Alexander Hamilton’s Nevis
Discovering a Founding Father’s Presence in the Caribbean
Discovering a Founding Father’s Presence in the Caribbean
ALE ANDER HAMILTON is noted for being many things. He was an eloquent American statesman, the Founding Father who helped write The Federalist Papers, the country’s rst Secretary of the Treasury and, most recently, the subject of a blockbuster Broadway musical. All of his accomplishments, however, tend to overshadow the fact that Hamilton was also a child of the Caribbean.
Born on the tiny island of Nevis in 1757, he spent his childhood surrounded by green slopes, scampering monkeys and pearly sand beaches. Hamilton’s idyllic island home is dismissed as a “forgotten spot in the Caribbean” in the musical Hamilton, but a visit to Nevis, also known as the Queen of the Caribees, will reveal the beauty and historical significance that this Eastern Caribbean gem o ers.
Charlestown, the quaint capital of Nevis and hometown of Hamilton, still boasts the colorful, Georgianstyle buildings and sugar mills that dotted the island during his youth. The lush, mountainous landscape and rascally vervet monkeys also remain, but Hamilton’s Nevis presence begins literally and guratively at the Museum of Nevis History. Adorned with green shutters and a double exterior staircase, the museum’s two-story waterfront building is where Hamilton was born. The original stone structure was built in 1680 but destroyed in an 1840 earthquake. The Hamilton house was restored in 1983 and the small museum displays an overview of his life along with exhibits about Nevis history and culture. A walk through the museum and the surrounding courtyard provides a glimpse of Hamilton’s early life, where he perhaps gazed out at the waterfront, plotting his future.
Across the courtyard, the Nevis Heritage Center showcases just how farreaching his life plans were with the permanent exhibit, “Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America.” Featuring dioramas and photo panels that detail his sharp
intelligence and ambition, the exhibit traces Hamilton’s journey from a poor, illegitimate island boy to a powerful American politician. The exhibit explores Hamilton’s key role during the American Revolutionary War and how he laid the foundation for the country’s economic, constitutional and political systems.
Not far from the museum, the Bath Hotel and Spring House serves as another
Nevis landmark that existed during Hamilton’s time and continues to play a role in the local lifestyle. Dating from 1778, the expansive building was reportedly the rst hotel in the Caribbean, attracting luminaries like Royal Navy hero Lord Horatio Nelson and literary darling Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Today, Nevisians ock to the free thermal baths that sit on the property. Flowing with steamy (104- to 108-degree) spring water heated by the Mount Nevis Volcano, the baths are believed to cure everything from arthritis to gout and rheumatism.
On Charlestown’s Government Road, the historic Jewish Cemetery forms an unassuming image of
at tombstones scattered over a grassy patch of land. With 19 grave markers that date back as far as 1679 with engravings in Hebrew, English and Portuguese, the cemetery is the resting place of the Sephardic Jews who ed persecution in Brazil to Nevis, where they worked in sugar production. Near the cemetery, the ruins of what historians say was once the biggest synagogue in the Caribbean are scattered in the back of a building. It was at this synagogue that historians believe young Alexander Hamilton began his education, since the school run by the Anglican Church refused to educate an illegitimate boy. Hamilton found brief acceptance inside the walls of the synagogue, where he was tutored in basic academic skills and reportedly learned a few Hebrew words. Down the road, on Low Street,
St. Paul’s Anglican School looms at the end of a long, landscaped walkway. Next door to the church sits the school that rejected young Hamilton. Built between 1680 and 1700, the church and school are today surrounded by a stone wall that, unlike during Hamilton’s time, allows anyone to enter.
On the upper part of Government Road, the ruins of the sprawling Hamilton Estate sit on a hill overlooking neighboring St. Kitts. The foundation of an expansive great house, sugar mill and a lofty windmill tower peek out from under thick vegetation. This 18thcentury sugar plantation was owned and operated by the Hamilton family until the early 1950s. The estate was purchased by Alexander’s father’s family
long after he had left Nevis at the age of 9. His father had abandoned the family by then but Alexander wasted no time in establishing his own legacy as he worked his way up as a young accounting clerk on St. Croix.
Hamilton eventually forged a new destiny by studying law and politics, but on Nevis, sugar was still king; during its heyday as a wealthy British colony in the 17th and 18th centuries, the island’s 36 square miles of green, rolling landscape were covered by 100 sugar mills. Abandoned and reclaimed mill towers (transformed into restaurants and hotels) still mark Nevis but the most complete overview of sugar production is supplied by the open-air sugar-mill museum at New River Estate, located on the windswept eastern coast of the island. As the island’s last operating sugar mill, New River closed in 1958, but well-preserved remnants of the sugarmaking process carpet a large area of the estate. Visitors can roam through the ruins of a great house and touch a cistern, steam engine, sugar-boiling wall and other machinery. To cap o the experience, a climb up the stone colonnade supplies panoramic views of the neighboring islands of Montserrat and Redonda.
For a closer connection to the island’s natural beauty, the Botanical Gardens of Nevis unfolds with ve acres of tropical owers, waterfalls, fountains, water-lily ponds and 100 varieties of palm trees. There’s also a rain forest conservatory, tropical vine garden, butterfly garden and extensive garden sculptures. And no visit to Nevis is complete without strolling through at least one of the island’s awless beaches.
From historic landmarks to natural wonders, Nevis captures the essence of an authentic Caribbean experience, from both Alexander Hamilton’s perspective and from all who follow his footsteps.
The school run by the Anglican Church refused to educate an illegitimate boy.