Puritans from this tiny village were among the earliest Pilgrim settlers in the New World, but it’s only now, more than 350 years later, that students at the local primary school are preparing to mark their first American-style Thanksgiving.
And it’s all because of President-elect George Bush.
Bush has what genealogists here describe as an impeccably patrician English pedigree. So his election victory triggered both a touch of British chauvinism and unaccustomed attention to things American.
“Bush replaces George Washington as being the most royal and noble President,” said Harold Brooks-Baker, publisher of the authoritative Burke’s Peerage, in an interview. “The upper middle class is about as far down as we’ve been able to take Bush.” He’s a 13th cousin, twice removed, of Queen Elizabeth II, with a lineage that can be traced to King Henry III, who ruled England in the 13th Century.
“Hail Bush the Brit,” the new tabloid newspaper Today headlined its election report.
‘George’s Messing Link’
But more impressive than his royal ties, according to others in this class-conscious society, are those roots of the Bush family tree that pass through this genteel East Anglia settlement, about 60 miles northeast of London. The Daily Mail dubbed it “George’s Messing Link.”
One Reynold or Reginald Bush, the adventurous, Puritan son of a well-to-do local farmer, left Messing for New England aboard the ship Lion in 1631, according to another genealogist, Hugh Peskett.
Peskett, who previously traced Ronald Reagan’s ancestry to Ballyporeen, Ireland, told Britain’s Press Assn. news service that once in America, Reynold Bush sired a long line of revolutionaries and Indian fighters, all forebears of the President-elect.
Not ‘Wimp’s Pedigree’
“It’s not a wimp’s pedigree by any means,” the genealogist said. “George Bush may be 13th cousin to the queen, twice removed, but frankly, who isn’t?”
The Rev. Martin H. Clarke, vicar of Messing’s 12th-Century All Saints Church, confirmed that “baptismal registries of the 16th Century indicate that (Reynold) was baptized and came from here.” He said that church records contain 37 references to Bushes--under various spellings--in the period 1391-1597. “It didn’t matter how you spelled in those days,” Clarke said.
State of Turmoil
At the time Reynold Bush left, Messing was in a state of religious and political turmoil. The country was on the eve of civil war between royalist and parliamentary forces and further shaken by fundamentalist opposition to the formalism of the newly independent Church of England.
“The people who emigrated to America were evangelical, puritan in outlook, nonconformists,” Clarke said.
By contrast, Messing today appears the archetypical sleepy English village, tucked so far off the beaten track that to find it, one bard suggested going “to any lengths, then left, and left again.” There were more pheasants than automobiles using the one-lane road into town recently.
Messing’s population is about 350, and the homes have names, not numbers--Cob Cottage, the Vicarage. According to a notice posted outside the Old School House, the last meeting of the Messing Cum Inworth (Inworth is a neighboring hamlet) Wives Group had the theme “Floral Fantasy” and included a talk and demonstration of how to make fabric flowers and butterflies.
“Time has sort of passed us by,” said David Harris, the publican or manager of the Old Crowne Inn. “That’s the attraction, really.”
The question now is whether the village should try to capitalize on its Bush connection to attract more tourists. The populace seems ambivalent.
“We’re going to put a sign on the door that says George Bush was never here; we have nothing to do with him,” said Catherine Payn, who runs a local nursery school. Besides, she added, “I hear the connection is very tenuous.”
At the bar of the Old Crowne, another woman was overheard remarking: “It will be nice that all this election thing won’t be on TV any more.”
Most Seem Pleased
Skeptics aside, most here seem pleased about Messing’s new-found famous son. “I think that on the whole we were quite proud, really,” said Vicar Clarke during an interview in his small, cramped study. “Quite interested. Pleasantly surprised.”
He added that he intends to hang a new sign outside his vicarage: “Welcome to Messing: Gateway to the White House.”
Publican Harris, who threw a champagne-and-cake party to celebrate Bush’s victory, also is thinking about a new sign. He wants to change the name of his pub to the “Bush and Quayle.”
His big hope is that Bush will visit Messing one day, and that it will lead to a historical reawakening here. “There’s a lot of history in the village,” he said. “But it’s all hidden behind people’s doors.”
The 19 students at the two-room Messing Cum Inworth primary school are also hoping Bush will visit.
They wrote to him after his Messing link was first reported last summer, and headmistress Gloria M. Waymont has been using the connection to interest her 5- to 11-year-old charges in things American.
The students fashioned a rudimentary “Bush Corner” in the hallway of their schoolhouse, where a hand-drawn picture of crossed British and American flags now decorates a sign reading: “Congratulations George Bush.” There also is a photograph of the President-elect and a letter he wrote in response to one from the students last summer.
Possibility of Visit
“Although I really don’t know a lot about my English forefathers from Messing, they obviously chose a lovely area to call home,” Bush wrote. “Perhaps I will be able to visit someday.”
On a table below the President-elect’s picture is a primer, open to opposing pages that introduce students to American football and baseball.
And now, said teacher Christine Kingsnorth: “We thought we might celebrate Thanksgiving. We didn’t know when it was, but the children went home and found out.”
When two American visitors arrived the other day, the youngsters were anxious to learn more about the holiday menu. A few knew about turkey and pumpkin pie, but cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes were beyond them.
What he may have lacked in culinary knowledge, student Andrew Chambers, 11, seemed to make up in common sense. When the Americans asked the students if they had any advice for the President-elect, Chambers responded immediately, “Be careful.”