Axtell Family OrganizationThe Axtell Heritage

An Address

by Silas B. Axtell, Hon. President of the Axtell Family Organization
given at the dinner in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Carson Augustus Axtell at the Second Quintennial Meeting, August 22, 23 and 24, 1952, at Longfellow's famous Wayside Inn, restored by Henry Ford, at South Sudbury, Massachusetts. [Transcribed from a booklet of the same name. Transcriber's Note: It seems doubtful that Johannes Axstyl was the grandfather of Thomas Axtell of Sudbury as presented here. Johannes signed a deed in 1535 and Thomas was christened in 1619. Perhaps Johannes was the great-grandfather of Thomas.
Also: Henry's wife is identified mistakenly in the conclusion as Susan Merriam rather than Hannah. Susan is Hannah's mother.-DGA]

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	Love of freedom and an insistence on the inalienable right of man to 
self government has been a characteristic principle of the Axtell family for 
many, many hundred years.
	As long ago as 1327, Sir Ralph Axcil (a mediaeval spelling of the 
name) is listed as one of the English knights who resisted payment of excessive 
taxes to the Pope--an early ecclesiastical levy known as the Taxation of 
Nicholas IV, instituted in Rome in 1284.
	Thus, six hundred and twenty-five years ago, we perceive a spark of 
the Axtell fire for freedom which eventually blazed up in Oliver Cromwell's 
Commonwealth. In that social conflagration the indomitable Colonel Daniel 
Axtell lost his life on the gallows of Tyburn Hill; his brother Thomas, our 
direct progenitor, was driven to Massachusetts. But although we Axtells 
suffered personally, the ancient theory of the Divine Right of Kings was utterly 
obliterated, and the right of human beings to self-government was absolutely 
sustained. Then really began government of, by and for the people.
	Clearly to understand the reason for the revolt of the English people 
against the throne in the Seventeenth Century one must examine the historical 
background of the age. The revolt for the cause of freedom explicitly 
demanded the demolition of the fantastic, yet stubbornly persisting theory of 
the Divine Right of Kings.
	This theory had existed in England in some degree ever since the 
Norman Conquest. Its foundation was the assumption that a king derives his 
sovereign powers directly from God. We do not think this today. Men called 
Axtell are recorded as rejecting it four hundred years ago. Of this specific 
instance, more later. We sketch now the England of the immediate 
predecessors of the first King Charles.
	Following the sanguine civil Wars of the Roses which put Henry VII in 
undisputed power, just previous to the discovery of America, this period was 
the zenith of the European Renaissance; the reawakening of art, intellect and 
exploration. Here we have Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo; the hardly 
less famous Raphael and Titian; the shrewd Machiavelli was interpreting the 
Borgia brand of political science; while Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, 
Balboa and Ponce de Leon, Verrezano--and not forgetting Amerigo Vespucci-
-were, for the first time in history, sailing the seas of the world. And William 
Caxton, at this time, invented the printing press, to bring knowledge to all 
mankind. Even mighty monarchs, tolerant or tyrannous, caught the trend of the 
times and encouraged their subjects to act independently; richly rewarded their 
	And in that great era, as Henry VIII succeeded his father, international 
relations and friendships were growing throughout Europe from Land's End, 
Cornwall, to the Byzantine Golden Horn. Young King Henry, lusty and gay, 
emphasized his sovereign goodwill in a superlatively magnificent visit to the 
King of France, marked by lavish love-feasts and chivalric tournaments on the 
Field of the Cloth of Gold.
	Meanwhile the sanguine young English monarch had cemented 
international harmony--momentarily at least--by marrying the widow of his 
deceased brother, Catherine of Aragon, daughter of the King of Spain. The 
three leading nations of western Europe were, for once, at peace. Yet--and 
soon this was to change---the three leading nations, as well as all the rest of 
civilized Europe, were still Roman Catholic. The Pope, on the Throne of St. 
