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Why we could see more American tourists in Gloucester

Why we could see more American tourists in Gloucester

While Britain and America have long had a special relationship, Gloucester has had a number of special links to the United States.

Among those include the writer of the Star Spangled Banner, and American GIs stationed in Gloucester during the Second World War.

Here is a list of those who have made history.

Button Gwinnett 1735-1777

Born in Gloucester and educated at the King’s School, he became an American political leader, who as a representative of the state of Georgia to Congress, was the second of the signatories (first signature on the left) on the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776.

He was also the provisional president of Georgia in 1777, and Gwinnett County (now a major Atlanta suburb) was named after him.

Gwinnett was killed in a duel by Lachlan McIntosh following a dispute over a failed invasion of East Florida.

Captain Howard Blackburn

Captain Blackburn arrived in Gloucester Docks in August 1899 after sailing his 30ft cutter “Great Eastern” single-handed across the Atlantic from Gloucester, Massachusetts.

He had spent 61 days at sea and had been affected by a badly swollen leg which prevented him from raising sail for eight days.

This journey was even more remarkable as he had lost all his fingers, both thumbs and a toe through frost bite during a severe winter storm on an earlier fishing voyage.

Blackburn was welcomed at the quayside by a large crowd of sightseers.

During his stay in the city he was entertained by a number of leading citizens.

Several hundred people visited the docks to see his tiny craft and many were welcomed aboard and were offered bourbon whisky and ship’s biscuits.

George Whitfield

Born in 1714 at the Bell Inn in Southgate Street, he was educated at King’s School, the Crypt Grammar School and later at Pembroke College, Oxford in 1732.

It was there that he met methodists John and Charles Wesley and joined their Christian Society or “Holy Club”.

Whitfield – also spelt Whitefield – was ordained as deacon in 1736 and as a priest in1739 and preached his first sermon in St Mary de Crypt church. The pulpit he used, together with its sounding board can still be seen in the nave.

He first sailed to America early in 1738, the first of seven such trips, returning later the same year.

Shortly afterwards he crossed the Atlantic again where he preached to large audiences from Pennsylvania in the north to Georgia in the south.

The impact of Whitefield on both English and American society was immense and his greatest asset was his magnificent voice. Benjamin Franklin – a Founding Father of the United States – calculated that he could be heard by 30,000 people at any one time.

The charity school he founded in Pennsylvania was the forerunner of the present university and he was also involved in the creation of the college at Princeton, New Jersey.

No fewer than 51 American schools and colleges owe their inception to him. During his sixth visit to the colonies the library at Harvard University was totally destroyed by fire and Whitfield secured a large gift of books from England to re-equip a new building.

He died on Sunday September 30, 1777 at Newburyport, Massachusetts, having preached no fewer than 18,000 sermons to an estimated 10 million people in his lifetime.

John Stafford Smith

John Stafford Smith was baptised in Gloucester Cathedral on March 30 1750. He was educated at the cathedral school where he became an accomplished boy-singer.

By the 1770’s he had gained a reputation as an excellent composer and organist in London.

This led to his election as a member of the very select Anachreontic Society that boasted amongst its membership Dr Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Henry Purcell and J.C. Bach.

Smith composed the music for the society’s constitutional song entitled “To Anachreon in Heaven”. This song became popular in America following the establishment of several Anachreontic societies there.

During the second year of the war of 1812 the British fleet made a night attack on Fort McHenry on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

An attorney, Francis Scott Key, had boarded a British warship to secure the release of an American prisoner. Key was held on board the ship so that he could not pass on any prior intelligence of the attack.

He watched the bombardment throughout the night and was pleasantly surprised to see a huge American stars and stripes flag still flying above the fort as dawn broke. He immediately penned a four verse poem to the tune composed by John Stafford Smith that began “Oh! Say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light….”

The poem was printed on handbills the next morning and distributed throughout Baltimore. The song became immediately popular and three months later it was played during the Battle of New Orleans. “The Star Spangled Banner” was officially adopted as the national anthem of the USA in March 1931.

Malcolm Cotton Brown

Born in 1897, he came from Chicago and trained as a pilot at Camp Benbrook, Fort Worth, Texas.

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps in January 1918 and joined the largely American 90 Squadron in June and was promoted to full Lieutenant in the newly formed RAF.

The squadron was transferred to Brockworth on July 15 to await delivery of their Sopwith Dolphin single seat fighters.

A week later only one aircraft arrived and the pilots drew lots to see who would be the first to fly it.

Brown held the winning ticket and immediately took off to put the plane through its paces. He put the aircraft into a series of screaming dives pulling out at about 100 feet above the ground.

Halfway through a dive the port wing folded up and the plane went into a corkscrew spiral into the ground. Malcolm Cotton Brown was killed instantly.

A tree was planted in his memory at Brockworth and there is a large memorial plaque to him in St Mary de Lode church containing the words “A son of America fallen for England”.

Increase Mather

An American Puritan who graduated from Harvard in 1656 and was later described as the “most distinguished American of his generation”. He became an assistant to James Forbes the Presbyterian minister in Gloucester.

Mather preached at St Mary de Lode church in the morning and at the cathedral in the afternoon.

Although he was delighted with Gloucester and resolved to devote his life to its spiritual ne, he left the city in 1660. Mather refused to conform to the reformed Church of England and returned to America in June 1661.

He travelled to England again in 1688 in an attempt to restore the Charter for Massachusetts which had been lost in 1684. Mather became the sixth president of Harvard College from 1692 till 1701.

Mather was involved in denouncing the tests for witchcraft used during the famous Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Gloucester made bells in America

The oldest peal of bells in the USA are in Old North Church, Boston. They were made in 1744 by the famous Rudhall foundry in Gloucester and installed in 1745.

One of the first bell ringers at the church was Paul Revere who with William Dawes made the historic ride to warn the rebel militia that “The British are coming”. This was a prelude to the first battles of the American Revolution. The church tower was used to warn of the approach of the British forces. One light for an advance by land, two lights for one by sea.

The Rudhall foundry was on the site of the present Post Office in King’s Square. There is a plaque to the right of the entrance.

Americans in Gloucester in the Second World War

The following anecdote was related by an American visitor during a guided tour of Gloucester. His father had been a Provost Marshall with the North American forces on their arrival in England.

“Two Provost Marshalls visited Gloucester prison to assess the suitability of the accommodation for the detention for any law breaking military personnel. They requested to be locked up in one of the cells that evening and not to be released until 7am the next morning. The prison staff duly obliged, but were shocked to find that the two marshalls had escaped sometime during the night”.

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