King Slayers in America: The 17th-Century Regicides Who Went on the Lam in Colonial New England

The Execution of Charles I of England
The Execution of Charles I of England
Artist unknown, Wikimedia // Public Domain

As Edward Whalley and his son-in-law William Goffe huddled inside a claustrophobic cave in the colony of New Haven in June 1661, there was little they could do but sit in quiet contemplation—and marvel at just how far they’d fallen.

Just a few years earlier, the men had been heroes. As prominent allies of Oliver Cromwell—the Puritan general who had led his parliamentary army to victory over the Crown a decade earlier, amid a series of English civil wars—they'd personally signed King Charles I’s death warrant and were likely present at the monarch’s execution in 1649. Afterward, both men had taken prominent roles in Cromwell’s new regime and worked diligently to create what they viewed as a purer and godlier England.

Within a decade, however, Cromwell’s death and a rejection of Puritan ideology, among other factors, led England to restore the monarchy and place Charles’s son, Charles II, on the throne. Suddenly, Whalley, Goffe, and dozens of their peers saw their defining act of heroism devolve into a life-altering stigma. Not unlike Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones, Whalley and Goffe became renowned kingslayers—regicides—a term that clung to them on both sides of the Atlantic.

Cromwell's Allies—and Charles II's Foes

According to historian Matthew Jenkinson, author of Charles I’s Killers in America, the events that followed are one of the most neglected stories in early American history. Both Whalley and Goffe escaped to British North America in May 1660, then fled investigators across New England not once but twice, hiding at various points within an enclosure later named in their honor as “Judges’ Cave.”

Neither Whalley or Goffe had liked their chances under the Restoration, and both feared retribution. A cousin of Cromwell's, Whalley was a major in Cromwell's regiment of horse during the first English Civil War. After the conflict, he and his regiment personally guarded Charles I during his 1647 incarceration at Hampton Court. Goffe—who married Whalley’s daughter—had perhaps even more to fear. During debates held at Windsor Castle in 1648, he denounced the king, with implications about shedding the blood of his own people, a rationale that ultimately provided the legal basis for Charles’s execution.

As it turned out, Whalley and Goffe’s worst fears soon came to pass. Soon after retaking the throne in May 1660, Charles II pardoned most of his father’s political opponents through what historians now refer to as the Indemnity and Oblivion Act. He did not, however, extend this courtesy to those who had participated in Charles I’s trial. In ensuing months, several signatories of the king’s death warrant resolved themselves to martyrdom and defended the justness of their actions all the way to the chopping block. Some had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Others fled to the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. Only Goffe, Whalley, and John Dixwell—a former member of Parliament—sought refuge among sympathetic Puritans in New England, where, according to Goffe, they hoped “to cleave to the Lord, & to Love him, & serve him forever.”

This decision quickly proved sound. Of the 39 surviving signatories at the time of the Restoration, nine were executed, 10 successfully escaped, and the rest spent the remainder of their lives in prison.

The Regicides' Early Years in New England

Whalley and Goffe arrived in Massachusetts aboard the Prudent Mary on July 27, 1660. According to Thomas Hutchinson—the then-lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, whose 18th-century History of Massachusetts is a key source regarding the regicides—their initial movement in the colony was far from covert. “They did not attempt to conceal their persons or characters when they arrived,” Hutchinson wrote, “but immediately went to the Governor, [John Endecott], who received them very courteously.” In a surviving entry from Goffe’s journal, the regicide noted that after arriving in America, he and Whalley also attended a public sermon on Hebrews. Afterward, they visited a gathering, where many of Massachusetts Bay’s most prominent preachers reveled in their presence.

This favorable treatment ended the following year when the Crown officially condemned the men. Fearing that harboring the regicides might jeopardize their royal charter, Massachusetts officials debated what to do next. Sensing shifting winds, Goffe and Whalley elected to leave the colony. That month, they found refuge in New Haven with a preacher named John Davenport. On May 6, 1661, Governor Endecott finally issued an arrest warrant, after receiving formal orders from the Crown to apprehend the regicides. Soon thereafter, Endecott commissioned two local royalists—Thomas Kellond and Thomas Kirke—to hunt the men. He did so, however, only after he had delayed enough for news to reach the regicides’ caretakers in New Haven.

Goffe and Whalley’s association with Davenport soon came to light, and so the men moved on to the home of one William Jones. According to Hutchinson, the fugitives stayed with Jones until May 11, when they hid in a local mill. Two days later, accomplices “conducted them to a place called hatchet-harbour, where they lay two nights, until a cave or hole in the side of the hill was prepared to conceal them.” The regicides stayed in this cave—the aforementioned “Judges’ Cave”—with only a few exceptions until June 11.

Throughout this period, New Haven officials continuously delayed and obstructed Kellond and Kirke, most notably on the crucial weekend Whalley and Goffe fled into the woods. As the regicides hid in their cave, deputy governor William Leete delayed the two royalists, first by questioning the wording of their warrant, then, the next day, by refusing to allow them to travel on the Sabbath. Leete finally commissioned a search the following week, but by this time the regicides were long gone. Frustrated, Kellond and Kirke eventually retired to Boston, where, according to Jenkinson, magistrates arguably bought them off with 250-acre estates.