Peter in Rome, was paramount.
	Then came Martin Luther, with his notable counsel, Melancthon. And, 
immediately thereafter, John Calvin. And also--quite incidental but ultimately 
vastly significant and consequential--the inability of the hapless Queen 
Catherine to produce a male heir to the English throne.
	How much Henry VIII was influenced in his break with the Pope by his 
desire for divorce, or how much he was impelled to this drastic move by his 
perception of the rising resentment of his people against the Church of Rome, 
is a record which may never be accurately evaluated. At any rate, Henry 
himself--again employing the Divine Right of Kings (as he interpreted it) 
proclaimed the divorce himself. He, along with almost the whole of his local 
hierarchy of bishops, was excommunicated. So he married Anne Boleyn. At the 
time of his second marriage Henry's only heir was his baby daughter, Mary; 
half English, half Spanish, wholly pertinaciously Roman Catholic.
	The married misadventures of King Henry VIII are no part of this 
story, save that eventually three heirs to the throne were produced: Queen 
Mary I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon; Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of the 
soon-decapitated Anne Boleyn; and the fragile and short-lived Edward VI, son 
of the third wife, Jane Seymour. Roman Catholics today date the severance of 
England from Rome as the epochal year of 1534. Protestantism controlled 
	Within a year from that date we come upon the record of the action of 
a certain Johannes Axstyl, of Gatesden, Berkhamstead, Herts. John Axstyl was 
a Roman Catholic monk of the Order of Augustinians, Father Martin Luther 
had been a monk; of the Augustinian Order in Germany. The spiritual 
connection seems obvious. Anyhow, in 1535, John Axstyl was no longer a 
Roman Catholic or an Augustinian. In that year his signature appears upon a 
document which conveyed the Gatesden monastery to the English king. This 
ancestral Axtell, Protestant now, presently married, and in St. Peter's Church, 
Berkhamstead, Herts., we see today the baptismal records of John, son of John 
Axtell (as he now signed himself) in the year 1539; and of William, son of John 
Axtell, in 1541, forbears of Daniel (Reg.) and his brother Thomas who settled 
here in Sudbury.
	Whatever may have been the personal peculiarities and peccadilloes of 
Henry VIII, it is undisputed that he, with the hearty support of the vast 
majority of his people, officially established Protestantism as the British faith. 
Moreover, throughout his reign freedom of religion--except Catholicism--was 
carefully guarded; men worshipped God when and how they pleased. Henry's 
only son, Edward VI, during his brief six years of reign, upheld his father's 
	Then came Queen Mary--known as Bloody Mary to Protestants ever 
since. She reigned for only five years but wreaked slaughter and confusion 
throughout England.
	Mary was the embittered daughter of the staunchly Catholic Queen 
Catherine. She was the granddaughter of the ever-Catholic King of Spain. So 
when Mary came to power it is not hard to understand her ruthless 
determination to establish Roman Catholicism once more. At any rate, the 
cruelty of her five short years of reign is unparalleled in English history; with 
the axe, with the rope, and at the stake she executed at least three hundred of 
the English Protestant leaders. Bishops Latimer and Ridley; Thomas Cranmer 
himself, Archbishop of Canterbury and author of "The Book of Common 
Prayer" were burned at the stake.
	Then, immediately upon the ascension of the superb Elizabeth--Mary's 
hated and persecuted half-sister--everything was altered again. Queen 
Elizabeth had a mind and a soul and an unconquerable resolution to make 
England great. It was a superhuman task, but Elizabeth never faltered; she 
pulled her people together into almost unanimous accord. Religion was free 
once more; the right to write and speak as one pleased. Shakespeare, Kit 
Marlowe, Bell Jonson gave us their inimitable plays.
