Built in 1731, the St. George’s Historical Society Museum is one of the oldest buildings in Bermuda. It was formerly a private home once known as Mitchell House, built by a merchant named Walter Mitchell and owned by his descendants for the next century. The Historical Society of St. George’s took over the property in 1922 and converted it into a museum. Here are five things you may not know about this Bermuda attraction in the Old Town.
- The house was once owned by successful black couple Isabella and William Archer, who ran a successful restaurant called The Gun Tavern that was popular with sailors and soldiers stationed in St. George’s. Isabella was a free black woman, and William was a former slave freed by his master.
- A barred window in the cellar was brought in from the old St. George’s jail (now the post office). It was through this window that Methodist missionary Rev. John Stephenson used to preach when he was imprisoned in 1800 for preaching to slaves without a permit. Rev. Stephenson’s mission when he arrived in Bermuda was to preach to both blacks and whites, slaves and free. For this reason, he was considered a threat to society. His decision to continue in his ministry landed him in jail. Upon the construction of the post office, The Stephenson Window was transferred to the museum for preservation.
- Bermudian life in the 1700s is on display inside the house, with all its everyday household items and artefacts in place, including ax heads, whale-blubber cutters, a 300-year old Bible, and even a letter from George Washington. The kitchen showcases old utensils, palmetto baskets, and calabash dipping gourds.
- Originally the lower level of the house provided the merchant owner with a space from which to run his business. Today it houses an old Gutenberg-style printing press alongside early editions of the island’s newspapers. This ‘print shop’ offers a picture of how information was circulated in the pre-digital era. Especially fascinating is the copy of the second edition of Bermuda’s first newspaper, the Bermuda Gazette, issued on Saturday, January 24, 1784.
- Visitors can also take advantage of the pretty cottage-style garden around the back of the museum. The garden is planted with specimens known to flourish in Bermuda and is at its best in spring when the roses are in bloom.
The St. George’s Historical Society Museum/Michell House Museum is located at 3 Featherbed Alley and is open throughout the year with changing hours based on month. Call 297-0423 for up-to-date information.