Most of us would have been taught at school that George Washington became the first president of the United States of America in 1789 but it’s not widely known that his great grandfather John Washington originated from Tring in Hertfordshire.
Since the 1920s a Washington family tree has hung on the North wall of Tring’s Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul depicting those members of George Washington’s immediate ancestors who were born in Tring or associated with the town. In June 2015 as part of the Tring 700 celebrations a new, revised family tree of the Washington family was presented to the church by the Tring & District Local History & Museum Society.
Recent research by Murray Neil, the author of “The Washingtons of Tring” showed that revisions to the original were required. His book recounts how John Washington’s father Lawrence was born in Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire in 1602. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1619 and was elected a fellow of the college in 1626. He was related to the Spencers of Althorp House and during his time at Oxford he visited Althorp on at least two occasions where he met Sir Richard Anderson who was married to Lawrence’s fourth cousin, Mary Spencer. Sir Richard was the owner of Pendley Manor in Tring and it was there that Lawrence met his future wife, Amphyllis Twigden, a farmer’s daughter from Creaton, Northamptonshire. Her mother had moved to Tring in 1612, after her husband died, with Amphyllis and her four sisters, havingmarried Andrew Knowling of Frogmore Street.
When Lawrence and Amphyllis met at Pendley Manor they had an affair which resulted in the birth of their son, John, in 1631. They could not marry then as fellows of Oxford University were not permitted to marry. However after Lawrence was appointed as Rector of Purleigh in Essex they married in Tring. Two more children were born in Tring before Amphyllis and the children moved to Purleigh in 1637 where two daughters were born. Purleigh was a rich parish in an area that was predominately Puritan and Parliamentary whereas Rev. Lawrence was Royalist and Anglican. In 1643 after the start of the Civil War he was ousted from Purleigh due to his Royalist sympathies and became vicar of a poor church in Little Braxted, Essex where he remained in poverty until his death in 1653.
Amphyillis and the children returned to Tring in 1641, where her final child, William, was born, and she remained in Tring for the rest of her life. In 1650 her stepfather, Andrew Knowling, died and left his estate to Lawrence, the second son of Rev.Lawrence and Amphyllis. As the eldest son John should have been the beneficiary of Knowling’s will but due to his illegitimacy he was denied his inheritance. If John had inherited Knowling’s estate then it is unlikely that he would have left Tring and therefor the history of the United States would have changed significantly. Amphyllis died in 1655 and was buried in the graveyard of Tring Parish church. John was in Tring in 1656 to finalise his mother’s affairs before leaving on a trading voyage to Virginia. On the return voyage his ship was wrecked in the Potomac River resulting in John remaining in Virginia. He married the daughter of a rich plantation owner and they began a family which eventually resulted in the birth of his great grandson, George Washington, first president of the United States of America.
Murray’s book is available from Tring & District Local History Museum in Market Place, Brook Street, Tring (the museum which is well worth a visit is open from 10 am to 3.30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays) and also Almars in Tring High Street.