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WASHINGTON, Penelope (c1643-1697) – the link to George Washington

Washington armsThe presence of a burial tablet on the floor of the Chancel of the Church of St John the Baptist in Wickhamford has drawn many Americans to visit the church.  It commemorates Penelope Washington, who died in 1697 and was a distant relative of President George Washington.  

The tablet is decorated with the Washington Arms, which some people consider to be a prototype of the Stars and Stripes of the flag of the USA.  This article explains the family links between Penelope and George Washington.

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Family background

The ancestors of George Washington originated in Washington, County Durham (now Tyne and Wear).  William de Hertburne had assumed tenancy of the Wessyngtonlands from the Bishop of Durham in the late 12th century. Soon after, he changed his name to William de Wessyngton (later Washington).  The 17th-century Washington Old Hall stands on the site of the original Washington family home.

During the early 14th Century, Robert de Washington, a descendant of William de Wessyngton, settled in Warton, Lancashire. Lawrence Washington, a descendant of Robert, moved to Northamptonshire, in 1529, where he became a prosperous wool merchant and built Sulgrave Manor between 1540 and 1560.  His great-grandson, also Lawrence (1602-1652), was born at the manor in 1602. It is this Lawrence Washington who was the great-great-grandfather of George Washington.  Lawrence Washington’s older brother, William, was the grandfather of Penelope Washington who died at Wickhamford.

Descendants of Lawrence Washington (1602-1652) leading to George Washington

  • Lawrence Washington (1602-1652) lived at Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire, and he had seven brothers and nine sisters.  He went to Brasenose College, Oxford in 1619 and in 1623 graduated with a B.A. degree.  In 1632 he was made Proctor of Oxford University.  He married Amphilis Twigden, of Tring, Hertfordshire in 1633.  They had three sons and three daughters.  
  • One son, John Washington (1633-1677), who was baptised in Tring in 1635, emigrated to Virginia in 1656.  He married firstly Anne Pope (d. 1668) and they had two sons.  He married twice more before he died in 1677.  One of his children was Lawrence, born in 1659, in Maddox Creek, Virginia.
  • Lawrence Washington (1659-1698) married Mildred Warner and they had three children, one of whom was Augustine Washington, born in 1694. Lawrence died in 1698, only four years after this son’s birth.
  • Augustine Washington (1694-1743) was a planter and merchant, born in Westmoreland, Virginia.  He married Jane Butler in 1715 but she died in 1729 after the birth of four children.  He then married Mary Ball in 1731 and they had five children including George Washington in 1732.
  • George Washington (1731-1799) became the first President of the United States of America (1789-1797) after serving in the Continental Army, during the American War of Independence.  He died in December 1799.

Descendants of Lawrence Washington (1602-1652) leading to Penelope Washington

  • Sir William Washington (c1589-1643) married Anne Villiers and they had several children, one of whom was a son, Henry (c1618-1663).  Anne Villiers was the daughter of Sir George Villiers, one-time High Sheriff of Leicestershire, who was knighted in 1593.  
  • Colonel Henry Washington (c1618-1663) became the Governor of Worcester during Civil War.  He married Elizabeth Packington, daughter of Sir John Packington, who sat in Parliament as member for Aylesbury in 1623-24.  Henry died in 1643 and his widow, Elizabeth, then married Samuel Sandys (1615-1685) who was Governor of Evesham and had commanded a troop of horse at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. She moved to Wickhamford Manor and was accompanied by her daughter, Penelope Washington.  Samual Sandys was buried in Ombersley, the site of another of the Sandys family estates.  Elizabeth died in 1698 and is buried at Wickhamford.
  • Penelope Washington (c1643-1697) never married and died at Wickhamford in February 1697.  She is buried in the crypt under the chancel in the Church of St John the Baptist.

Family relationships

  • Sir William Washington (1589-1643) and Rev’d Lawrence Washington (1602-1652) were brothers.
  • Col. Henry Washington (1615-1664) and Lt-Col John Washington (1633/4-1677) were first cousins.
  • Penelope Washington (1643-1697) and Lawrence Washington (1659-1698) were second cousins.
  • Penelope Washington (1643-1697) and Augustine Washington (1694-1743) were second cousins once removed.
  • Penelope Washington (1643-1697) and George Washington (1732-1799) were second cousins twice removed.

