Trust us: It’s worth prying yourself off of Bermuda’s pink-sand beaches or out of the clear blue waters to experience St. George’s. With its winding, old streets, colorful buildings, vibrant local scene, and rich history, this colonial town cannot be missed. While it’s perfectly fine to explore by yourself, those in the know turn to Kristen White, the town’s resident expert in its local history. We caught up with White, a Bermuda native, to talk about why she fell so hard for St. George’s—and what to know about the historic town. If you want to learn even more, you can meet her and other local Bermudians on our upcoming AFAR Experiences trip on April 28th-29th.
When did you move to St. George’s?
I moved to St. George’s in 2003. I’d never spent any time here, even though I lived on the island, which is quite small. People consider the extremities of the island to be too far away.
I immediately fell in love with the quaintness, the history, the charm, all the little alleys and shops of St. George’s. It was just so cute. A few years back, a bookstore in town was closing down and my husband and I purchased it. Now we run it; it’s called Book Cellar. Being right in the center of town as a business owner and a resident, I’ve become super passionate about the town and making sure other people see how amazing it is.
How did you become the go-to person for St. George’s history?
When I first opened the shop, I started talking a lot about St. George’s on social media. So, people started asking me to take them around. Then I worked for the St. George’s Foundation for a couple of years, which really helped me to learn a lot more about the history. Again, it helped me increase my profile as someone who knows a lot about the town. Right now I’m actually a consultant to the Bermuda Tourism Authority as the cultural tourism manager for the east end, which includes St. George’s. Now I definitely give way more tours. I don’t do it regularly, but if there’s a special visiting group, like AFAR Experiences, the tourism board would ask me to give the tour.
You run a special kind of tour that happens more regularly. Tell us about that.
I started running a tour called Haunted History. It’s sort of a street performance and a walking tour. It tells the stories of famous St. George’s people from centuries ago. At key sites, you’ll find an actor who’s dressed up like the ghost of one of those people who comes out to interact with the group.
The way history is presented can often be quite boring. I wanted to get people excited about the history and the stories of St. George’s. I’m a writer, so I wrote the script and researched the characters and the stories they tell. They’re just so fascinating. Plus, I really wanted to do something that would create some jobs. Now we can have year-round storytelling, which actually creates a source of income for artists.
The Haunted tour takes about an hour. In the winter, we run it one day a week, and in the summer we increase it to two or three days a week, depending on the cruise ship schedule or interest.
How far back does the Haunted Tour go in Bermuda’s history?
We go back to 1609, to the shipwreck of the Seaventure.
In 1609, there was a fleet of nine ships headed from Plymouth, England, to Jamestown, Virginia, to bring supplies, take more colonists, and bring their new governor, because the colony was struggling. Seven of the ships ended up making it to Jamestown but the flagship, Seaventure, was shipwrecked in Bermuda. At the time, Bermuda wasn’t undiscovered, but there weren’t any indigenous people who lived there. It had been on maps, so the island was known, but that was the first time people stayed for any great length of time. They stayed for 10 months to build new ships, using the materials from the Seaventure and Bermuda’s cedar trees, and then they sailed on and told people Bermuda was great and had lots of food and natural resources. That’s what made England formally colonize Bermuda in 1612.
St. George’s, which was the site of the shipwreck and where people first settled in 1612, is the oldest continuously inhabited town in the New World. It’s even older than Plymouth. When the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, St. George’s was already eight years old. It’s a really historic town, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of that history. So much of the architecture is still here. Because of the hurricanes Bermuda sees, the building materials are very strong. We have a church that dates back to 1612. We have the oldest stone building of English design in the New World which dates back to 1620. My bookshop is in a house from 1752.
The streets just scream the history. It’s just up to us to gather the stories.