America’s Debt of Gratitude to an English Shipwreck

February 17, 2014 — Leave a comment
george washington

Portrait of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale
Washington & Lee University

Today marks the official celebration of Washington’s Birthday (aka Presidents’ Day). Lighthorse Harry Lee described George Washington as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” a fitting description for a man who personally shaped many of America’s first martial and political traditions. While George Washington and tales of cherry trees, providential safety in battle and his wooden false teeth are typical textbook fare, less well known is the story behind the Washington family’s emigration to the colonies.

Born around 1633 in England, George Washington’s great-great grandfather Lawrence Washington embarked aboard the Seahorse in 1656 to trade tobacco with Virginian colonists. As the Seahorse neared the Virginia coastline, the ship was caught in a storm and wrecked near The Clifts, a plantation owned by one Nathanael Pope (part of the plantation later became the Lee family home of Stratford Hall). Instead of returning to England, young Lawrence grew enamored with Nathanael’s daughter Anne and married her in 1658. Lawrence served his adopted colony of Virginia in her militia as well a the House of Burgesses and died with 8,500 acres to his name. Thus, if it weren’t for a shipwreck and a beguiling Southern belle, an English born George Washington may very well have been leading British and Hessian troops against the colonists in 1776.

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