George Washington's surprising connection to Northamptonshire

Thursday, 11th January 2018, 1:54 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th January 2018, 3:01 pm

Roughly 15 minutes east of Banbury sits the unassuming, but charming village of Sulgrave.

Towards the east end of the village on the right side of the high street stands an elegant Tudor house named Sulgrave Manor.

Despite its grandness, at first glance there is nothing untoward about the building.

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However, in the manor's front garden there flies the unmistakable blue, white and red of the American flag.

Over 500-years ago Sulgrave manor was home to the ancestors of Geroge Washington, the first president of the United States of America.

Lawrence Washington, Mayor of Northampton

During the early 1500s, George Washington's five times great grandfather, Lawrence Washington moved from the Lancashire village of Warton to Northamptonshire in search of fortune.

And fortune he did find.

After working as a servant to the rich, including the brother of Queen Katherine Parr, Lawrence married widow Elizabeth Gough and inherited her deceased husband's wool dealing business.

His influence in the area continued to grow and in 1532 he became the mayor of Northampton. Clearly the ability to rule was in the Washington bloodline.

Between 1540 and 1560, he purchased land from the crown and built Sulgrave Manor.

The Washington's continued to prosper in the area until the outbreak of the English civil war in 1642.

The entrance to Sulgrave Manor (Photo: Contributed)

George Washington's great-great Grandfather, also named Lawrence Washington attended Brasenose College at Oxford University and was made proctor of the prestigious learning centre by Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. Laud wished to rid Oxford of Puritan Clergy and Washington assisted Laud in his purges. This would, however, catch up with him.

During the English Civil War, the ruling Puritan government persecuted Royalist supporting Lawrence Washington, now a rector, accusing him of immoral behaviours - among them regularly frequenting ale houses.

Lawrence fell out of favour and was forced to sell Sulgrave Manor. He lived the rest of his life in poverty.

In the events that followed the sale of Sulgrave Manor, three of Lawrence's children emigrated to Virginia to make a name for themselves.

John Washington the great-grandfather of George Washington was among them.

Speaking to Discover Britain Magazine general manager of Sulgrave Manor, Cymon Snow, explains that the chain of events which led to the founding of the United States were "born right here at Sulgrave Manor."

He states: "if it wasn’t for Reverend Lawrence Washington being a royalist, John Washington would not have gone to Virginia and the founding of a new country by John’s grandson, George Washington, might have a different history."

The Franklins of Ecton

Remarkably, George Washington isn't the only Founding Father with ties to Northamptonshire.

In 1758, 18 years before the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin visited Ecton, a village approximately seven miles east of Northampton.

In his early fifties, Franklin was on a personal journey, investigating the whereabouts of his ancestral home.

Benjamin Franklin visited Ecton in early fifties (Photo: Joseph Duplessis)

During his visit, the future Founding Father discovered evidence of his roots and paid respects to his aunt and uncle Eleanor and Thomas Franklin who are buried The Church of England parish church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Benjamin Franklin's father, Josiah, also stayed in Ecton and practiced as a wool dyer in Banbury, but struggled to keep his head above water with work.

In 1683, Josiah crossed the Atlantic and began building a new life for him and his family in Boston.

Twenty-three years later one of his seventeen children, Benjamin was born.

Connections remain to this day

Descendants of Benjamin Franklin throughout the years have acknowledged the familiy's Northamptonshire roots.

A pair of cherry trees were planted in Ecton by Robert Franklin of Houston, Texas in 1968 and 23-years later a Franklinia Altamaha was also planted in the village by a different branch of descendants.

More recently in 2003, relatives visited Ecton and presented a signed copy of the Founding Father's most recent biography to the local church.

While the majority of Franklin and Washington's descendants live on the opposite side of the pond, there still may be descendants of the pair still living in Northamptonshire.

According to ancestry website Forebears approximately 359 Franklin's have lived in the county since 1881. Do you know any of them?