I was touched, when I was researching my book, to learn that when my great great grandfather Epes Sargent Dixwell and his two brothers had their forebear, the regicide John Dixwell, exhumed, his toe bones were still intact, 160 years after his 1689 death.
The Dixwell brothers dug him up in 1849, presumably, because they wanted him honored with a large and dignified monument instead of the simple sandstone one he had lain under. That one displayed only his initials—J.D.—to protect his remains from the continuing wrath of British soldiers.
I have deep respect for the webby collection of bones, tendons and ligaments on which, improbably, human beings balance their upright bodies. Such small yet intricate platforms carry us through life.
When I was in England to research John Dixwell’s life, it was profound to hike on my small feet over the pastures in County Kent that were once his property. I was moved again when I walked across an ancient burial ground in Hadley, Massachusetts to visit the grave of the Reverend John Russell, the minister who hid major generals and regicides Edward Whalley and William Goffe as well as John Dixwell in the 1660’s and beyond.
At my high school, in the 1960’s, we often sang the hymn “Jerusalem,” set to William Blake’s poem:
“And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen?”
John Dixwell had been dead for seventy-odd years when Blake was born, but he would have been inspired by Blake’s fierce passion about fighting for a New Jerusalem in England:
“Bring me my bow of burning gold! Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O Clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of Fire!
I will not cease from mental fight; nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.”
Maybe John Dixwell chose to shelter in the New Haven Colony because its founders, John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton, considered it a new Jerusalem. Dixwell never stopped believing in his own new Jerusalem—“The Good Old Cause” of England being governed by its people, not a monarch.
What strong toes Dixwell must have had for those little bones to be intact so many years after his death. John Dixwell’s feet carried him to Hanau, Germany after his flight from England at the restoration of Charles the Second, and across Flanders and eventually across the wide Atlantic to the New World, where he lived until his death.
As he walked around the New Haven Colony, where he hid under the assumed name of James Davids until his death, people were struck by him, but did not know he was one of the men who had condemned a king to death in a profoundly shocking political event that shook England and much of Europe, down to their toes.
Posted on: Feb. 3, 2022