Strontium to calcium ratios (Sr/Ca) are reported for a massive brain coral Diploria labyrinthiformis collected from the south shore of Bermuda and are strongly correlated with both sea surface temperature (SST) and mean annual skeletal growth rate. High Sr/Ca ratios correspond with cold SSTs and slow skeletal growth rate and vice versa. We provide a quantitative calibration of Sr/Ca to extension rate and SST along the axis of maximum growth and derive a growth-dependent Sr/Ca–SST calibration equation to reconstruct western subtropical North Atlantic SSTs for the past 223 years. When the influence of growth rate is excluded from the calibration, Sr/Ca ratios yield SSTs that are too cold during cool anomalies and too warm during warm anomalies. Toward the end of the Little Ice Age (?1850), SST changes derived using a calibration that is not growth-dependent are exaggerated by a factor of 2 relative to those from the growth-corrected model that yields SSTs ?1.5°C cooler than today. Our results indicate that incorporation of growth rate effects into coral Sr/Ca calibrations may improve the accuracy of SSTs derived from living and fossil corals.