Searching for America's early roots
Westbury, Wiltshire, England
ONE way to see England is to seek out spots in the Old World where New World history is rooted. These places of pilgrimage are so numerous that many can be visited in just a few days. Perhaps the most emotion-stirring is to be found on the Barbican Quay, at Plymouth. Here stands Mayflower House, where the Pilgrims slept the night before sailing to America.
On the wall of the house is a wooden plaque on which are inscribed the names of more than 100 Pilgrims who sailed away on one of the most momentous voyages in history.
The names make fascinating reading: For example, John Goodman, linen weaver; Samuel Fuller, sail maker; Degory Priest, hatter, of London; James Chilton, tailor, of Canterbury; William Lathan, servant boy. All played their part in shaping American history.
Another site on Barbican Quay is a simple stone engraved ``Mayflower, 1620,'' but the tablet set in the wall above it gives further details of the historic event. The Mayflower initially started its voyage from Southampton, but a violent storm diverted it to Plymouth.
On the West Quay at Southampton stands a stone column inscribed: ``In grateful memory of those Pilgrims of the Mayflower who crossed the Atlantic in the year 1620, and became the first of those settlements which afterwards developed into the colonies of New England.''
The county of Norfolk is proud of its links with America. John Rolfe, tobacco pioneer, married the Indian Princess Pocahontas and brought her back to his native village of Heacham. His descendants still live there. The villagers are proud of their ties with early America, and a sign has been erected on the main road depicting Pocahontas in all her finery.
King's Lynn, in the same county, was the birthplace of George Vancouver, who surveyed the Pacific coast of America. He was born near the Quaker House in Conduit Street. Another local man was John Mason, founder of New Hampshire. Capt. John Smith, leader of Jamestown colony (whose life was saved by Princess Pocahontas), was apprenticed to a merchant in King's Lynn.
In the beautiful little burial ground of the Friends Meeting House at Jordans, Buckinghamshire, rest Quaker William Penn and his two wives and five of his children. Close by is a picturesque old tithe barn, said to have been built from timbers of the Mayflower.
One of the most visited of the American shrines in Britain is Sulgrave Manor, in the county of Northamptonshire. It was the home of the Washington family until the 17th century. On a grave in the churchyard nearby is the inscription: ``Laurence Washington, the ancestor of the first President of the United States.'' The lovely old house is now a fascinating Washington museum. It is of special interest to see that in the spandrels of the square-headed porch are the original stars and stripes of the Washington coat of arms -- three stars over two bars.
The village of Ecton, Northampton-shire, was for four generations the home of the Franklin family, and many of their tombs have been found in the neighborhood. When Benjamin came to London as political envoy from Pennsylvania, he stayed at 36 Craven Street, where he is honored by a memorial tablet. Earlier he had worked in London as a printer, and his printing press is preserved in the Science Museum, South Kensington.
It was from Hingham, a small market town in Norfolk, that the Lincoln family set out for America. In the church of St. Andrews is the tomb of Robert Lincoln, dated 1543. In 1919 one of his descendants placed a bust of Abraham Lincoln in the church, together with a tablet honoring him as ``the greatest of the lineage.''
Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, has two strong links with America. Lovely old Harvard House, built in 1569, was the home of Katherine Rogers, who was to become the mother of John Harvard, founder of the noble university that bears his name.
The second link is the ancient Red Horse Inn. It was here that Washington Irving wrote his amazingly successful ``Sketch Book'' in 1819-20. In the little parlor are his ``Throne and Sceptre'' -- his armchair and his poker.
A stained-glass window in the Portland Methodist Church, Bristol, depicts that famous soldier Thomas Webb, who fought with Wolfe at Quebec in 1769. Captain Webb was also an eloquent preacher, and converted a small rigging house in New York into America's first Methodist chapel. He was a truly colorful character -- he preached in scarlet uniform and with a glittering sword laid across an open Bible, presumably to impress his hearers more!