George Washington and His English Ancestry

Perhaps we American Anglophiles have good reason to love England. Our histories are closely connected, and England is a part of the American heritage. Take George Washington for instance. Our first President, a Founding Father, George Washington was one of our greatest leaders, guiding our country in its infancy. But few realize that, despite the fact that Washington led American troops against the British army, his ancestry is very English indeed.

The name “Washington” was derived from a village in England formerly known as “Wessington.” The first person to acquire this name lived in the 1200s. The Washingtons eventually spread out into Northamptonshire where Lawrence Washington built the renowned Sulgrave Manor in the 1500s. There, one of the entrances is adorned with the Washington shield: three stars over two stripes.

Look familiar? This symbol has now become the flag for Washington, D.C. and is even placed on the Purple Heart. But it is also said to be the basis for our very own American flag, the Stars and Stripes. The Washington coat of arms has been in existence since the 1300s, and it was placed in stained glass in Selby Abbey in Yorkshire in the 1400s. This window is said to be in commemoration of John Wessington, Prior of Durham.

image courtesy Tomasz Steifer, Gdansk

image courtesy derek dye

It was John Washington (1633-1677) who eventually emigrated to America. John was a trade sailor in the colonies, and after shipwrecking in the Potomac River in 1657, he ended up living in Virginia. He married Ann Pope, the daughter of a wealthy magistrate who gave them 700 acres of land in Westmoreland County upon their marriage. John eventually acquired 8500 acres of Virginia land by the time he died in 1677. Perhaps he never would have thought that in less than a hundred years later, the colonies would declare their independence and rise against the British monarchy, led by his very own great-grandson, George Washington.

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5 Comments

Filed under History, Places

5 responses to “George Washington and His English Ancestry

  1. This is a bit of history I had never heard before. Very interesting to this history lover. Love the pictures too.

  2. It is fascinating, isn’t it! Thanks for reading, okiewife!

  3. Thank you for mentioning Sulgrave Manor in your article. Sulgrave Manor is owned by a charitable trust (The Sulgrave Manor Trust) which holds the manor on behalf of the peoples of the United States and the United Kingdom. Our mission is not only to maintain the fabric of this ancient building but also to further the friendship between the two peoples. At the opening ceremony on 21st June 1921 the Marquis of Cambridge, the King’s brother in law, stated that Sulgrave was a place from which “…sentiments of friendship would forever radiate….”.

    Next year the Manor will be celebrating its centenary in this role and the bi-centenery of peace between the two countries. So it would be an excellent time to visit! Our guides not only tell the story oh the house – how it has developed and changed over the last five centuries – but also the story of this remarkable family, which, as you so rightly say, starts in the twelfth century and spans eight centuries. It’s a fascinating story and demonstrates the resilience that is obviously evident in the Washington genes!

    The Manor also cares for the largest collection of George Washington memorabilia in the UK.

    Cymon Snow
    General Manager, Sulgrave Manor

  4. Vic Wood

    Washington in County Durham, North East England is equally as proud of its connection as, indeed, is the whole county. There is a plaque in Durham Cathedral which reads ” Remembered in these cloister which were finished in his day, John Washington of Washington in this County, Prior of this Cathedral Church 1416-1446 whose family has won an everlasting name in lands to him unknown.”

  5. carol hodgson,

    The original ancestral home of George Washington is in Washington Village Tyne and Wear in the north-east of England. This is run by the National Trust. and is set in beautiful grounds. Next door is the “church on the hill” which was the church used by his ancestors. The old blacksmiths, library and other old buildings are situated around the village green. Washington
    Village was originally called Wessington as were Georges ancestors. This was later changed to Washington from whence the family, Washington state and capitol were subsequently named.

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