Rotherham’s helping hand to the USA

Rotherham’s helping hand to the USA

By Gareth Dennison | 08/02/2021

Rotherham’s helping hand to the USA


PUB names are perhaps what springs to mind first when many people hear the names Effingham and Rockingham.

But over the Atlantic there are cities, counties and even warships named after the pair — all because of Rotherham’s role in the creation of the USA.

Boston Castle was built in 1775 by Rotherham resident Thomas Howard, Earl of Effingham.

The fact that this hunting lodge on a hill was named after the Boston Tea Party is well known.

But why was Effingham, an eminent soldier and politician, showing such public support for the American side in the Revolutionary War?

“For many of us growing up here, Boston Park and its castle was just a pleasant place to visit on a Sunday afternoon,” said history author John Willetts.

“But recently the story of this little house came to intrigue me and so I spent lockdown researching.

“Rotherham was at the epicentre of radical political support for the colonists.

“Prior to the war, in 1771, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was here, visiting Effingham’s friend and ex-prime minister, the Marquis of Rockingham at Wentworth Woodhouse.

“Lafayette, commander of French and American forces, sat down after the battle of Yorktown to write a thank you letter to dissenter John Payne, of Wath, for his moral support.”

The government, under Lord North, began to crumble after this 1781 defeat.

Charles Watson-Wentworth, the Marquis of Rockingham, was invited to become prime minister, having previously held the office for a year and 18 days in the mid 1760s.

“He agreed... on the condition that he be allowed to set America free,” said Mr Willetts.

“To understand these mixed loyalties we need to delve into the strange world of 18th century politics.

“The American colonists were divided on the issue of independence. Those in favour of a split with Britain called themselves Patriots, while those who stayed loyal were known as Tories.

“It’s often forgotten today but the Patriot movement actually started in the British parliament in 1725 as a branch of the Whig party. They were opposed by the Tories.

“The term Patriot meant something very different back then, being described as ‘a factious disturber of government’.

“Basically these Radical Whigs wished to improve democracy by increasing the franchise and reducing the power of the monarchy, ending political corruption and regaining the accent rights and liberties of Englishmen they believed lost.”

Meanwhile, the Tory party were pro-monarchy and favoured the ruling elite.

To them, anyone outside the Church of England was potentially seditious and excluded from public office.

This conflict between Radical Whigs and Tories spread to the colonies and led to calls for independence after a string of tax disputes between Patriot colonists and the British government.

Mr Willetts said: “Many of our leading Whigs also supported independence — they believed that trade with a free and friendly America would be good for both economies.

“Men like Effingham and Rockingham were of course Whigs, and they were not alone in their views, Rotherham and Yorkshire generally was at the epicentre of Radical Whig societies.

“Effingham was a member of the Yorkshire Association. They used petitions to publish discontent and cause agitation, local pubs being the place to find these documents for signing.

“Rockingham was a member of the Constitutional Society. This group had around 100 MPs within its membership and so was perhaps the most influential.

“Major John Cartwright, of Bassetlaw, founded The Society for Constitutional Information. Here the membership included artisans or skilled working class people. This group was very active in Sheffield and added another objective to their ambitions: an end to the slave trade.

“All these groups corresponded with each other and with leading Americans, often through a forerunner of the CIA based in Philadelphia, with the very intriguing title: The Society of Secret Correspondence.”

Another group with an interest were the dissenters — members of the non-conforming churches, who sought religious freedom. They included Rotherham’s iron trailblazer Samuel Walker, and Mr Payne, of Wath.

American Patriots fought for independence while thousands of American Tories fought on the British side — just as some British Whigs went to fight for Washington.

France, Spain, Holland and the Mysore city of India became involved on the American side.

“This wasn’t to support any ideals of liberty but rather to take advantage of Britain being distracted,  in order to settle old scores,” said Mr Willetts.

“There was one heck of a mess for Rockingham to sort out when he became prime minister in 1782.

“The moment he came to power the fight against the colonists stopped, whilst the war against the other belligerents was to continue for a while yet.

“During the peace treaty discussions held in 1783, Britain was to offer the Americans even better terms than the French were demanding.

“This had the effect of cutting the Americans away from the French and a friendly profitable trade started immediately between Britain and America to help diplomatic and financial recovery.”

Rockingham’s second term was short-lived. He died from flu after just 14 weeks and so was unable to see the results of his work.

The whole conflict had been based on mismanagement from London and misunderstandings on both sides.

Mr Willetts said: “It was almost like a fight in parliament, spreading out into the street and then going global. It need never have happened.

“Wise heads on both sides of the Atlantic tried their best, but its always so much easier to distract voters with a war than with a treaty.

“Another aspect of this conflict that may seem strange to our modern ideas of warfare was that the word ‘traitor’ was so seldom used.

“Some 60,000 American Tories left the USA to maintain their British identity. But for the most part everyone just seems to have shaken hands and got back to normal.”

He added: “Today, our local heroes Effingham and Rockingham are remembered in the names of American cities, counties and even warships. For me, before starting this they were pub names.

“Now having made contact with American heritage organisations and experienced their fascination in the people and events of our remarkable market town I think we can all take pride in Rotherham.”

* Rotherham and the Creation of the USA by John Willetts is £5 through Rotherham District Civic Society. Email to order. Postage if outside the area is an extra £1.50.