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Bedfords Around the World
William Fitzhugh who left Bedford around 1671 to make his fortune in the New World. The first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia had been established only sixty or so years previously and stories of great opportunities for hardworking and entrepreneurial young men were abounding. Whilst life at home was filled with political uncertainty; the Monarchy had been restored and though the strict Puritan morality of previous decades had been relaxed, social conditions were still abysmal; laws were harsh, and religious non-conformists and Roman Catholics faced heavy discrimination. In Bedford John Bunyan was still imprisoned and who knows what the future held in store for the young William Fitzhugh? He might as well take his chances in the Colonies.
Whilst Fitzhugh accomplished much with the opportunities afforded him in Virginia; a self-made man, successful tobacco planter and lawyer, he was never entirely comfortable with his achievements. Though he furnished his large, thirteen-room house handsomely and entertained, he lived a generally rural life; the social position he had gained in this largely undeveloped setting made him feel isolated. When William died in 1701 he owned 54,000 acres of plantation land and established one of the most powerful and influential dynasties in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Like royal households, powerful Virginia families often intermarried to secure power and wealth. So it was that the descendants of young William Fitzhugh, who left Bedford to seek his fortune in the New World became conjoined in marriage to two of America’s most historic families, those of George Washington and General Robert E Lee.
William of Chatham Fitzhugh (1741-1809) was the great grandson of William (the Immigrant) Fitzhugh. He inherited most of the family land and along with his wife; Anne Maria Randolph lived a lavish lifestyle. They dabbled in experimental farming and even had horse racing on their property at Chatham. Chatham was named after The Rt. Hon. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, who was the British Prime Minister at the time the house was built. George Washington grew up a short distance from Chatham and he and Fitzhugh served together in the House of Burgesses prior to the American Revolution. They shared a passion for farming and horses. Fitzhugh's daughter, Molly later married the first president's step-son, George Washington Parke Custis whose daughter in turn married General Robert E. Lee.
The house at Chatham Virginia still stands today and serves as the headquarters for the National Park Service
The Fitzhughs, not surprisingly spread across America and some even returned to their motherland but 40 or so members of the family made the trip across the Atlantic in 2006 to visit their ancestral hometown of Bedford.
All be it unconnected with the Fitzhughs, there is a Bedford, Virginia, which is the home of the National D-Day Memorial. The significance of the chosen site was that on D-Day 6th June 1944, Bedford VA had the greatest number of lives lost per capita of population than any other town in the United States of America. The city and county were named after John Russell, the 4th Duke of Bedford
Elsewhere in the United States and Canada there are Bedfords and New Bedfords; in Ohio, Indiana, Idaho, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Texas, Quebec, Nova Scotia, the list goes on. It is not always plain to see how these places came to be named but during the 18th century when much of North America was being settled, the 4th Duke of Bedford, John Russell was an influential political figure of the day, holding a number powerful offices including, First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Privy Seal and Secretary of State. It was Russell that negotiated a peace to end the Seven Year French-Indian War and signed the Peace of Paris Treaty in 1763. Much of the territory held by the French in North America was handed over to the British at this time and settlements were re-named in honour of the Duke and other key figures.
Bedford in Pennsylvania was named when the British ousted the French from Fort Duquesne in 1759; they built a new garrison and named it Fort Bedford. Another French fort was re-named Fort Pitt in honour of William Pitt the Prime Minister. Under the protection of the fort, the garrison town of Bedford grew and prospered; with the discovery of curative spring waters during the 19th century it became a fashionable spa resort attracting the wealthy and influential. One regular visitor was President James Buchanan who would set up his White House administration and spend the summer in the resort. It was on one such visit that the President received the first trans-Atlantic telegram, sent by Queen Victoria
New Bedford, Massachusetts was founded by the Russell family between 1700 and 1750, in particular by Joseph Russell III. Unless they were distantly related, there is no suggestion that these Russells had any family connection with the Dukes of Bedford but as a Quaker, Russell did not feel that he could name the township after himself and so instead named the town New Bedford, after the noble Russells’ family seat in England.
In 1765 a Nantucket whaling merchant Joseph Rotch purchased ten acres of land from Joseph Russell III and moved his business to New Bedford. Bringing experience, capital and technological innovation, Rotch and his sons revolutionized whaling and put New Bedford on the map as the whaling capital of the world. Later another industry thrived in New Bedford when a number of cloth mills were established in the early 19th Century providing work for hundreds of British migrants. Churches, schools and clubs including The English Society were established to caterer for the new population.
Today New Bedford is still a thriving community; the harbor at the mouth of the Acushnet River flows south into Buzzards Bay and the Atlantic Ocean offering breathtaking views to cruise ship passengers of the Bay, the southern approaches to the Cape Cod Canal, and the city's beaches. Cruise ships berth in the heart of a dynamic working waterfront. In addition to fishing vessels, visitors may see ocean-going freighters, tugboats, barges, sailboats, powerboats, or whaleboats in the harbor which is one of the busiest fishing ports in the USA, with passenger ferries to Cuttyhunk Island and Martha’s Vineyard.
The people of New Bedford value their British provenance and heritage and every year amongst many other festivals and events, stage a day-long reading marathon of The Pilgrim’s Progress. In the City’s Buttonwood Park there is a monument honouring the men from New Bedford who died in the British and Canadian Forces during the First World War and in the South Primitive Methodist Church, a stained glass window celebrates the cooperation between England and New Bedford during the First World War
In order to celebrate a shared history and cultivate modern-day links between New Bedford and Bedford, a friendship committee was established in 2006 with a delegation from New Bedford delivering a Proclamation of Friendship from Mayor Scott Laing to Bedford Mayor, Frank Branston.
Find out more about Bedfords around the world
New Bedford Massachusetts www.newbedford-ma.gov
Bedford Massachusetts www.town.bedford.ma.us
Bedford Nova Scotia www.bedfordbeacon.com
Bedford Ohio www.bedfordoh.gov
Bedford Indiana www.bedford.in.us
Bedford New Hampshire www.bedfordnh.org