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From Pocahontas to George Washington and Jamestown: Kent's historical links with America

Did you know the Stars and Stripes may have had its origins right here in the county?

It's just one of the significant links Kent has which Americans may wish to chew over as they tuck into their celebratory feasts on Saturday as they celebrate Independence Day.

The origins of the US flag are said to have their birthplace right here in Kent
The origins of the US flag are said to have their birthplace right here in Kent

The Fourth of July marks the former colony's decision to sever ties with Britain, after the American Revolution in the late 1700s.

And Kent’s connections with the super power can be traced back more than 400 years, to the foundation of the first permanent English settlement in North America.

The Godspeed and two sister ships left Blackwall, on the north bank of the Thames, and set sail in December 1606 with the 105 men who went on to found Jamestown in what we now know as Virginia in May 1607, calling at Gravesend on the way.

Two of the settlers, Edward Pising, a carpenter, and Thomas Wotton, a skilled surgeon who was said to have saved many lives once in the unknown land, hailed from the county.

Both explored the country, with Pising joining leader Captain John Smith on his journey to Chesapeake Bay and Werowocomo.

View over the Potomac River in Virginia - the state in which the first English settlement, Jamestown, was built
View over the Potomac River in Virginia - the state in which the first English settlement, Jamestown, was built

It is estimated that more than 14,000 Native Americans lived in Virginia when Pising and Wotton landed, split into around 32 tribes, overseen by Powhatan, who was known as the ‘chief of chiefs’.

Captain Smith eroded Powhatan’s power and the relationship between settlers and tribes disintegrated, with the English torching sacred sites, resulting in inevitable retaliation, and the eventual Native American ‘Great Uprising’ in 1622 which saw the death of 347 English settlers.

As well as a docking point for the first settlers, Gravesend is Pocahontas’ burial place.

The daughter of Powhatan, Pocahontas, who would inspire the Disney movie, was captured by the Jamestown colonists during the First Anglo-Powhatan War of 1609.

She was held captive for a year and convinced to convert to Christianity, taking on the name Rebecca after her baptism.

A statue to Pocahontas stands in Gravesend picture: Flickr
A statue to Pocahontas stands in Gravesend picture: Flickr

She married a tobacco planter called John Rolfe in 1614 in her late teens and had a son with him a year later.

In 1616, her husband brought her to London where she was held up as an example of a ‘civilized savage’ and she gained celebrity status.

However, her ending is a sad one. In 1617, she died in Gravesend after probably contractingtuberculosis or pneumonia as she sailed from London back to Virginia. She was buried at St George’s Church, where her statue stands today.

Fast forward more than 150 years, and the Stars and Stripes flag was said to be ‘born’ in Maidstone.

Lawrence Washington, a Justice of the Peace in Kent and one of two MPs for the town, was the great-great-great-great-great-uncle of George Washington, the first president of the United States.

George Washington's family coat of arms is thought to be the basis of the Stars and Stripes. Picture: Thinkstock
George Washington's family coat of arms is thought to be the basis of the Stars and Stripes. Picture: Thinkstock

Washington lived in Stone Street and Knightrider Street, dying in 1619. His coat of arms, an eagle, three stars and two red stripes against a white background, can be found at his memorial in All Saints Church, Mill Street.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the US founding fathers, reportedly said of George Washington: “We, and not he, it was unknown to him, took up his coat of arms and multiplied and magnified it every way to this, our glorious national banner.”

Lawrence Washington is believed to be buried at All Saints.

Lawrence Washington's coat of arms, displayed in All Saints Church in Maidstone, is said to be the inspiration for the American flag
Lawrence Washington's coat of arms, displayed in All Saints Church in Maidstone, is said to be the inspiration for the American flag

The Culpeper family, owners of Leeds Castle, in Maidstone, were given five million acres of Virginia in 1649, while Penshurst Place, near Tonbridge,was home to Algernon Sidney, who advised William Penn on the American constitution. Hampden Sidney College, a liberal arts college in Virginia, is named after him.

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