Posts Tagged ‘George Washington’

‘There is a clear pool, whose waters gleam like silver. It is not tainted by shepherds, or by their she-goats grazing on the mountain. Nor is it muddied by cattle, or by birds or wild animals, or by a branch fallen from a tree.’

Lead mining had been going on in the Pennines for hundreds of years. Much of this early mining was carried out by a process known as ‘hushing’. It was a type of opencast working using water. ‘This involved building a small turf dam at the top of a hill above the area to be worked. When it was full the water was released and rushed down the hillside scouring the soil and any loose rock away. Once the vein was uncovered, crowbars, chisels and hammers were used to loosen the rock and extract ore. In this process, which was repeated over and over again, broken rock accumulated on the floor of the hush and was eventually washed away.’ Later on shaft and levels were dug.

map 5One of these Pennine lead mining areas was around Dufton and Milburn in the Eden Valley in Westmorland. The mines here were owned by the local nobility such as the Tufton family, the earls of Thanet. It is, as one writer put it, a place of ‘open moorland, bleak, windswept and inhospitable at the best of times’. The story goes that ‘travelling through this area at the end of the 17th Century two Quaker women were so concerned by the conditions of the lead miners and their families that they sponsored the involvement of the Quakers in lead mining with the formation of the Quaker Company.’

A group of Quakers duly set up such a company, known commonly as the London Lead Mining Company, but more fully as The Company for Smelting Down Lead with Pit coal. ‘The company was set up by a number of Quakers in 1692 with mining interests in Derbyshire, Lancashire, North Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as the North Pennines, mining coal and silver as well as lead and at one time (1705-37) supplying so much silver to the Royal Mint that coins were known as the Quaker coinage.’

In Dufton the company not only developed the lead mines but also built mine workers’ cottages and farmsteads. ‘The company had a smelt-mill to the south of the village and it built a water supply system in the form of a syke, which is still visible on the south side of the village green, and later a piped supply with supply points and central fountain/trough erected in the late nineteenth century.’ The Quaker capitalists were always well intentioned. In Dufton they had a fountain constructed on the village green with a Latin inscription which reads in English:

There is a clear pool, whose waters gleam like silver. It is not tainted by shepherds, or by their she-goats grazing on the mountain. Nor is it muddied by cattle, or by birds or wild animals, or by a branch fallen from a tree.

Clean water or not, the ‘reality for most was a life cut short by lung disease and a constant struggle to make ends meet’.

John Wesley preaching in the north of England

John Wesley preaching in the north of England

Not surprisingly the whole of the Pennines become a stronghold of Methodism and other forms of non-conformism. One of the earliest Methodist preachers in the North Pennines was Christopher Hopper: ‘the apostle of Methodism through a large section of the North country’. John Wesley said that Hopper and John Brown first came to nearby Weardale in 1748 but met with no encouragement. Hopper wrote in his diary: ‘It was in a storm of snow that we crossed the quagmires and enormous mountains. When we came into the dale we met with a very cold reception. The enemy had barricaded the place, and made his bulwarks strong.’ He returned the next year when four people ‘found peace with God and agreed to meet together’. Hooper and others kept coming and by 1772 there were one hundred and twenty Methodists in Weardale. One preacher, George Story, wrote:

I exerted myself much above my strength both in preaching and travelling, often venturing in tempestuous weather over those dreary fells when even the mountaineers themselves durst not. I was frequently in danger of being swallowed up in the bogs, or carried away by the torrents. Sometimes I have rode over valleys where the snow was eight or ten feet deep, for two or three furlongs together.

Hopper wrote about his work:

My little substance soon failed, and I saw nothing before me but beggary and great afflictions. Sometimes I was carried above all earthly objects, and had a comfortable view of the heavenly country. At other times I was much depressed, and I could see nothing but poverty and distress.

One family who were eventually to become Methodists was a Grisdale lead-mining family in Dufton/Milburn. Who were they and how had they come there?

North Pennine Lead Miners

North Pennine Lead Miners

In the early 1700s, these Grisdale lead miners were, without much doubt, working for the Quaker-owned London Lead Mining Company. By the late 1730s, John Grisdale and his wife Jennet Robinson were having their first children: daughter Mary was born in 1735, followed by Ann in 1738 and Richard in 1743. John had three brothers, Anthony, Richard and William, who were lead miners too. Their father, another John Grisdale (‘senior’) was probably born in Milburn in the early 1670s, although I can find no record of such a birth. I believe his parents were Anthony Grisdale and Dorothy Hasty who married in nearby Melmerby in July 1671. Anthony died in Milburn. The reason I believe Anthony was the father of John and his brothers (and sisters) is because John named his first born son Anthony in Milburn in 1697, and the name would recur in the families of some of his descendants who became lead miners in nearby Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales in later times.

