No one really knows where the name came from. Oswego is definitely an Indian name from upstate New York. Today Oswego is a town on the southern shore of Lake Ontario on the Oswego River most likely Iroquoian. Oswego, New York was the scene for fortifications (Fort Ontario and Fort George) and Indian wars with the French and later the British. The word comes from the Indian Oshwakee which means “The flowing out of the waters”.
Generally we know that Indian prisoners from the New England Indian wars in the 1600s were shipped to the islands down south including Bermuda and sold as slaves. Many shipping manifests record Indians (no names nor tribes were listed) being delivered to Bermuda and we know Indians settled in St David’s having originally arrived as slaves. Bermudians called them “Mohawks” and in Iroquoian that translates to “man eaters”! Oswego, New York however is more within the Onondagan area and next to the Mohawks. The common folklore is that the original Indians in St. Davids were Mashantucket Pequots from Connecticut, or Wampanoags from Massachusetts both speaking the Algonquin language not Iroquoian. Legend has it that some Indians were put on Great and Little Oswego to fend for themselves. Maybe they called it Oswego as the St David’s Narrows just to the northwest clearly has visible tidal water: the flowing out of the waters. Maybe they really were Mohawks?
Oswego looks over Smith’s Sound a deep natural anchorage on the south side of Smith’s Island. The name Smith (Smythe) comes from one of the first investors and Treasurer of the Virginia Company, Sir Thomas Smith. In 1615 Bermuda was placed under the Bermuda Company of which Sir Thomas became the Chairman.
The only natural ships channel into St Georges harbor is on the other side (Northern side) of Smiths Island. This channel was deep enough for the ships of the day but was fairly long and curved like an “S” and accordingly difficult to navigate under sail even when towed by longboats. After awhile the channel could not accommodate the larger vessels of the late 1800’s. Therefore in the early 1900’s the existing ships channel was cut in which is more direct, deeper and shorter. Today, however, the modern Cruise ships are too large to even navigate this channel.
St David’s has a unique history and heritage of seafaring, fishing, whaling, agriculture, independence and self sufficiency. A mix of English, Irish, American Indian and Black has created the ultimate Atlantic Creole of which, sadly, only a few true characters remain. The creation of the US base in 1941 (now the airport) almost destroyed the wonderful barefoot seafaring life of the St David’s Islanders. The History of St David’s and its people is intriguingly portrayed at Carter House and Museum a classic Bermuda farmhouse dating from the 1600s. Many species of native and endemic plants and trees surround Carter House. Carter House is a must and is located on Southside Road near the airport tower on the hill. There you will glimpse the old St David’s as it was. Carter House was named after Christopher Carter, one of the three “Kings” who lived on Smiths Island after the Sea Venture shipwreck in 1609. His great granddaughter Martha Hayward (nee Carter) lived in Carter House until she died in 1791 at 114 years of age. Martha made palmetto hats for Queen Anne and Carter House has one of the best exhibits of Bermuda made palmetto products in Bermuda.
St David’s fare can be sampled at the nearby Black Horse Restaurant just a short boat ride away. Conch fritters or stew, fish chowder, fish dinner/ sandwich and lobsters etc are a few reasons why it is well worth a few meals there. A walk around Great Head Park to the ruins of an early fort on the coast and back past Cashew City the site of the landing of the first settlers is a great way to walk off a lunch at the Blackhorse!
Another historic point of interest is St David’s Lighthouse, built in the 19th century on a hill named Strachey’s Watch on the 1610 map of Bermuda drawn by Sir George Somers whilst shipwrecked in Bermuda. Strachey was also on the Sea Venture and no doubt kept watch from this hill for passing ships. The view from this hill covers all approaches into Bermuda from the north east to the southwest. Strachey went on to Jamestown Virginia to become the Secretary of the Virginia Company. His family ring was recently found in the Jamestown Fort dig by Preservation Virginia. Other Bermuda objects have also been found at Jamestown such as Bermuda Limestone that obviously went to Jamestown aboard the Bermuda built Deliverance and Patience as ballast in 1610. A piece of this limestone found in Jamestown is on exhibit at the World Heritage Centre in St Georges, the place to begin every tour of St Georges. Cahow bones were also found at Jamestown and they can only come from Bermuda because the Cahow is an endemic Bermuda sea bird. The Cahow thought to be extinct was rediscovered on the islands off Clearwater Beach (only a couple of miles to the southeast from Great Oswego) in the 1950’s and seven pairs have been expanded to over 100 nesting pairs on Nonsuch Island just off Coopers Island to the south not far from Clearwater beach. After sixty years of loving care and attention by Dr Wingate and now Jeremy Madeiros the Cahow program has been an outstanding success. Nonsuch is well worth a visit but this must be by arrangement.
