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Discover Americans that came from Suffolk

Like so many coastal English counties, Suffolk supplied many of the early colonists to America from the 17th Century onwards. Was it nostalgia for the ‘old country’ that inspired so many of the transplanted people to maintain a link, however slight, to their English origins? Explore the towns and villages of this picturesque county, many with familiar names, and find out.

John Winthrop (1587-1649) was the second governor of Massachusetts, and founder of the city of Boston. He was born at Groton Manor, near Sudbury, a son of the minor gentry. In religion he was a Puritan, which put him at odds with the established Church of England and the government of King Charles I. Like many of this persuasion, he emigrated to America in 1629. Winthrop’s words to his followers have gone down in history. “We shall be as a City upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us”. His speech was read out at the funeral of Ronald Reagan.

Winthrop also founded the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1634. Named after Suffolk’s county town, a major historical East Anglian port, it is one of a number of places in the USA with Suffolk place names. Others include Sudbury, Framingham and Haverhill, all in Massachusetts. Like Ipswich, Sudbury has a rich colonial history, and was founded in the 1630s. Its militia troops fought British Redcoats at the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. Today it is known for its clams.

Haverhill was bought by English settlers from the Native American Pentuckets in 1642. It was renamed in honour of the Suffolk birthplace of its first pastor, the Rev John Ward, and soon became an industrial centre.

Framingham, Massachusetts, owes its name to the Suffolk town of Framlingham, famous for its picturesque and imposing castle ruins. Framlingham man Thomas Danforth was a Bay Colony official who settled in the new American town. Following his death in 1700 the name Framingham was adopted – somewhere along the way the ‘l’ was dropped.

Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757) was a much-admired Royal Navy commander and MP for Ipswich. George Washington’s brother Lawrence served under his command against the Spanish in 1741, and later named his American plantation in honour of the admiral – Mount Vernon. He is remembered by the Navy for another reason; in a bid to cut down on drunkenness among the ratings, Vernon ordered their rum ration be cut to three parts water to one part rum. Lemon or lime juice was added to improve the taste. He was nicknamed ‘Old Grog’ on account of the grogram (silk mixed with wool or mohair) coat he wore, and ‘grog’ has become slang for alcohol in Britain ever since. Vernon owned an estate at Nacton in Suffolk, where he died in 1757.

Bartholomew Gosnold led the first recorded European expedition to Cape Cod. The Gosnold family came to Otley Hall in Suffolk as tenants as early as the turn of the 15th century, though later they were able to buy Otley. In May, 1602, Gosnold led one ship’s crew to Cape Elizabeth, in what is now Maine. He named Martha's Vineyard after his daughter, who had died in infancy. In 1607 Gosnold helped found the colony at Jamestown, Virginia, but he died there in August of that year. Tudor Otley Hall, eight miles north of Ipswich, is believed to be the oldest house in Suffolk to survive largely intact.

In November, 1214, a group of important men swore an oath at the altar of Bury St Edmunds Abbey. Led by Cardinal Stephen Langton, they were a group of barons determined to hold King John to account. On that day they vowed to force the king to agree to a ‘Great Charter’ that would guarantee certain rights. From this meeting can be traced the origins of Magna Carta, which was forced on John the following summer. Among its provisions was the guarantee of habeus corpus – the promise that there would be no arbitrary arrest by the Crown. From Magna Carta can be traced Britain’s modern liberties – and many of those enshrined in the American Constitution. The abbey, once one of the richest in the country, was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s, but you can see a plaque in the ruins, recording the events of 1214.

Hollywood leading man Cary Grant (1904-86) was born Archie Leach in Bristol. After being expelled from school aged just 13, he ran away and joined Ipswich’s Bob Pender Stage Troupe as a stilt walker. The troupe visited the USA in 1920. Archie decided to stay in the States, change his name – and have ago at acting. He didn’t do too badly. . .



You. Unplugged: Suffolk on Film.