1751 will always be engraved in the rich diverse history of Barbados. For it was in this year that George Washington’s half-brother Lawrence extended an invitation to him to accompany his wife, Anne, and then four-month old child on a trip. Thus, on November 2, 1751, the Brigantine Success landed in Barbados and the Washington brothers made their way to the city of Bridgetown. Previously, Lawrence fell ill with a cough in 1749 and by 1751 the illness matured into tuberculosis. After several unsuccessful trips with the hopes of remedying his condition, Lawrence sought to explore other options and learned about Barbados and its reputation for treating lung diseases.
Upon arrival, they realized that Bridgetown was one of the large cities in the British Atlantic. Settled in 1627, Barbados became one of England’s most profitable colonies through a booming sugar trade. Subsequently, George and his ailing brother resided in a historic plantation house, also known as Bush Hill House for two months. According to the George Washington House official site, Barbados was the only country ever visited by the future First Father of his country and Bush Hill House was the only house he ever lived in outside of the Continental United States. During their stay, the brothers experienced “disaster-filled weeks” whereby Lawrence found the oppressive heat miserable and the venture failed to improve his condition. While George’s situation worsen as he was stricken with small pox on November 17, 1751 as a result of not developing immunity to this disease in his youth. Fortunately, the then 19 year old recovered quickly and eventually set sail home for Virginia in December.
Amidst this, Washington’s trip to Barbados had a significant impact on his life. He explored the economics of sugar cane and the role of Barbados in the Atlantic economy, no doubt influencing his approach to Mount Vernon’s plantations. Additionally, he explored the forts and military structures of the island. When he returned to Virginia, he placed a renewed emphasis on his role in the military. Washington sought a commission in the regular British Army while engaging in evening conversations with high-ranking military officials.
While this experience undoubtedly fostered his desire to enter the military, Washington’s sojourn to Barbados had a greater impact. During the Revolutionary War the colonial army was ravaged by smallpox and having been exposed to the disease in Barbados, Washington was immune and managed to avoid suffering from this illness like his troops. Additionally, it was under Washington’s watch that his men were administered one of the earliest known inoculations against smallpox.
Today, the Bush Hill Tourism Trust Inc., in collaboration with the Barbados National Trust, has restored, what is now the George Washington House, previously Bush Hill House, and outlying buildings. This initiative has created a heritage site on the historic Garrison that celebrates the visit and the role Barbados played in the settlement of America.