Sarah Dixwell Brown is directly descended from a man who killed a king. The story of that man, John Dixwell, is the subject of her new book, Regicide in the Family: Finding John Dixwell.
On a cold January day in 1649, England’s Charles the First was beheaded in a public execution after being found guilty of betraying his own people. John Dixwell was one of 59 judges who attended his trial and signed his death warrant. What made those men willing to execute their king?
John Dixwell’s story had disappeared in Brown’s branch of his descendants. She stumbled on him by accident in an ancient book in the British Museum when she was 28, but did not know until she went back to the U.S. and asked her father, that Dixwell was her many greats grandfather. She was so startled and captivated to discover she was named after a king-killer, she began learning everything she could about him and his fateful decision. Her interest became an obsession when her father handed her John Dixwell’s key to Dover Castle, casually wrapped in a plastic produce bag. Up to that moment, her father had never mentioned he had the key Dixwell brought with him when he fled to the New World as a fugitive from justice.
Becoming the ninth descendant to own the key made Brown feel so connected to her namesake that she went to England, carrying the key, in search of all things Dixwell. Could she learn enough about his life to understand why he threw away everything to stop a king’s tyrannical rule? Was there still a door at Dover Castle she could unlock?
Brown taught writing at Stanford University, Santa Clara University, Mount Holyoke College and the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has published numerous personal essays in national and local publications.