February 4th, 2015:


One of my favorite quotes comes from Chief Seattle, a Native American: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

English and American history have created connections since the first English explorers and settlers started sailing to the North American continent. My relatives came from Scotland and Ireland, for instance. And, like many other Americans in modern times, I am a great fan of the British TV series, “Downton Abbey,” which is already in its fifth season.

Follow this thread: I was an English literature major at the College of William and Mary, founded in 1693 in Williamsburg, Virginia, with its primary building designed by England’s famous architect Christopher Wren.

I was born in Danville, Virginia, a medium-size town near the border of North Carolina. Besides once having a prosperous textile factory, Dan River Fabrics, Danville can boast of a famous woman born there in 1879—Nancy Langhorne Astor. The family home where she was born at that time is preserved for history. It’s across the street from Danville’s hospital, where I was born in the 1940s.


Nancy Astor Historical Marker

Nancy Astor Historical Marker

After she was divorced from her first husband, Nancy moved to England and married the wealthy aristocrat Waldorf Astor. They settled into a huge palace, Cliveden, high on a hill overlooking the Thames River. My English friend, Terence Sharkey (as a teenage actor he made an English adventure movie in Tripoli, Libya, which he’s written about on my blog) says Nancy’s home is located on perhaps the most beautiful spot along the Thames. When she died in 1964, she left the palace to the UK. As a patriotic Brit during World War I, she built a hospital for wounded soldiers on the grounds. Terence commented, “In the grounds American, English and a few German combatants lie side by side.”

Fascinating facts about Nancy: She was the first woman elected as a Member of Parliament–the House of Commons, and she held office from 1919 to 1945! She represented Plymouth, the English port city on the southern coast, from where Sir Francis Drake sailed forth to the Caribbean and around the world. I wrote about Drake’s adventures in my historical fiction, Melaynie’s Masquerade.

Young Nancy Astor by John Singer Sargent

Young Nancy Astor by John Singer Sargent

Nancy was very conservative in her viewpoints, but she had a sharp tongue and was known for her biting wit. Southern women have been known for their spunk for years—remember Scarlet O’Hara, and the gals in the movie “Steel Magnolias?” For instance, Nancy commented: “I would like to say that the first time Adam had a chance, he laid the blame on a woman.”

Good advice about party behavior: “One reason why I don’t drink is because I wish to know when I am having a good time.” Some philosophy: “The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything…or nothing.”

She was an early women’s libber: “Women have got to make the world safe for men since men have made it so darned unsafe for women.” And: “We women talk too much, but even then we don’t tell half what we know.”

Winston Churchill wasn’t her fan and she wasn’t his. She is reported to have said, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.” He responded, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

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