The Town of St. George’s: Four Centuries to Explore by Kristin White

By Tristan Ralston on 2nd September, 2016

In 1609, nine ships set sail from England. Their destination: the new colony in Jamestown, Virginia. A hurricane separated the ships and one ended up in Bermuda, shipwrecked on the island’s eastern shores.

St. George’s Bermuda

The State House. ©photo courtesy of Howarth Photography

All 150 passengers survived and spent 10 months on the uninhabited island, building new ships and stocking up on supplies. Although this was not Bermuda’s discovery—the island had been on maps since the early 1500s—spending that amount of time on the island debunked some of the mariner myths about devils residing here and erased doubts about its livability.

Thus, a shareholder company was formed and people opted to colonize the island as a commercial venture. The settlers arrived in Bermuda in July 1612, close to where the shipwrecked guests had called home, in what is now called St. George’s, and people have lived in the town since that time. It is the oldest continuously inhabited town in the New World.

St. George’s Bermuda

The Unfinished Church. ©photo courtesy of Howarth Photography

The town’s four centuries of history are evident everywhere you look. The 17th, 18th, and 19th century stone buildings feature unique Bermudian architecture designed to catch rain, store food, withstand storms, and manage the changes in temperature in the days prior to electricity and plumbing. The forts and artillery dotted around the eastern coast harken back to the days when the British sought to protect their land from conquering Spaniards. The African Diaspora Heritage Trail identifies spots of importance in African history, including the Samaritan’s Lodge, a gathering support group for freed slaves, and the home of boat captain James Darrell, the first black person to own property in Bermuda, purchased in 1797.

Every week there are tours to take, reenactments to watch, and museums to visit that bring Bermuda’s incredible history to life. During the summer, the Visitor Information Center hosts the official UNESCO Tour, which explains the history and points out the properties that were part of the town’s successful application for World Heritage Site status. Haunted History is an evening walking tour led by a storyteller who will introduce you to famous residents from days of yore. The regular reenactment on King’s Square shows how “gossips” and “nags” were punished by being thrown into the harbor.

Museum exhibits not to be missed include Bermuda’s connections to Pocahontas and William Shakespeare at the World Heritage Center, the role the town played in the American Civil War at the Bermuda National Trust Globe Museum, and the story of the fortifications at Fort St. Catherine.

Mitchell House and Tucker House are historic homes built in 1731 and 1752 respectively, which now showcase how wealthy residents lived at those times, with amazing collections of furniture, silverware, and art.

St. George’s Bermuda

St. Peter’s Church ©photo courtesy of Howarth Photography

If you’re here during a special historic event, count yourself lucky and don’t miss it. At the annual April Peppercorn Ceremony, the Freemasons Lodge St. George’s pays an annual rent of one peppercorn to the governor for the use of State House, the oldest stone building in the New World. They have been performing this ceremony since 1816, and it’s a day full of pomp and circumstance.

In December, the Bermuda National Trust hosts the Christmas Walkabout. For this one night, all of the town’s historic private homes, including the Old Rectory built in 1699, are decorated and open to the public. There are music performances, food tastings, shopping experiences, and more on this night that’s not to be missed.

St. George’s Bermuda

Downtown St. George’s ©photo courtesy of Howarth Photography

If your visit doesn’t coincide with any events or tours, exploring the quiet, quaint town on your own is easy and fun. Grab the walking tour map from the VIC, and you’re transported to another time as you meander through the winding alleys and take in the charming street names and centuries-old houses.

Rent a bicycle or have an easy hike to visit the forts, beaches, cemeteries, and coves along the east coast. Ferry Reach Park, not in the town proper but still within the parish and easily accessible, also has incredible fortifications and beautiful trails to explore. St. George’s also has unique shopping, amazing dining, and fun outdoor activities for the whole family including watersports and horseback riding.

Best of all, St. George’s is more than a business district or tourist hub—it’s a vibrant community. Generations of families are proud to call themselves St. Georgeians, so wherever you go, you’ll be greeted by friendly residents, excited to point you toward their favorite spots, or to invite you to join them for a drink. Be part of living history, and explore and fall in love with the olde towne.

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