future Founding Father and first U.S. president traveled to Barbados with his brother Lawrence who sought the warm climate while suffering from tuberculosis. The highlight of the dinner was local historian, Dr. Karl Watson, costumed as an older Washington with insight into his stay at the home.
For example, few may know that Washington contracted smallpox while in Barbados and was confined to his room for three weeks. Can anyone imagine what the U.S. would be like today if Washington succumbed to the disease? The refurbished 1715 house is one of the island’s oldest, where Washington stayed for two months. His bedroom remains with period furniture including an 18th century chest and dressing table. Upstairs is a museum which tells the story of his time on Barbados, the only location Washington visited outside of Colonial America.
A stroll through Barbados’ capital Bridgetown reveals its rich colonial history. The castle-like towers rise above the House of Parliament, established in 1639 and the third oldest in the British Commonwealth. Across the street sits a statue of British Admiral Horatio Nelson – 30 years older than a similar statue in London’s Trafalgar Square. Founded in 1654, the Bridgetown Synagogue is one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. And built in 1665, St. Michael’s Cathedral still has an original baptism font that survived the hurricane of 1780 and original mahogany pews added in 1789.
Just on the outskirts of the capital in Hastings is the Historic Garrison area. This is home to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society occupying an original 19th century military prison, and the restored George Washington House. Other historic sites around the island include the Morgan Lewis Windmill, Codrington College with its impressive royal palm trees and hilltop view, and old parish churches and cemeteries including one where a local official was buried standing up – at his request – to always look out to the sea.
And there’s the grandiose plantation home, St. Nicholas Abbey. Walking through its lavish interior is like reliving moments in the 18th century, when sugarcane ruled the islands. With fine furniture, china and silver pieces, St. Nicholas’ Jacobean great house showcases the luxurious lifestyle of colonial plantation owners, and with Dutch gables and coral stone finials, it’s the oldest building on Barbados. The plantation still has an old sugar factory, windmill and working rum distillery. A tourist railroad from St. Nicholas Abbey leads to nearby Cherry Tree Hill, offering the best island views.
Traveling around the island makes it easy to enjoy its beauty and easy lifestyle – hilly terrain with palm and banana trees, and carpeted with bountiful fields of sugarcane. Sheep and goats grazing within lush green pastures, refreshing trade winds, fishing boats and both rocky and soft-sand beaches also help frame this peaceful Caribbean paradise.
Cricket: My Chance to Play
I’ve always loved baseball since I was a little leaguer. And since learning about cricket, I always wondered what it would be like to play the sport which, with bat and ball, is very similar to our favorite American pastime.On Barbados, I got my chance to find out as I joined a tour for a complete experience of the rich heritage and culture of this game so popular in Barbados and the Caribbean. I visited the Cricket Hall of Fame and learned about the island’s strong cricket history. I did get a chance at bat and learned you have to approach the ball for the best swing – unlike baseball where the batter must remain in the batter’s box.
I also met two cricket legends including Desmond Haynes and Vasbert Drakes, who instructed our group on how to play the game. We also visited Kensington Oval, the Yankee Stadium of Barbados.