As a seasoned traveller to America and parts of the Caribbean I’m used to Americans’ telling me somewhere is steeped in history that there are really ancient buildings to look at, only to find once I arrive that the “ancient” building was built in 1906, so actually more modern than the house I own in the UK! Often when they say historic they mean 20th century history… so when I was told that Nevis was steeped in history by an American, again I took it with a pinch of salt…oh how wrong we were!
We were impressed by the sheer amount of history crammed onto such a small island, don’t get me wrong it’s not Pompeii, but for a tiny Caribbean island there is more to see historically than you would think.
The Hamilton museum in Charles Town tells the history of one of America’s founding fathers Alexander Hamilton who was born illegitimately on the island and orphaned at a young age but taken in by a cousin. He landed an apprenticeship for a local plantation owner, whom he impressed so much he gained a transfer to a role in Manhattan but he also to witness first hand the torturous life experienced by slaves working in the Caribbean. Hamilton was one of the people who helped to drive the passing of the anti-slavery laws in America, which is why he’s an even bigger hero to those who are descended from former slaves on Nevis.
The Nevis museum, in the same building as the Hamilton museum down on the seafront in Charles Town, gives the history of the island from it’s early American Indian days to the battles during the 18th and 19th century as the British, Dutch, French and Spanish fought for control of the sugar industry in the Caribbean. Nevis earned its name as the “Sweet Island” as it was the most prolific producer of sugar cane in the entire Caribbean, in its heyday producing nearly double the volume of its closest rival island. The British called the island the Queen of the Caribee and as the majority of merchant boats needed to collect sugar cargo from the island it meant they off loaded there too so it also became the largest slave market in the region. There are lots of artifacts in the museum from the various periods of Nevis history including salvaged items from some of the shipwrecks, as the waters around St Kitt’s and Nevis are some of the most treacherous in the Caribbean.
Horatio Nelson visited the island during its heyday and was introduced to a young widow called Fanny Nisbet whose family owned a plantation on Nevis and whom he wedded on the island at another plantation inn called Montpelier. There’s a museum that charts his life and that of his love Fanny’ s family on Nevis. More interesting is that Montpelier is now a Relais de Chateaux resort, where Princess Diana stayed for a holiday with the Princes following her divorce to Charles, and you can visit the big old tree there that Nelson married Fanny beneath.
Stay tuned for more details about the plantations you can visit….