Thursday, May 9, 2013


Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Darwin, and the bubonic plague ...what these unlikely subjects have in common can be found in the records of St. Chad's Church, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.  And our connection with this unlikely trio...?  It is revealed in the family history of Mary Hawxhurst, wife of Robert Coles. (see previous post)
Mary and her brother Christopher emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.  They were 'preacher's kids.'
a royal proclamation for the suspension of a public event due to plague, 1637
ST. CHAD'S CHURCH -a little history
St. Chad's before the 1788 collapse and new building
There has been a church honoring St. Chad at Shrewsbury since medieval times. In the 7th century, Bishop Chad is credited with bringing Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and was later canonized as a saint.    

Mary's grandfather and my 11th great grandfather, St. Chad's Curate Christopher Hawxhurst (1524-1576), had been educated at St. John's, the Evangelist College in Cambridge and was early into his career during the time of Queen Elizabeth's accession in 1558.  The protestant movement she desired in Shropshire depended upon evangelism that would be supported by a new preaching ministry.  According to researcher, Bill Champion in 'Religion in Tudor Shrewsbury in Depth', reformist connections made while at college may have helped to forge Christopher's appointment as Curate at St. Chad's through his influential Cambridge colleagues.  These connections also appear to have helped him to gain earlier employment as schoolmaster to Lord Darnley. (aka Henry Stuart who would become the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots and father of the future King James I)

During the 1570's outbreaks of the bubonic plague resurfaced in England.  By 1574, Cambridge was struck.  Next was Stamford where 40 victims were buried between August and September, 1575.  The disease invaded Shrewsbury in 1576.  In an effort to battle the flea- and air-borne disease, 'bailiffs ordered all swine and dogs to be removed from the town, all cats to be killed, the streets and alleyways to be cleaned regularly by the townsfold, and fires to be lit every other night in numerous places in every street.' (from A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles, J.F.D. ShrewsburyDespite these precautions, the disease took its toll and among the dead that summer was the curate of St. Chad's, Christopher Hawxhurst, leaving behind a 5-year old son, (my 10th GGF) Sampson.

Years later, Sampson Hawxhurst received annual stipends from the town bailiff's accounts to help defray college expenses while he studied at Oxford.  The esteem held for Sampson's father is evident in records that show that the money was given in his memory -more than thirteen years after his death -paid to Mr. Sampson Hawxhurst, 1589, 'toward his preferment in learning in respect to his father's pains and travell in our town, 5 pounds.'  Sampson went on to earn his BA in 1593 and BD from Magdalen Hall in 1607.  The following year he became Canon of Lichfield (1608-1626) after which he briefly held the post of Vicar of Nuneaton in Warwickshire before dying in 1627.  He left behind three grown children: William, Christopher, and our ancestor Mary.  A few years following his death (and, possibly the death of their mother) Mary, 28, and her brother Christopher, 26, set sail for America.

The 'borrowed' tombstone of "Ebenezer Scrooge" used as a prop in the 1984 movie 'A Christmas Carol' still lies in St Chad's graveyard; the tombstone is authentic -note original, time-worn inscriptions at bottom.  It was reported that someone working for the production was given permission to use the very weathered stone in shooting the movie's cemetery scenes; whether church permission was granted for inscribing the fictional name over the centuries-old epitaph of a real dead person is not known .  

"Scrooge" headstone in forefront; St. Chad's graveyard, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England;
click HERE for link to interactive tour of the beautiful 1790 church of St. Chads
Portrait of famous parishioner, naturalist Charles Darwin -baptized at St. Chad's in 1809
 With his childhood founded in faith and his adulthood founded in science, he became a 'dissenter' of a different kind whose writings included revolutionary thoughts that continue to challenge fundamental Christian beliefs:  'to admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown, cause. It makes the work of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore.' (from Origins of the Species)
[5/2013 Note: according to Kathryn Burningham, parish administrator at St. Chad's Church, Shrewsbury, the name of Christopher Hawxhurst is included in a list of former pastors on the main board as you enter the church.  The date listed next to his name is 1558.]

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