Anthony is in fact an extremely rare name in the Grisdale family, both at this time and later. Except for the Milburn/Swaledale Anthonys, the only other family where the name crops up at all is in the family of an Anthony Grisdale who was born somewhere in Cumberland around 1600, but by 1627 at the latest was living in the town of Wigton. His son Alexander was the father of the Harrington coal miner Henry Grisdale I wrote about in an earlier article (see here). Several of Henry’s descendants were also called their children Anthony. So I believe that Anthony Grisdale of Milburn, the putative father of John Grisdale Senior, was either another unrecorded son of Anthony Grisdale of Wigton or, less likely though still possible, the son of this Wigton Anthony himself.

Leaving aside these genealogical considerations, there can only have been one thing that brought Anthony Grisdale to the Milburn/Dufton area around the year 1671: to work in the lead mines.

Dufton today

Dufton today

We can get a feel for the Dufton mine from a report entitled ‘A geological account of the Lead Mine in Dufton in Westmoreland’ written by geologist T. Allan to The Journal of Science and the Arts in 1813:

Dufton is situated near the great road from London to Glasgow, and is, consequently, to be visited with less inconvenience than any other mining district in the north of England. It lies three miles north of Appleby in Westmoreland, on the west side of a range of hills which extends from the borders of Scotland, and includes Cross Fell, and the mining district of Alstone Moor. Along the western verge of this range, there are several detached and remarkably regular conical hills, the appearance of which had often attracted my attention, when passing along the road between Penrith and Kendal. It is on the west side of one of these, which is called Dufton Pike, and which I should guess to be about 600 feet high, that the village of Dufton is situated; and the hill is so placed, that the ravine in which the mine occurs is entirely concealed from view…..

The ravine in which the mines are wrought, may be about half a mile wide at the entrance, and extends from Dufton Pike about a mile and a half: the ascent to the mines is steep, but such as to be practicable with carts…

The vein was originally wrought on the summit of the western front of the precipice; and the lead produced by hushing; that is, by bringing a stream of water to run over the place where it crept out. Subsequently a level was constructed…

Augustine Washington Snr.

Augustine Washington Snr.

But what about George Washington? What connection could the Grisdale lead miners have had with the future first President of the United States? The answer lies in the local market town of Appleby, which is situated only three miles from the Dufton lead mine. It was in Appleby that George Washington’s father Augustine Washington (called ‘Gus’) had spent several ‘unhappy years’ at Appleby’s Grammar School as a boy. Despite his unhappiness, in 1729 he decided to send his sons Lawrence and Augustine Jnr there too. They came all the way from Virginia. Lawrence was to stay at the school until 1738 when he returned to Virginia. George Washington was the son of Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball. He too was all set to come to the Grammar School in Appleby when his father died in 1743.

When the American War of Independence was nearing its end in October 1781, the captured English captain of the frigate Guadeloupe was questioned by George Washington. On hearing that the captain was from Appleby, Washington replied:

I am very glad to meet a Westmorland man, my family sprang from that country and my brother was at Appleby School.

Appleby Grammar School

Appleby Grammar School

Perhaps when John Grisdale and his wife Jennet visited Appleby from time to time to make purchases or join in the fun of the fair, they might just have seen George Washington’s brothers around the Grammar School? Paths do cross, but the Washington and Grisdale families lived in parallel universes. By chance, George Washington didn’t come to study in Appleby and went on to great things. This Grisdale family were set for centuries of mining poverty and death.

On the 19th October 1781 the British and German forces besieged at Yorktown, Virginia commanded by General Lord Charles Cornwallis “having little ammunition, food and supplies left” agreed to surrender to the French and American armies, the latter under General George Washington. Cornwallis had been waiting for a relief force under General Henry Clinton, but it came five days too late. The British and Germans marched out into captivity with their colours furled, the drummers playing a British march, reputedly (but in no way proved to have been) The World Turned Upside Down. This defeat led to Britain eventually acquiescing to American independence and the creation of the United States. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. But not far from Cornwallis on this day in 1781 would have been his good friend Benjamin Grisdale from Matterdale in Cumberland. One more example of how members of this small rural family seem to have spread throughout the world and been present at some key moments in history.

Surrender at Yorktown 1781

Benjamin Grisdale was born in Threlkeld in Matterdale and was baptized there on the 21st February 1744. He was the son of Benjamin Grisdale and Ann Browne. Benjamin followed a route already well trodden by the clever children of poor Cumberland families. He was probably a pupil at the Free Grammar School at Barton in Westmorland and entered Queen’s College, Oxford University in 1760 to study Divinity, aged 15. His maternal uncle Joseph Browne had been educated at Barton School and Queen’s College and was later to become the University’s Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy.

Benjamin received his BA from Oxford in 1764 and his MA in 1767. His brother the Rev Dr Browne Grisdale would follow the same route to Oxford and to ordination and was subsequently to become “Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty”, “Chancellor” of Carlisle and a powerful Justice of the Peace.