	Most important of all for the impoverished and now isolated England, 
commerce began to thrive. British sailing ships traversed all the known oceans; 
and the fighting admirals, Drake and Hawkins; Raleigh and Frobisher sailed 
their diminutive warships to farthest savage lands and across seas hitherto 
unseen. Spain made one colossal effort to restore its dominion of the sea, but 
its great Armada perished. At the day of the death of the great Queen Elizabeth 
in 1603, England was altogether independent and unequivocally Protestant.
	But now a tricky situation confronted the British electorate. There had 
always been a definite undercurrent of question as to Queen Elizabeth's right to 
the throne, on account of the dubious character and circumstances of her 
mother's marriage to Henry VIII--divorce being a brand-new invention in that 
day. Indeed, the serious misgivings of many of Elizabeth's most loyal adherents 
had impelled her to execute her own first cousin, the Catholic Mary, Queen of 
	Henry Tudor (Henry VII) had left a son, Henry VIII and a daughter 
Margaret, who married James V, King of Scotland. Their child, Mary, Queen 
of Scots, was thus, not only the daughter of the King of Scotland but the 
granddaughter of the King of England. No one ever questioned the legitimacy 
of Mary, Queen of Scots, or of her royal son, now proposed as James I of 
England as well as James VI of Scotland. But was this James English? Was he 
even Protestant? His mother had lived--and died--a devout Roman Catholic! 
One may imagine the uneasiness, the downright scepticism, of many, many 
English folk.
	Withal, James I did become king. And a wary, clever, tolerant monarch 
he proved to be, whatever may have been his innermost conviction--
particularly his devotion to that flimsy, outworn doctrine of the Divine Right of 
Kings. One of the new King James' very first actions was the appointment of a 
group of leading English scholars to make a complete translation of the Latin 
version of the Bible (the Vulgate) into colloquial English, so that every man 
who could read might learn the word for himself. One may imagine the 
immediate popularity of such a move, for too many centuries free-minded 
Englishmen had chafed at the necessity of accepting their religion from the 
Roman Catholic Church--from that Church only. Men wished to read and 
study and learn of God's truth for themselves. Now, by royal decree, they 
	Save, however, for this single enlightened gesture, the reign of James 
First was historically barren. within the kingdom itself there was governmental 
demoralization, with its inevitable corollary, an ever-mounting national debt. 
When James' son, King Charles I, came to the throne he faced no sunny future.
	Charles, personally a brave and able man, sincerely wished to restore 
England's prestige; but his inexorable stubbornness, his fanatical devotion to 
the musty '"Divine Right of Kings" worked dreadfully to his undoing.
	At the very beginning of Charles' reign, as part of his plan to restore 
England's greatness, an inadequate fleet was despatched against the Spanish 
port of Cadiz. It failed. Within another year England was also embroiled in a 
war with France. The port of LaRochelle was attacked, the English were 
repulsed. English warships, once so deadly, were bottled up in home harbors. 
England was confined to its own narrow insular limits for self-support.
	So hapless King Charles' only recourse--as he saw it--was the 
imposition, legal or not, of ever-increasing tax levies against his own subjects. 
These taxes inevitably alienated many of the prosperous Royalists who had 
enthusiastically contrived the House of Stuart's return.
	Thus, two years after the king's accession, six wealthy knights refused 
to subscribe to one of Charles' many forced loans. Without process of law the 
knights were locked up in Fleet Prison. Habeas Corpus Writs were issued 
ordering their release. The warden of the prison--"by special order of His 
Majesty"--refused to let them go.
	This was but the first of many such illegal imprisonments. Little by 
little, public anger grew. The rights of British citizens, guaranteed four hundred 
years previously by Magna Charta, were tenaciously cherished; particularly that 
section which provided that: "no man shall be imprisoned ... or in any way 
destroyed ... except by lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land." 
