The two men shared a love of history, a gift for writing, and the same name, Winston Churchill.
They–an Englishman with an American mother and the other a St. Louis native– finally met more than a century ago in Boston. Today Winston S. Churchill is known as the English prime minister who fought off the Nazi horde during World War II. The American Winston Churchill, who dominated the fiction market during the early 20th century, remains largely forgotten.
Both men had been confused for each other. In 1899, the Englishman wrote to his counterpart in hopes to end any confusion by signing his name henceforth as “Winston Spencer Churchill.”
Winston S. Churchill, 26, toured the United States in late 1900 regaling audiences with his adventures during the Boer War. Young Churchill already had gained international fame when he escaped from a Boer prisoner-of-war camp. He was elected to Parliament not long after that where he sat almost continuously until 1962.
Midwesterner Winston Churchill, 29, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He didn’t seek a career in the navy, but he took to the pen. His 1899 novel, Richard Carvel, set in Annapolis during the American Revolution, was a blockbuster.
When the lecturer made it to Boston, his namesake was living at 181 Beacon Street in Boston. They met on the morning of Dec. 17, 1900 at the Hotel Touraine. Churchill’s tour promoter Major Pond made the introduction: “Mr. Churchill. Mr. Churchill.”
The red-haired war correspondent was recovering from a bug he picked up on his tour, and he was peeved that his mail might have been sent to the wrong Churchill. A doctor pronounced the guest fit for duty.
They dined at the hotel and discussed the American’s next book, The Crisis, which involved the American Civil War.
“Haven’t got enough fighting,” said the English veteran of several wars, “ought to put more fighting into it.”
Winston S. was asked by a Herald reporter about this unusual meeting. “I have looked forward with pleasure to meeting Mr. Churchill,” he said, “and we have become very good friends.”
After lunch the two men walked through the city and across the Charles River to Cambridge. The Englishman said to the American, “Why don’t you go into politics? I mean to be Prime Minister of Britain: it would be a great lark if you were President of the United States at the same time.”
Later Winston S. Churchill gave his talk at the Tremont Temple. Afterwards, Churchill was a guest of his new friend at the Somerset Club where he got stuck with the bill.
The American didn’t live in the Hub for long. He moved to Cornish, New Hampshire where he lived with his family for many years.
At the height of his literary success, Churchill quit writing at age 46 to devote his time to religion and painting. He died in Florida in 1947.
The American recalled a luncheon in Parliament with his namesake. “As you might expect, he is certainly a brilliant table conversationalist,” said Churchill, “and I became spellbound listening to him. I am afraid I bored the great statesman by telling him of my slight forays into the political field.”
Churchill served for two years in the New Hampshire legislature and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1912. Evidently he harbored no presidential ambitions.
The American Churchill probably marveled when Winston S. Churchill became prime minister during England’s darkest hour. Forty years of triumphs, failures, and heartbreaks had prepared him for this moment. In his war memoirs, Churchill wrote, “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”
A Boston dream became a reality.