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by Prof. Bernard J. Cigrand


Prof. Cigrand is a noted figure in the field of historical research. In collaboration with Prof. Ellis, the historian, he wrote “The Life of Alexander Hamilton.” He also wrote the “History of American Emblems” and “The Huguenot Family.” He is a member of the Faculty of the University of Illinois and Director of the Chicago Public Library.




The real name of the first President of the United States was not Washington. His baptismal name was George, and he was born Feb. 22 in the year 1732. The old colony of Virginia was his birthplace, but the true name of his male ancestors was not Washington. This may seem a sweeping statement in the light of generally accepted history, but careful research has established beyond doubt that the ancient founder of the family, from which came the Father of our Country, was named William De Hertburn. The key to this apparent paradox lies in the fact that, in common with many noblemen and monarchs of Europe, the first President possessed an estate name and a real, or family name, the latter being known as the patronymic, or paternal name.


The first Washingtons were of French and not English origin, and were numbered among the powerful knights of the northern portion of France. When the Duke of Normandy conceived the ambition of becoming King of England, among those who responded to his appeal was an ancestor of George Washington.


King William infused into the old English national and domestic life all the customs of his native land. Even the English language, which William never could learn, was gradually set aside, and among the loyal French knights who assisted the Conqueror in enforcing his reforms was the distant kin of George Washington. This early ancestor of our first President was numbered among the intimates of the King.


Naturally the question arises, why was the name changed, and what induced these faithful Norman subjects of William to assume an English cognomen? The explanation is simple enough. William the Conqueror was a careful and far-seeing man. He realized that his usurpation of the English throne was a very radical departure in a governmental experiment, to say the least; and he was anxious to mold the people, whom he had made his vassals by dint of the strong hand, into as close duplicates of the French as possible. In other words, he strove to implant the Norman ideals into the English character as deeply as circumstances permitted. The complicated heraldic records found in the pages of the famous “Doomsday Book” is undoubtedly the best evidence that the King wished to make his radical campaign of permanent record, and hence a great number of men of education and ability were occupied in diligently surveying and noting all the land and water conditions of England. They also in these visitations made lengthy entries as to the original English estate owners as well as an accurate record of the biographical and heraldic character of the new proprietors.


And in this last seemingly unnecessary entry appears the statement that the “brave, ever reliable knight, Sir William De Hertburn, for military service to William I., be granted with feudal rights and power the extensive estate known as Wessyngton, and henceforth said Sir Knight shall be known as Sir William de Wessyngton; but he shall still be a vassal of the Bishop, and his heraldic denomination shall continue to be, Arms: Argent, two bars gules (red;) in chief, three mullets of the second. Crest: A raven with wings indorsed proper, issuing out of a ducal coronet or (gold).”


As a further demonstration of the importance of the De Hertburns, or “Wessyngtons,” history furnishes the information that the estate in question was under the command of the Bishop of Durham, and situated in a locality exposed to the attack of the Scots of Northern England. On this border there was constant warfare, and the King naturally selected the bravest and most warlike of his adherents to hold lands in the disputed district.


For nine years this country between Durham and York was laid waste, and for ten years it was practically a desert, no man having the courage to attempt cultivation of the blasted fields or inhabit the ruined towns. One hundred thousand people died in this debatable strip of land, and there, where active hostilities ever reigned, the De Hertburns, or Wessyngtons, were stationed. This record of the great family is absolutely authentic in every detail, having been proved by minute research and personal visits to the locality where its members were lords of the soil—a task which embraced fifteen years of heraldic investigation.


Later the estate known as Wessyngton was spelled and entered officially as Wessington, the proprietors assuming the same name. Then it was recorded as Washington, and a natural change of the owner’s name in accordance with that of his land followed. The proprietors become known as William, John, Lawrence, Robert, and Nicholas De Washington. Finally the heraldic shields and French prefix of “De” was dropped and the modern spelling prevailed.


The Washingtons were very prominent in the military as well as the civic phases of English life. In the days of Henry VIII, when that monarch was in conflict with the Pope of Rome, Lawrence Washington sided with the King, and later confiscated the monasteries, convents, and churches of the Roman Catholic Church, giving to this Washington the Sulgrave estate, where for over a century the Washington family ruled supreme.


