Do you know… About General Russell Hasting and the Bermuda Easter Lilies?

by Horst Augustinovic

Lieutenant Russell C. Hastings

Lieutenant Russell C. Hastings

The sixth of eight children, Russell Hastings was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1835. During the American Civil War he became a second lieutenant in the Ohio Volunteer Army. During the battle of Winchester he was severely wounded and nearly died. Next he became adjutant general on the staff of Major General Rutherford Hayes – later to become U.S. President – and at the close of the war he was brevetted brigadier general.

In 1865 he was elected to the Ohio Legislature and two years later was appointed U.S. Marshall for the Northern District of Ohio. Having spent a winter in Bermuda due to his poor health, General Hastings and his wife Emily – niece of President Hayes – made Bermuda their permanent home in 1879. In 1883 they bought some 50 acres of land in Point Shares for $8,000 and built their home ‘Soncy’.

Before moving to Bermuda General Hastings formed a partnership with a florist in New York and established a business raising Easter lily bulbs for export to the United States. As he cultivated more and more fields in Point Shares, he cultivated around 300,000 Easter Lilies a year, shipping them to New York, England and Holland.

…and Easter Lilies being packed for shipment to New York.

…and Easter Lilies being packed for shipment to New York.

In a 1890 New York Times article the writer describes a visit to General Hastings like this: “The best garden that I have seen so far belongs to an American, Gen. Russell C. Hastings, who, after having an ugly encounter with a rifle ball in the late war, came down here and began and developed the then new industry of raising lilies. It is Gen. Hastings who is responsible for the vast quantities of Easter lilies that are now sent every year from Bermuda to New York. He has promised to give a full description of the process of raising and shipping lilies, so I will say no more about that here: but in his private garden where he raises vegetables only for his own table, he showed me things that would excite wonder in a colder climate. Rows of peas ready for the picking, heads of lettuce like cabbages, artichokes, beets, sweet and white potatoes, and all the things that we expect to see in a northern garden in August, green and juicy here in the beginning of February. He has these things ready for the table the year round, he tells me, making new plantings every two weeks. Such a garden as this, in such a climate, and a beautiful house in the midst of a plantation of blooming lilies, with a broad piazza overhanging a sheet of clear water, ought to be enough to make an old soldier happy”.

The Hastings had three children – Lucy Webb, Fanny and Russell Platt. Lucy Webb married an Australian surgeon and their daughter Emily was a well-known Bermuda resident – Dr. Emily Liddell. One of the first women doctors in Bermuda, she worked as a public health doctor in the 1940s, studied psychiatry and became a transcendental meditation teacher. She was also the first woman to hold a Bermuda driver’s licence.

 

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