Friday, 13 June 2014

George Washington House

My island is rich in history, and wherever I may roam I am always surrounded by a bygone culture.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to visit George Washington House located on Bush Hill, St. Michael when I popped by for another important occasion which I will follow up with in a separate post.

Officially opened on January 13, 2007, George Washington House holds the distinction of being the only house that George Washington, the future first President of the United States, ever lived in outside of the continental United States.
This historical fact is not widely known, but back in November 1751, 19 year old surveyor George Washington accompanied his older half-brother Lawrence, who was sick with tuberculosis, to the island to seek treatment as suggested by many.
They hoped that Lawrence's health would improve with the tropical climate and the high quality of medical care in Barbados at the time.

Back then, Bridgetown was one of the three major cities in the developed world, along with Boston and London. 
The port of Bridgetown was one of the largest ports of the British Empire and also one of the busiest in the was a big city for the Washingtons.  The island's fertile lands generated extraordinary wealth for the British.

They rented the house overlooking Carlisle Bay for two months from a Captain Crofton, Commander of James Fort in Bridgetown. 
George's diary reveals that he viewed the monthly rent (Pounds sterling 15.00) "exclusive of liquors and washing" as being "extravagantly dear."

George enjoyed the beauty of the island and the delicious fruits he found here, especially pineapple which was his favourite according to Barbados Museum records.
He described a vibrant, sophisticated society with entertaining theatre and an imposing British military garrison.
In his diary, we read:
“In the cool of the evening we rode in the country and were perfectly enraptured with the beautiful scenery which every side presented our view. The fields of cane, corn, fruit trees in a delightful green..”

He was enchanted with the island and while here he examined the money-making sugar cane industry and the role that Barbados played in the Atlantic economy.
Being a "passionate landowner" himself, he was impressed by what he observed....some of the most innovative farming techniques of the day. 
He also had the opportunity to observe first hand the full extent of the plantation slavery system.

The headquarters for the British Army in the region was in Barbados, which had "one of the best fortified coast lines in the British Caribbean." With the approval of the Fort's Commander, George's keen interest was satisfied by visiting forts like the Barbados Garrison which was the largest in the British colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries (where he could observe their drills) and military structures like Charles Fort which was erected to protect Carlisle Bay in 1650, as well as St.Ann's Fort, the main depot for military supplies on the island, and these visits were probably what steered him into a military career. The knowledge he gained would serve him in good stead later on in his life when he returned to Virginia, USA on December 22, 1751.

Despite the salubrious climate, George contracted smallpox, a disease which can be fatal, however he was fortunate to be treated by a Dr. Lanaham  "a third-generation Barbadian" who was a "practitioner of physick and surgery."
He recovered fully after a successful medical treatment and instantly gained lifetime immunity from the disease. This was very important because during the Revolutionary War the colonial army was ravaged by smallpox. But because he was immune he avoided suffering from this illness like his troops who were being wiped out from a smallpox epidemic. He also saved the lives of countless numbers of his troops by ordering mass inoculations against the disease.

This brief visit to the island, had a profound effect on the young and impressionable George who had been satisfied to aspire to be a surveyor, but when he returned to his Virginia countryside, he immediately requested a military commission from the governor of the colony. It was an important chapter in his life as he would go on to be the first President of the United States of America and a great military and political leader.  

Sadly, his brother Lawrence died two months after (July 1752) returning to his Mt. Vernon home in the United States. 
Plaque on entrance wall
Across the car park is the entrance to the house and the cafe and also the Visitor's Centre.

Lush foliage throughout the beautiful landscaped grounds.
The path opens up ever so tauntingly...... reveal the first anticipated glimpse of the house.
Coming into view
Almost there
George Washington House
An 18th century Georgian-styled plantation house that has been beautifully restored.
 It was originally the British Military Regimental Resident Engineer's Quarters from 1713 and later became Bush Hill House, the Commanding Officers Quarters.
During the 300 years since Washington's visit, the house has served as a family home, a rental house, a base for French prisoners, part of the British military Garrison on Barbados, then again as a family home, then as commercial offices from the 1940's.
Once it was identified at the true "Washington" house, a proposal was put forward by the Barbados National Trust to the Barbados Government to restore and develop the property.

The house has been restored and furnished as a typical plantation residence of the mid-18th century.

The lower floor of the house displays period furnishings and the upper floor is a museum with visual and audio exhibits of 18th century Barbadian life.

Four poster bed with lumpy mattress and mosquito netting.
Dining Room where "DINNER WITH GEORGE" event takes place (see below)
Table seats 30 persons
The Kitchen
Various items of crockery and cutlery were recovered from the nearby gully.
A statue of George sitting reading a book
 Drip filtering system
 This system was used to filter water and also to keep it cool.
Water was poured into the top stone pot and because of its porosity, the water would gradually drip into the stone pot below, and then continue to drip into the third stone pot. This allowed the impurities in the water to be filtered out and also cooled  as if by ice  by the time it reached the bottom pot.

The Reception Building
The house tour begins here with an informative film "George Washington in Barbados."

The original 1719 Bath House

The original 1719 Water Mill
I must return to take a photo when it's covered in flowers after this drought that we're having is over.

The Administration Building

Coffee Barbados Cafe

The Stables Coffee Shop
The stables were added in the 1800s.

Visitor's Entrance
Construction area just inside the car park entrance
More on that in a follow-up post.

George Washington

If you really want to relive the past, there is a seasonal dinner theatre production "DINNER WITH GEORGE" held at the house every Monday evening from December to March and also August and September 7pm -10pm.

This unique interactive dining and theatrical experience allows "George Washington" to relay his story in an authentic 1751 dinner setting.

A scrumptious 5 course 18th century dinner is served to 29 guests along with "George" at the long dining table in a room enhanced only by candlelight.
The evening's meal is served by staff in period dress.
Link to  Dinner with George and the Garrison.

Boston Globe review here.
Another interesting article here and here.
And yet another interesting article from a slave's eyes here.

"George Washington House is managed by the Bush Hill Tourism Trust Inc., a non-profit charitable organisation whose Governing Board is made up of Directors from the Barbados National Trust and the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc.
The Bush Hill Tourism Trust Inc. has been working with advisors from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation of Virginia, the University of Florida’s Preservation Institute: Caribbean, the Society of the Cincinnati and local architects, historians and archaeologists.
For more information on why George Washington visited Barbados Click here…
For more historical facts Click here…

The house and surrounding buildings have now been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as the Historic Garrison Area."

The George Washington House website is here.
George Washington in Barbados video Part 1 here:

George Washington in Barbados video Part 2: here

An interesting website on George Washington here:

The Architectural and Archaeological Analysis is here.


  1. Heaven's above Virginia. What an interesting and informative post. I had to leave off your blog when I came to it last time because I knew I'd not be able to devote sufficient time to it whilst I'm in the middle of decorating etc. Anyway I've just had a good read although I'll have to come back to it for some of the follow-ups. Although I've always known that Barbados was an exceptionally important part of the British Empire at its height I didn't know that Bridgetown was the 'third city' of that Empire. I got quite lost in your little history lesson there. Thank you.

  2. PS Loved the Bill of Fare!

  3. I love sharing the history of my island with all my blog friends.
    I did some extensive research to go along with this post, and truthfully I placed the gazillion links for me to refer to in the future, but it's nice to know that you intend to devote sufficient time to explore them all.
    Yes, the Bill of Fare sounds yummy.


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