Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Celebration That Wasn’t: The 1914-1915 Peace Centenary

The Signing of the Treaty of Ghent
by Amédée Forestier, 1914
Everyone loves a centennial celebration, and in 1910 a group of American and British citizens were already preparing for what they believed would be a significant anniversary. 1914-1915 would mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, ending the War of 1812 and beginning of one hundred years of peace between Britain and the US. Peace Centenary Committees had been formed on both sides of the Atlantic, and plans were being made to mark the occasion with the appropriate plaques, ceremonies, pageants, and monuments.

A pamphlet issued in 1913 laid out the aims and plans of the Committee. The members especially wished to emphasize the special relationship among English-speaking people in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, and their common cultural, legal, and political traditions. At a time when new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were arriving in ever-larger numbers, and African-Americans were pushing back against the restrictions of segregation and discrimination, many Americans of British ancestry sought ways to place so-called “Anglo-Saxon” heritage at the center of the culture—and by doing so assure the security of their own position as the political and social leaders of the nation.

Design for a commemorative postage stamp
The Committee suggested a wide range of commemorative activities for 1914-1915, from the traditional placing of historic markers to more grandiose plans, such as the erection of a companion to the Statue of Liberty, “Peace,” on an artificial island in New York Harbor. Other ideas included a ceremonial banquet to be held in Ghent on January 8, 1815, replicating the one held in 1815, “a great merchant marine parade from Buffalo to Duluth and return, with celebrations in the border cities and towns,” a “Museum of the Peaceful Arts,” to be established in New York, and memorial arches to be built at the US-Canadian border between New York and Quebec, and Washington and British Columbia. Most of these activities were to be planned and executed by local committees, of which the Northern New York Committee was by far the largest with over 300 members.

The outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914 put a halt to most of these plans. While the United States did not enter the war until April 1917, the general feeling was that celebrating peace in the midst of war didn’t make a lot of sense. Moreover, there was a reluctance to spend money on pageantry and monuments when those funds could be used to support the war effort. Cities like Plattsburgh and New Orleans that had already organized commemorative events for 1914 carried on as planned, but most of the other ideas were never carried out (Ghent was under German occupation by January 1915, so no banquet), or had to wait until the war was over (a Peace Arch was eventually constructed on the Washington-British Columbia border, but not until 1921).

One task that the Committee was able to carry out successfully was the purchase of Sulgrave Manor, the English ancestral home of George Washington. Lawrence Washington, great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of George, acquired the manor in 1539, and members of the Washington family lived there for about 70 years. The Committee hoped that in time, Sulgrave Manor would become a “shrine” and a place of pilgrimage for Washington’s admirers in Britain, just as Mount Vernon was in the United States.
Appeal for support of Sulgrave Manor
sent to William Miner

Washington’s connection to Sulgrave Manor was fairly tenuous. By the time his great-grandfather left England for Virginia in the 1650s, the family had long since left the village of Sulgrave. Washington probably didn’t know much about his “ancestral estate” or his English forebears. But what was important to the people who preserved Sulgrave Manor in the early 20th century was the link it provided to that precious “Anglo-Saxon” heritage. It allowed them to emphasize that Washington was English, the product of many generations of English traditions, and therefore imbued with all the virtues that they associated with England, particularly those found in small rural, pre-industrial communities.

Records in the Alice’s archives show that William Miner donated $200 to the Sulgrave Institute and $250 to the Washington Manor House fund prior to 1922 (the building was officially dedicated in June 1921). At this time, Alice and William Miner were involved with the restoration of the Kent Delord House in Plattsburgh, and plans were underway for the Colonial Home in Chazy. William Miner was also engaged in researching his own English ancestry. Supporting the restoration of Sulgrave Manor would have fit into their larger philanthropic goals and ideas about historic preservation.


Ethel Armes, The Washington Manor House: England’s Gift to the World (New York: The Sulgrave Institution, 1922).

American Committee for the Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of Peace Among English-Speaking Peoples, General Prospectus of the Project to Celebrate the Centennial of the Signing of the Treaty of Ghent (New York, 1913).

Marquess of Crewe, “The Sulgrave Institution and the Anglo-American Society,” 1922 (pamphlet in museum archives).

“The Sulgrave Institution of the United States and of the British Commonwealth: A Statement and Programme,” ca. 1923 (pamphlet in museum archives).

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