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Nevis Island:
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.

Nevis 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.

sign at Montpelier Plantation and Beach, Nevis Island

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.

ruins of a sugar mill, Nevis Island

windmill on the Nisbet Plantation

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.

dinner set-up at the Mill, Montpelier inn

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...

The Great House of The Hermitage Plantation

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…

Wednesday night Pig Roast at The Great House of The Hermitage Plantation

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 bill.

Alexander Hamilton's birthpalce and the Charlestown Nevis History Museum

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.

Alexander Hamilton exhibit at the Charlestown Nevis History Museum

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 Island, Montpelier Plantation and Beach, Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, and The Hermitage.

Related Articles:
The Island of Nevis: Come to Relax; Stay to Re-Energize; Vieques, Puerto Rico; Costa Rica Adventure; Dominica; Aruba

(Posted 3-18-2017)

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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!


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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in about the Garifuna.


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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.


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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy

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