Our family’s upcoming trip to the Caribbean got me thinking about George Washington’s only trip outside the United States. Few people probably know that at age 19 Washington traveled to Barbados with his half-brother Lawrence. Barbados is an island in the eastern Caribbean.
The purpose of the trip was to find a cure for Lawrence’s tuberculosis. At the time, it was thought that the warm and tropical climate of Barbados could cure those stricken with tuberculosis.
The Washington brothers sailed on the trading sloop, Success, and spent six weeks at sea prior to reaching Bridgetown, Barbados.
Barbados is a coral island which the British developed for its sugar plantations. These model plantations operated by slaves and indentured servants provided a young Washington with insight and ideas into operating his own farms in Virginia.
Shorty after arriving in Barbados, Washington became ill with small pox. Small pox killed many who lived in the 18th century. However, Washington was able to recover after a couple of weeks, with only slight scarring on his face. This inoculated Washington from small pox, which later proved to be a key component to his good health in the American Revolution. While many officers and soldiers would find themselves ill with small pox, Washington remained healthy throughout the Revolution.
Washington’s visit to Barbados also allowed him to meet several prominent British military leaders, which spurred Washington’s interest in finding a place in the British Army. Washington also toured some of the forts located on the island. Thankfully, the British never offered Washington an officer’s commission in the army, which eventually fed his dislike of the British system of government.
George Washington returned to Virginia in January 1752, after spending only a couple of months in Barbados. His half-brother Lawrence later returned to Virginia, but unfortunately was never able to recover from tuberculosis. Lawrence died, adding to the list of relatives that passed during Washington’s life. While Washington’s visit to Barbados was filled with difficulties, it served as a turning point. Upon returning to Virginia, Washington knew that he wanted to serve in the military and that he wanted to try and attain the same type of success that British plantation owners had achieved on Barbados. His trip to the Caribbean was filled with meaning and gave him new purpose in a life that would lead him to become the father of a nation.