The three “kings” (Carter, Chard and Waters) left in Bermuda in 1610 by the shipwrecked Sea Venture adventurers when they left for Jamestown, established their camp on Smith’s Island in the valley directly opposite great Oswego. They cultivated an acre garden of corn, melon and tobacco. They were building a pinnace in July 1610 to escape with the Ambergris (very valuable) they had found when the Plough with Governor Moore and 50 settlers sailed into this harbor and anchored at the eastern end of Smith’s Sound. The three Kings when they had identified the Plough as English rowed out to them to join the celebration of their safe arrival. This celebration of prayer was held on the point at the eastern end of Smith’s Sound (now Vaughn’s Park, Cashew City) where the only beach was located. The crew then caught sufficient fish (which had followed the Plough into the harbor) within a short time to feed all the settlers and crew: the first official fish fry in Bermuda. Later they moved the Plough further up the harbor nearer their camp on Smith’s Island directly opposite Great Oswego and to the right of the twin Palmettos on the hill. After a few weeks and confiscation of the Ambergris the Plough returned to England and Governor Moore and the settlers all moved to St Georges (then called Tortus Island) to establish the town and build “cabbens of Palmatta”.
Carter later owned/ was given Cooper’s Island at the end of St David’s near Clearwater Beach for spilling the beans on the Ambergris conspiracy and manned the fort there. Whilst he was being entertained in 1624 aboard the magazine ship, the Sea Flower in the middle of Castle Harbor he, his wife and others were killed by an explosion of the ship’s gunpowder which also sunk the ship at anchor.
The settlers built St Peter’s Church in 1612 in St Georges and services have been continuously held at St Peters on the same spot for 400 years. St. Peter's church is well worth a visit.
St Georges a natural 18th century town with narrow streets and wonderfully preserved 300 year old cottages was recognized as a WORLD HERITAGE SITE by UNESCO in 2000.
The island is jointly owned by Geoffrey Redmond of St. David’s Island and Douglas Redmond of Smith's parish together with Rick Spurling of St. George's. Rick Spurling resides with his wife Jane from Virginia and their dog Babe in St. George's and they have 3 adult children and 3 grandchildren (so far). Rick retired as Senior Partner of Appleby and is an avid boater, kayaker, Alpine skier and enjoys nature walks. He's also a history buff and would welcome the opportunity to give any Oswego guests a historical tour of St. George's and Carter House c. 1640 on St David’s Island not to mention his home which is a museum according to his wife!
Geoffrey lives with his partner Lauren and their two children Peter and Summer as well as their dog Hazel. They live directly across from Oswego Island on St. David's island. Geoffrey co-owns with his father, a local construction firm and his crew was responsible for much of the construction details and landscaping of Oswego. Geoffrey is first generation Bermudian, as his father is from Liverpool U.K. and his mother Middlesex, U.K. He has been a licensed boat captain for Bermuda waters for 17 years and would rather be on the water, fishing, giving guided tours or water skiing than on the main land. He graduated from Dalhousie University in Canada with a diploma in Engineering and he majored in Math. He also has a diploma in heavy equipment repair and has been operating heavy equipment for 14 years.
Douglas Redmond (Geoffrey's father)resides in Smith Parish with his wife Gillian and their West Highland Terrier Ellie, they have two adult children Ashley and Geoffrey and two grandchildren . Douglas is the President of MR Construction Ltd which has been in business since 1994 in Bermuda. He is a keen model railway enthusiast having three different scale layouts and also enjoys live steam railway journeys and holidays. He trained as a Structural Engineer before coming to Bermuda in 1965.
Most likely if you are staying on Oswego you will get a guided tour of the area by Geoffrey or Rick or Doug or all three if you are lucky!
The previous owner was Sir Freddie Bennett, a journalist, Barrister and a Conservative Party member of the UK Parliament, who owned the island from the 1950’s until his death in 2002. He was a citizen/ resident of the U.K. and a UK parliamentarian representing Torquay in Cornwall from 1955 to 1987 and lived at Machynlleth, Wales. He boasted many friends in the Middle east including many international figures of Middle eastern countries (he was granted freedom of the city of Ankara in 1992). He liked to spend Christmas, January and February in Bermuda each year with his wife “Mouse” at Oswego. A very small cottage built in the 1800’s occupied the same spot which resembled a Robinson Crusoe tree hut. He rarely purchased anything and preferred to make repairs or build things from Driftwood or products rescued from Bermudas Public Dump in Pembroke. He was an eccentric to say the least.