Town of St. George: Living History
Bermuda's oldest community turns 400 this year, and there's never been a better time to visit.
The streets and alleys of the Town of St. George guard centuries’ worth of history whose reach transcends far beyond the isolation of Bermuda. Almost every inch of this unique UNESCO World Heritage site reveals stories of men, women and events that affected the outcome of historic events in the United States, England and beyond.
Founded in 1612, the lovely little seaport of St. George’s, in the eastern end of Bermuda, has been capital of Bermuda and was the seat of government until 1815. It’s easy to see and feel the long history of Bermuda here. The narrow, winding lanes give close-up views of pastel 18th- and 19th-century houses — Fanny Fox’s Cottage on Duke of Clarence Street; Stockdale House on the corner of Printer’s Alley and Needle and Thread Alley; and Tucker House on Water Street — all marked with World Heritage Site plaques.
St. George’s is also famous for its slightly confusing nomenclature. The official name is Town of St. George, which is located in St. George’s Parish. But locals throughout Bermuda routinely call the town itself St. George’s, making it somewhat difficult to know whether they’re referring to the parish or the town.
Regardless of whether you call it St. George or St. George’s, you’ll be impressed by the preservation of this town. Permanently settled five years after Jamestown, Va., it is the oldest continually inhabited English-speaking town in the New World. The two settlements have a close relationship in history. The Sea Venture, one of a fleet of nine ships carrying settlers and supplies to Jamestown, was blown into Bermuda and wrecked on the reefs less than a mile off of the East End at Sea Venture Shoals. The ship’s 150 passengers, including fleet commander Admiral Sir George Somers, survived and came ashore at Gates’ Bay next to the site of Fort St. Catherine. The men, women and children spent 10 months on the island surviving on fish, turtles, birds and Spanish hogs. Under the direction of Admiral Somers and Sir Thomas Gates, they built two new ships, the Patience and Deliverance, out of the Sea Venture’s rigging and Bermuda cedar. They continued with most of the Sea Venture’s passengers to Virginia, arriving in May 1610, in time to save Jamestown’s starving colonists.
The admiral returned to Bermuda in 1610 for more supplies for Jamestown but died before completing this task. Originally from the Dorset town of Lyme Regis, Admiral Sir George is said to have loved Bermuda so much that he requested his heart be buried there. His wish was fulfilled. His nephew removed his heart and entrails and buried them near what is now Somers Garden, then shipped his body back to England (inside a barrel of rum).
In 1612 the first 60 settlers arrived in St. George’s on board the Plough, sent to make a permanent settlement on the island by the Virginia Company. Within three years the Somers Island Company had been formed, and the parishes of today are named after the original company shareholders.
Visiting the Past
Everywhere you turn here, you’ll see the memories of yesteryear. Sit under the candlelit chandeliers and exposed cedar beams of St. Peter’s Church, the oldest continually used Anglican Church outside of the British Isles, and explore the hallowed halls of the State House, built in 1621 and once home to the oldest Legislature in the Commonwealth outside Britain.
The town’s museums reveal centuries of colourful history, including the town’s role in the American Revolutionary War (islanders sent casks of gunpowder to George Washington’s Continental Army) and the U.S. Civil War. St. George’s became a transhipment port for cotton coming out of the South and war supplies arriving from England, and reaped financial rewards with the upsurge in town business.
