Except for a brief sojourn in Barbados, President George Washington spent his entire life in America.
He was 19 years old at the time of his voyage to the Caribbean island in the fall of 1751. He accompanied his older half-brother, Lawrence, who was gravely ill with tuberculosis and hoped to be cured there.
The voyage aboard a small trading vessel was unpleasant and lasted six weeks. Unfortunately, the tropical weather did not agree with Lawrence, and he died a few months later, after returning to Virginia. To complicate matters, George came down with smallpox while in Barbados and spent three weeks recovering from the dreaded disease. (Historians believe the immunity he acquired enabled him to escape the illness when it killed many of his troops during the Revolutionary War.)
While on the island, the Washingtons rented a house from Capt. Richard Crofton called “Bull Hill,” overlooking Carlisle Bay. Young George penned in his diary that he was “perfectly ravished by the beauty of Barbados” and greatly admired the fields of sugar cane, corn, and fruit trees he and Lawrence observed while riding horseback around the island. They also learned about crop rotation, cultivation methods, the use of fertilizer and lime, and other agricultural advances that were later applied at his Virginia home, Mount Vernon.
George was drawn to nearby Fort Charles, the most important fortification on the island, and often dined with officers during frequent visits. He also was smitten by the size of Bridgetown, a veritable metropolis, considered the hub of the Caribbean, and ranked as one of the most important cities in the British realm. Bridgetown’s robust economy was based on sugar cane, rum, and slavery, and its wealthy residents lived quite well.
Lawrence’s social acquaintances in Bridgetown invited the brothers to dinners, balls, clubs, and other events, where George was treated as a “gentleman stranger” and introduced to colonial officials, judges, merchants, military officers, and planters. He dined once at the Beefsteak and Tripe Club and attended a theatrical production of “The London Merchant (Or, the History of George Barnwell),” written by George Lillo in 1731. Not only did the two-month stay in Barbados change George’s life forever, it prepared him for the various roles — farmer, military leader, statesman, and United States president — he would eventually occupy.
The George Washington House in Barbados is a museum open for tours on weekdays. “Dinners with George Washington” are offered May through October. Visitors also can enjoy Coffee Barbados Cafe, which is located next door.
Much of the island’s history is showcased at the house, but Barbados history really springs to life during a historic tour of Bridgetown. Dawn-Lisa Callender-Smith’s “The Characters of Town” Historic Walking Tours take visitors to major sites such as warehouses used during the era of slavery, the Parliament of Barbados (which is among the British Commonwealth’s oldest), Nidhe Israel Synagogue, Central Bank’s Exchange Museum, and the third-oldest Jacobean house in the Americas, St. Nicholas Abbey, where single-barrel rum is produced today.
Based on its beaches, accommodations, cuisine, and shopping, Barbados was rated No. 1 of the 144 countries reviewed on the 2017 Destination Satisfaction Index. It also has received significant awards from USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, U.S. News & World Report, Expedia, Trip Advisor, and Zagat. More Americans visited the island last year than any previous year, and American Airlines and JetBlue expanded their services to accommodate the increase in travelers.
Washington’s life in the Mid-Atlantic
The comprehensive story of George Washington is told at Mount Vernon, his estate overlooking the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, where the Christmas holidays are in full swing through December.
Don’t miss “Christmas Illuminations,” which takes place Dec. 13–14, 5:30–8:45 p.m. Hosts George and Martha Washington welcome guests at this special family-friendly event. (During the couple’s lifetime, the couple celebrated the 12 nights of Christmas at Mount Vernon, ending with balls and parties on Jan. 6.)
The program includes local choirs, reenactors from the First Virginia Regiment, 18th-century dance demonstrations by costumed guides, and hot chocolate and cider around the bonfire. The museum, education center, and shops are open late, and the evening ends with spectacular fireworks choreographed to holiday music. Tickets to the fireworks with the mansion tour are $35 for adults and $25 for youth, while tickets to the fireworks without the mansion tour are $30 and $20.
Throughout the year, a number of programs are included in the price of admission to the historic site. In addition to the “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon” exhibit, which runs through September, there are opportunities to “Greet Lady Washington” and “Meet People from Washington’s World,” as well as tributes at Washington’s tomb and the slave memorial, special films, and children’s activities. There is an additional fee of $4 to $7 for ticketed tours, including “Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill,” “The Enslaved People of Mount Vernon,” “Gardens and Groves,” and “Women of Mount Vernon.” The “National Treasure Tour,” a combination of Hollywood and history, takes visitors behind the scenes of the blockbuster movie “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”
When George Washington was not fighting wars, running the new country, or working on the farm, he and Martha would often go to nearby Alexandria to shop for items they needed at Mount Vernon, and he supplied produce from his farm to markets there. Washington helped fund Christ Church, which was completed in 1773 to serve the Church of England’s Fairfax Parish. The Washingtons worshipped there, and his personal Bible was given to the church after his death.
Alexandria’s King Street Mile was an attraction in the Washingtons’ day, and continues as the top activity to pursue in the city in modern times. This month, shops and restaurants along the historic street are decorated in holiday splendor and twinkling lights. First Night Alexandria will usher in the New Year through more than 100 different cultural events, concluding with fireworks on the Potomac River at the foot of King Street, within walking distance and alcohol-free. (A small fee is charged for adults, but children 12 and younger, as well as active-duty military, are free.)
Alexandria is a walking city, but the free King Street Trolley offers an alternative for getting to shops, restaurants, and attractions. Visitors also can take advantage of the Key to the City museum pass, available online or at the Alexandria Visitor Center on King Street through Dec. 31. A $49 value for just $15, it includes admission to the Alexandria Black History Museum, Carlyle House Historic Park, Friendship Firehouse Museum, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, George Washington Masonic National Memorial Observation Deck, Lee-Fendall House Museum, Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, and Alexandria’s History Museum at The Lyceum, plus a 40 percent discount coupon on tickets to Mount Vernon.
Several sites included in the pass are associated with George Washington. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, which dates to 1785, was the center of political, business, and social life during the 18th and 19th centuries, and it served as the venue for George Washington’s Birthnight Ball in 1798 and 1799. Another place with a Washington connection is the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, which opened in 1792. And, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial was built and continues to be maintained by the Freemasons of the United States as a memorial to the first president, with the National Park Service naming it a National Historic Landmark in 2015.
Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at email@example.com.