When my bride and I moved to Dwight, Illinois, in 1985 we purchased a house located only a few blocks from a 20 acre park, Renfrew Park. This was good planning on our part. When our kids made their appearance in the nineties, they loved playing in the park, and we have many fond family memories of fun there. We quickly learned that the name of Renfrew Park commemorated the visit of British royalty to our little town in September 1860, just before the Civil War.
Prince Edward had been carefully brought up by his parents, perhaps too carefully. Kept from free association with people outside of tutors and family, he viewed his trip to Canada and America in 1860 as a great adventure. It was. Edward was the first Prince of Wales to visit the United States. He made a great impression with his affability and his gift for speaking to everyone, high and low, with friendly interest. Officially traveling incognito as “Baron Renfrew”, one of the lesser titles of the Prince of Wales, on the eve of the Civil War, he charmed almost all Americans he encountered, north and south, drawing huge crowds during his 2600 mile tour of the country from September 20, 1860-October 20, 1860.
One of his minor stops was the Village of Dwight at the beginning of his tour. He visited a corn farm and then went prairie chicken hunting where Renfrew Park is now located. The Prince enjoyed himself immensely and relished the rest he had from the huge crowds that came out to meet him in larger communities.
One might regard the visit of the Prince to America as merely a pleasant minor historical footnote, but I think it was slightly more than that. On his return the Prince told his parents how much he had enjoyed his trip to America and how friendly and kind he found the Americans he met to be. Perhaps this memory helped inspire his father, Prince Albert, to literally rise from his death bed, on November 30, 1861 to soften a note being sent by the British government to Washington over the Trent Affair:
The Queen … should have liked to have seen the expression of a hope [in the message to Seward] that the American captain did not act under instructions, or, if he did that he misapprehended them [and] that the United States government must be fully aware that the British Government could not allow its flag to be insulted, and the security of her mail communications to be placed in jeopardy, and [that] Her Majesty’s Government are unwilling to believe that the United States Government intended wantonly to put an insult upon this country and to add to their many distressing complications by forcing a question of dispute upon us, and that we are therefore glad to believe … that they would spontaneously offer such redress as alone could satisfy this country, viz: the restoration of the unfortunate passengers and a suitable apology.
Prince Albert died on December 14, 1861, his greatest service to his adopted country being his last one: an avoidance of a war with the United States, the kindness and friendliness shown to his son no doubt helping to convince him that such a war must be avoided if possible, and could be avoided with honor.