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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
It was too idyllic to last. While Whalley and Goffe were in Boston to attend a lecture, a newcomer off a Scottish ship insulted them in the streets (the authorities told him to mind his manners or get out of town), and the same ship brought news that all former members of the High Court that had condemned King Charles I were liable to arrest and confiscation of property. It is a measure of colonial opinion that, even then, no one moved to seize Whalley and Goffe; to the contrary, when a violent Royalist named Thomas Breedon complained that the colony was housing traitors, Endecott replied firmly that he would not “meddle with them” without an executive order; and the marshal! general, whose duty it was to arrest thre, grinned in Breedon’s face and taunted him to “speak against Whalley and Goffe if you dare, if you dare!”
This was bold talk for English subjects on English soil. Toward the end of November a ship brought the final Act of Pardon and Oblivion. Whalley and Goffe were among thirty (along with Dixwell) “absolutely excepted” from pardon. This was followed by a specific order to seize the two regicides, who were known to be in the colony. A reward of £100, a lordly sum in those days, was offered for their capture, dead or alive. The last grisly bit of news was that some of the regicides had already been hung—briefly, to get the feel of it—then drawn and quartered while still alive.
The colony’s response to this royal edict was so slow as to amount to connivance. Not until February sa of the year 1661 did increasing apprehension force steps to be taken. On that day the Court of Assistants —the Massachusetts upper chamber, of which Captain Daniel Gookin was a member—met to debate what should be done about the embarrassing guests. Opinion in the council was so divided that no decision was reached, but it had become plain that for their own safety Whalley and Goffe should go to some more remote parts.
On February 26, with an Indian for guide, they set out for New Haven, 160 snowy miles away. On March 8, being assured that the two were safely out of the Massachusetts jurisdiction, Endecott put on a fine show of action. He handed a warrant to the same marshall general who had sneered in Captain Breedon’s face. That gentleman searched diligently as far as Springfield, but had to report, with a smile of satisfaction, that the fugitives were nowhere to be found. In New Haven, the travellers had a friend in William Jones, whom they had met on the Prudent Mary, and found a new supporter in John Davenport, pastor of the New Haven church. Mr. Davenport knew the terrors of flight at first hand. While he had been rector of St. Stephen’s Church in London his Puritan leanings had aroused the suspicion of his bishop, William Laud (later Archbishop of Canterbury), relentless advocate of episcopacy and throne. Davenport had fled to Holland “disguised in a gray suit and overgrown beard.” Later he and other members of his church had chartered a ship in order to seek religious freedom in an isolated corner of New England. One of his first sermons in New Haven prepared his flock for the arrival of political and religious refugees: “Hide the outcasts, betray not him that wandereth,” was the text, from the book of Isaiah.
Two weeks after the Prudent Mary dropped anchor Davenport wrote to Governor John Winthrop, in Hartford, telling him about the distinguished passengers, and wafered this addition to the side of the letter: “It is Commissary-General Whalley, sister Hooke’s brother, and his son-in-law who is with him is Col. Goffe: both godly men and escaped pursuit in England narrowly. I hope to see them here.” “Sister Hooke’s” husband, the Reverend William Hooke, had earlier been Davenport’s assistant in the New Haven church.
On March 7, nine days from Cambridge, the travellers lodged in the comfort of Mr. Davenport’s house, and the town buzzed with the news of their arrival.
Now the chase began in earnest. A pair of young Englishmen—Thomas Kellond, a merchant, and Thomas Kirke, a sea captain—at the moment in Boston with time on their hands, swore to dig the regicides out of hiding. When they offered to make a personal search south of Massachusetts, Governor Endecott could hardly refuse.
Armed with the King’s proclamation and letters from Endecott to the various governors, the two left Boston hot after the fugitives. Pushing at the rate of forty miles a day, they reached Governor Winthrop, of the Connecticut Colony, in Hartford on May 10 and Deputy Governor William Leete, of the New Haven Colony, in Guilford on Saturday, May 11. Leete, in the presence of several local citizens, opened the credentials that Kellond and Kirke handed him and began to read the King’s proclamation aloud. The two Royalists protested that it were better “to be more private in such concernments,” but the damage was done. Everyone within hearing knew their mission.
Leete adopted the Fabian tactics of delay and evasion. He told Kellond and Kirke that he could not permit a search in New Haven without consulting the magistrates of the colony. Fuming, the pursuers demanded fresh horses, in order to press on to New Haven immediately. Leete smoothly agreed, but somehow found unusual difficulty in producing the mounts. As the afternoon waned, Kellond and Kirke saw that they could not reach New Haven, eighteen miles away, before the Sabbath began at sundown and all official business ceased.