The ancient Essex ship quays on the banks of the Thames played a vital part in the early history of the New World. Today, many towns and villages link Essex with America. 2008 marked the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Jamestown, Virginia. On 19th December 1606, three small ships sailed from London's Blackwall pier to establish the first British Colony in North America. Under the overall command of Harwich-born Captain Christopher Newport (1560-1617), the ships Godspeed, Discovery and Susan Constant, carrying 144 men and boys, many of them from Essex, set sail for the unknown.
Sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, the purpose was to find the legendary north-west route to China, bring Christianity to the Indian peoples, but underlying all, was the alluring possibility of discovering gold. Sailing via the West Indies, and with fresh supplies, they arrived in Chesapeake Bay on 26 April 1607. By the 13 May the colonists established a base they named Jamestown in honour of their new King, crowned in 1603. They faced many difficulties: terrible harvests resulting in the "starving time", constant Indian attacks, and unrest within the colony. Illness from malaria killed many, making this first attempt unsuccessful. But thanks to the perseverance and courage of those first pioneers Jamestown survived and is celebrated in the USA as "the first successful, English settlement in the New World" - indeed it is also quoted as "the Cradle of the Nation".
Thirteen years later, on 6 September 1620, another expedition set sail from Plymouth on the Mayflower with 102 passengers, again many from Essex. John Carver of Braintree chartered the vessel; Christopher Jones of Harwich was Master and Samuel Fuller from Ockendon was ship's doctor. Great Burstead was the home of at least five of the Mayflower's passengers, with Christopher Martin providing the supplies. His home still stands in Billericay High Street. These religious visionaries set out to make their homes in a New World, free from religious persecution. They landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts sixty-six days later.
Essex was a strong recruiting ground for the Colonies. Descendants from many of the county's families particularly those originating in Dedham, Chelmsford and Braintree are listed. The Sherman family traced its descendants as founders of Rhode Island, while another was General W T Sherman of the American Civil War. Braintree produced John Adams, the second president and his son who became the sixth. Presidential connections are found in Purleigh where Lawrence, the great-great grandfather of the first American president, George Washington, was minister during the mid-1660s. Lawrence is buried in Maldon's All Saints Church. Ancestors of the present Bush family can be found at Messing and Feering from the 14th century. Reynold Bush emigrated during the 1630s, possibly on The Lyon.
Thomas Hooker, appointed Town Lecturer and Curate of St Mary's, Chelmsford, censured for his Puritan beliefs, emigrated in 1633 and is remembered for co-founding the State of Connecticut. In 1635 Brentwood squire, John Wright of Marygreen Manor said farewell to son, Thomas, who emigrated to New England, sailing on the ship 'Susan and Ellen' with his family making for Old Bay, Massachusetts and settled at Watertown, near Boston.
The contribution of Robert James, 8th Lord Petre (1713-1742) to the development of horticulture in England was enhanced with his friendship with American botanist John Bartrum of Philadelphia. He supplied seeds and cuttings of many varieties of American trees planted at Thorndon Hall, Ingrave, unknown in England at that time. During 1783 Lady Petre of Thorndon Hall in Ingrave sent pear and apple seeds with cuttings to a friend in Philadelphia.
The outbreak of the War of American Independence sent the 44th and 56th Regiments (later the Essex Regiment) to America. Landing in 1775, they took part in several battles and in 1780, transferred to Canada, staying there until 1786. In 1903 descendants of John Wright of Brentwood - Wilbur and Orville Wright - made history by flying the first 'heavier than air' biplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903.
Henry Ford came to Dagenham in the late 1920s and cut the first sod with his silver spade that started off the huge Dagenham plant. A decade later, Henry Ford founded a training centre at Boreham.
In 1942 thousands of American servicemen arrived in the county and joined the 23 air-bases located in Essex, all of which were speedily built. From the end of World War II, numerous Town Twinning Associations have maintained important America-Essex links and visits across the Atlantic are frequent and friendly.
Essex enjoys a fascinating heritage with important historical links with America. Allow extra time to discover some of the towns and villages that played such a vital part in our county's fascinating past. Visit the Stour Valley, whose landscape inspired the world-famous artist John Constable who lived at Flatford. Nearby Dedham was where he was educated. It became his favourite location because of its exquisite scenery, shady lanes, thatched cottages and beautiful churches - truly "Constable Country".
We have produced a commemorative leaflet celebrating our American connections. You can download the leaflet by clicking on the link below.