So Parliament, until then favorable to the king, rose in almost unanimous 
protest, Charles fell back upon his obsolete obsession as to the "Divine Right 
of Kings"--that a king derived his powers directly from God, and that 
Parliament existed only by his (the King's) grace. The knights remained in jail; 
were joined there by their most fiery defender, the Parliamentary leader, Sir 
John Eliot. Sir John Eliot died in jail. Thus for fifteen years the king managed, 
however illegally, to maintain his control, calling and dissolving parliaments at 
his will and whim.
	In such an atmosphere our notable ancestor, Colonel Daniel Axtell, was 
born and raised. Very early in his life he seems to have become convinced of 
the righteousness of the Parliamentary Cause. He joined Cromwell's 
insurrectionary army in 1643. He rose by merit and hard experience of many 
battles to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He was junior in command of Colonel 
Thomas Pride in the action famous as "Pride's Purge", when one hundred 
royalist members of Parliament, who had refused to concur in majority rule, 
were expelled from the House of Commons. Subsequently Colonel Axtell--as 
we all know--commanded the Parliamentary Guard at King Charles' capital 
trial in Westminster Hall. Colonel Daniel Axtell was then 27 years old.
	For the next ten years he was constantly close to the protector, Oliver 
Cromwell; the greatest of poets, John Milton; John Bunyan, of "Pilgrim's 
Progress"; and all the other champions of the Puritan Cause. All this time, 
Prince Rupert, the dead king's nephew, from his base on the continent, was 
harassing Cromwell's Army. Colonel Axtell was constantly employed 
combatting these raids, and, northwards, subduing occasional forays of the 
recalcitrant royalist Scots. He accompanied Cromwell on several Irish 
expeditions, and was Governor of the Province of Kilkenny. He retired then, 
for a while, from the army, and went home for a quiet life in Berkhamstead.
	'There he might have remained in safety had not his inflexible principles 
prompted him to volunteer to fight the return of the royal Stuarts to the last 
ditch. Quixotically (some might hold) he rushed to join General Lambert in the 
last hopeless battle, which was fought on Easter Sunday, 1660, at Daventry. 
Vastly outnumbered, the Republican Army had no chance. The conviction and 
execution of Colonel Daniel Axtell inevitably followed. (Historians of that day 
meticulously reported the entire trial.)
	And even though he sacrificed his life, the work which Colonel Axtell 
had done in helping to thwart the autocratic power of the misguided King 
Charles gave the English people a spiritual leadership in the world far more 
significant than the concurrent economic development which marked the 
Commonwealth period. England's revived navy again swept the seas; 
international treaties and trade bound together all Western Europe.
	Of Colonel Axtell's utter devotion to the concept of the inherent 
freedom of man there can be no doubt. One needs only rehearse his last words. 
In the hangman's cart, with the rope around his neck, he prayed aloud: "I 
believe in all things written in the Old and New Testaments as the principles 
and doctrines of a believer's faith. I believe the blessed ordinances of Christ; 
that it is our duty to hear the word preached, to seek unto God in prayer; and 
to perform family duties and walk in communion with the Saints".
	Such principles have been the birthright of the many generations of 
Axtells who have followed Colonel Daniel and his brother, Thomas Axtell of 
Sudbury. And we Axtells here now are asking the people who kept the home 
fires burning at Sudbury to permit us to set up an appropriate memorial in this 
historic town to record the names of Thomas Axtell and his 25 immediate 
descendants, soldiers in the armed forces of the rebellious colonists--five 
named Daniel after the regicide, three named Thomas after his brother and our 
ancestor who again proclaimed the sovereignty of individual men and women.
	Through the searching perseverance of Carson A. Axtell you have 
helped restore the graves and stones of Daniel, 3-5, born in Marlboro, 
November 4, 1673, and Daniel, 4-9, and four other Axtells born before 1730, 
at the old Fox Cemetery, Berkeley, Mass.