A decline in their fortunes then appears to have taken place, for in 1620, the year the Pilgrims set sail for America, the Washingtons were practically driven from the Sulgrave estate to take up residence at Brighton with minor manors and holdings. The loss of the hundreds of acres of rich meadows and harvest fields was in a measure counteracted by the marriage of a Sir William Washington to a sister of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. This union brought about new alliances and affiliations which made Washingtons possible in America, and ultimately led to the rearing of George Washington to be the military leader of the colonies and eventually our first Chief Executive.


This marriage brought the Washington family into direct, social and Court relationship with the prominent and powerful favorite of the then reigning monarch, and political circumstance destined the Washingtons to espouse the cause of the King. The Washingtons performed heroic services for the King, but when Cromwell proved victorious and seized the reins of Government, they found England to be no longer a safe dwelling place. Prison sentences, exile, and death was the unhappy lot of the royalists, or King’s Cavaliers, and rather than bow to one whom they looked upon as a usurper, many of the Washingtons fled to foreign lands. John and Lawrence, brothers, came to Virginia, the former being the grandfather of President George Washington.


Among the distinguished Washingtons who escaped persecution by flight from England was one whose identity genealogists long sought vainly to verify—the brother of Gen. George Washington’s great-grandfather. This Washington’s name was James, and he fled to Rotterdam, Holland, where in 1650 he wedded Clara Vander Lanen, daughter of the Mayor of the port.


From this union were derived the present Dutch and German Washingtons, a sturdy folk who adapted themselves to these Governments under which they have held and are at present holding official positions of high station. One of these German Washingtons offered his services in a military capacity to the United States Consul at Frankfort-on-Main in 1862. He expressed himself as anxious to enlist in the Union army, and presented the Consul with a verified genealogical chart prepared from the records of the Dutch Government. This gentleman was Baron de Washington. The statement has been certified by William W. Murphy, Consul at that point, and attested by the Honorable Frederick Kapp. of New York City, who was visiting in Germany and wrote a letter describing the circumstance.


The original correspondence and data in my possession relating to the Dutch and German Washingtons prove the Baron to have been a direct lineal descendant of the James Washington who landed in Holland in 1650. He married a Bavarian lady and held a certificate of honorable discharge showing that he had been a lieutenant in the Bavarian army.


To obtain a commission as officer in the Federal army was his wish, but because of the inability of our Consul to assure him of this honor, and possibly because he deemed that sufficient respect had not been shown to one of such noted ancestry, he did not emigrate to the United States. However, before the interview was closed, he deposited with the American Consul a certified genealogical chart on which the following appears:


“Baron de Washington is a direct descendant of the ancient and honorable Washington family of England, the earliest emigrant to Holland being James Washington, one of the four brothers of Stuart sympathizers (Charles I.) James came to Holland in 1650; his two brothers emigrated to Virginia, and the third brother remained in England, where he was serving as a divine.”


This remarkable bit of genealogical history gives the earliest and most authentic record of the Dutch and German Washingtons, of which there are many and of whom the church records abound in entries of marriages, births, and deaths. Further investigation brings to light the fact that this earliest Dutch emigrant, James, was married in the English church of Rotterdam, all of which tends to corroborate that he was of English training.


Baron de Washington was born in 1883, and his brother Max married the Duchess of Oldenburg and in this way became connected with one of the oldest sovereign families of Europe. The House of Oldenburg is the prime branch of the Holstein-Gottorp stock, which has given emperors to Russia and Kings to Denmark and is prominently related to the present King of England, George V. And Jacob Washington was first lieutenant of the Dutch Navy in 1845, this branch being related to the wealthy banking firm, Cornelius L. Keurenaar of The Hague. Upwards of seventy-five Washingtons are numbered among the inhabitants of Holland and Bavaria. Hence the Washingtons, in the furthest genealogical tracings, hail from France. We next find them in England and then in Holland, America, and Bavaria, Germany.


Regarding the Washingtonian coat of arms some odd discoveries have also come to light. Quite contrary to our American belief the Washington shield does not contain “stars and stripes,” notwithstanding that more than a thousand books and as many more published articles so proclaim it. The facts are that the Washington shield contains “bars and mullets,” (spurs of the knight’s boots).


