By Jo McConville, Transatlantic Ties Project Archivist
The much feted Sussex Declaration (see an earlier blog post for more information) represents a remarkable connection between West Sussex and the United States. It may be the most famous, but it’s certainly not the only one. Some of the people and places in the county with significant links to our friends across the pond have already been documented on the blog post Sussex and the US: Closer than you think. One of the key aims of our ongoing Transatlantic Ties project has been to further explore such connections, to bring together and highlight the records in our archives which bear witness to this shared history through the War of Independence and beyond. Below are just a couple of examples…
Cecil Bisshopp and the War of 1812
The date 1812 might well bring to mind the Napoleonic wars and Tchaikovsky’s famous Overture commemorating the Russian defence against Napoleon’s invading army. However it also marked the start of another conflict thousands of miles away, where Britain and America locked horns in what some called America’s ‘Second War of Independence’, now known as the War of 1812. Prompted by maritime disputes between the two nations, in June 1812 President James Madison sent a list of grievances against Britain to Congress, who swiftly voted to declare war.
The Canadian borders became one of the key battlegrounds in the war, and Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Bisshopp, heir to the Parham Park estate and titles, was despatched to the frontline, arriving in October of 1812. His correspondence with fellow officers and with family and friends back home reveals fascinating details about his experiences in the early part of the conflict, from the British alliance with First Nations (Native American) warriors to meting out punishments to drunken officers. With British resources very much focused on the war in Europe, trained troops were thin on the ground and in fact both sides relied heavily on the militia (non-professional soldiers), which resulted in frequent issues with discipline and desertion. Cecil Bisshopp himself was a highly regarded officer, who particularly distinguished himself in a defeat of American troops at the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek in November 1812 before his tragic death in July 1813 following a skirmish with American forces at Black Rock in New York state.
Hailing from Dunford, near Midhurst, Richard Cobden (1804-1865) was at different times in his life a manufacturer, political activist and MP. He is most famously known today for his leading role in the Anti-Corn Law League (1838-1846), as well as for his support for free trade and peace between nations.
However, he was also notable for his huge admiration for the American Republic – in contrast to many other English people of his day. He visited the country twice, in 1835 and 1859, keeping detailed journals of his travels and observations. Cobden’s great interest in the United States and its politics and particularly in the changing Anglo-American relationship, are reflected in his extensive correspondence with friends and acquaintances on both sides of the Atlantic.
The last years of Cobden’s life coincided with the American Civil War (1861-1865), making the Cobden papers a rich resource for commentary and insight into this period of American history.
You can find out more about these histories, and many other links between West Sussex and the United States by joining our online talk, Transatlantic Ties: American History in West Sussex, on Tuesday 30th November at 7pm. For further information and to book, please visit the EventBrite website by purchasing tickets below or following this link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/transatlantic-ties-american-history-in-west-sussex-tickets-164969952569