By Christopher Tobutt
What better place to celebrate Constitution Day than Pedro St. James, the ‘Birthplace of Democracy,’ Pedro St. James Castle. While Cayman’s first written constitution, completed on 4 July 1959, is the official reason for the holiday, the roots of Cayman’s ability to self-govern are hidden deep within the thick stone walls of Pedro Castle. It was here that Cayman’s first ideas of self-government and national identity took shape. If anywhere is the historical heart of the Cayman Islands, it is surely here. The great house was also celebrating because it was the first day that people could visit, after the Covid-19 shutdown. Everyone had to wear masks, at least in the inside areas shared by others, and the normal Covid-19 social distancing rules were in place. But things were made as easy and relaxed as possible.
One of the biggest highlights in visiting Pedro St James is the wonderful, multisensory 3D story, a video full of live special-effects, which is really magical and atmospheric, and my little girl loved it especially. It begins with thunder, and flashes of lightning as the lights grow darker, and the sound of a stormy sea breaking on Pedro Bluff. This is the story of Pedro’s beginnings, and the beginnings of Cayman’s awareness of its own, unique identity and destiny. It is good to see the presentation first, so that you have some idea about the magic and historical significance of the house.
Built by Englishman William Eden in 1780 (or at least, commissioned by him. The thick stone walls were probably built mostly by slaves). The towering three stories of the great house, known later as “Pedro Castle,” must have dwarfed the other few wattle-and-daub homes at the time, and looked very impressive indeed. The house is tainted with mystery, and with sadness, as the daughter of one of the owners was killed by a bolt of lightning when trying to catch valuable rainwater, and her brother was badly hurt. “It was here too, on these same steps that the Abolishment of slavery, which was was on 31st July at Midnight, took place. The proclamation was read by Captain Anthony Pax of the 85th Regiment of Foot,” Tour guide Trisha Richardson Jackson told me. “On 5 December 1831, on 5 December 1831 where the decision was made to form the first elected parliament,” she added. The first parliament met twice a year, on the second floor, and the court was held on the third floor. On the first floor there is the waxworks of a prisoner, who had murdered someone, and you can see him sitting on the bed of his cell.
Another Tour Guide, Stacy Eden Hurlston really brought history alive explained that it was his own grandfather, as a young boy, who was hurt by the bolt of lightning which killed his sister. He was very friendly and it seemed that there was nothing Mr. Eden Hurlstone didn’t know about the great house, and its story.
“The Outpost” is a lovely restaurant and bar, with tables overlooking the majestic bluff falling way to a deep blue sea. Independently owned it serves a mixture of some of the best of local foods, like conch fritters and freshly caught fish, as well as international cuisine, and locally made beer and rum, too. At the back of Pedro’s seven acres is a kind of little museum, with displays of old photos showing both Pedro, and George Town in days-gone-by. There is a nice little playground for young kids, too, as well as an old-time caboose you can get inside, showing you all the old fashioned pots and pans and cooking utensils. It is nice to see how they present the old-time things, in a way that keeps with the spirit of history pervading the house and grounds, but also in a way that makes that spirit come to life, and talk to you.
Admission to Pedro St. James is only $5 for residents for residents and guided tours are $10 per person. Kids 5 and under and seniors 65 and older are free. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.