Make sure to stop by the World Heritage Centre at Penno’s Wharf, which offers a bright, welcoming space and a charity shop, Second Hand Rose. Visitors can proceed to the orientation gallery, the Gateway to Bermuda exhibit, and upstairs to more exhibits and the theatre. Large photo installations illustrate the splendours of St. George’s and its fortifications. The centre provides a walkthrough of Bermuda’s early history, from the Age of Discovery to the U.S. Civil War. Interpretative panels and audios describe Bermuda before the English arrived, when New World explorers used Bermuda as a navigational marker, when mariners dubbed Bermuda the Isle of the Devils, and when castaways explored its fruitful shores. Bermuda’s historic links to Jamestown and the first settlers are illustrated. There’s a scale model of the town based on illustrations from the 1626 John Smith map and other research, which includes the original State House, St. Peter’s Church, stone and wood dwellings, small bridges, model ships in St. George’s Harbour and early forts. Upstairs, there is a “time tree,” interactive touchscreens featuring UNESCO World Heritage Site information, fortifications, military bases and the film A Stroll through St. George’s. It is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (297-5791, stgeorgesfoundation.org)
St. George’s Walkabout
King’s Square is the best starting point for a walking tour. Free guided tours start at the Square Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. from November to March. After the tour, the Mayor welcomes visitors into the Town Hall and explains the workings of the Corporation of St. George’s, formed in 1797. The elected Mayor, Aldermen and Common Councillors of the Corporation have been meeting in the Town Hall since 1805, and portraits of past mayors adorn the walls. There are also replicas of the British crown jewels on display, plus a flagstone from the home of Admiral George Somers.
Kids will love the Stocks and Pillory, where they can put their heads and arms through hinged wooden frames that replicate those once used to publicly humiliate townspeople guilty of petty crimes. The Ducking Stool, used to dunk women accused of being “nags and gossips,” is also a hit, especially when historical re-enactments are under way Monday to Thursday and Saturday at noon from May to October (Wednesday and Saturday at noon from November to April).
The Bermuda National Trust Museum (297-1423), on the northwest corner of King’s Square, is a stately early 18th-century building that was home to Governor Samuel Day and later the headquarters of Confederate agent Major Norman Walker, who directed the flow of war supplies through Union blockades. The museum tells in great detail how Bermuda played an important role in the U.S. Civil War and features the film Bermuda — the Centre of the Atlantic.
From the square, you will want to walk over a bridge to Ordnance Island, where the British military stored munitions long ago, and admire the Deliverance, a life-size replica of the ship that made the historic trip to Jamestown. Recently restored by the St. George’s Foundation, the attraction is open to the public on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Bermuda’s oldest stone building, the State House, built in 1620 of limestone block with a mortar of turtle oil and lime, overlooks the square from a hill. The building was home to Bermuda’s first legislature and was the island’s court house, where witch trials were held in the 1660s. Since 1816, the building has been rented for the annual sum of a single peppercorn by the country’s oldest Masonic Lodge, paid in an elaborate ceremony every spring.
St. Peter’s Church (297-2459) can be found on the town’s main street, Duke of York Street, and was originally built in 1612. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The old church was rebuilt in stone in 1713, but the section around the pulpit dates from the 1600s. The church’s chalice is from 1625, and the furniture is the oldest in Bermuda. Don’t miss the graveyard, which tells the tales of Bermuda’s past. Look for Midshipman Dale, the last American to die in the War of 1812, or Pilot James Darrell, the first black Bermudian to own his own home. The western section is a segregated graveyard, designated for free blacks and slaves. You will find the African Diaspora Heritage Trail plaque, one of five in the town. Another African Diaspora site is the Bermudian Heritage Museum (297-4126), on the corner of Duke of York Street and Water Street. Here you may learn about the history of black Bermudians, from slavery to segregation to emancipation, plus Bermuda’s connection with Native American tribes.
To see how early residents lived, visit two homes that are now excellent small museums: The elegant Tucker House (297-0545) on Water Street has ties with Colonial Williamsburg and an archaeology display; and the St. George’s Historical Society Museum, Printery and Garden (297-0423) on Featherbed Alley with its kitchen garden and original water catchment system.
Sights such as Gates Fort, Fort George and Fort St. Catherine are not in the town but a 20-minute walk away, or you can take a taxi or a mini-bus. They are worth the visit as St. George’s boasts the best example of British masonry coastal defence outside of Britain. Fort St. Catherine has a beautiful view down the north shore of Bermuda and overlooks Gates’ Bay, where the shipwreck survivors of 1609 made landfall.
