Wednesday 11 December 2013

Greenock and the George Washington Connection

Walter Washington Buchanan, a Greenock doctor is the connection.  He was born at Hanover (Morristown), New Jersey on 4 June 1777.  He was baptised on 6 July 1777 and George Washington, America's first president, was his godfather!  This is Buchanan's grave in Greenock Cemetery.

The inscription reads:- 
Walter Washington Buchanan born 4th June 1777 at Hanover, Jersey USA, died 11th September 1861, his son James Campbell, merchant, born 3rd Mar 1803 at New York died 10th Oct 1868.
Walter Buchanan went on to have a very interesting life.  As a child he recalls playing with the grandchildren of Martha Washington - George Washington Custis and his sister Eleanor at the Osgood/Franklin House on Cherry Street. 

Walter's family originated in Scotland and he was sent back to attend Glasgow University, graduating MD in 1798.  He returned to New York and applied to the US Navy for a position and was appointed to the ship "Ganges".  Several of his letters to the War Department remain - he had quite a flamboyant signature!   It was a short-lived career as he was discharged the following year under the Peace Establishment Act. 

He returned to Scotland and married a Greenock lass - Annabella Brownlie on 27 February 1802.  On their return to New York, they had two children, a son James Campbell and a daughter Eliza.  Dr Buchanan's career blossomed and he was elected Professor of Midwifery at Columbia College in 1808.  He was also Secretary of New York County Medical Society and was connected with the New York Almshouse (Bellevue?).

When the Anglo-American war broke out in 1812, Buchanan was re-appointed as a Navy Surgeon and worked at Sackett's Harbour on Lake Ontario.  There is an interesting letter from him in "The Naval War of 1812" Vol II edited by William S Dudley in which he objects strongly to a proposed pay cut!  He was visited at Sackett's Harbour by the writer Washington Irving with whom he seems to have been friends since they were younger.

He retired from the Navy in 1827 and was residing at Greene Street, near Broadway in New York.  In 1830 his daughter, Eliza married a wealth cloth merchant Alexander Rodger in Greenock.  By 1837 Walter and his family were residing at Mount Pleasant in Greenock.  Sometime in 1843/44 he bought the beautiful house of Bagatelle in Greenock (now a care home).  He was involved in local affairs and continued to practice as a doctor in the town.  Annabella died in 1852 and was buried in the Old West churchyard (remains later transfered to Greenock Cemetery).  Walter died of apoplexy in 1861.  In his will he left some knives, forks and spoons which "were so long in the use of President Washington" to his son, James who died in 1868.  James founded the Buchanan Night Asylum in the town which gave shelter and food to homeless people.

Walter Washington Buchanan seems to have been a very interesting man.  His daughter's family are buried nearby and also have a story to tell!

The Greenockian


  1. Another interesting connection!

  2. Thank you Liz for this glimpse into the past...interesting that the house still stands when so many have gone.


  3. What a fascinating history lesson. I never knew any of this and was glued to every word. Such an interesting gentleman...a true American/Scot. He did so much good in his life and earned himself one fine cemetery monument.

  4. Absolutely fascinating! «Louis» enjoys history, so this post is "right up his alley"!


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