On the 22nd February 1768, shortly after receiving his MA, and probably through connections he had made at Oxford, Benjamin became the Chaplain of the British army’s elite infantry regiment: the 33rd Regiment of Foot, commanded by Colonel Charles Cornwallis, the “Earl Cornwallis”. For its conduct, professionalism and discipline during the War of Independence the regiment was later given the nickname ‘The Pattern’. One Sergeant commented:

I am bound to record here that I have felt a certain shamefacedness, on visiting the barracks of the 33rd Regiment, who were commanded by the young Earl of Cornwallis, to compare their high state of appointment and the steadiness of their discipline with the slovenly and relaxed bearing of most of our own companies. One can always correctly judge a regiment by the behaviour of its sentries. I have seen men go on duty in the 9th dead drunk and scarcely able to stand, but with the 33rd the sentry was always alert and alive in attention; when on duty, he was all eye, all ear… During the two hours he remained at this post the sentry continued in constant motion and could not have walked less than seven miles in that time. The 33rd thus set a standard of soldier like duty which made me secretly dissatisfied with the 9th, and which I have never since seen equalled but by a single other regiment [the 23rd RWF] which was brigaded with the 33rd under the same Cornwallis in the later campaigns of the American War. – Sjt. Roger Lamb, 23rd RWF

We know nothing of Benjamin’s early years in the army but when the American colonies rebelled the 33rd of Foot was sent to help in their repression. Benjamin Grisdale went with them. The 33rd landed at Cape Fear, North Carolina on the 3rd May 1776.

Cornwallis wrote this aboard the HMS Bristol about two weeks before their arrival in America:

I have nothing to inform your lordship of but that our passage has been very tedious and that we are still 370 leagues from our rendezvous at Cape Fear. We have with us twenty ships in company, besides two artillery-ships and four victuallers…. The troops are in general healthy…

The 33rd Regiment of Foot Guards

The regiment saw action almost immediately after landing; starting at the first siege of Charleston, South Carolina in June-July 1776. They then fought in many of the engagements of the American War of Independence: Long Island, NY (August 1776), Harlem Heights, New York (September 1776), Fort Washington, New York (November 1776), Brandywine, Pennsylvania (September 1777), Germantown, Pennsylvania (October 1777), Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania(December 1777), Monmouth, New Jersey (June 1778), the defence of Newport and Quaker Hill, Rhode Island (August 1778),  Old Tappan, New York (September 1778), Charleston, South Carolina (March-May 1780), Camden, South Carolina (August 1780), Wetzell’s Mill, North Carolina (March 1781), Guilford Court House, North Carolina (March 1781), Green Spring, Virginia (July 1781), before arriving in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781.

Benjamin Grisdale was there throughout.

There is much to tell about the exploits of Cornwallis’s regiment over the course of the war, but this story is not about the Americans’ struggle for independence but rather about Benjamin Grisdale himself.

General the Earl Cornwallis

Cornwallis himself was quickly “paroled” after Yorktown and returned to England but many of the men of the 33rd were not so lucky and were to remain in captivity until 1783. It is not known exactly when Chaplain Grisdale was released. But after returning to England and leaving the army, through the benefaction of Queen’s College he was given the “living” of the parish of Chedworth in Gloucestershire in 1785 and, through the intervention of the Cornwallis family, he also received the living of Withington Gloucestershire in 1791.

Benjamin Grisdale and Charles Cornwallis had obviously become good friends during their time together both in England and America, because they were to exchange numerous personal letters when Cornwallis was subsequently posted all over the world and until his death in India 1805. Here is one written by Cornwallis to his friend Benjamin from a “Camp near Banglalore” on September 8th 1791:

Dear Grisdale

In the same packet of letters which contained yours of the 18th December, I found one from Mrs Cornwallis, informing me that she had given you the living at Withington. I trust you will know me too well to doubt the sincerity of the joy which I felt on that occasion: may you long enjoy every comfort and happiness of domestic life.

God know when our war will end, I hope and trust it will be soon, or it will end me; I do mean that I am sick, I have stood a burning sun and cold wind as well as the youngest of them, but I am plagued, and tormented, and wearied to death.

God bless you my dear Grisdale, I have no time to send you news, but can only assure you that I am with great truth,

Your most faithful and affectionate friend,


Benjamin didn’t marry until 1791 when he was 47 His wife was Elizabeth Unwin  the daughter of William Unwin of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. They had seven children: Charles (1793), William (1795), Elizabeth (1797), Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William 1807/8. Of the boys only the second William was still alive in 1841 when he died at Cubberley Rectory in Gloucestershire where he was curate, aged just 34. He had attended Rugby School and followed his father to Queen’s College Oxford.

The Rev Benjamin Grisdale died on 18 June 1828. He had a full life indeed.