FOR more than half of the 18th century, Joseph Deane was tide-master for the port of Whitehaven. He was also a friend to the Washington family and corresponded with brothers Lawrence and Augustine, the elder half-brothers of America’s first president George Washington.

The three brothers had the same father, Augustine Washington Snr, but George had a different mother (Mary Ball).

Had his father not died in 1743 when George was just 11, it is very likely that he too would have also been sent overseas to England to become a pupil at Appleby School, just as his half-brothers and Augustine Snr himself had been… and the course of American history would have been quite different.

For generations Washington boys had been educated at Appleby, one of the finest schools in the north. Though there are 18th century Washingtons in Whitehaven, the Washingtons of America were thought to have hailed from the Westmorland or Co Durham branch of the family.

John Washington went out to Virginia in 1657 and it was he who was the father of Lawrence Washington who married Mildred Warner and had three children, John, Augustine and Mildred. After Lawrence’s death his widow remarried, this time to a Whitehaven tobacco merchant George Gale (1671-1712), whose family traded in Virginia. Mildred may have met George Gale through her husband’s relatives in Whitehaven, or via interests in the Virginia plantations, we are not sure.

Mildred’s second son Augustine was married twice. By his first wife he had Lawrence junior and Augustine junior (Austin) and by his second wife had George (1732-1799), who would become America’s first president.

George was just 11 when his father died, whereas his half-brothers would be in their mid-20s, and so received his education on home soil.

While he lived in Whitehaven Joseph Deane, himself a father of four sons, would correspond with the Washington brothers Lawrence and Austin and take a keen interest in their welfare. Deane was born in Appleby in 1701, the same year as Richard Yates, the revered headmaster of Appleby School, under whom the Washingtons had studied - Lawrence from 1729 to 1732 and Austin 1732-41. They had formed a close bond with Yates who would hold his post for 60 years.

During the 18th century the Whitehaven business community was fairly close-knit and the young Washington brothers would be made welcome in the homes of merchants and sea captains who had links with Virginia.

In letters written from Whitehaven in the 1740s, Deane makes mention to Lawrence Washington of “all your friends” in the town and references their mutual acquaintances.

In 1746 Deane had bought the corner site of 1 Scotch Street and built a fine house there which he subsequently sold to James Spedding, son of Carlisle Spedding, Whitehaven’s famous mining engineer. The house, complete with acorn decorated pediment (a nod to the Speddings’ timber interests) actually has its front door entrance on Roper Street.

Scotch Street in Whitehaven had been so named in 1698 by Sir John Lowther to encourage Scottish merchants to settle there. It began with tidy rows of terraced Georgian houses either side of Carter Lane that extend as far as Fox Lane.

Joseph Deane would serve as the Tide Surveyor of the Port of Whitehaven from 1724 to 1777. His role involved ensuring the proper customs dues were paid on cargoes arriving in the port and clamping down on smuggling. He was also a Town and Harbour Trustee from 1740 until his death in 1780, aged 79. On his retirement the Lords of the Treasury appointed Fawcet Troughton as his successor.

Deane’s later family home was at 79 Lowther Street (formerly the St John Ambulance local headquarters). He had married Elizabeth Filbeck in 1728 and had four sons, including Joseph junior who would have a distinguished naval career, but only one, Charles, survived him.

Charles Deane became a commander of the East India Company’s ship Earl of Sandwich and would marry Sarah, the widow of a surgeon, William McDowell. Sarah’s daughter by her first husband, Sarah Margaret McDowell, in 1795 married Hugh Parkin of Keekle Grove, Cleator Moor.

By court order the two Washington brothers were to be returned to America after their mother Mildred’s will was challenged by Stateside relatives. Lawrence would later marry Anne Fairfax and Austin, Anne Aylette.

After the death of Mildred (Warner Washington) Gale, in 1701, George Gale went on to marry Elizabeth Denwood in America and have four sons. The baby he had with Mildred, also named Mildred, died in infancy and lies with her mother in a Whitehaven grave. A plaque, installed in St Nicholas’ Gardens by Whitehaven Heritage Action Group in 2005, tells us that George Washington’s grandmother is buried there.