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Historian Jack Warren wrote, “George Washington’s visit to Barbados proved to be a turning point in his life –.” George had travelled there as a nineteen-year-old in 1751 with his brother Lawrence.
His Barbados residence is now a historic site. So, when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to experience this important part of history.
Getting to the George Washington House in Barbados
As recommended by the helpful staff at the Mango Bay Resort in Holetown, Barbados, my wife and I boarded a bus headed south to the capital city of Bridgetown. I had my trusty guide map in hand and told the driver of our destination.
The trip along the beautiful west coast beaches went smoothly with the driver picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. Arriving at Bridgetown’s bus terminal, we noticed that we were the only passengers left on the bus. But George Washington’s house was nowhere in sight.
The bus driver waved his hand for us to stay on the bus. He took another look at the map, headed out of the terminal and personally dropped us off at the bottom of Bush Hill Road. There was a sign pointing to George Washington House.
I later realised that my tourist map was wrong and that we should have taken a different bus. But you’ve got to understand that the location of the George Washington House in Barbados had been misidentified for over one hundred years.
Where is George Washington’s House?
It is thought that the brothers had planned to stay with Lawrence’s in-laws, the Clarke family, who they knew from Virginia. But on arrival in Bridgetown, they learned that Mrs. Clarke had smallpox. As a result, new accommodations were required.
The brothers rented a house situated on the edge of a ridge with a striking view of Carlyle Bay. George wrote that it was “very pleasantly situated.” The change of accommodations likely caused the confusion about the actual site of the residence.
It wasn’t until 1990 that the correct location of George Washington’s House in Barbados on Bush Hill Road was confirmed. In January 2007, the refurbished house was opened to the public.
Subsequently, in 2011 it was designated a UNESCO-protected property within the World Heritage Site of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison area.
Exploring the Historic Site
The property is definitely worth a visit. As you enter the historic site, you will be greeted by a friendly staff member and led to a viewing room. An insightful and moving video provides a vivid depiction of George’s time in Barbados.
It highlights the importance of his visit in his subsequent rise to prominence in America. From the video room, you cross the quiet grounds with its tropical plants and palm trees to the entrance door of the 295-year-old house.
The main floor is furnished with period furniture. A bedroom for George and one for Lawrence showcases the simplicity of the furnishings. Nettings hang from the bedposts, ready to be rolled down to stem the tide of pesky mosquitoes.
In the centre of the home, the dining room extends the width of the house. A door on each side of the room ensures that the sea breezes blow through and help dissipate the tropical heat.
Each Monday night, the dining table is set as the home hosts a dinner for up to thirty guests. George Washington makes an appearance to help entertain his visitors.
The food is prepared in the restored kitchen behind the main house. Of course, the kitchen was built separately from the main house so heat from the ovens and open fires only affected the servants, who in 1751 would have been slaves.
Visitors learn more about slavery in Barbados in the museum located on the second floor. Displays include those with slavery artifacts and details of daily Caribbean life.
Stories of George Washington
Also among the displays are excerpts from George’s writings. He enjoyed a tremendous social life, meeting dignitaries, military leaders and socialites. He recorded that he was, “Genteely receiv’d and agreeably entertain’d.”
Sitting on a windowsill, with a vista of the bay below, is a statue of George holding his open diary. Sit beside George and he will read passages from his writings. It is a truly unique experience that brings history to life.
It is said that Washington’s visit changed the direction of his life. For one thing, he contracted smallpox. Consequently, this made him immune to the disease during the American Revolution.
But he also saw new possibilities, gained new opportunities and made crucial personal connections. Penny Hyman, the director the introductory film, is quoted as saying that, “We like to say that Washington not only slept on Barbados, he woke up here.”
If you’re planning a visit to this Caribbean isle you can experience the George Washington House in Barbados for yourself. Walk where he walked, sit where he sat, even have dinner with him. But remember, to get there, take the Oistins bus to Bridgetown.
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Barbados Tourism – http://www.barbados.org
George Washington House Information: http://www.funbarbados.com/sights/george_washington_house_museum.cfm
Author Bio: Peter Meyler has been researching and writing for over twenty years. His focus has been on Black history in the Americas. Combined with his passion for travel, Peter’s research has resulted in two books and numerous articles, published in both the United States and