In 1780, Englishman William Eden built Pedro St. James, a grand three-storey Great House, which would later become an iconic heritage site in the Cayman Islands. At the time, Grand Cayman was a fledgling island settlement inhabited by roughly 500 people, half of whom were enslaved. Donkeys were the sole means of transportation on dry land, and people subsisted on farming and the sea.
Eden decided to bring a little of his hometown — the parish of Devizes in Wiltshire in southwest England — to Grand Cayman. Behind a traditional coral stone wall, his “castle” on Pedro Point towered over the simple wattle and daub dwellings that dotted the land. Sweeping verandahs faced every compass point, awarding stunning views of the estate’s plantation, great lawn and the jagged seaside scenery.
In addition to being Eden’s home, the estate was used as a courthouse and jail in the early days. It was also where Cayman’s earliest settlers met in 1831 and officially agreed on the need for an elected parliament in the Cayman Islands. This single moment has earned Pedro St. James the reputation for being the birthplace of democracy in the Islands.
Only four years later, the proclamation to abolish slavery in the British Empire was read from the original steps of the home.
As the years progressed, the Edens’ estate would pass through many hands and endure a series of hardships and disasters. Neglect and abandonment led to the gradual ruin of the manor; hurricanes ravaged the property; two fires destroyed parts of the original structure; and a freak lightning storm even killed the daughter of one of the property owners. Miraculously, after each instance, the plantation was restored.
In 1991, the Cayman Islands Government recognised the historical importance of Pedro St. James and its role in the history of the nation and offered to purchase 7.65 acres of the property. They consulted experts in the architecture of the era and began the country’s most extensive restoration project, using building materials and techniques of the period, as well as authentic furnishings.
Seven years later, during a grand opening gala celebration, Pedro St. James officially reopened as a National Historic Site of the Cayman Islands.
Today, you can walk through its rooms and learn more about the Edens and the building’s historical importance. Visit pedrostjames.ky for more information and plan your visit.