You’ve heard of the Founding Fathers, but what about the Founding Father’s fathers? You can learn about one of them at Sulgrave Manor, George Washington’s ancestral home in Great Britain.
George Washington’s five times great grandfather, wealthy wool merchant Lawrence Washington, built Sulgrave Manor in 1539 as a home for his growing family and as a sign of his wealth and status. His descendants lived here for the next 100 years.
So how did the American side of the family come to be? Well, you can thank a shipwreck for that. After the turmoil of the English civil war, George’s great grandfather, John, partnered in a trading voyage to bring European goods to Virginia and buy tobacco to sell back in Europe.
Before he could make the voyage home in 1657, the ship sank in the Potomac river. During his unexpected sojourn in Virginia, John met and married Ann Pope and went on to found a dynasty which would inadvertently set in motion the Colonies’ independence.
Back in England, Sulgrave Manor’s fortunes declined under a succession of absentee owners and tenant farmers. All that changed in the early 20th century when the Anglo-American Peace Committees settled on Sulgrave Manor as the perfect and lasting memorial to peace between the two nations. It was purchased in 1914, the centenary of the Treaty of Ghent, using funds raised on both sides of the Atlantic by prominent citizens and philanthropists. President Taft and members of the British royal family attended the opening celebration in 1921.
Sulgrave Manor still stands as “a centre from which sentiments of friendship and goodwill between the British and American peoples will for ever radiate.”
Marquess of Cambridge, 1921
The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America supported Sulgrave Manor beginning in 1914, initially commissioning a copy of a portrait of George Washington and giving a donation towards urgent repairs. In 1924, a fund was created by the NSCDA to provide continuing support and the Friends of Sulgrave Manor was established in 1978 to continue to raise funds in the US. Sulgrave Manor is the oldest and longest continuously supported museum of the NSCDA.
One unusual note: found in the walls during the restoration of the home is a tiny child’s shoe. Based on its age it probably belonged to one of Lawrence Washington’s 11 children. This common practice was believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Today, visitors have a chance to see the shoe, as well as the beautiful home, furnishings and gardens that make up Sulgrave Manor.