The King Tries Again

Goffe and Whalley occupied their cave off and on throughout the summer of 1661. In August, they traveled to Milford, Connecticut, where, according to Hutchinson, they remained in the house of a man named Tomkins for two years “without so much as going into the orchard.” This brief period of calm ended, however, when Charles II grew distrustful of colonial officials and tasked four of his own agents with locating the regicides in 1664.

These men ran into similar problems as Kellond and Kirke. Throughout 1665, they interrogated several of the regicides’ known acquaintances. Most refused to cooperate, and Whalley and Goffe once again avoided capture, this time by slipping away to Hadley, Massachusetts. There, they took on assumed names and lived on the property of the Reverend John Russell.

Letters written by Goffe to relatives in England show that he and Whalley soon established a network in Hadley, through which loved ones sent them money and supplies. “Money,” Goffe wrote, “be it more or less, may be put into the hands of our Dear & Reverend friend, Mr. John Russell … or such person or persons as he shall appoint to receive the same.”

According to Jenkinson, this system was far from elaborate. Charles II’s government might have discovered it had not plague, war, and domestic religious divides preoccupied its attention during this period. “Faced with all of that,” Jenkinson says, “plucking two aging Puritans out of the American wilderness started to go down the priority list.”

As it turned out, Charles II’s shifting priorities allowed America’s regicides to live out their lives in relative peace. Whalley, it seems, died around 1675, roughly 15 years after his arrival in Boston. Goffe followed suit sometime in the 1680s—but only after one final chapter in his great American adventure.

The Angel of Hadley

A depiction of the Angel of Hadley legend
A depiction of the Angel of Hadley legend
Frederick Chapman, Wikimedia /// Public Domain

According to Hutchinson’s History of Massachusetts, Goffe avoided attention in Hadley for more than a decade. In 1675, however, he reemerged mysteriously during King Philip’s War—a devastating three-year conflict that pitted New England and its Native American allies against the Pokanokets, other members of the Wampanoag nation; the Narragansett, and other native communities.

Citing a story related to him by descendants of Massachusetts governor John Leverett, Hutchinson claimed that a Wampanoag army attacked Hadley during a worship service on September 1, 1675. As the congregation panicked amid the chaos, “a grave elderly person appeared in the midst of them.” Calling for the congregants to defend themselves, the man—whom Hutchinson implied was Goffe—“put himself at their head, [then] rallied, instructed and led them on to encounter the enemy, who by this means were repulsed.”

Early American historians reported this story as fact. In 1874, however, a historian named George Sheldon argued that contrary to Hutchinson’s claims, contemporary histories of King Phillip’s War reported no attacks on Hadley in September 1675. There was, however, an attack there on June 12, 1676. Sheldon noted that Goffe likely wouldn't have emerged on this date, as a company of Connecticut militiamen were stationed in Hadley at the time. Their presence, Sheldon suggested, would not only have disincentivized Goffe from taking part in Hadley’s defense, but also made it unnecessary for townspeople to take up arms. The New York Times reprinted this argument in 1905, and, thereafter, most historians considered the “Angel of Hadley” story debunked.

In 1987, however, the historian Douglas C. Wilson discovered that June 12, 1676, fell within a short period in which the Connecticut and Massachusetts militias combined for a pincer attack in Northampton. It turned out that Hadley was undefended on the date the Wampanoag attacked the city. This made it at least plausible that Goffe would risk exposing himself in defense of his adopted home, albeit on a different date than the one relayed by Hutchinson.

Jenkinson, for one, believes the event occurred similarly to how Hutchinson originally described it. As such, the Angel of Hadley provides a fitting end to the regicides’ story—like other elements of their flight through New England, it defies belief and yet still somehow withstands historical scrutiny. “There have been a few myths that have sprung up around the regicides in America,” Jenkinson says. “But it seems that the most heroic and daring [of these stories], the most absurd on the face of it, is probably the one that is actually based on reality.”

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50 Surprising Facts About America's Founding Fathers

Hulton Archive/National Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/National Archive/Getty Images

George Washington. Alexander Hamilton. Benjamin Franklin. John Adams. These men and several more continue to stand as some of the most influential figures of the United States of America, drafting the Declaration of Independence and helping to define the ideology and ambition of the free world.

More than 200 years later, their philosophies continue to inform, educate, and inspire. If you're aware of their significance but might be a little short on details, we've assembled a laundry list of facts, trivia, and lesser-known information about this formidable group.

1. The Founding Fathers probably never heard the phrase "Founding Fathers."

Tight shot of the famous signature of John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4th, 1776.
smartstock/iStock via Getty Images

The term wasn't coined until 1916, when then-Senator Warren G. Harding was giving a speech at the Republican National Convention. Harding's phrase included men who fought in the American Revolution and drafted the Constitution as well as the Declaration of Independence.

