George Washington slept here…

Well, not really.  But his ancestors did.

In honor of President’s Day back in the USA, we ventured to Sulgrave Manor this week, the ancestral home of George Washington.  The British and American flags proudly wave on either side of the Manor as a symbol of of friendship between the Britain and America.

sulgrave

Sulgrave Manor was built in the mid-1500s by Lawrence Washington, George Washington’s five times great grandfather.  Lawrence was a guy who really knew how to get ahead in the world the old fashioned way…he slept his way to the top!  Two excellent marriages combined with natural business acumen led to a life of wealth, privilege, and royal grace.

The entrance porch of the Manor was completed soon after Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, and Lawrence Washington displayed his loyalty to the new Queen by depicting her coat of arms and initials in plasterwork upon its gable. The top pyramid structure symbolizes his status as a wool merchant, and the crude and rather bizarre renderings of a dragon and lion reflect his allegiance to the throne.

dragon
Our tour was filled with information about Washington’s lineage and included some fun tidbits I had never learned back in grade school.

Several generations after Lawrence settled into the Manor, his descendant John Washington emigrated to the Virginia colonies in 1656. Tradition has it that John traveled to the colonies on a trading venture aboard the Seahorse of London. The idea was to trade European goods for tobacco. The ship, laden with tobacco, was sailing down the Potomac river when it struck an uncharted shoal. About that time, a storm came up and the ship was sunk, ruining the valuable cargo of tobacco.

The ship sank near The Cliffs, a large plantation owned by the wealthy and powerful Nathaniel Pope. Pope befriended the young Washington and, fortunately for John, had an eligible daughter named Anne.   Like old Lawrence, John married well and inherited both land and a sizable dowry through his marriage to Anne Pope.  Also blessed with natural acumen (and stamina!), he increased his land holdings, his wealth, and his progeny.  He had five children, one of whom (coincidentally named Lawrence) became the grandfather to the famous George.

George never lived at Sulgrave, but he was influenced by it.  Interestingly, just above the door of Sulgrave Manor is the Washington family’s own coat of arms carved in stone.  The ‘mullets and bars’ depicted here resemble ‘stars and stripes’ and are widely believed to have influenced the design of the American flag.

Another little tidbit of note pertains to the famed Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, a replica of which sits over the hearth in the great room of Sulgrave.

Notice anything familiar about it?  You look at it every day when you reach into your wallet!  Except back in the day, no one realized that when you print on a press, the reverse image appears.  Hence, George faces the opposite way on the dollar bill.  They tried to rectify this many years ago, but people thought that the new bills were counterfeit, so George returned to his previous position.

th

Our tour guide encouraged us to view the American herb garden on the property, but I didn’t think of parsley and basil as much of an attraction.  I did appreciate the statue of George donated by the his namesake GW University.

statue

I enjoyed the excursion to Sulgrave Manor as it gave me a chance to immerse myself in American history on British soil.

I had my own kind of President’s Day here in England.

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