Was George Washington a Vossing?

The United States’ first president was born in Virginia but traces roots back to ancient Earls of Scandinavia

Photo: Wikimedia Commons  Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington. Was our first President Norwegian?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington. Was our first President Norwegian?

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

In playfully researching the early history of the 4th of July and how Independence Day came about in Colonial times, I discovered some startling revelations about the genealogy claim that President George Washington’s deepest roots came from Norway, and even better, that he was a “Vossing” in origin.

Maybe on the 4th of July, some of us with Norwegian genes should take a few minutes to celebrate a long-standing claim that our first president has genetic roots in Norway.

I first ran across this suggestion in the Vossingen newsletter from 1925, Nr. 3-4, p 66. A relative in our family history was a contributor to this lengthy newsletter out of Madison that was targeted to Norwegian American immigrants from Voss that were scattered across the country.

The short article is copied below:

Washington’s family from Voss
George Washington’s family originates from Norway, according to genealogist Albert Welles’ explicit explanation. Now it has been added that he is also Vossing. According to Washington’s own statements he is from the family Vass, which had come to England about 970 and settled in the vicinity of Durham. Welles has learned that Washington descends from the Orkney earl Torfin Sigurdson, who was to have had a son, Bardolf, who was supposed to have settled among his co-descendants, vassings, at Durham. In addition, he assumed the name Vassingetun. There can well be doubt whether this Bardolf was a son of Earl Torfin; because the sagas say that he only had the sons, Erlend and Paul, who joined Harald Haardraade in the battle at Stamford Bridge, but who are never mentioned by Albert Welles. On the other hand, it is evident that this Bardolf must have been a Vossing, to judge by his name. It really is Bard-ulf, that is to say, Ulf from Baradal, now Bordalen is only at Voss. Ulf Vorske, of course, went to Iceland in the Landnam (land-taking) times and there are several things that indicate the Vossings went along on the expeditions to the British Isles. Then too, the name Vors is found on the Shetlands.

Photo courtesy of Larrie Wanberg The Ullestad farm in the foreground of the Vossingen cover is back to a historic farm in Voss from Larrie’s wife’s side of the family, while his family history includes a family farm along the shores of Nordfjord near Olden.

Photo courtesy of Larrie Wanberg
The Ullestad farm in the foreground of the Vossingen cover is back to a historic farm in Voss from Larrie’s wife’s side of the family, while his family history includes a family farm along the shores of Nordfjord near Olden.

Following up on the reference to Albert Welles, I searched the Web and found in the Internet Library and American Libraries sites accounts of the genealogy of George Washington. One heading states: “The pedigree and history of the Washington family: derived from Odin, the founder of Scandinavia, B. C. 70, involving a period of eighteen centuries, and including fifty-five generations, down to General George Washington, president of the United States.”

The book, The Pedigree and History of the Washington Family by Albert Welles, President of the American College for Genealogical Registry and Heraldry, was published in New York: Society Library in 1879. The Internet reference is www.stavacademy.co.uk/mimir/moere.htm.

In this account, President Washington’s lineage starts in 70 B.C. when Odin became “King of Scandinavia” and tracks through 55 generations. Many of his descendants were Earls throughout Scandinavia, including the Orkney Islands and in the British Isles.

The name Washington first shows up in England in 1010 AD. In 1659, Col. John Washington immigrated to America. In February 1732, George Washington was born at Wakefield, Westmoreland County in Virginia.

Genealogist Welles’ tracking of lineage over 55 generations may well be a published record. I’ve known one family with a documented record of 28 generations, another at 32, and one that is said to be traced back to the year 65 B.C. by linking to ancient scrolls of royalty.

The way these extraordinary origins of families can be gained is if families in Norway were landowners in “kingdoms” and the tax roles document their time and place. Or, if groups of genealogists, often in cultural “lags,” compare notes and find common ancestors with earlier tracings of generations.

Since my family genealogy in Norway dates back to 800 A.D, I carry this fantasy that maybe, just maybe, my earliest Norwegian ancestors as landowners may have “mixed it up” with the descendants of Odin and his kin, so that it could be, just could be, that I’m related to President George Washington.

Being my wife came from Voss and our daughter was born on the 4th of July, a moment of entertainment, at the least, is a toast at dinner to our imagined ancestry—to Odin in Norway and George in America—and maybe sending a rocket into the night sky in dreamy thought to keep a Norwegian-American fantasy alive.

This article originally appeared in the July 4, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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