Suffolk - The American Connection

Suffolk is the southern part of the historic kingdom of East Anglia, the land of "South Folk". It is characterised by old market towns, gently rolling farmland, medieval timbered halls, intimate villages with colour-washed cottages, ancient churches and broad vistas of sea and sky. Suffolk lies 70 miles northeast of London and measures about 60 miles west-east, from the horse-racing town of Newmarket to the North Sea, and 40 miles south-north, from John Constable's Stour Valley to the fringes of Broadland.

Suffolk in America

People from East Anglia were prominent in the early settlement of North America; indeed the first three counties were named Suffolk Norfolk and Essex. Some of the links thus created survive to this day: for instance, between Southwold, Suffolk and Southold, Long Island, New York. Why did these people make the hazardous voyage? Often, it seems, to escape religious persecution in the 17th and 18th centuries, or to seek a better life. In some cases a love of adventure must have been a factor. The sea was no stranger to many in Suffolk

In 1602 Bartholomew Gosnold from Otley near Ipswich led an exploratory expedition of 32 men aboard Concord to the coast of what was then called "the north parts of Virginia". He duly made landfall in the vicinity of Cape Cod and explored the area, naming Martha's Vineyard, either after his wife's mother or in memory of his daughter of that name who had recently died. Five years later Gosnold returned with a larger party to create the first permanent settlement from England in the New World. This settlement was not however in New England but at Jamestown in (modern) Virginia The change of destination is an unsolved puzzle. Whatever the reason, it is noteworthy that not far from Jamestown is a city called Suffolk together with the larger city of Norfolk

In spite of his undoubted importance in the exploration of N. America, Gosnold remains a surprisingly obscure figure who deserves to be better known. Visitors to his birthplace, Otley Hall have the opportunity to learn more about his exploits. In 1985 the 1607 voyage was re-enacted in a replica vessel

In 1610 the Borough of Ipswich, which is the County town of Suffolk bought four shares in the Virginia Company which financed voyages to America. A preacher called Nathaniel Ward emigrated to Massachusetts and re-named the small community of Agarram as Ipswich. He actually came from another Suffolk town, Haverhill which has also given its name to a town in Massachusetts. There are so many names in Suffolk and adjacent areas which have counterparts in New England that the visitor from that area will feel very much at home here.

John Winthrop
John Winthrop

John Winthrop was another Suffolk man who contributed greatly to the development of New England. His family lived for generations at the village of Groton, near Sudbury. In 1630 he emigrated to take charge of the Massachusetts Company, founded the city of Boston and became first Governor of the State of Massachusetts. He has been described as the Father of New England and is buried in Kings Chapel Boston. One of his sons (also John) became first Governor of Connecticut and a major city in this state carries the name of the ancestral home - Groton.

Finally, and still in New England let us not forget Thomas Davies, from Sudbury, who set the lantern in the tower of Old North Church, Boston, giving the signal to Paul Revere to make his famous ride.

America in Suffolk

For several years from 1942 America was in Suffolk, or so it seemed. Airfields sprung up seemingly overnight all over Eastern England - 19 in Suffolk alone. Every day the sky seemed full of aircraft. Equally notable was the bringing together of two very different cultures - young men from the New World and rural communities from the Old, most members of both groups having rarely travelled abroad or seen a "foreigner" before.

1992 was the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the first U.S. forces, and was the occasion to remember not only the heroism and sacrifices of those young men in uniform, but also the friendships that grew up and have endured.

In these pages you can find out about all the former USAAF bases in Suffolk, about what is there now, and how the bases and their crews are commemorated.

There are exhibits and memorials at several bases bringing back memories of these days and tracing the impact of the "Yanks" on the local communities, and vice versa. There are also a number of books about the war years in East Anglia.

Flying Fortess and crew
Flying Fortress and crew

One man who particularly responded to the opportunities afforded by being stationed for several years in rural England was John Appleby. Based at Bury St Edmunds, he spent his leisure time exploring Suffolk by bicycle and grew to love it. He recorded his memories in the book "Suffolk Summer" which is still in print over forty years later. The royalties from the book go to maintain a rose garden in the Abbey Gardens (public park) close to the Cathedral in Bury - a place to dwell on the price paid for freedom.

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19 March 1998 - webmaster@suffolkcc.gov.uk