Cymon was General Manager of Sulgrave Manor, the Ancestral Home of George Washington in Northamptonshire, England from 2011 - 2017.
There are many places that turn our thoughts to history. England can lay claim to many iconic sites. The Tower of London for example conjures up thoughts of imprisoned Queens and beheadings, Stonehenge gives us ancient druid ceremony and Brighton Pavilion the supposed debauchery of a Prince.
So how does a small Tudor Manor House in the slightly rolling hills of south Northamptonshire compare to these great and grand places?
He started it all....
The date is 1602 and a baby is born to a wealthy but somewhat undistinguished family, his father is the Lord of the Manor of Sulgrave and home is a Tudor longhouse. He is baptised in the local 13th century church of St. James the Less and given the family name Lawrence. He thrives and at the age of seventeen goes up to Brasenose College, Oxford. He is bright and almost immediately upon graduation he becomes a Fellow of the college. This is not unheard of but is certainly worthy of note, subsequently taking holy orders in the then fairly new Church of England and hence becoming known as The Reverend Lawrence.
He takes a chance....
A few years later and the country is in turmoil. King Charles I, has fallen out with his Parliament, political and religious tensions are coursing through the country. William Laud, Bishop of London, later Archbishop of Canterbury, also Chancellor of Oxford University, decides to strengthen this city of learning for His Majesty. The university comprises of the sons of the richest and most influential families in the land – this has to be a good move!
Laud appoints a Procter for the University. The job is to ensure that Oxford, both city and university, remain loyal to the King and strengthen that loyalty, by wheedling out the King’s enemies and helping his supporters. The young man the Bishop gives this job to is the Reverend Lawrence.
The taking of this position demonstrates that he had ambition, for in being associated with Laud, who was publicly on the rise, both in power and status, could only mean personal advancement for himself.
However there was also a risk – undoubtedly he would also be making enemies.
Job done...and reward
Lawrence performs his duties well and Oxford becomes a royalist stronghold. So much so in fact that when civil war breaks out in 1642 the King moves his court from London, which supports Parliament, to Royalist Oxford.
Reverend Lawrence, who had left Oxford, must have been proud of his achievement – helping to create a stronghold for his King. His reward the wealthy parish of Purliegh in Essex, a position that was in the gift of Laud.
Married and with children he was on an upward trajectory, his connection to Laud would surely result in future advancement, maybe even a Bishopric. His job in Purliegh was again political, Essex was Parliamentary supporting, his task to turn it back to the King, as he had so successfully done in the City of Dreaming Spires.
It all goes horribly wrong
A year after the outbreak of war Reverend Lawrence was denounced by Parliament and hounded out of his comfortable life. Was this due to some of the enemies that he had made coming back to haunt him?
He lost everything, the future looked bleak. War ended in 1649, Lawrence was broken and broke. Dying in 1653, almost penniless, leaving little to his family.
His wife, Amphyllis, was reduced to begging from relatives, eventually finding a home with her step father, Andrew Knowling.
When Knowling died in 1656 he left legacies to his step-grandchildren. Lawrence and Amphillys’s eldest son, John, thus received a small inheritance.
The son fights back...
Being the son of a known Royalist did not make for a comfortable life for a young man with ambition. He used the inheritance to buy a share of a trading ship, the Seahorse of London. His plan to trade with the colony of Virginia and thus keep himself out of England for most of the time. He didn’t want to leave England for good, that was where civilisation was after all, but by embarking on this venture he would come back maybe twice a year and see if his prospects had changed.
Off he sets on his first voyage aboard the Seahorse, in his early/mid 20s (the date of John’s birth is unknown with various estimates between 1632 and 1635) and Second Master, it must have been an exciting time. The ship sails to Scandinavia and picks up a cargo of house-wares, then across the North Atlantic to Virginia.
John must have been a good salesman as he traded the cargo for so much tobacco that there was not enough room in the holds for the vast quantities of the valuable leaf for which he had negotiated. In order to load as much as possible, using his authority as Second Master, he ordered the crew to remove ballast from the ship to make more space.
It goes horribly wrong....again!
He had created a situation which would result in disaster, having replaced heavy ballast with leaves! They set sail but before leaving the Potomac a storm had blown them on to the shores of Virginia. The holds were breached and the valuable cargo destroyed.
Once repaired the ship returned to London without John, who remained in Virginia. On discovering the reason for the ship’s foundering and resulting loss of their investment, the investors in the expedition sued John for the losses incurred due to his order to remove the ballast.
The case was set to be heard in Virginia, the Judge, one Nathaniel Pope.
He lands on his feet...
We now see that John was not only blessed with business acumen but that he must have been a charismatic young man. Before the case made it to court he had won over the Judge, who announced that if John were indeed responsible then he, personally, would make good the losses of the investors.
Of course Pope himself was to pronounce the verdict and he found in favour of the defendant, John.
John must have impressed, for the wealthy Judge and planter gave the impoverished young man a job and invited him to stay in his house. Within a year they were family as John married his benefactor’s daughter, Anne. John’s dowry was 700 acres of prime tobacco planting land on Mattox Creek in Westmoreland County. He flourished and so did his descendants, building their land holdings up to some eight and half thousand acres or so.
Yes- it's the Washingtons...
There is one thing that has been omitted from this story – the family name – it is Washington! John’s great grandson was George, First President of the United States of America.
The evidence points to the Reverend Lawrence, who's beliefs and actions before and during the English Civil War, in the C17th, resulted in his son, John, finding a new life in Virginia.
Lawrence's birthplace in Northamptonshire, England, can lay claim to being the birthplace of the United States and he should be recognised as being one of the most important figures in history, even if not for the reason that he intended.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Cymon Snow