This Tiny Somerset Village Claims To Be the Birthplace of the American Dream
Barton St. David historians say a former resident who emigrated to the United States is responsible for starting one of America's most important political dynasties in under five generations.
A sleepy English village is staking a claim as the ancestral home of the “American Dream”.
Barton St. David historians link their claim to a former resident who emigrated to the United States in the 1600s. In under five generations, his apparently lowly family went on to yield not one but two American presidents.
"It's a pretty good example, and perhaps one of the very first examples, of the American Dream," says Peter Robinson, who recently helped found the Barton History Club to document the village's illustrious past.
While the Somerset hamlet’s White House connection is not widely known, it’s a piece of history that binds its population of roughly 500, according to Robinson.
"We are all very interested and proud,” he says. “Really everybody is on board that we have the family that gave rise to the second and sixth Presidents. It's a remarkable thing.”
Historic claim to fame
Henry Adams was born in Barton St. David around 1583, according to online records. His family lived in thatch-roofed stone cottages in the area for more than a century.
Documents show he moved his family to Massachusetts aboard the Mary & John, which sailed out of the Devon port of Plymouth.
The exact date of the voyage, alongside 140 other passengers, is disputed. Various sources cite it as either in 1636 or 1638.
Adams became a founder of New England, and was granted 40 acres of land at Mt. Wollaston, in a city now known as Quincy. He died in 1646, aged around 63.
An article written for the Boston Herald in September 1927 by Edwin D. Mead, described Henry as being "clearly a man of no high social position", whose American estate was only worth £75 when he passed.
His son Joseph, who lived from 1626 to 1694, married a woman named Abigail Baxter. And their great-grandson was John Adams: the first Vice President of the U.S. from 1789-1797 and second President between 1797 and 1801.
He was also the first U.S. President to live in the mansion now known as the White House.
His son, John Quincy Adams, was elected as sixth President in 1825. Adams Jr was known for modernising the American economy, slashing its national debt and promoting education – and most bizarrely for keeping a pet alligator at the White House, according to the U.S. National Park Services.
Only one other family – the Bushes – have yielded a father-son presidency legacy.
A small plaque hangs inside the Church of St. David, alongside two Star Spangled Banners, to commemorate the presidential link.
"[Their] exalted services to their country evoke a testimony of respect for their ancestral home, this memorial has been erected by Edward Dean Adams. AD 1926," it reads.
Church warden Margaret Swift says transatlantic visitors curious about their centuries-old ancestry regularly visit the church. Despite being well off the beaten track, "they still somehow seem to find us," Swift says.
Robinson agrees, saying he believes around two dozen Americans make the long journey every year – including one Carl Adams, who in 2014 visited and claimed he could trace his lineage all the way back to Henry.
Robinson admits there are many sceptics who refuse to acknowledge the history, which is admittedly difficult to prove due to a distinct lack of record-keeping in the 1600s.
There’s also confusion as to why Henry Adams would have emigrated in the first place, given Barton St. David wasn't known to be a particularly puritanical area at the time.
Mr Robinson believes Adams may have been influenced by the Rev. John White, a preacher reportedly responsible for more than 20,000 emigrants leaving the South West of England for the Americas.
"Presumably there was a religious element, but what that was and the background is still a bit unclear," he says.
Another explanation is offered by author and historian Francis Russell who claims in Adams: An American Dynasty that soaring land prices and rents might have been more of a factor than a wish to escape religious persecution.
Whatever it was that led Adams to up sticks and subsequently create one of the most important political dynasties in history, Barton St David is proud of the link.
"It would not be long in the Barton Inn pub that a stranger, if he prodded a little bit, would be told about the Adams family," says Robinson. "It makes us rather special.”