The earliest reference which I have been able to find which announces the Washington shield blazoned with stars and stripes relates to a public banquet at Baltimore, Md., in 1851, where the ideas of an English poet—Martin Tupper by name—were voiced, proclaiming that the American flag, with its heraldic notions, was borrowed from the Washington shield, which possessed stars and stripes. Ever since this banquet American authors and orators have, without further investigation, accepted the statement as correct. The English poet was misled by his fervid fancy, for the Herald’s College at London, the highest authority on British heraldry, writes as follows:


“A Washington shield with stars and stripes (pales) has never been of record.”


It is altogether probable that Tupper, as well as others, was deceived by the shape of the “mullets.” These spurs, as worn by the knights of old, were round in form, resembling modern cogwheels somewhat, and their bristling points possibly suggested the “stars” of which Tupper spoke.


Hundreds of writers have also announced that the crest on Gen. George Washington’s coat of arms is an eagle, and that this family emblem was the foundation of the suggestion that the eagle be the emblem of the American Republic. While the crest may appear like an eagle, the facts are that the heraldic grant of arms to this Washington branch presents a raven issuing from a golden ducal crown, the crest of the family.


Furthermore, Washington himself clearly shows by correspondence with the Herald’s office at London that it was not an eagle, and the letter is dated ten years after the eagle had become the emblem of the Republic, (June 20, 1782). His letter was sent from Philadelphia May 2, 1792, the third year of his Presidency, and the package was sealed with the Washington family arms, as is indicated in a letter which reads:


“The arms inclosed in your letter are the same that are held by the family here: though I have also seen, and have used, as you may perceive by the seal to this packet, a flying griffin for the crest.”


The Washington crest, “a raven issuing from a ducal coronet, gold,” was evidently given because of the sportsmanship of the early English Washingtons. In fact the crow, falcon, and hawk have been for more than four hundred years the emblem of sport. The pastime of hawking was engaged in only by the wealthy, and the Washingtons were noted for their love of hunting and sporting. Benson J. Lossing lent some color to the foregoing conclusion when he wrote of the English Washingtons:


“For more than two hundred years the De Wessyngtons, or Washingtons, were conspiring after their kind, (robber knights,) fighting, hawking, carousing, and gaming.”


This grant of the raven was in 1500, at about the same time that hawking was at its height as a sport, for at about the same period we find that in Spain the son of Columbus attempted to prove that his father was of aristocratic and also of heraldic family in that “he was of a people who kept their own hawks.”


This alone, in those days, stamped the man as a falconer, as only people of high social standing were permitted by license to engage in that enjoyment; hence a raven, a falcon, a crow or a hawk on the shield or crest indicated prominence. This sporty and hunting disposition of the Washingtons was distinctly manifested in the Washingtons of Virginia, of which our first President also gave liberal expression.


There are five distinct Washington shields, but in the heraldic records they are pronounced of the same origin, as follows:


A silver (argent) shield upon which are two red (gules) bars; in the top (chief) three red mullets (spurs of knights’ boots).


A red (gules) shield with a single white (silver) bar charged with three mullets.


A red shield with a white bar upon which are three cinquefoilles, also red.


A red shield with two bars white, in chief three mullets.


A shield of four bars, white and red, three mullets.


A shield in green, a lion rampant in white, within a border gobonated white and blue.


These constituted the heraldic arms of all Washington people as recorded in the English College of Heralds.


Washington was fond of genealogical investigations, and in the College of Heralds can be seen a score or more of pages he wrote at various times in his eager search after family arms and crests. He was proud of his heraldic ancestors, and this family estimate is well expressed in the frequency with which he blazoned the Washington shields upon his choice tokens and valuables.


Many such instances may be noted in his heraldic watch charms, his several personal seals; the doors of his carriages; the porcelain of his dinner set; the silverware of his liquor service; the fireplace and the mirrors; the picture frames and his library walls; his bookplate and his saddle, and practically everything upon which a family signature or shield might be engraved, painted, or printed.


The illness of Sir Isaac Heard, the head of the English Department of Heraldry, closed the correspondence relating to Washington’s eager attempt to prepare a Washington genealogy and origin and evolution of the family coat of arms. This interesting correspondence has never yet been scripturally reproduced, and it is to be regretted that a continuance of the investigation was disturbed by illness, since many disputed biographical problems would doubtless have been solved.


