Transatlantic Ties: American History in West Sussex

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…

Engraving of the property with deer in the foreground
PD 1070 – Engraving of Parham Park, c1828

Cecil Bisshopp and the War of 1812

Cecil is wearing British Red Coat Uniform, with his left hand on his hip/sword.
Castle Goring Mss PD 70 – Engraving of Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Bisshopp

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.

Page of a letter with rough diagram showing troop movement
Parham 2/3/2/20 – Map drawn by Bisshopp of movements during Battle of Frenchman’s Creek, 1812

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.

Richard Cobden

Engraving shows a man walking a hose off to the side, plus an outhouse.
Cobden PD 88 – Engraving of Dunford House near Midhurst, birthplace of Richard Cobden

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.

His left hand rest on a book on a side table.
Cobden Mss 841 PH 406 – Seated portrait of Richard Cobden

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:  

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One thought on “Transatlantic Ties: American History in West Sussex

  1. Great to learn more about the findings of the transatlantic project.
    The history is great to learn from a British perspective.
    The colonies and wars stretched British resources to the limits. Which gave the Americans a decided advantage going forward.
    Love learning the history from the correspondence.


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