Church, state, and the space in between: an archeological and architectural study of St. George's, Bermuda
Fortenberry, Brent Russell
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Public spaces have always been stages for social interaction. In the early modern Atlantic world, public spaces were at the intersection of prescribed colonial authority and local social practice. In this study I chart the changing nature of public space in St. George's Bermuda in two phases: first under the Somers Island Company from 1612 to 1684 and second under the English Monarchy from 1685 to 1815. Using archaeological, architectural, and archival data, I elucidate the evolution and changing meaning of St. George's urban landscape and its principal public sites: St. Peter's Church and the State House. The Somers Island Company built St. Peter's Church as an earthfast building, fashioning a Non-Conformist religious space in direct opposition to early 17th-century Anglican liturgical prescriptions. For the State House, Company officials merged an open hall design with defensive architecture. The church and State House both faced Government House, the symbol of Company authority on the island. The result formed what I term a ceremonial landscape, one that codified Company position and reinforced Company power. When the Crown took control in 1685, its authorities refashioned St. George's public sites to accentuate English monarchical power. They rebuilt St. Peter's Church as a cruciform limestone structure and remodeled its interior to conform to canonical Anglican worship practices in England and her colonies. Interior arrangements reinforced the social position of local elites through pew arrangement and memorial plaques. The State House became a venue for elite socializing and display via private dining and public balls. St. George's urban core evolved from a bare, staid earthfast ceremonial landscape to a crowded built-up commercial environment of stone storehouses as Bermuda blossomed into an Atlantic economic center during the Crown Period. My research demonstrates how the built and open places of this earliest colonial city center functioned as deeply hierarchical spaces that reproduced and reinforced both colonial authority and social position. St. Peter's Church, the State House, and St. George's urban environment are material indices of changing notions of public space in the early modem Atlantic world.
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