March 7: English Regicides Flee to New Haven


Not long after the then-separate Connecticut and New Haven colonies were first established in the 1630s, their mother country of England was thrown into a long and brutal civil war between supporters and opponents of King Charles I.  The enemies of the King, calling themselves Parliamentarians, were primarily English Puritans who, after taking control of the government, put Charles I on trial for being a “tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of the nation.”  Charles I was found guilty and sentenced to death in January 1649.  Following ten turbulent years of a Puritan-led dictatorship, the king’s son, Charles II, was restored to the English throne in 1660, and promptly sought to bring the regicides who killed his father to royal justice.

The death warrant of Charles I, containing the signatures and seals of 59 Puritan “judges,” including Whalley, Goffe, and Dixwell.

Charles I’s death warrant was signed by 59 commissioners (or “judges”), nearly all of whom were staunch English Puritans; after Charles II ascended the throne, these men were considered traitors and enemies of the crown who faced capital punishment if caught.  Two of these regicides, Edward Whalley and William Goffe, immediately boarded a ship bound for New England in hopes of escaping persecution in England.  They chose their destination wisely; New England was populated by devout English Puritans who sympathized with the regicides’ political positions, and upon their arrival in Boston in February 1661, they were warmly received by city leaders.  However, when a handful of royalists loudly protested the regicides’ presence and threatened to inform English officials, Whalley and Goffe fled south toward the Connecticut shore to avoid imperiling their friends in Boston.

On March 7, 1661, the two fugitives arrived in New Haven, where their fellow Puritans brazenly risked accusations of treason by accommodating them and working to throw royal bounty hunters off their scent.  Even the deputy governor, William Leete, endeavored to delay two of the King’s agents who visited him one Saturday afternoon until sundown; as soon as the sun had set, Leete suddenly declared that he could provide them with no further help, for the Sabbath had officially started and any form of work on the Sabbath was strictly prohibited.  When a larger contingent of royal forces arrived in New Haven, the two regicides were spirited away to a group of large boulders atop West Rock now known as “Judges’ Cave,” where they lived for several weeks until the coast was clear.  Afterwards, they spent next three years living in a cellar near the Milford town green before increasing royal pressure on New Haven forced them to journey north to the then-frontier town of Hadley in Western Massachusetts.

Three of New Haven’s major roads are named after the three regicides who sought shelter in the Puritan colony in the 17th century. (West Rock Trails blog)

To this day, the city of New Haven remembers its rebellious history of providing safe haven to the Puritan regicides in a number of ways.  The boulders that make up Judges Cave are a popular feature of West Rock Park, and mark the terminus of a series of a seven-mile-long hiking trail named the Regicides Trail.  Three of the city’s main thoroughfares are named after Goffe, Whalley, and Dixwell (a third regicide who lived in New Haven under an alias after Goffe and Whalley had fled).  The colony of New Haven lived up to its name for a pair of renegade regicides, on this day in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Christopher Pagliuco, “We Weren’t Always So Friendly to Royals,Shoreline Times

Alexander Winston, “The Hunt for the Regicides,American Heritage

The Regicides,” Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut

On the Trail of the Regicides,” West Rock Trails blog