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George Washington really did sleep here . . . and drank rum, too
By Tom Adkinson

george washington house
The George Washington House tells many tales of British colonial times in Barbados; image by Tom Adkinson.

BARBADOS, West Indies – Unless you are utterly fascinated with mid-1700s Georgian architecture mansions in the Caribbean, you’d probably never darken the door of Bush Hill. It’s a perfectly lovely house, but it’s just another restored museum house – except for the fact that George Washington lived here for about two months in 1751.

Yes, that George Washington. He slept, ate and drank here during the only time he ever traveled outside Britain’s colonies in North America. No one calls it Bush Hill these days. Everyone knows it as the George Washington House.

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Historian Karl Watson, in character of George Washington, chats with guests throughout themed dinners; image by Rich Grant.
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Several rooms in the George Washington House, including the kitchen, are open during tours; image by Tom Adkinson

It is open so you to see where and how the 19-year-old Washington lived (lumpy bed, chamber pot, indoor kitchen suitable to the era), and although you can’t sleep here, you can eat and drink here on a handful of Mondays during the winter tourist season.

Washington, of course, didn’t come to this jewel in the eastern Caribbean as a tourist, at least not in the sense of today’s tourists. He accompanied his older half-brother, Lawrence, who came for the tropical climate, hoping with would help him combat tuberculosis. It didn’t, but there was an ironic medical incident for George while here.

George contracted smallpox. His survival meant he was immune thereafter, something fortuitous for the future United States. Smallpox, it turned out, caused more deaths than battle wounds two decades later during the Revolutionary War, but George was safe from that danger.

Smallpox aside, Washington had a highly educational time in Barbados, then a wealthy and active British colony, particularly because of sugar plantations and rum production. At that time, the population of Barbados, about 75,000, exceeded the total population of Washington’s home colony of Virginia and the rest of Britain’s North American colonies combined.

Washington mingled in British military and social circles and learned about the island’s extensive coastal fortifications. One example, Charles Fort, is just a short walk from the George Washington House. It was old when Washington was there (built in 1650) and its remnants today are on the grounds of the Hilton Barbados Resort. Take a rum drink from the resort bar, stroll to the fort and see how the cannons there protected Bridgeport, the island’s capital.

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You can admire the tropical scenes at Charles Fort just as George Washington did in 1751; image by Tom Adkinson

After the American Revolution, Britain fortified Barbados even more and made it the center of its power in the Western Hemisphere for a century. That military expansion created the Garrison, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site described as the most intact and authentic military garrison from that era of the British empire. The George Washington House is at one corner of the Garrison.

In fact, the parade grounds of the Garrison Historic District are where Great Britain’s Union Jack was lowered for the last time and the flag of Barbados first flew. Independence day for Barbados was Nov. 30, 1966.

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Dinner at the George Washington House features an 18th century menu and a cocktail called the corn ‘n’ oil; image by Rich Grant.

You can get a deep dive into the British colonial story of Barbados, including a big dose of George Washington’s visit, at dinner inside the George Washington House. Your host is Washington himself – in the form of historian Dr. Karl Watson. You dine at a long table with other guests for a candlelit five-course dinner featuring an 18th century menu.

Wine is included, as is a Barbados specialty cocktail called the corn ‘n’ oil. To replicate it back home, ask your bartender to mix 2 ounces of blackstrap rum, half an ounce of falernum (a tropical syrup liqueur), a half-ounce of lime juice and 3 dashes of bitters so you can raise a toast to George Washington and his Caribbean vacation.

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published July 20, 2019

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