(Copyright, 1911, by W. G. Chapman.)



----- Original Message -----
From: Tom
Sent: Wednesday, March 06, 2013 11:13 PM
Subject: John Hanson, First President

John Hanson, First President


John Hanson, American Patriot and First President of the United States
John Hanson Image

He was the heir of one of the greatest family traditions in the colonies and became the patriarch of a long line of American patriots – his great-grandfather died at Lutzen beside the great King Gustavus Aldophus of Sweden; his grandfather was one of the founders of New Sweden along the Delaware River in Maryland; one of his nephews was the military secretary to George Washington; another was a signer of the Declaration; still another was a signer of the Constitution; yet another was Governor of Maryland during the Revolution; and still another was a member of the first Congress; two sons were killed in action with the Continental Army; a grandson served as a member of Congress under the new Constitution; and another grandson was a Maryland Senator. Thus, even if Hanson had not served asPresident himself, he would have greatly contributed to the life of the nation through his ancestry and progeny.

As a youngster he began a self-guided reading of classics and rather quickly became an acknowledged expert in the juridicalism of Anselm and the practical philosophy of Seneca – both of which were influential in the development of the political philosophy of the great leaders of the Reformation. It was based upon these legal and theological studies that the young planter – his farm, Mulberry Grove was just across the Potomac from Mount Vernon – began to espouse the cause of the patriots. 

In 1775 he was elected to the Provincial Legislature of Maryland. Then in 1777, he became a member of Congress where he distinguished himself as a brilliant administrator. Thus, he was elected President in 1781. Was John Hanson the first President of the United States? 

The new country was actually formed on March 1, 1781 with the adoption of The Articles of Confederation. This document was actually proposed on June 11, 1776, but not agreed upon by Congress until November 15, 1777. Maryland refused to sign this document until Virginia and New York ceded their western lands (Maryland was afraid that these states would gain too much power in the new government from such large amounts of land). Once the signing took place in 1781, a President was needed to run the country. John Hanson was chosen unanimously by Congress (which included George Washington). In fact, all the other potential candidates refused to run against him, as he was a major player in the Revolution and an extremely influential member of Congress. 

As the first President, Hanson had quite the shoes to fill. No one had ever been President and the role was poorly defined. His actions in office would set precedent for all future Presidents. He took office just as the Revolutionary War ended. Almost immediately, the troops demanded to be paid. As would be expected after any long war, there were no funds to meet the salaries. As a result, the soldiers threatened to overthrow the new government and put Washington on the throne as a monarch. All the members of Congress ran for their lives, leaving Hanson running the government. He somehow managed to calm the troops and hold the country together. If he had failed, the government would have fallen almost immediately and everyone would have been bowing to King Washington. 

Hanson, as President, ordered all foreign troops off American soil, as well as the removal of all foreign flags. This was quite a feat, considering the fact that so many European countries had a stake in the United States since the days following Columbus. Hanson established the Great Seal of the United States, which all Presidents have since been required to use on all official documents. President Hanson also established the first Treasury Department, the firstSecretary of War, and the first Foreign Affairs Department. Lastly, he declared that the fourth Thursday of every November was to be Thanksgiving Day, which is still true today. 

The Articles of Confederation only allowed a President to serve a one-year term during any three-year period, so Hanson actually accomplished quite a bit in such little time. He served in that office from November 5, 1781 until November 3, 1782. He was the first President to serve a full term after the full ratification of the Articles of Confederation – and like so many of the Southern and New England Founders, he was strongly opposed to the Constitution when it was first discussed. He remained a confirmed anti-federalist until his untimely death.

Six other presidents were elected after him - Elias Boudinot (1783), Thomas Mifflin (1784), Richard Henry Lee (1785), Nathan Gorman (1786), Arthur St. Clair (1787), and Cyrus Griffin (1788) - all prior to Washington taking office. Why don't we ever hear about the first seven Presidents of the United States? It's quite simple - The Articles of Confederation didn't work well. The individual states had too much power and nothing could be agreed upon. A new doctrine needed to be written - something we know as the Constitution. 

George Washington was definitely not the first President of the United States. He was thefirst President of the United States under the Constitution we follow today. And the first seven Presidents are forgotten in history. 

February 2, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink