Bideford to invite Obama?

Joseph Bulmer

Councillors will tonight debate a call to invite US President Barack Obama to Bideford next year.

Bideford Town Council will tonight (Thursday) night be asked to send an invitation to US President Barack Obama to visit the town next year.

Cllr Peter Christie is calling on fellow councillors to back his idea to invite the president to unveil a plaque at the parish church recording the burial there of Rawley, a Native American from Roanoke Island in North Carolina, who was brought to the town by its famous son Sir Richard Grenville and believed to be the first of his race to be buried in the Old World.

Rawley was baptised in Bideford Parish Church, but died in 1589 from the ‘flu, just 14 months after being brought to the town by Grenville from a trip to North Carolina.

Mr Christie said: “Bideford does not blow the trumpet enough about its historic links with the New World. There is a good argument to say that Bideford was the birthplace of the USA. A lot of the people who went with Grenville on his first colonising voyage were from Bideford and the first European baby to be born in the New World was to Bideford parents. Bideford is twinned with the town of Manteo, North Carolina, which was one of the earliest settlements.

“There are other places who may also challenge, but we have a native American, the first baby and our links with Grenville. We have a lot going for us.

“It might sound unlikely that the president would come, but who knows. If you don’t ask you don’t get. The Americans love their links with the Old World. Clearly we would adjust the date of unveiling the plaque to a suitable date and it could provide the president with a bit of light historical relief from the troubles the world is facing.”

Bideford 500, a project set up to celebrate 500 years of Bideford history, has raised �700 for the plaque and permission is being sought from the Exeter Diocese of the Church of England to commission it.