- Historic Sites
The Hunt For The Regicides
They had sent King Charles to the scaffold without remorse. Now they were fugitives in New England with a big price on their heads
December 1964 | Volume 16, Issue 1
Cromwell’s Commonwealth gained for English power abroad a prestige unknown since Elizabeth, but at home it was less successful. Cromwell found it necessary to dismiss the House of Commons as willfully as Charles had done. Alter 1655 he governed through major generals (among them Whalley and Goffe), each commanding a district. They quelled sporadic Royalist uprisings, raised money from reluctant lords, and imposed their Puritan habits on the whole population. England sickened of drab morality and army rule. The dissident factions held together by Cromwell’s strong mixture of God and gunpowder split apart at his death in 1658, and his son, the amiable Richard, had neither the wit nor the will to control them. During the spring of 1660 the Great Experiment staggered to its ruin.
In that year General George Monk, who had been Oliver Cromwell’s trusted lieutenant in Scotland, marched his troops into London, declaring for a free Parliament. From his listening post in the Dutch fortress-city of Breda, wily Charles Stuart, son of the dead king, issued an intention of general amnesty (except for those whom the new Parliament might choose to single out) should he return to the throne. In early May the new Parliament proclaimed Charles king and immediately buckled down to the vengeful business of making exceptions to those covered by the general amnesty. It was a time to flee.
Dixwell waited until Parliament named him specifically as unpardonable. Then, sending word that he was ill and could not surrender until he recovered, he slipped across the Channel and eventually found his way to the prosperous town of Hanau in Prussia.No further word is heard of him until his appearance in the New England colonies five years later. Whalley and Goffe risked no such delay. On May 4, 1660, a few days before Charles was formally proclaimed king, they kissed their families good-bye and took horse for Gravesend, where passage awaited them on the Prudent Mary, bound for Boston. In the streets of Gravesend, they watched with bitterness the proclamation of the restored monarchy. Golfe wrote in his journal that “there was much rejoicing among the people, but God’s people lamented over the great profaneness with which that joy was expressed.” He added darkly, “It was observed that many dogs did that day run mad: and died suddenly in the town.”
On boarding the ship, Whalley and Gofle assumed the names of Edward Richardson and William Stephenson. But they were unused to slinking in a corner and had no regrets tor their part in the King’s death. They did little to conceal their identity from such sympathetic fellow passengers as Captain Daniel Gookin, a prominent member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and William Jones of the New Haven Colony, whose wife was the daughter of one of the colony’s leading citizens. On the morning of July 27 they looked confidently upon the scattered roofs of Boston beside the sunlit channel of the Charles.
The fugitives had some reason for their confidence. Most of the New England colonists had felt, in one way or another, the heel of bishop and king. On this far continent, an ocean away from England, they were continuing the Puritan theocracy which had collapsed at home. England might persuade them but in the end could not coerce them. They were already masters of evasion and delay when orders from the mother country were not to their liking; if Charles was on the throne, let him say so: until then they would follow their natural sympathies. It was no wonder that Governor JoIm Endecott warmly embraced the newcomers, expressing hope that more men of their distinction would lend strength to the colonies.
On the day of their arrival Whalley and Goffe went four miles upriver to Cambridge as guests of Captain Gookin. There they lived openly, their identities well-known. “Colonels Whalley and Goffe were entertained by the magistrates with great solemnity, and feasted in every place, after they were told that they were traitors, and ought to be apprehended,” grumbled a Royalist report to England. John Crowne, a Royalist (he later returned to England and became a famous Restoration playwright) said that the regicides “were treated like men dropped down from heaven.”
They may have felt that way. At the Cambridge church Goffe handed to the minister a piece of paper extolling God’s mercy to them in their many dangers (including the voyage over “the great deeps”) and asking him to offer praise to God in their behalf during prayers.
In the tranquil New England summer, they supped with the Reverend Charles Chauncy, president of Harvard College, and made calls in some of the surrounding towns. The general opinion was that they were sober, righteous, and godly men. (Present-day America offers no parallel to this reception: but imagine, by way of very rough analogy, that John Wilkes Booth escaped safely to Virginia, to be warmly greeted by Jefferson Davis, prayed over in Richmond churches, and sumptuously dined by the president of William and Mary College.)