The best snorkelling in Bermuda is to be found at Tobacco Bay and Achilles Bay, two sheltered bays that are suitable for children. Both have seasonal beach houses that rent snorkelling gear, chairs and umbrellas. At Tobacco Bay, you’ll find Buzz on the Beach. Here a gift shop awaits you, with a beach gear rentals facility to complete your day at the beach. Rentals are available for all snorkelling gear, lounge chairs, umbrellas, swim floats and noodles. (295-2009, buzzcafe.bm)
Taking It Home
As you wander through the town’s alleys and streets, you’ll want to stop by the quaint shops and boutiques that are just as unique as the town’s heritage and bring back a little piece of St. George’s.
At Somers Wharf is a branch store that features a selection of merchandise from the A.S. Cooper & Sons Ltd. family of fine stores in Hamilton. Discover ladies’ fashions and accessories, gifts, souvenirs, as well as fragrances at duty-free prices. (297-0925, ascooper.bm)
Nestled in St. George’s, at 6B Penno’s Drive, is Bermuda Beauty Crafts, a treasure trove of items for everyone by local artists, artisans and the like. BBC’s Sun Shop offers UV-protection clothing, hats and accessories for those wanting superior protection from such brands as Tilley Endurables, Coolibar and Panama straw hats. (297-1605)
Bermuda Linens & Gifts offers a fine selection of linens, home décor, fashions and affordable gifts. Hand-embroidered linens include hankies, guest towels, doilies and tablecloths. There are modern contemporary linens from Tag and Kay Dee Kitchen. Personal favourites include jewellery holders, business card and cosmetic cases, lipstick and handbag holders. Upscale costume jewellery and Swarovski hair jewellery, resort wear, summer hats and totes, and Mud Pie Baby complete this “little Shop with big ideas.” (296-0189, bermudalinens.com)
The Bermuda Perfumery welcomes visitors to its location in St. George’s. Since 1928, The Perfumery creates and blends fine fragrances for women and men under the brand Lili Bermuda. Come for a unique olfactory experience and to discover how perfumers create fragrances. During the summer of 2012, Lili Bermuda will enchant you with its new fragrances and complementary bath line. Lili Bermuda’s line of unique fragrances is the perfect gift for yourself and your loved ones. Lili Bermuda’s fragrances are exclusively available in Bermuda. They are open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in summer, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter. (293-0627; 1-800-527-8213, toll-free in U.S. and Canada; lilibermuda.com)
When visiting the Town of St. George, don’t miss the aptly named Churchill’s for your wines, spirits and cigars. With the only walk-in humidor on the island, this is the place to stop for your Cuban cigars, fine wines, cold beer and sodas. Winston Churchill said, “I am easily satisfied with the very best,” and now you can be, too. They offer the finest selection of cigars, fine wines — over 250 references — gifts such as cigar cases and cutters, lighters, glasses, decanters, wine openers, and the Clef-du-Vin, the wine-aging tool. (297-1650, bermudawines.com)
Crisson Jewellers embodies Bermuda’s finest and most cherished traditions. A family business since 1922, the Crisson name is synonymous with quality and value. In St. George’s, you’ll find a Crisson store on Water Street, with boutique shopping and a distinctly Old World flavour. The atmosphere is relaxed and intimate, yet you find the same eclectic collections, value and prices as in Hamilton. (297-0107, crisson.com)
For a choice of Bermuda-made goods, located just off King’s Square, Dockside Glass & Rum Cakes offers a display of colourful hot glass in its smallest shop, welcoming you with a taste of Bermuda Rum Cakes and choices of classic art, small collectibles and handmade jewellery. The Bermudian artists have been very creative and busy, and the shop is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and until 9 p.m. when a ship is at port. (297-3908, dockglass.com)
Wander up Water Street in the 400-year-old Town of St. George and find the lively new shop Frangipani. From the cheerful batik sundress in the window to the dramatic wall of jewellery inside, you will be delighted at the eclectic range of beautiful and elegant clothing, shoes, bags and gifts found within. Whether you’re stepping off a cruise or relaxing at a resort, be sure to take the time to visit, as they’re open every day during season from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays in the winter. (297-1357, firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Island Shop is a must-visit for unique ceramic and linen products, all designed by Barbara Finsness. Resident and visitor comments include, “Finally a beautiful shop to buy our gifts,” and “I want to buy everything in your store.” Barbara’s designs are colourful and tropical, reflecting the best and lasting images of Bermuda. Each item is specially made and labelled with her signature. The Island Shop won Best of Giftware in The Bermudian magazine. New designs are continuously added to the collection. (297-1514, islandexports.com)
