Alexander Hamil­ton’s Ne­vis

Dis­cov­er­ing a Found­ing Fa­ther’s Pres­ence in the Caribbean

MSC Buon Gusto - - Contents - Ros­alind Cummings-Yeates

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.

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