It has taken 21 years of research and evidence gathering but Broadstairs resident Anne Ammundsen has now published her book examining the truth of a crucial part of Anglo-American history.
Anne has published The Charles Asgill Affair: Setting the Record Straight which she describes as “slapping the face” of the first US president George Washington.
The diplomatic incident, which nearly derailed peace talks in Paris, took place during the American Revolution and centres on British army officer, Captain Charles Asgill and an execution ordered by Washington which broke the Articles of Capitulation signed when British forces surrendered at Yorktown.
In retaliation for the execution of a Patriot officer, Washington ordered the death of a British officer chosen by lot from prisoners; this selected Asgill.
As allies to the Americans and signatories to the surrender document, the French monarchy became involved and let it be known that such measures would reflect badly on both the French and American nations. After six months the Continental Congress agreed that Asgill should be released to return to England on parole.
Following his return to England there were many accounts of the hardships he had faced while incarcerated in the US.
Washington was angered that Asgill did not deny the rumours and failed to write to thank him for his release on parole.
Washington ordered that his correspondence on the Asgill Affair be made public and these were published in The New Haven Gazette and the Connecticut Magazine, in November 1786. But Washington did not include the order he had sent about the inclusion of ‘protected’ prisoners to take lots over who would die.
The only letter from Asgill included in Washington’s account expressed his gratitude for the treatment he had received but this had been written before he was placed under close arrest.
Captain Charles Asgill wrote a response but this was not published during his lifetime. In fact it was not printed until 2019 when a copy appeared in an issue of The Journal of Lancaster County’s Historical Society.
A quest to clear Asgill’s reputation
Anne’s quest was to expose George Washington’s tampering with facts to save his reputation and clear the name of Asgill, from whom she is a descendant.
In 2001Anne set about going through genealogy work left behind by her dad, putting it into ancestry.com software and building up a family tree.
She said: “It took about one year but I realised my family tree was lopsided, I had so much about my father’s side but not my mother.”
Determined to rectify this Anne took an online genealogy course and found a one name study of her maternal grandmother.
After contacting the person who had put that together Anne was sent files going back to 1750 and a suggestion that she contact a cousin that she hadn’t previously known about.
And this is where the Charles Asgill research began. Anne was sent births, deaths and marriages details and the skeleton of the Asgill Affair story.
The 79-year-old said: “I started putting it all into the software and looked up Asgill. The first thing I found was the Asgill Affair.
“Twenty years later I have read every account of the affair and it became very clear to me that it was a skewed story all based on what Washington had put forward.
“I had been given so much research that I had the opportunity to put flesh on the bones.
“I set about finding as many descendants as I could. There are no true Asgill’s from Charles but he had an illegitimate son and there are descendants from the son and I am one of them.”
Anne found portraits in private collections, one of which was owned by a Saudi Prince who she persuaded to let her come and view the painting of Asgill’s wife.
She said: “I was eventually able to get in, see the portrait and take a photo. Find the portrait and descendants meant I could put flesh and clothes on the people whose births, deaths and marriages had been sent to me.
“The part I enjoy is finding the story. It has taken 20 years but I think I am finished now the book has been published.”
Asgill in Thanet
Charles Asgill also has a Thanet connection. Anne’s research revealed he visited Margate and Broadstairs in 1802. In Broadstairs he watched entertainment at what was a library in the building that now houses the Charles Dickens pub. In Margate he watched Richard Sheridan plays at the Theatre Royal – Sheridan was married to a first cousin of Asgill’s wife.
Anne said: “My quest is to get Charles Asgill known in England, where he was born and grew up. I want him to be known for the brave and very decent man he was – even going to the aid of an injured enemy Colonel (American) during the War of Independence.
“He needs to be welcomed home, nationwide. My book tells his life story.
“Nearly all the literature about Asgill has been written in either France or America, with precious little coverage coming from the UK. Yet there was a time when his name was on every Englishman and woman’s lips, “and the first question asked of all vessels that arrived from any port in North America, was always an enquiry into the fate of that young man.”
Life and retirement
Anne lives in Broadstairs with husband Graeme and they have two children Nina, 42 and Marc, who will be 40 in October.
Broadstairs was her mother’s family’s home for centuries and Anne would have been born in the town but for the doodle bug bombs being dropped during World War Two, meaning she was instead born in Maidstone.
Anne worked for the Foreign Office and was posted to Aden when Independence meant the British left. Later she moved on to become a WRNS officer and met Graeme in the South Pacific when she was working for the Solomon Islands Government, on contract from the UK Ministry of Overseas Development.
She worked in their Ministry of Finance and Graeme was an Ambassador. The couple spent 16 years moving around the world for the work, including Bahrain, Tonga, Saudi Arabia and The Netherlands and at the beginning of married life they were in Tehran during the American Hostage Crisis.
Anne said: “We even had to facilitate the escape of a Canadian friend, who the authorities thought was an American, taking them from Iran rolled up in a Persian Carpet.
“When retirement came, 25 years ago, I had to fill my time, so genealogy became my friend. Never in a million years did I believe, back then, that I would eventually write the book – and even more astonishing – that it would be published.”
Find Anne’s story of The Charles Asgill Affair at:
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