Doncaster has a close association with the early history of the United States of America. George Washington, the first President of that Republic, had Yorkshire connections, for a branch of the Washington family lived for several generations at the little village of Adwick-le-street, 3½ miles North-east of Doncaster. They were virtually the squires of the place, and their arms, stars and stripes, are sculptured upon the family tomb in Adwick church. From these stars and stripes, the arms of the Washingtons, came the national flag of the United States.
Adwick-le-street was a colliery village when the whole district was opened out as a coal mining centre. If you walk through Adwick to the church, forgetting the coal mines, the railways, the rows of modern houses, the shops and the working men’s clubs, you will see at once that you are in a very old village. The parish church is the keynote of the place. It is a massive Norman structure, with its squat square tower partly covered with ivy, and its whole atmosphere suggests antiquity. Indeed, the very name of the village infers that it lies, as indeed it does, very near the old Roman road that ran northward from Doncaster, or the Danum of the Romans.
Now, the Washingtons, who went to America, were an English family. Some sailed from Sulgrave Manor, in Northamptonshire; and others from Warton, a little village seven miles north of Lancaster town. The family had many branches, and those who like to delve into ancient records are continually setting up one branch against another. Warton Hall is undoubtedly connected with the branch that gave America its first President. Adwick-le-street had another branch of the same family, and there is not only the evidence of the Washington arms on a tomb, but the name Washington occurs many times over in the registers of the church. From the illustration shown here, one can see how the Washington arms possesses a distict similarity to that of the American flag. American visitors frequently go to Adwick to see this for themselves. An entry in the church registers, dated 1712, shows on the first line the notice of baptism of a son of Richard Washington.
The correct description of the coat of arms is: “Argent, two bars gules; in chief, three mullets of the second”. In other words, two bars (or stripes) and three crosses. Could anything be simpler?
The Warton Washingtons split up into branches. One went down south to Sulgrave Manor, and the Washingtons who went to America sprang from Sulgrave. Another branch came to Adwick-le-street. The church registers show they were there from 1562 to 1733, a period of 171 years. The entries include baptisms, weddings and burials.
Chief interest, however, centres on the Washington tomb in the church itself. It stands to the left of the altar, and it is rich with decorative sculpture and incised writing. On the face of an alabaster slab are the figures of an Elizabethan knight and his lady. He is a Washington and he bears the family coat of arms; she is an Anlaby and she carries the Anlaby arms. Below them are twelve kneeling children, with their names inscribed above them – all Washingtons, and evidently children of the Father and Mother above. Some of the names are not legible, but Phillype, Rychard, Ihon, and a few others may be made out. On the south side the Washington arms are impaled with the Anlaby arms.
In the rectors vestry there is a tomb said to contain one of the Fitzwilliams of Sprotbrough, the noble family that came over with the conqueror and that fact has been identified with Doncaster for close to 900 years.
There are no other traces of the Washingtons at Adwick. They lived at Adwick Hall, but that is now gone entirely. Just behind the rectory is a field opening out into the village street, called the Park, and Adwick Hall stood there. A stone wall crumbling to pieces, and a bit of masonry built into a garden wall at the other side of the field, are the only standing relics of Adwick Hall.
In their day, the Washingtons were the principal people in the village. The head of the family was the village squire. They occupied the largest house. They were Knights and Ladies, or they would have borne no crest and arms, and would certainly not have been buried in altar tombs at the top of the chancel. They lived there for nearly 200 years and were probably there when Columbus first discovered America, little thinking that in later years, on of their family, bearing their name and arms, would become the military head and the civil ruler of the great country fist made known to the world by the daring Italian adventurer; they were there when John Washington emigrated from Sulgrave Manor to Virginia in 1657; and the last entry in the Adwick registers bears the date 1733, when the future American President was a child of two in his Fathers home in Virginia.
They must have been an important family in the Doncaster district. They bought Adwick-le-street in 1560. One of the family was rector of Burghwallis, four or five miles away, and was buried there in 1621; another was a lawyer at Carrhouse, near Rotherham, and was buried in the Temple church, London, in 1693; another was a captain in the Kings Army, and died in the garrison at Newark; a female member of the family married into the Copley’s, of Doncaster and Sprotbrough; a James Washington, who also married a Copley, died while serving the King at the siege of Pontefract Castle; his sone, Francis, was Rector of Sprotbrough from 1668 to 1679, and was buried there; another Washington, Godfrey, married a Doncaster lady and was Coroner for the West Riding. All these associations in Adwick, Doncaster, Sprotbrough and Burghwallis abundantly prove that the Washington family filled a great space in local life, in the law, the church and the army.
Beyond these relics, written on the page of church registers and sculptured on tomb and memorial, there is nothing left of the Washington’s family connection with our district. At Adwick, the church itself, and a sundial in the rectory garden that is believed to have stood in front of Adwick Hall itself, are the only works of man still surviving that were there when the Washingtons played their part. But we like to think that Doncaster has these associations – for they link us through the ages to the name of the greatest hero and statesman that America ever produced: George Washington, “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen”.