- 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
By way of sickening contrast, see what a turncoat New Englander, George Downing, did to three regicides in Holland. Downing came of good colonial stock (his uncle had been Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts), but after graduating from Harvard in 1642 (with the first class), he went to England, where, no doubt, opportunities were greater. There Colonel John Okey, a leader of the Puritan revolt, befriended him and made him chaplain of his regiment. As Cromwell’s agent in Holland, Downing spied very efficiently on Charles and his meager court at Breda. Then, when he saw that the Restoration was inevitable, Downing went over secretly to the Stuart cause, feeding official information to Charles, for which he was rewarded by remaining as Charles’ minister to Holland after 1660. His friend and mentor, Colonel Okey, together with another escaped regicide, John Barkestead, applied for permission to come into Holland from Hanau. Colonel Okey wrote to inquire of his trusted comrade-in-arms if he would be safe in Holland. Downing replied that he had no order to molest them, “and they might be as free and safe there as himself.” As soon as they arrived, he arranged their arrest and also picked up Miles Corbet, another regicide, who had come to welcome them. All three went back to England in chains, to a brutal death. Even Samuel Pepys, stout Royalist that he was, scorned Downing as “a perfidious rogue.” Fortunately for Whalley and Goffe, Hadley had no George Downing.
John Dixwell, the quiet one, had not joined Okey and Barkestead on their fatal venture into Holland. With his genius for survival, he had stayed in Hanau, where he had become a burgess. On February 10, 1665, travelling under the name of James Davids, he appeared in Hadley, visited his old comrades for a time, and vanished as silently as he had come. It will be eight years before we see him again.
After 1667 Goffe gave up keeping a ciphered diary (it was destroyed when a mob sacked Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s Boston house in 1765) but continued a steady correspondence. The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston sent Goffe’s letters to England under cover of his own. Goffe wrote to his wife, pretending that he was Walter Goldsmith, and that she was his mother, Frances Goldsmith. The Reverend William Hooke he addressed as “D.G.”, and his sister, Mrs. Hooke, was “Aunt Jane.” All of his letters were from “Ebenezer,” the biblical place where Samuel set up a stone to commemorate a victory of God’s people over the Philistines. He and Whalley relished news from England, especially when it concerned conjectures about their own whereabouts. Rumor had them in Brussels, Holland, Switzerland; when one of the regicides, John Lisle, was shot to death in Lausanne they took wry comfort in the report that they had been murdered at the same time.
In August of 1674 Goffe wrote that Whalley, now about sixty, was in poor health. He had evidently had a stroke. “He complains of no pain, and hath a good stomache, for the most part, to eat thrise in the day, sleepes well the latter part of the night and morning, and troubles not himself much with one thing or another that I can discern, but quietly waites to see what the Lord will do with him.” In one of Goffe’s next letters (according to Hutchinson) Goffe speaks of his friend as “now with God.” Whalley probably died in the latter part of 1674; no one knows where he was buried.
The next year Goffe’s refuge was shaken by the outbreak of King Philip’s War. Indians attacked all through the Connecticut Valley. Deerfield and Springfield went up in flames; at Bloody Brook, seventy-one soldiers and teamsters died in an ambush. On June 12, 1676, Indian raiders attacked both north and south gates of the Hadley stockade, but were driven off. And therein lies the famous legend of “the Angel of Hadley.”
Governor Hutchinson gave credence to this legend with this note in his History of the Massachusetts Bay Colony , published in 1764: “I am loth to omit an anecdote handed down through Governor Leveret’s family. … It appears that the town people [of Hadley] were at church when an alarm sounded of an Indian attack and suddenly came from nowhere a man who organized them for defence and won the day, then disappeared.”
Nineteenth-century fiction writers made the most of it. The mysterious stranger is a pivotal figure of James Fenimore Cooper’s Wept of Wish-ton-Wish . Brandishing “a shining broadsword such as were then used by the cavaliers of England,” he rallies the panicked congregation: “Arm, men of the Wish-ton-Wish! arm, and to your defences!” The stranger was unknown to the end. His rough gravestone bore the one word: “Submission.” He left only “an orderly book of a troop of horse, which tradition says had some connection with his fortunes. Affixed to this defaced and imperfect document is a fragment of some diary or journal, which has reference to the condemnation of Charles I to the scaffold.”