Monday, March 22, 2010

Young Burton

To make up for rudely fact-checking William McClung Paxton's book, I should give him posthumous thanks for gathering and documenting hundreds of Paxton cousins—including the Confederate general and Yale graduate Elisha Franklin Paxton and the Texas pioneer Sam Houston (both cousins of our Paxton forebears). Also, he published this nice picture of Burton Paxton and one of George that I blogged here.

Another family myth shot to hell

Before I learned almost anything else about my family history, I knew -- or thought I knew -- one juicy fact: that one of Clara Paxton's ancestors had officiated at the beheading of Charles I during the English Civil War. This nugget came from a 1903 genealogy called The Paxtons: We Are One by William McClung Paxton. The book outlines the genealogy of a Paxton family that immigrated from Northern Ireland to Pennsylvania and then to Virginia in the 18th century. (Clara, her brother Burton, and their parents George and Grace are actually listed in the book, which also includes photos of George and Burton.) Here's how the Charles I story is reported in the book:
Several centuries of Scottish life had endured [sic] the Paxtons with love of liberty, and with the heroic faith, and piety of John Knox. Of course, they cast their lives and fortune to Cromwell. One of the family officiated at the execution of King Charles I. This may have been James, our ancestor. After the restoration, in 1603, James Paxton fled to County Antrim, in the north of Ireland, and found friends in the Scotch-Irish inhabitants."
The wording "officiated" had always puzzled me. Did it mean he was the executioner? The master of ceremonies? After living in Connecticut for a while and reading more history, I learned more about what happened to Charles I -- and what happened to the men who signed his death warrant after his son, Charles II, was restored to the throne. (Three of those men, known as the regicides, escaped to America and hid out among their Puritan friends in Connecticut. There are three streets in New Haven named for them: Whalley, Dixwell, and Goffe.) In my armchair historian kind of way, I searched in vain for any mention of a Paxton in connection with the story of the execution. Over time, I also learned that a lot of William McClung Paxton's scholarship has been found to be erroneous, if not fanciful, during the century since his book was written.

But my occasional Google searches recently led me to one woman's theory about the Paxton-Charles connection -- that it was just a case of mistaken identity because of vaguely similar names. On a genealogy listserv, Joanne writes:
[N]o Paxton was recorded as being present at the time of the execution of King Charles I. It was Dr. William JUXON -- not Paxton -- who was present and officiated at Charles' execution in in January 1649. Juxon was a well-know clergyman, the Bishop of London, and appointed as Lord Treasurer of England.
But wait a minute. The Bishop of London and Lord Treasurer of England would have been an ally of the king's. So maybe "officiate" means something different in this case. Off to Wikipedia's entry on William Juxon (that's their picture of him above):

During the Civil War, the bishop, against whom no charges were brought in parliament, lived undisturbed at Fulham Palace. His advice was often sought by the king, who had a very high opinion of him. The king selected Juxon to be with him on the scaffold and to offer him the last rites before his execution.
So he was that kind of officiant, acting in a priestly capacity. If this is in fact the story, it's hard to see how William McClung Paxton could have gotten it more wrong. Too bad. I liked having a bad-ass regicide in the family.