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In 1849, exactly two centuries after Charles the First was beheaded in London, the bones of one of the men who judged him were dug up in New Haven, Connecticut. That man, John Dixwell, is my seven greats grandfather and the subject of my forthcoming book: Regicide in the Family: Finding John Dixwell.

John Dixwell’s grave behind Center Church in New Haven, Connecticut

Dixwell had hidden under an assumed name for decades. When he died in 1689 he wanted his grave marked only with a small stone and his initials, so British soldiers wouldn’t desecrate the grave. They did this anyway, but after the Revolutionary War, regicides had morphed from murderers to heroes in the eyes of many in the young United States of America. Three of Dixwell’s descendants, my great great grandfather Epes Sargent Dixwell and his brothers John and George, wanted to honor him with an elegant obelisk describing his deeds. It still stands, directly behind Center Church on the New Haven Green.

The day they dug Dixwell up, it was very early morning. No one wanted to be caught opening a grave, but why resist checking out whatever turned up? They found the top of his skull first. It was in pretty good shape, though the lower jaw had dissolved away. The big bones of his skeleton and most of his toes were in good shape as well, and it was determined that John Dixwell must have been about six feet tall—big for the 17th century.

Tucked under a newspaper, the New York Journal of Commerce, the skull was carried across the Green to be measured by a phrenologist, who thought its shape proved Dixwell had been a violent, combative man who possessed ample energy to consign a king to the executioner’s block.

Then the skull was returned to the rest of the bones and buried beneath the new monument. One side of the obelisk reads:

John DIXWELL, a zealous patriot, a sincere Christian, an honest man; he was faithful to duty through good and through evil report; and having lost fortune, position, and home in the cause of his country, and of human rights, found shelter and sympathy here, among the fathers of New England. His descendants have erected this monument as a tribute of respect to his memory, and as a grateful record of the generous protection extended to him by the early inhabitants of New Haven.


Posted on: Nov. 15, 2021

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