On Hamilton's Trail: A Visit to the Islands of St. Kitts and Nevis

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Dr. William G. Chrystal, a living historian and author of Alexander Hamilton and an AHA Society-designated National Hamilton Scholar, visited the island of Nevis with his wife Janie in November 2014 to introduce island residents to the story of their fellow native Nevisian, Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis on January 11, 1757, and lived there until he was eight years old.

Dr. Chrystal gave multiple performances and talks during his time on both St. Kitts and Nevis. As Evelyn Henville, Director of the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society stated, Dr. Chrystal hopes "to bring to life the goodness and charm and intellect of Alexander Hamilton and his accomplishments." 

There has been a growing movement for locals to celebrate Hamilton's Caribbean roots and to take pride in claiming Alexander Hamilton as a Native Son; this visit by Dr. Chrystal has certainly inspired many new people with Hamilton's story. 

On Hamilton’s Trail: A Visit to the Islands of St. Kitts and Nevis

By William G. Chrystal (www.William-G-Chrystal.com)
January 2, 2015 

Ask most Americans what they know about Alexander Hamilton and they’ll tell you two things. He’s the face on the ten dollar bill, and he was killed in a duel. Go to the island of Nevis, where Hamilton was born, and most people know even less.

Dr. Chrystal speaking at the Nevis Performing Arts CentreDr. Chrystal speaking at the Nevis Performing Arts CentreWith that in mind, Janie and I were recently invited to visit the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis by the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society and the Nevis Tourism Authority. The goal was to help young and old learn more about the American Founding Father who was surely one of their most remarkable native sons. For four days, I performed as Hamilton, answering audience questions and trying to help people understand the many contributions made by Hamilton to the infant United States. I also spoke at length about Hamilton’s attitude toward slavery and how some of his policies helped the Caribbean become more independent of European powers. I addressed community college and secondary students in Basseterre, St. Kitts; and junior high students and adult groups in Nevis. The adults were composed of natives, transplanted residents from England and the United States, and island visitors, mostly Americans. Janie and I also handed out hundreds of the Hamilton challenge coin we designed and produced. Almost everyone who was given one wanted a second for a family member or friend who wasn’t at my performance.

The Alexander Hamilton Birthplace MuseumThe Alexander Hamilton Birthplace MuseumIt was a marvelous experience and we are indebted to a number of people for our visit, especially Mrs. Evelyn Henville, Executive Director of the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, whose headquarters is in the home where Hamilton is believed to have been born. It also serves as a museum dedicated to Alexander Hamilton.

We were blessed to stay at the “Hermitage” which began its life in Hamilton’s day as a sugar plantation. Located about a mile from the shore, hundreds of feet above sea level, it is near “Gingerland,” the district where Hamilton’s Faucette grandfather owned a small plantation. Standing outside of St. George’s Anglican Church, looking across the large and partly overgrown cemetery, which lies in the direction of Mt. Nevis, we were struck by the fact that some of Hamilton’s forebears are buried in that hallowed ground, and that Hamilton himself must have stood in the same spot where we stood and looked upon a nearly identical scene.

View of Nevis, with Mt. Nevis in the center of the islandView of Nevis, with Mt. Nevis in the center of the island

Many things struck us about Nevis. It is a compact island, about eight miles around. At its center is Mt. Nevis, rising out of the sea. Most of the area is thick with vegetation and the population lives from sea level up to lower elevations of Mt. Nevis. The population is descended from African slaves and native workers brought in during the post slavery period, mostly from India. The people are instinctively shy around strangers, but once they get to know you a little, they are warm and friendly.

In Hamilton’s day, Nevis was a sugar island. Growing and processing sugar cane was its reason for being. Today, there is no sugar cane in sight, but some vestiges of its history are in evidence, like overgrown mills. The architecture of its principal town, Charlestown, reflects its history and climate. The main street is lined with two story, “blouse and skirt” buildings, once owned by the many merchants who serviced the sugar plantation economy. The ground floor of these buildings is usually made of stone. They were designed to withstand the hurricanes that often pummeled the island. The second floor, the “blouse,” is usually wooden, with shuttered windows. Here, the merchants and their families lived comfortably, cooled by the island breezes. The streets of Charlestown are narrow, and many residents stand around visiting with one another. Both men and women often wear brightly colored clothing, consisting of yellows and reds. Some of the buildings are also painted in these “island colors.”

The "blouse and skirt" architecture of Charlestown, Nevis.The "blouse and skirt" architecture of Charlestown, Nevis.

A striking thing about Nevis is its isolation. At least two miles separate it from St. Kitts at the closest point. Twice, we took the “Seabridge” from one island to the other (in Hamilton’s day it was done by schooner). The Seabridge is a World War Two Landing Craft Infantry converted to carry cars from one island to the other. Otherwise, one must take a ferry from Charlestown to Basseterre. It is about a forty-five minute ride.

Alexander Hamilton, Native Son of NevisAlexander Hamilton, Native Son of NevisOver time, new insights about Alexander Hamilton will emerge as we think about our visit. But at this early date, we realize how important it is to visit the exotic places where Hamilton spent his youth. It is not for nothing that he once said the “most useful part” of his education was gained on these islands. Getting to know Hamilton’s islands is an important prelude to understanding the man himself. And we hope, at the same time, that residents of Hamilton’s natal island will claim him and his accomplishments as their own.

Media Coverage on Dr. Chrystal's Visit

November 27, 2014

"World renowned Alexander Hamilton impersonator visits Nevis" - See news article.

November 17, 2014

"World Renowned Author And Alexander Hamilton Impersonator, Dr. William G. (Bill) Chrystal, Visits St. Kitts And Nevis!" - See news article.

Related Features

2011 On Hamilton's Trail: A Visit to the Islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. (c) 2016 The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society
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