where the writers are
Ancestral Footnote To 'Priceless'

Commenting on my recent blog post about the Pilgrim Fathers, Nicholas Mackey 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.

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 twenty five years 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.

Several weeks 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. In October, 1685, John Trickey was hanged there. (If he was the American John Trickey, his death is recorded in the US as 1686.) 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 me in childhood and early youth has long faded.

Lorna Doone Farm courtesy of David J Rowlatt Photography


2 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Ancestral voices

Fascinating post, Rosy and I am flattered that you have explored in such depth an observation of mine about your ancestry. It reads as an exciting tale and could even serve as the basis for a thrilling historical novel - all based on family history. Something more to think about maybe.

I also read your post with additional interest. You see, your revisiting of the murky past Catholic and Protestant affairs in these islands - often mistakenly referred to as the 'British Isles' - over the centuries was redolent of my own family history at the same time as your ancestral tale at the end of the 17th century. From various documents I have inherited, I have pieced together a story (perhaps with gaps and errors) but as far as I can make out our family forfeited a sizeable landholding in what is now Northern Ireland around 1685 when a (Protestant) ancestor of mine, William Mackey who was a lieutenant in the Londonderry militia and was elected as burgher of that city fell foul of the authorities in London under the (Catholic) King James II and Lt. Mackey was convicted of high treason, lost his estate and was shot dead in a pitched battle by a detachment of the army loyal to King James despatched from nearby County Donegal. All because of religious difference and a power struggle between competing forces vying to be monarch. My ancestor, perhaps like yours, was unlucky in being on the 'losing side' at the time of forfeiting life or property or both, some 328 years ago.

But thank you Rosy for opening up such a fascinating exploration of familial history and how one's ancesters became swept up in the dynamic events of that era.



Comment Bubble Tip

That's amazing, Nicholas!

Thank you very much for sharing the parallels in your own story. That would indeed make a gripping tale! Sadly, there's nothing quite like religious differences for taking on the weight of grievances of any shade and consolidating a sense of righteousness.

Your kind interest in the previous post made me archive what I know of this fragmented thread. Although I feel the strongest ancestral affinity with the West Country, my maternal lines, so far, have proved to be endlessly fascinating and varied, what comes, I expect, of generations of forebears in the Royal Navy voyaging the world.

I'd love to construct a novel, or two - or maybe not novels, even - when I can get a handle on it all. If only there were more Time! I'll need to live a few more decades. Better keep taking the vitamins, I guess! :)