An Island Alexander Hamilton
Would be Proud Of
Story by Fyllis Hockman
few years ago, the fact that an island was the birthplace of Alexander
Hamilton would have elicited very little excitement. But now since the
advent of the hit Broadway musical "Hamiliton," Nevis is all
of a sudden a must-see destination. The very first line of the musical
leads you here: "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and
a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean
" That spot would be Nevis. But more on that later.
is the baby sister of St. Kitts, two tiny islands in the West Indies.
St. Kitts is the more outgoing, gregarious of the two; Nevis, more shy
and retiring. Whereas I won $100 at a casino on St.Kitts, the only things
worth counting on Nevis are an assortment of goats, sheep, donkeys and
monkeys. Lots of monkeys. But Nevis has a recent suitor the afore-mentioned
Hamilton who is making her irresistible to throngs of others.
They're known as tourists.
But before Hamilton brought history and fame to the
island, that position was held by old sugar mill plantations. Sugar
cane was king in the 17th-19th centuries, and what remains of several
of the plantations are now housing all those Hamilton-seeking throngs.
History begets history.
The Nisbet Plantation, the largest of the lot, has its
own claim to history. Here, Captain Horatio Nelson (later, Admiral and
Lord), a British Naval hero, met Frances Nisbet, the daughter of the
plantation owner. The wedding took place in 1787 at nearby Montpelier
Plantation, also on our itinerary. But Nisbet, where remnants of the
18th Century plantation windmill greet you upon arrival, has its own
wedding tradition: if you get married on the property and there
are very few more beautiful settings they plant a coconut tree
with your names on it. And of course you're welcome to come back and
visit any time. How's that for a marketing ploy?
Nisbet, despite its sugar mill connection, is the most
modern of the inns, with 36 rooms, each named after a local village,
spread out over 30 acres. Its wealth of palm trees as opposed to profusions
of flowers also sets it apart and it has the very real benefit of being
the only plantation inn on the water.
Montpelier, the site of the Nelson-Nisbet nuptials,
was turned from an historic ruin into an inn in the 1960's. And it remains
the lodging of choice for the current British aristocracy from Princess
Diana to her son Harry when visiting the island. The beautifully landscaped,
manicured property with profusions of color popping up everywhere mixes
handsomely with the stone remnants of the sugar mill factory it once
was. So much of the equipment is sprinkled around the grounds and enmeshed
into the decor that you might not even recognize it for what it is unless
you knew to look for it.
The current Great Room boasting original stonework from
300 years ago as attested to by a series of lithographs on the
wall is where guests gather in the evening for canapés
and drinks before moving on at their leisure to dinner. And what a dinner
that is! Imagine dining in the only sugar mill in the world that houses
a restaurant inside where every morsel is a history-laden, stone-studded
candle-lit magical memory.
But even more history and magical edible moments await
at the next sugar mill plantation/cum Inn. The Great House of The Hermitage
Plantation, dating back to 1640, is said to be the oldest wooden house
in the Caribbean and there is evidence that a processing mill was once
below the house. And that's just for starters. When Richard Lupinacci
bought the run-down property in 1971, he recognized the value of the
original Great House but it was when he chose to expand his home
into lodging that he became really inspired. To make room for more guests,
he moved eight old wooden houses from other areas on the island where
they lay in disrepair. Each cottage, lovingly restored, promotes an
old island feel, an authentic lifestyle not found in other more modern
settings, making the property a living architectural museum. Adding
to the authenticity is an old slave privy from the 1740's sitting amidst
the cottages. Fortunately, it is not still functional...
What is still very functional is the Wednesday night
Pig Roast a very big head-to-tail pig on a very large spit, to
be exact. Sitting in the Great Room awaiting its theatrical entrance,
I couldn't help but reconnect with the plantation owners and their guests
of yore who feasted on roasted pig and its many local dishes over 300
years ago. With a special shout out to the Johnny Cakes, of course
So how do you decide which connection to sugar cane
history to immerse yourself in at the Inn? Want to be on the
beach? Nisbet. Want to be surrounded by history in a cozy, intimate
setting from the time you step foot on the grounds to the cottage in
which you abide. The Hermitage. Want to be surrounded by profusions
of color rivaling a botanical garden interwoven among the remains of
a 300-year-old windmill that's Montpelier.
But we were talking about Hamilton, yes? He didn't stay
at any of these inns but his own family's plantation is still on the
island, and at the time was the country's largest. Much to the government's
chagrin, however, it hasn't been restored. You can visit, of course,
but to really connect with the renowned American as everyone
who comes to Nevis wants to do a visit to the Charlestown Nevis
History Museum is required.
The museum doubles as Hamilton's birthplace, where depending
upon whom you ask, he was born in either 1755 or 1757, both dates repeated
to me by multiple knowledgeable sources claiming definitive information.
The museum building, like so much else in Nevis, was originally built
in 1680. The history and culture of Nevis is enticingly displayed but
of course, the piece de resistance is the Alexander Hamilton section,
which chronicles his remarkable life, contemporaries, influences, accomplishments
and impact on the history of the United States. Which, ironically, all
of us are currently reminded of today every time we reach for a $10
Because he was brought up in the islands, he brought
a very different perspective to American politics than his Founding
Father cronies. His early life influenced his views on racial equality
(having been born across the street from a slave trade podium which
horrified him at a young age), economic diversity and financial stability
ideas that were considered very progressive in early American
politics. Hamilton had more of an impact on American history and politics
than most Americans realized before the advent of the Broadway play.
Historical footnote: He was our first Secretary of the Treasury, and
was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr in 1804.
If you have seen the show, you will fall in love with
Hamilton all over again. If you've just visited the museum, you will
want to buy tickets to the show which unfortunately, I suspect,
you can't afford! A fact which I doubt Hamilton would have been pleased
by. What would please him is everything else his early island home has
to offer. For more information, contact Nevis
Plantation and Beach, Nisbet
Plantation Beach Club, and The
Island of Nevis: Come to Relax; Stay to Re-Energize; Vieques,
Puerto Rico; Costa
Rica Adventure; Dominica;