Beachcomber Kelly Diel has a treasure trove of unique handcrafted gifts in the heart of St. George’s. Seaglass Studio is where Kelly creates one-of-a-kind jewellery and ornaments from seaglass found on the local beaches. You can see the rarest colours of seaglass in orange, red and yellow. She also uses driftwood, sea pottery and other sea debris to create decorative signs, mirrors and ornamental sculptures. Visit her at her studio where you can find that special, unique gift to take home. (297-4819, bermudaseaglassbykelly.com)
The Somers Wharf Shopping and Dining Complex, created in 1978 by developing the historic St. George’s waterfront, sits on land reclaimed from St. George’s Harbour. Buildings in Somers Wharf, including the rugged Coal Shed, the long, pink Longhouse and the newly restored blue Hunter, were built in the late 1700s. Today, Somers Wharf is situated ideally in the middle of St. George’s, within easy walking distance of bus, ferry and cruise ship terminals, idyllically on the harbour front. A vast selection of apparel can be found in the shops and boutiques along the wharf, as well as treasures like fine crystal, artists’ collections, fine linens and gifts, knitting and craft supplies, and Bermudian crafts and souvenirs. A dockside pub and fine-dining restaurant will satisfy hunger and thirst. (296-6185, somerswharf.com)
Located at 7 and 20 Water Street in St. George’s, Vera P. Card offers jewellery, watches, figurines, crystal, clocks and gifts from around the world at duty-free prices. Selections are varied, and prices are guaranteed to offer savings over stores in the United States. Jewellery is “value-guaranteed” against an appraisal of your choice. Vera P. Card features the largest collection of Lladró, M.I. Hummel and Nao-by-Lladró in the Caribbean, along with the complete Swarovski silver-crystal collection. The shop also has a wide collection of fine crystal and glass. The jewellery collection emphasises unusual, high-value stones, as well as exceptional workmanship in gold and sterling silver. There is also a wide collection of beautiful gemstone globes, which are shipped free to North America. (297-1718, email@example.com)
Even in quiet St. George, you can find exciting and heart-racing activities to enjoy.
Get ready for the time of your life with K.S. WaterSports (Thrill Adventures & Tours), Bermuda’s No. 1 water sports company for fun and adventure, offering Jet Ski rentals in the Town of St. George and Dockyard. Experience an adventure of a lifetime on one of their amazing Jet Ski tours, where you splash and dash throughout Bermuda’s aqua-blue waters, passing many reefs, shipwrecks, forts and beautiful landmarks. Regular Jet Ski tours are between 60 and 75 minutes long. Instructions are provided. Customised Jet Ski tours available. All ages welcome. You must be 16 or older to operate a Jet Ski. Located at the White Horse Pub & Restaurant. (1-441-297-4155, kswatersports.com)
It’s also fun to rent a scooter at Oleander Cycles, whose shop is located on York Street. Oleander is Bermuda’s number-one cycle livery and offers quality scooters at competitive rates. You will receive safety instructions in a private practice area. The St. George’s location is open seven days a week. (297-0478, oleandercycles.bm)
How to Get There
Take advantage of Bermuda’s excellent public transportation, arriving in St. George’s by taxi, bus or ferry. Sea Express ferry offers six daily trips to St. George’s (from Hamilton, via Dockyard) from April to November only. In addition, there are four high-speed catamarans that serve these routes. Or take a Bermuda Breeze bus ride from Hamilton via routes 1, 3, 10 or 11. The one-way fare from Dockyard is $4.50 for adults and $2 for children ages 5–16 (kids under 5 years old ride for free). The one-way fare from Hamilton is $8 for adults and $4 for children ages 5–16. You can also try the Transportation Pass, which is good for unlimited rides on the bus and ferry system. Passes cost $12 for one day, $20 for two days, $28 for three days, $35 for four days and $45 for seven days.
