Giving it all up

Major John Fenwick

Major John Fenwick

Major John Fenwick was, like my great etc uncle George Fenwick, an officer in the the parliamentatian army, who saw active service during the civil war and then, a couple of weeks before the trial of King Charles I, was given the task of commanding his squadron of cavalry, in conjunction with the foot troops, to keep order at the King’s execution (the commission was dated 13th January 1648).  John was a barrister as well as a soldier, and it might well have struck him that this order was hardly consistent with the presumption of innocence.  Anyway, he did what he was asked to do, the King was duly convicted and beheaded, and order was duly kept during the execution process.

There is an engraving which shows John on his horse, looking a bit debonair.  But a bit more digging discloses that this image is in fact a small detail from a larger and later work, by John Vanderbank, engraved as ‘The Apotheosis, or, Death of the King’ (‘The Beheading of King Charles I’) by Bernard Baron.  This was  done in 1728, by which time the execution was regarded as a Very Bad Thing. The full picture shows the king being wafted up to heaven by angels, with some cherubs giving a helping push from underneath, whilst Britannia, at the bottom left, looks away in dispair. Vanderbank was German, and Baron was French, so it perhaps unsurprising that the there is a certain continental melodrama about the whole thing, with the king in particular putting on a ridiculious performance that is quite alien to the stiff upper lip which the English royalty actually display. Major John Fenwick is to be seen in the bottom right of the picture.

Beheading of King Charles

John might well have felt bad about his part in the whole affair; he gave it all up, left the Army, became a quaker and took himself and his family off to New Jersey, where he founded the new colony of Salem.  We do not know what he thought about the indians he would have found there, but we do know that John Fenwick In Salemhe was, by modern standards, a racist, and was appalled that his 19 year old granddaughter Elizabeth Fenwick Adams married, or at least associated herself with, a black man, a Mr Gould. In his will, made shortly before his death in 1683, John excluded Elizabeth from any inheritance, unless she got rid of Gould, in which case his executors was instructed to give her 500 acres:

Item: I do except against Elizabeth Adams of having any the least part of my estate, unless the Lord open her eyes to see her abominable transgression against him, me and her good father, by giving her true repentance, and forsaking that Black that hath been the ruin of her, and becoming penitent for her sins; upon that condition only I do will and require my executors to settle five hundred acres of land upon her.

  1. The lure of the 500 acres seems to have worked, for later that year, on 23rd August 1683, Elizabeth Fenwick Adams married the much more acceptable (not black) Anthony Windsor.  Whether she entirely threw over Mr Gould is less certain; tradition has it that she fathered 5 children by him[1].

A memorial to John stands on the Salem Woodsetown Road near Manningham; the inscription reads:

Founder of New Salem


First permanent English settlement on the Delaware

Here at Fenwicke Grove lies buried



Late Abslolute Lord of Cheife Propriatary by law and survivership of New Cessaria or New Jerssie and now of Fenwicke Collony

Fenwicke’s will, Aug. 7, 1683

The government to stand upon these two basis or leges, viz.

1. The defence of the royal law of god, his name and true worship, which is in spirit and in truth

2. The good, peace, and welfare of every individual person

Concessions 8th, 1, 1674-5

This memorial dedicated July 4, 1924


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