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Wednesday, 09 March 2016

Connections: Hillary Clinton, US presidents and Cumbria

We’ll be hearing even more about Hillary Clinton over the next few months as she aims to become the first woman president of the United States. One small detail that probably won’t be mentioned, however, is her Lake District connection: how in 1973 - as Hillary Rodham - she turned down Bill Clinton’s first proposal of marriage on the shores of Ennerdale Water (pictured). The couple had met three years earlier at Yale Law School and were then taking a holiday in Britain.

If Hillary Clinton does win the presidency she’ll be one of a small number of American presidents with a connection to Cumbria. George Washington’s paternal grandmother, Mildred Warner, is buried in the grounds of St Nicholas Church, Whitehaven - a plaque commemorates her - while two children from her first marriage to Lawrence Washington, John and Augustine (father of George Washington), went to Appleby Grammar School. This all stems from the fact that after Lawrence’s death, Mildred married George Gale, a tobacco importer from Whitehaven (pictured). He was in America at the time of their marriage in 1700 but quickly brought her back to west Cumberland. After Mildred’s death in 1701, George Gale sent her two boys to school in Appleby. Some 80 years later, sandstone flags from St Bees near Whitehaven were laid at George Washington’s home of Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Another US president with strong connections to Cumberland was Woodrow Wilson whose mother, Janet Woodrow, was born in Carlisle (pictured) in 1826. She later moved to America with her family, marrying Joseph Ruggles Wilson. Woodrow Wilson visited Cumberland and the Lake District four times before becoming president in 1913 and then again in December, 1918 while attending the Paris peace conference.

Finally....presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, both of whom had surnames associated with the Border Reivers, the riding and raiding families who turned the border lands into one of the most lawless places in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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