Room With A View
Nestled on top of Rose Hill, with spectacular views of St. George’s Harbour, is The St. George’s Club, Bermuda’s premier cottage colony and vacation ownership resort, with one- and two-bedroom cottages in the Bermudian architectural style. Guests enjoy beautifully manicured gardens, three swimming pools, tennis courts, restaurant and bar, cycle livery, on-site grocery adjacent to the golf course — currently being updated to championship level — and pink-sand beaches, overlooking the UNESCO World Heritage Town of St. George and its pristine harbour. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. (297-1200 reservations, stgeorgesclub.com)
Savour the Flavour
Following a walking tour of St. George’s museums and shops, or a day of fun in the sun, a great meal or round of drinks is well deserved. In St. George’s you’ll find some of the best bars and restaurants in Bermuda.
Sit and watch the sun go down from the terrace of Blackbeard’s Hideout, overlooking Achilles Bay, for cocktails, lunch or dinner. A popular local spot with casual atmosphere and great food, this true Bermudian experience is not to be missed. It is great for private functions. (297-1400)
Buzz on the Beach at Tobacco Bay is just a short walk from the Town of St. George. Follow Kent Street to Government Hill Road and you will find them after passing the oldest church in the western hemisphere. Buzz offers family comfort food along with wine and beer, including the famous Buzz sangria, on one of the island’s safest and most beautiful beaches. Also serving the best fruit smoothies on the island, and ice cream to cool off in the heat. (295-2009, buzzcafe.bm)
With breathtaking views overlooking St. George’s Harbour, Griffin’s Bistro & Bar is located at The St. George’s Club on top of Rose Hill. Join them for lunch or dinner in the newly refurbished Harbour View dining room, and enjoy great food and friendly service. Griffin’s is the jewel in the crown of St. George’s. (297-4235, stgeorgesclub.com)
Enjoy harbour-side seating and cosy romantic dining year-round at the Tavern by the Sea. The menu reveals culinary skills from their international chefs, offering fresh seafood, juicy meats, healthy salads and signature comfort meals. Try their delicious local lobster specials with a savoury stuffing prepared to your liking. (297-3305)
Temptations specialises in great-tasting, affordably priced food to satisfy any appetite. Enjoy a hearty breakfast bagel, delicious homemade soup, the best sandwiches in town, sinful desserts, ice creams and sherbets, or a piping-hot cup of tea or cappuccino. Eat in or take out, open for breakfast and lunch Monday to Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (297-1368)
The White Horse Pub & Restaurant is Bermuda’s favourite pub and seafood restaurant in St. George’s, well known for its creative and colourful dishes, friendly service and breathtaking views of St. George’s Harbour. The pub offers inside dining, covered waterside dining and an outdoor waterfront bistro area. The White Horse serves a wide selection of fresh local fish and flame-grilled steaks, as well as popular English and Bermudian pub favourites. Great food, great prices, great menu selections, all in a relaxed and casual atmosphere for you to enjoy. Fancy something cool and refreshing? Then sit back and relax whilst sipping on one of their signature cocktails, mojitos or frozen drinks made especially for you. For all you sports fans out there, this is Bermuda’s No. 1 sports bar in St. George’s. Enjoy wall-to-wall sports coverage of your favourite sports teams from morning to night. The White Horse is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; bar open until 1 a.m. or later. Takeout is available. (1-441-297-1838, whitehorsebermuda.com)
Historical Points of Interest
Bermuda National Trust Museum
Bermuda Perfumery, The
Bob Burns Park
Charlotte Hope’s Grave
Fort St. Catherine
Mitchell House (St. George’s Historical Society)
Pilot Darrell’s House
Segregated Graveyard at St. Peter's Church
Sir George Somers Monument
St. George’s Foundation
St. Peter’s Church
Stocks and Pillory
Tucker House Museum
World Heritage Centre
DID YOU KNOW? John Roffe, one of the Sea Venture castaways, continued on to Virginia and married Indian princess Pocahontas.
DID YOU KNOW? On Tuesday evenings in summer revellers flock to St. George's for Market Nights to enjoy shopping, food, entertainment and historic re-enactments from May 1 till Sept. 25, 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
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