	I have always agreed with Senator Taft that the Nuremburg Trials 
proceeded on error. The defenses of Daniel indicates that he possessed the 
common sense of John Marshall, for he said: "I came to the trial of Charles I, 
not voluntarily, but by command of the General, who had a commission from 
Parliament. I was no councillor, no contriver, I was no parliamentary man, 
none of the judges, none that sentenced, signed, none that had a hand in the 
execution, only that which is charged is that I was an officer in the army." The 
Chief Justice complimented him on his manifest diligence in the study of law, 
but with his associates overruled his plea, deciding that the command of a 
superior officer constituted no excuse, for the superior officer whom he obeyed 
was a traitor and all that joined him were traitors.
	The result was certain from the first. The prisoner, finding his argument 
of no avail, said: "I leave all to the jury in whose hands I and my little ones and 
my family are left." The jury as well as the court could he trusted for their part, 
and so they brought in a verdict of guilty. The old account goes on to say, 
"returning from his trial at court to his prison with a cheerful countenance and 
his wife coming to him full of trouble, he said to her "not a tear, wife, what 
hurt can they have done me, to send me sooner to Heaven." Evidence of 
greater faith in life hereafter to me is unknown.

	His brother Thomas, a grandson of the Monk, Johannes Axstyl, who 
turned the Gatesden Monastery at Berkhamstead, England, over to Henry 
VIII, came to Sudbury in 1642, according to the Hudson history of Sudbury, 
with his little son Henry, who later married Susan Merriam
 [sic--should be Hannah] of Kent who was 
survived by 3 sons, Samuel, Thomas and Daniel, and 3 daughters, Hannah, 
Mary and Sarah. Henry was killed in King Phillip's War, 1676, and his remains 
are buried in a community grave nearby.
	Henry's son, Thomas, born at Marlboro, April 16, 1672, married Sarah 
Barker of Concord. He moved to Grafton in 1730. He had 5 sons and 2 
daughters who married in these parts. One of his sons, Daniel, went to South 
Carolina where Lady Elizabeth Axtell, widow of the regicide, had sought 
	Daniel, the other son of grandson of Thomas had 10 children only 3 of 
whom were girls, Elizabeth, the oldest, born April 28, 1703, then came Daniel, 
Rebecca, Hannah, William, Henry, Samuel, Ebenezer, Thankful and Thomas, 
Sept. 15, 1727.
	Daniel of Marlboro, grandson of Thomas, married the daughter of 
Elder Pratt of the First Parish Church. Other Axtell ancestors married 
Dightons, Maynards, Fairbanks, Shermans, Haydens, Babitts, Giles, Coopers, 
Burts, Tobeys, Reeds, Fosters, Baldwins, Dodds, Lintons, Daniels, 
Whitemores, Knoxs, Leonards and Brames during the first four generations in 
Marlboro and nearby counties of Massachusetts before 1775.
	We do not have complete records of all the children and marriages of 
all the children of Henry, but we know they married into the families of the 
people of their parts and produced 5 Daniels, 3 Thomases, 3 Henrys and 13 
others who served in the Colonial forces between 1775-1776.
	Some of them stormed Stony Point, some starved and froze through 
the cold winter at Valley Forge, some fired from behind the rocks and trees at 
Concord and Bunker Hill. All voted to create this Union and fought to 
preserve the Union under Lincoln, and we all will defend it forever as long as 
we live.
	While we Axtells in America have never produced a President, we have 
a record--from Maine to California--of a fair name and solid constructive 
citizenship. A territorial governor, many legislators, prominent attorneys and 
doctors, teachers, ministers and soldiers stem from the first Thomas of 
Sudbury. And as pioneers and farmers the Axtell family has done more than its 
share in the colossal development of the United States. Always independent, 
essentially progressive, the Axtells have been always aware that "Where there 
is no vision the people perish". Axtells have vision. They have not perished.

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This address is reprinted from a booklet that also has some remarks by Paul H. Axtell with some photographs and biographies of the officers of the AFO along some other bits of information.

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Last revised on 1-7-96 by Dan Axtell