Presidents of Cornwall

“Wherever there’s a hole in the ground, you’ll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it.” Rarely is that phrase more appropriate than in the United States, where the rush for precious metals was seen as a calling for the Cornish and their rich history of reshaping the underground. With this mass migration from their homeland, the name ‘Cousin Jack’ became common parlance to refer to the Cornish abroad

Once deep beneath the surface, these Cousin Jacks made their way right to the summit of American fame. The migration of Thomas Burgess from Truro to Salem in Massachusetts might have seemed unremarkable, but many generations down the line would bring his 7th great-grandson and 19th president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes; a slightly different but equally fruitful branch of the family tree would bring Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president and 9th great-grandson of that same Cornishman who gambled upon a fresh start.

A third potential Cornish-American president was Harry S. Truman. When presented with the Cornish crest of Tremayne by his cousin, Truman dismissed the suggestion that his ancestral home was in Cornwall – probably not because he held any hatred of the Cornish, but more likely because it would deny his preferred logic that the name descended from a wholesome Saxon surname that literally meant ‘true man’. But his cousin clearly believed it enough, and there was plenty of overlap between Truman and Tremayne with the spelling never settling (Tremayne, also Tremaine, had been written in Cornish as ‘Treman’ as far back as 1230). Maybe, just maybe, Harry Truman – with a name that means ‘stone settlement’ – hails from a manor in St. Martin on a quiet corner of the Lizard peninsula.

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