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I was given John Dixwell’s key to Dover Castle. What better metaphor for chasing down and unlocking as many secrets as possible about my fugitive-from-justice ancestor, one of the regicides of Charles the First?

Still, being human, I wanted more. One thing I fantasized about, when I was in the midst of research, was that distant Dixwell cousins would come forward with new evidence of his life.

For example, in my next-to-last chapter I quote from his will:

Wonderfully, Dixwell is specific in his will about objects that may have been with him since he left England nearly thirty years before: “I give to my son John all the rest of my books, and my silver standish I used to write with, and my twesers [tweezers] which is in a red tortoise-shell case, my sword and my gun, all of which I desire may be carefully kept for him.”

He doesn’t mention his key to Dover Castle, but it must have been his wife Bathsheba’s job to keep it safe for their nine-year-old son and give it to him, perhaps when he was fourteen, as he departed for his silversmith apprenticeship in Boston. I hope distant Dixwell cousins, somewhere in America, have his sword, his gun, the silver standish, and that pair of tweezers in a tortoise-shell case.

Reader, it came to pass. I have a second cousin I scarcely know, but who, like me, has Dixwell for a middle name. I emailed her the news of my upcoming book and she wrote back:

“My father owned a sword that purportedly belonged to the regicide John Dixwell. (Although, when Father tried to give it to the historical entity that oversaw the grave, etc. in New Haven, they declined it, as they couldn’t attach documentation other than family lore to it.  I think one of my brothers has it.”

A few weeks later she visited that brother and sent me some photos of the sword:


Now all we need are the silver standish, the pistol and the tweezers in their tortoise shell case. So if you have them, please let me know!


Posted on: April 7, 2022

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