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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
But in Guilford, fretting away the Sabbath, the pursuers seem to have found citizens ready to betray the fugitives. One, a disgruntled fellow whom Leete had once ordered whipped for a misdemeanor, reported that Whalley and Goffe were not only in New Haven but that Leete knew it full well. Others said that Mr. Davenport had taken in a supply of food greatly excessive for his family; that Whalley and Goffe, watching a militia drill, had told the troops that if they had two hundred friends in arms they would snap their fingers at England; and that an Indian runner had already left Guilford to warn Mr. Davenport of the pursuit.
Monday at dawn Kellond and Kirke saddled up for New Haven, “but to our certain knowledge,” they later told Endecott, “one John Meggs was sent on horseback before us.” Governor Leete followed in the course of the morning, and the magistrates, slowly rounded up, argued the matter for six hours, finally deciding that nothing so delicate could be done without a full meeting of the freemen. This would take four more days.
We can imagine that Kellond and Kirke were fit to explode. They warned the stubborn New Haveners that “for theire respect to two Traitors they would do themselves injury and possibly ruine themselves and the whole Colony of New-Haven,” and shaking its rebellious dust from their shoes they went on to search for the regicides in the Dutch settlement at New Amsterdam.
They might have saved their rage. At the news from Guilford, Whalley and Goffe had left town on Saturday and taken refuge in a cave on a rocky bluff nearby, which they called Providence Hill. There, among cyclopean boulders deposited by glaciers of the Ice Age, they found safety, if not comfort. Every day, a farmer left basins of food for them on a stump at the foot of the hill. When the farmer’s small sons, who carried them there, wondered that the basins always vanished and then reappeared empty, the farmer said that someone was working in the woods.
In England, under the royal thumb, sympathizers expressed awe at New Haven’s bravado. The Reverend William Hooke wrote to Davenport: “I am almost amazed sometimes to see what crosse-capers some of you do make. I should breake my shinnes should I do the like.”
Those who harbored Whalley and Goffe were in danger of more than broken shins. By law they were under the same condemnation as traitors—subject to being hung, drawn, and quartered alive, although in the case of ladies the sentence was moderated to burning at the stake. The fugitives offered to surrender themselves rather than bring tragedy upon their protectors.
Persuaded against it, they went to Milford, about nine miles southwest of New Haven, where they lived for three years with one Micah Tompkins, the first two years in utter seclusion “without so much as going into the orchard.” John Davenport knew where they were; so, most certainly, did Benjamin Fenn, the Milford magistrate. Fenn showed the most brazen courage of all. He was one of two New Haven commissioners to the United Colonies, a small advisory body representing Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven. The commissioners met in Plymouth on September 5, 1661, and voted a general order to arrest the regicides. Fenn simply refused to sign it. At the moment Whalley and Goffe were living within a mile of his house.
In the spring of 1664 Charles sent to Boston what amounted to an expeditionary force. Royal agents commanding four ships and 450 troops dropped anchor on April 23 with three grand designs in view: to take possession of New Amsterdam for England, to investigate thoroughly the general condition of the colonies, and to bring Whalley and Goffe home either in chains or in coffins.
The pack was again on the scent; the quarry must run for cover. Whalley and Goffe returned to their cave on Providence Hill. This time Indians chanced upon their hiding place, and, one dark night, a panther screamed noisily before the smoke-blackened entrance. These hazards, together with the onset of winter, decided them to move to Hadley, Massachusetts, a settlement about eighty miles north on the remote frontier of the Connecticut Valley. They travelled only at night. By prearrangement with Mr. Davenport they were received in Hadley by the Reverend John Russell. In one of the sunny upstairs chambers of Mr. Russell’s house, which had a convenient hideway under the floor by the chimney, the hunted men lived for ten years undisturbed.
We shall never know how many hardy souls in Hadley defied royal authority to protect the outcasts. Few secrets can be kept in a frontier community of fifty families where news consists mostly of gossip. With children (including John Russell’s) chattering, and servant girls trading tidbits over the back fence, it seems incredible that all Hadley would not know, and that some wretch, itching for the tantalizing£100, would not have written a letter—one small letter, a few scratches of the pen—to Boston. Yet the fact remains: Whalley and Goffe were never betrayed during their decade in Hadley.