Ancestral Footnote To 'Priceless'

Judge Jeffreys

Commenting on my blog post about the Pilgrim Fathers, a reader in another forum asks if I've investigated the line of ancestry which inspires a heartfelt fascination with its theme. The answer is that what has been discovered to date is sketchy. I spend so many hours researching other people's antecedents and piecing their jigsaws together that finding time for my own isn't easy! But there's substantial evidence for what follows:

One branch of my genealogy appears to have sailed for America in the wake of the Mayflower. The family was settled in Newington, New Hampshire, by the 1640s. In 1650, John Trickey was born in Dover, Strafford County, when his mother, Sarah, died in childbirth.

In 1685, after the Battle of Sedgemoor, a forebear, John Trickey, was tried and condemned to death by Judge Jeffreys at the notorious Bloody Assizes in Taunton, Somerset. The West Country was a stronghold of Protestantism which still resonates today. Roman Catholic churches in the South West are thin on the ground.

The Western Rising, as it is sometimes called, was a bid to overthrow the Catholic James II who succeeded to the Throne on the death of his brother, Charles II, in February 1685. However, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, Charles' illegitimate son by his mistress, Lucy Walter, tried to contest the right of his uncle. He had been brought up in Holland, in a climate of Protestant Reformation, where his father had taken refuge during Cromwell's Protectorate after the beheading of his grandfather Charles I. Monmouth saw a chance to exploit his popularity in the region and lost no time in raising an army. His attempt was doomed to failure and he was put to death on July 15th, 1685.

Many will be familiar with Roman Catholic/Protestant struggles down the ages and how they were little to do with religion and everything to do with reactionary forces in the face of power politics. Nothing is as potent as putting an official 'God stamp' on a course of action. It is difficult to convey to those who've never lived here how deep-riven in the history of a group of small islands that can be.

The John Trickey who appears in the list of those executed at Taunton has long been understood to be our ancestor. But it has puzzled researchers that there seems to be no trace of his origins in the British Isles. However, I recently discovered that New World settlers remained zealous about securing Puritanism in the Old Country and that some of the (perhaps fitter) members were ready to return and fight in Monmouth's resistance movement. I'm pretty sure that John Trickey was one of them. One thing that makes me wonder is that the emigrant Trickeys ran a ferry in New Hampshire at a place called Bloody Point. Did that gain its name principally, not from boundary disputes as some have said, but from the Bloody Assizes? Such martyrdom would have underlined the reasons for their gruelling flight across the Atlantic and would be embedded deep in the psyche. Certainly, there were New World bound vessels whose name referenced the bloodthirsty Judge.

One of my father's favourite books was R D Blackmore's Lorna Doone, a tale of those times written in the Victorian era. His own upbringing was in the dissenting Baptist tradition. After much exploration and soul-searching, I was confirmed as an Anglo-Catholic more than a quarter of a century ago. I don't want to go into the hair-split between us and the Roman Church because the liturgy is identical. But an English Catholic would consider me Protestant. Suffice to say that fine lines can become monumental sources of schism when factions reach for arms instead of trying to work towards peaceful solutions side by side. What we experience today is only the palest echo of the past when religious faith was a wholesale way of life and in tune with the seasonal calendar in mansion and hovel. It was the common starting point for whatever personal beliefs might later develop.

A couple of years ago, I visited, for the first time, Stonegallows Hill, Taunton. Exmoor and the apple-green Blackdown Hills tinctured with sanguine reds, bright golds and crisp gingers, stretched far beyond under the shy blue of a November sky. On October 2nd, 1685, John Trickey was hanged there. (If he was the American John Trickey, his death is recorded early in the US as 1686 which is roughly the time span for an Atlantic crossing by returning comrades.) And I reflected on that fateful cause, like so many with which our heritage is studded, and thought that it is the energy and conviction of the sacrifice that lingers and bequeaths the freedoms we enjoy in the twenty-first century. Triumph in our objectives is largely an irrelevance. But sincere endeavour gathers spiritual momentum that rolls on into the future and brings change.

The area is now widely populated and somehow the word 'settlement' has profound connotations. The mysterious nightmare of strangling which plagued my teen years has long faded.

Lorna Doone Farm courtesy of David J Rowlatt Photography