Metro

An 18th-century ring is discovered in Marblehead, and a family mystery is solved

Gayle Griffiths Fraser recently rediscovered a ring dating to 1737.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Gayle Griffiths Fraser recently rediscovered a ring dating to 1737.

On May 28, 1949, John Griffiths was tending his backyard garden in Marblehead when he made an amazing discovery. As he turned the soil over with his spade, he noticed something shiny in the dirt. He reached down to pick it up. It was a gold ring.

The inscription inside the ring included the initials “JD,” the number “85,” and the date August 1737. Griffiths consulted with local historians, who examined the ring. They determined it was a “mourning ring” that had been made in memory of a man named John Dixey, who once lived in that part of town and died in August 1737 at the age of 85.

Griffiths held onto the ring, and life went on.

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Years later, his daughter Gayle asked whether she could see it. Griffiths said he’d show the ring to her someday, but just never did. John Griffiths passed away in 2002. And his daughter, Gayle Griffiths Fraser, 67, never forgot about that ring. One day, she mentioned it to her friend, Dan Dixey. Dixey, 64, had known Griffiths Fraser’s father for many years. A Marblehead native, Dixey was a local historian with deep family roots in town going back 12 generations.

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“Did my father ever mention to you something about a ring?” she asked.

No, he replied.

Gayle Griffiths Fraser and Dan Dixey.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Gayle Griffiths Fraser and Dan Dixey.

The fate of the ring remained a mystery, and Griffiths Fraser continued to wonder what happened to it, until she made an amazing discovery on her own. On May 28, she went downstairs to her basement to do some spring cleaning and started looking through a box of her father’s belongings. Inside the box was a clear plastic bag containing an old newspaper clipping from June 1949. The article was from the Wakefield Daily Item, and the headline read: “Ring In Garden Holds History Lesson and tells of Old Custom.” It told the story about her father finding the mourning ring buried in their backyard. Inside the clear plastic bag was also a little plastic box. She opened it up, and lo and behold, there was the 281-year-old ring. “It was unbelievable. I was screaming,” she said. “I found it on May 28 — 69 years to the day that my father found it.”

Gayle Griffiths Fraser held the ring, which she gave to Dan Dixey (left).
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Gayle Griffiths Fraser held the ring, which she gave to Dan Dixey (left).

The very next morning, she sent Dixey an e-mail saying: “Hallelujah, I found the ring.” Griffiths Fraser said she was excited to find the ring after all these years, and she was even more excited to give the ring to Dixey.

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“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It’s kind of still sinking in.”

Dixey confirmed that the ring was made in memory of his eighth great grand uncle, John Dixey.

“I do a lot of research, and to see a piece of Marblehead history — and a piece of family history — that goes back to that time period is unbelievable,” he said.

“Thank you doesn’t even cover it,” he said.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.