2019 - 2020 Modern Volume 12

Thomas Howard 3rd Earl of Effingham: Yorkshire and the United States

By Thomas W. B. Hill

Anyone who has travelled by train from Sheffield to Leeds may have found themselves wondering why the Rotherham United stadium, which is right next to the tracks, is called “New York Stadium” some three thousand miles away from the American city. The story behind that involves the town’s industrial past and the manufacturing of New York’s fire hydrants. However, this is not Rotherham’s only connection with a north east American city, as a short walk up hill from the stadium will find you at the curiously named Boston Castle. Built by a man that the United States second first lady, Abigail Adams, once wrote was “too well remembered by America” and thus needed no explanation of who he was in her correspondence. This is how a small building in Rotherham, South Yorkshire came to be named after a city in Massachusetts, and how its original owner, Sir Thomas Howard 3rd Earl of Effingham, became a respected name amongst the founding fathers of the United States.

Thomas Howard was a veteran soldier and principled politician, but first and foremost he was a devoted husband. That’s why a good place to start is in Scotland 1768. Specifically, the small border town of Gretna Green where the twenty-two-year-old, recently made Earl of Effingham, stood across an anvil, as many eloping couples have done, from the woman he would spend the next twenty-three years devoted to, Catherine Procter. An event that establishes the independent nature at the core of their marriage. They remarried, with the begrudging blessing of her parents, and moved into their marital home of Rotherham’s Holms Hall. 

Not one to stay still for very long. Effingham signed up as a mercenary for the Russian army in the Russo-Turkish War. During this time, writing that she “should not like living in England during (Howard’s) absence” the Lady Effingham spent time in the court of Tsarina Catherine the Great. His actions leading men in this war resulted in him being appointed as a Captain in the 22nd Regiment of Foot.

During a moment of brief peace, fresh back in their Rotherham home with wealth gained in Russia, and Thomas Howard’s new wage as a Captain, the Lord and Lady Effingham looked to their own lands which included ancient woodland of Canklow Woods. These woods had been known as good hunting grounds since the middle ages. This is how a small brick building known as “the House upon the Common” began its construction on the 2nd of December 1773. Two weeks later a group of men dressed as North American first people climbed on a ship in Boston, Massachusetts to throw a cargo of tea into the harbour in order to make the demand “No taxation without representation”.

In addition to pursuing a military career the Earl of Effingham had taken an active role in the seat that his title gave him in the House of Lords, becoming known for taking a keen interest in the affairs of the colonies. In particular, he had made clear his support for the right of colonies to elect members of parliament to represent them in Westminster. So, when colonists in the Americas engaged in protest on that exact issue there was little doubt as to whether or not he would support them. 

However, his support for the colonists versus his loyalty to the military would become a heated issue when in April 1775 the thirteen states issued a declaration of independence and, in retaliation, the 22nd Regiment of Foot was mustered and sent to North America to squash the rebellion. It was what he did next that cemented his position in the American history books. Effingham decided to resign his commission in a way that sent a message. During a House of Lords debate he stood up, drew his sword and declared “When the duties of a soldier and citizen become inconsistent, I shall always think myself obliged to sink to the character of the citizen, until such time that those duties shall again, by malice of our real enemies become united… I at least give to my country an unequivocal proof of the sincerity of my principles”. Then to add further proof of that sincerity he renamed his hunting lodge Boston Castle in honour of the protesters who started the sequence of events that lead to this situation. In return, the Continental Navy named a frigate USS Effingham in his honour.

Years later, following the United States’ victory, future President John Adams was appointed Ambassador to Britain. Shunned by polite society it would be Thomas Howard, who the London Morning Herald falsely reported would be appointed Ambassador to America, and Catherine who welcomed the Adams’ into their home and, perhaps more appropriately, Boston Castle where the two would toast to the American republic with coffee specially imported from America. Effingham would later be appointed Governor of Jamaica where he died within a month of his beloved, but that is another story involving the King of Spain.

Further reading:

“The Percy Anecdotes: Original and Select by Sholta and Reuban” 

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships


Those who could not serve” by Bob Ruppert in “Journal of the American Revolution”