Our American connections

Holkham's Earl of Leicester on our US links

Laura Crossley of Norfolk’s American Connections gives us a rundown of some of the county's top American links...

The fascinating historical connections between Norfolk and North America began in the 17th century, when a large number of migrants moved together to the newly-created colonies. You may have seen the Hollywood blockbuster Lincoln, for which Daniel Day Lewis won an Oscar in the title role, but did you know Lincoln's family came from Hingham, here in Norfolk?

Four hundred years later during the second world war, the flow of people 'across the Pond' reversed as thousands of men and women of the United States Eighth Army Air Force flew missions from bases across Norfolk in support of the allied war effort.

Many Norfolk people have made a huge impact on North America and the international stage...

American connectionsThe native American princess Pochahontas came to Norfolk.

Thetford-born Thomas Paine's famous pamphlet Common Sense, written in 1776, advocated colonial America's complete independence from Britain, and helped rally support for this cause. He is commemorated with a statue outside Thetford town hall.

Captain George Vancouver (pictured top), born at 23 Conduit Street in King's Lynn and baptised at St Margaret's in 1761, surveyed the Pacific coast of America from California and Vancouver Island between 1792 and 1794 after serving under Captain Cook. Vancouver city in British Colombia is named after him. The captain's statue stands on the quayside in King's Lynn, beside the Custom House.

The decision of Hingham's Samuel Lincoln to sail from Great Yarmouth to Salem in 1638 helped start the chain of events led to his descendant, Abraham, becoming the 16th President of the United States. The Lincolns moved from Hingham, Massachusetts (named after the Norfolk village) to Pennsylvania, Virginia and then Kentucky, where Abraham was born. Other ancestors of President Abraham Lincoln came from Swanton Morley.

Vernon Castle of Norwich, who emigrated to New York aged 19, became one of the best ballroom dancers of the 20th century, appearing on the stage and in films, and founding a dance school with his American wife, Irene.

Thomas Willet, the first Mayor of New York, was the grandson of a Great Yarmouth man. William Towne from Great Yarmouth settled in Salem, and two of his daughters were accused of sorcery during the infamous witch trials. Also from Great Yarmouth (and buried there) was William Gooch, who became Governor of Virginia after negotiating the Treaty of Lancaster, which insured protection from the native Indian tribes to the north and west of the colony.

John Pory left Thompson to emigrate on the 'Third Supply', a fleet of 9 ships carrying stores and immigrants. He became the First Secretary of the Council of Virginia.

Temperence Flowerdew left Hethersett to sail to Virginia in 1609, marrying George Yardley, later Sir George Yardley, and the Governor of Virginia. Temperence became the first titled lady of America.

In 1585, John Rolfe was baptised in the font that is still in use in the parish church at Heacham. He left for America, and fell in love with the native American princess, Pocahontas, when she was held hostage in Jamestown. Their marriage ensured peace between the Indians and settlers for several years. In 1616 they returned to England and Pocahontas was presented at Court. Unfortunately, the following year, just before their return to America she felt sick, died and was buried at Gravesend in Kent. Thomas Rolfe, the son of John and Pocahontas was brought up at Heacham Hall (little of the original building is left) by his uncle Henry. He left for Virginia aged 25, and his granddaughter married Robert Bolling, from which match several Virginian families claim descent.

Samuel Whiting, a rector of St Margaret's church in King's Lynn, emigrated to New England in 1636 and Lynn, Massachusetts is named in his honour.

Samuel Cresswell returned to King's Lynn after a five-year voyage of exploration, during which he became the first man to traverse the North-West passage.

New Hampshire was founded by John Mason, born in King's Lynn in 1586. In addition to later becoming Governor of Newfoundland, he published the first reliable maps of the area and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Captain John Smith, a Lincolnshire man by birth, left his apprenticeship in Lynn and signed on as an Adventurer on a Virginia-bound voyage. He was chosen to serve on the Colonies Governing Council, but was disliked and accused of mutiny. Once in Jamestown, the onslaught of disease and starvation led to Smith being asked to trade with the Indians. He was captured by them but saved from death by Pocahontas. He returned to England in 1609.

Norfolk has also welcomed friends from 'across the pond' who have made their homes in the county...

Actors James Stewart and Walter Matthau were both stationed in Norfolk whilst serving for the United States Army Air Force during the second world war.

Reis Leming, a member of USAAF personal based at RAF Sculthorpe, saved the lives of 27 people in the Norfolk Floods of 1953 and was awarded UK and US medals for bravery.

There are many more people and events that link Norfolk and North America. To find out more, please visit American Connections. You can also download a handy guide that lists all the places you can visit in Norfolk that have an American connection.

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