Had three regicides fled somewhere other than New Haven Plantation, Connecticut might look a lot different today.
The three Puritan ‘king-killers’ who opposed King Charles I were among the 59 commissioners who sat in judgment of him and signed his death warrant. Charles was beheaded on Jan. 30, 1649, but the governments that succeeded him only lasted 11 years. His son Charles II became king on his 30th birthday, May 29, 1660, and sought revenge for his father’s killers.
About 20 regicides were executed. Some were drawn and quartered. Some fled to the Continent, but three fled to the Puritan colony of New Haven in 1661, where they expected to find refuge. They did.
After the Restoration, Edward Whalley and William Goffe fled together to North America, landing in Boston. John Dixwell went to New Haven. He made the better choice.
John Dixwell, Regicide
John Dixwell was a colonel in the Parliamentary army and a member of four parliaments. When he arrived in New Haven Colony, it had been a staunch Puritan plantation since 1637. Over time it included Milford, Guilford, Stamford and Branford.
Dixwell immediately went undercover, assuming the name John Davids. Royalists in England believed he died, and never searched for him. He settled in a house near his friend the Rev. James Pierpont, an ancestor of Aaron Burr and J.P. Morgan. In 1673 he married widow Joanna Ling, and four years later he married Bathsheba How. They had a son and two daughters.
Regicides on the Lam
Edward Whalley fought under Oliver Cromwell, his cousin, during the English Civil War as a lieutenant general.
William Goffe married Whalley’s daughter Frances and became a major general in Cromwell’s army. Politically radical and deeply religious, he was known as ‘Praying William.’ After the Restoration, he and Whalley fled together to North America.
On July 27, 1660, they arrived in Boston, where they knew Increase Mather and Daniel Gookin. Gov. John Endecott received them warmly. They thought themselves safe and lived openly in Cambridge, believing rumors that all but seven of the regicides would receive pardons. Those turned out to be false.
As the new Parliament debated what to do with people who committed crimes (including king killing) during the Interregnum, Endecott began to wonder whether he should have greeted the regicides with open arms. On Feb. 22, 1661, he gathered a court of assistants to discuss whether to arrest the two men. Whalley and Goffe decided to head south. They left on February 26, and orders for their arrest arrived from Barbados on March 8.
The Regicides in New Haven
Whalley and Goffe arrived in New Haven two days after Boston magistrates received the royal order for their arrest. They hid out with a sympathetic minister, the Rev. John Davenport. When the news of their arrest orders arrived, they made a show of leaving for Milford, but returned secretly to New Haven that night. For two months they stayed with Davenport and other sympathizers as royal agents swept the countryside in search of them.
New Haven Gov. William Leete received the orders for their arrest in Guilford, but Leete sympathized with the regicides and delayed the king’s agents. That gave Whalley and Goffe enough time to escape and hide out in Judges Cave, where they lived most of the summer.
In August they moved to a house in Milford, where they lived for two years until their hideout was discovered. They moved back to the cave until Indians found them. On Oct. 13, 1663, they set out for western Massachusetts, traveling only by night. They arrived in Hadley, Mass., where the Rev. John Russell sheltered them. Goffe managed to exchange letters with his wife, still in England. She sent him money.
In 1665, King Charles II punished New Haven for protecting the regicides. He merged the colony with Connecticut.
Angel of Hadley
During King Philip’s War, Indians attacked Hadley. According to legend, all seemed lost until a powerful-looking old man with a white beard and a sword appeared. He rallied the militia in a successful defense against the Indians and then disappeared. There is reason to believe the Angel of Hadley was William Goffe.
Edward Whalley is believed to have died in 1675 in Hadley. Goffe is believed to have died in Hartford some years later.
John Dixon died on March 18, 1689, in New Haven.
A seven-mile hiking trail in Connecticut’s West Rock Ridge State Park is called The Regicides Trail. Judges Cave, where they hid, is near the south end of the trail, which is within New Haven, Hamden, Woodbridge and Bethany. For more information, click here.
This story about the regicides was updated in 2023.
Images: View from Regicides Trail By Tebersold – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17592991.