A summary of the generations of the Washington family is shown in the following table:

Lawrence Washington (1565-1616)

married Margaret Butler (1568- 1651)

Sir William Washington (1589-1643)

married Anne Villiers

Rev’d Lawrence Washington (1602-1652)

married Amphilis Twigden

Colonel Henry Washington (1615-1664)

married Elizabeth Packington;

she later married Samuel Sandys

Lt-Col. John Washington (1633/4-1677)

Married 1 Ann Pope

married 2 Frances Gerard

Penelope Washington (1643-1697)

Did not marry; buried Wickhamford

Lawrence Washington (1659-1698)

married Mildred Warner née Gale (1671-1701)


Augustine Washington (1694-1743)

married 1 Jane Butler

married 2 Mary Ball (ca 1708-1789)


George Washington (1732-1799)

Penelope Washington
Penelope Washington’s memorial tablet on the floor of the Chancel of the Church of St John the Baptist, with translation.

Sacred to the memory of Penelope, daughter of that most distinguished and renowned soldier, Col Henry Washington.  He was descended from Sir William Washington, Knight of the county of Northampton, who was high in favour with those most illustrious princes and best of kings, Charles I and Charles II, on account of his gallant and successful military achievements, both in England and Ireland.  He married Elizabeth of the ancient and noble stock of the Packingtons of Westwood, a family of untarnished loyalty and patriotism.  Springing from such famous ancestry, Penelope was a diligent and devout worshipper of God.  To her mother (her only surviving parent) she was a great consolation.  To the sick and needy she was an exceptionally ready and generous benefactress.  Humble and chaste, and wedded to Christ alone, from this transitory life she departed to her spouse, Feb 27, Anno Domini 1697.

Family Tree

In 1985, a leaflet was produced showing the family tree of Penelope Washington, entitled "Penelope, The Years Between, Washington-Sandys".  The family tree research was by R D H Seaman and a sketch was by Michael J Barnard, both of Badsey.  The leaflet included the arms of Washington and the arms of Sandys and sketches of Wickhamford, with the inscription, "Penelope's manor home at Wickhamford in the shadow of the parish church where she is buried. A view looking south from Cowmeadows."

However, there is an error on the Washington section of the family tree where one generation has been omitted.  The information records Penelope and George Washington as being “second cousins once removed”, instead of the correct, “second cousins twice removed”.

Washington tree

What the papers said

The first reference to Penelope Washington and the George Washington connection that has been found in a newspaper article, dates back to 1885 when Julius Sladden of Badsey wrote a letter to a London newspaper about her tomb and the coat of arms.  This was then picked up by American newspapers.  Was this possibly the start of Wickhamford Church becoming an attraction for American visitors?

An article in the Chicago Sunday Tribune of December 1892 began:

Unmistakable traces of the distinguished family to be found in the village of Wickhamford, near Stratford-on-Avon – grave of Penelope, daughter of Colonel Henry Washington, in the parish church – little accurate information to be obtained in regard to them.

In December 1898, The News, Newport, Pennsylvania, published the following article which had the headline:

Two Stripes and Three Stars with the Cross of the Washingtons

Several more articles appeared in American newspapers around the turn of the 19th/20th century. 

In August 1901, the Reverend W H Price, Vicar of Badsey and Wickhamford, wrote to The Times in reference to the tomb of Penelope Washington.  He wished to try and clarify George Washington’s descent from the Northamptonshire family of Washingtons.

From time to time, there have also been articles about Penelope Washington in the British press, the most recent one being in The Birmingham Post of 4th October 1997.

Penelope Washington’s relationship to George Washington is frequently quoted incorrectly.  The Sandwell Evening Mail of 23rd August 1984 has a headline:  “Burial place of a famous gran”.  The Evesham Standard of 29th June 1956 describes her as the aunt of George Washington.  Penelope was never married (she was “wedded to Christ alone”) and was, as we have shown above, the second cousin twice removed of George Washington.

In the 1930s, the author, V C Buckley, wrote about Wickhamford where he lived for a time, and also conducted four coast-to-coast lecture tours of the States.  This might also have encouraged Americans to visit the church.


The photographs of Penelope Washington’s memorial tablet and the translation of the transcription were kindly supplied by Peter Stewart.

Tom Locke and Maureen Spinks, November 2023