2. John Hancock has become synonymous with personal signatures.

The most likely reason: His name takes up six square inches on the Declaration of Independence, a massive piece of real estate compared to the rest of the signees. Sam Adams, for example, needed just 0.6 square inches. No one knows for sure why Hancock used such broad strokes, although it's possible he didn't realize the document would eventually need 56 signatures.

3. The signatures on the Declaration of Independence were kept secret.

Not too many people could crack jokes at Hancock's expense over it because the signatures were kept secret for some time owing to the fact that there was fear of reprisal from the British. At the time the Declaration was signed, British armies were stationed nearby, and the potential to be hung for treason was large enough to keep quiet about it.

4. John Hancock was more famous for being a smuggler.

John Hancock
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Hancock often brought over goods like glass, paper, and tea in secret to avoid excessive British taxation.

5. The British had a price on John Hancock's head.

Hancock's smuggling practices led to the British wishing to see his head mounted on the proverbial stake. Hancock was actually said to be a little irate about that British resentment. He thought the 500 British pound price on his head was insultingly low.

6. Thomas Jefferson was given the job of writing a rough draft of the DECLARATION Of Independence.

Washington D.C. The Jefferson Memorial, a presidential memorial dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States and one of the most important of the American Founding Fathers
Joaquin Ossorio-Castillo iStock via Getty Images

Such semantics probably weren’t on Thomas Jefferson’s mind when he prepared the Declaration. Considered the best writer of the group, it was Jefferson who was charged with writing a rough draft of the document.

7. Thomas Jefferson's initial draft of the Declaration of Independence called for an end to slavery.

Jefferson later took this part out because he felt the document wouldn’t be approved by delegates in states like Virginia and South Carolina.

8. Thomas Jefferson kept bears as pets (for a short time).

A pair of grizzly bears

Jefferson can also lay claim to having the most unusual "pets" of any president on White House grounds. A military captain gifted Jefferson with two grizzly bears in 1807. Jefferson knew the animals were too ferocious to be kept, but until he could pass them over to a handler in Philadelphia, they remained on the grounds for two months. Jefferson kept them caged on the front lawn.

9. Thomas Jefferson also had mastodon bones.

Those bears weren't Jefferson's only experiment with imposing creatures. He once had the bones of a mastodon sent to him in the White House and devoted time to an attempt to reconstruct it. He was actually a bit obsessed with mastodons.

10. Thomas Jefferson told a slave he would free him if he learned French cooking.

Just before Jefferson was appointed minister to France in 1785, he took a trip to the country and quickly fell in love with its cuisine. In a rather cringe-inducing deal, he told his slave, James Hemings, that he would free him if Hemings would learn the art of French cooking and then pass it on to a Jefferson employee. Jefferson kept his word, although Hemings stayed in France for several years and didn't become a free man in the U.S. until 1796.

11. Thomas Jefferson was a prolific writer.

Jefferson liked to write nearly as much as he liked to eat. The third president wrote an estimated 19,000 letters in his lifetime, keeping a copy of each correspondence for himself. Oddly, he never wrote to his wife.

12. Thomas Jefferson frequently wrote to Abigail Adams.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After Jefferson became minister to France, he maintained a close relationship with both John Adams and John's wife, Abigail. Despite gender equality being a rare concept at the time, Jefferson thought Abigail to be every bit as insightful as anyone and kept a lengthy mail correspondence with her.

13. John Adams wasn't a fan of the vice presidency.

John Adams became vice president in 1789 with Washington's appointment as commander-in-chief, but the role seemed to insult him. Adams called it the "most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived."

14. John Adams was a fan of William Shakespeare.

An illustration of John Adams at a writing desk
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When he wasn't condemning his own job, Adams was an ardent admirer of William Shakespeare. With Thomas Jefferson, Adams even visited Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1786. Adams liked it; Jefferson thought they were overcharged for the tour.

15. John Adams brought Satan to the White House.

When Adams took the presidential office in 1797, he brought with him two dogs: One was Juno, and the other was named Satan.

16. John Adams was the first president to live in the White House.

The White House in Washington DC - official residence of the President of the United States of America.
lucky-photographer iStock via Getty Images

Adams was the first president to take up occupancy in the White House, but construction delays kept him off-premises until 1800; he was in office only five more months after moving in. That also means Juno and Satan were the first dogs to live in the White House.

17. John Adams wanted the presidency to keep some of the splendor of royalty.

Adams's lost bid for reelection may have had something to do with his somewhat pompous view of the office. He often lobbied for the president to be referred to as "his highness."

18. John Adams created the United States Marine Band.

Adams couldn't have been too much of a miser, though. In 1798, he formed the United States Marine Band, the oldest active professional music group in the country.

19. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day. And it gets weirder.

sparklers in front of an American flag
nu1983/iStock via Getty Images Plus

In a strange bit of coincidence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died the same day: July 4, 1826. It was also the 50th anniversary of American independence.

20. Benjamin Franklin didn't believe in free will.

While all of the Founding Fathers are renowned for pushing the idea of liberty and independent choice, Benjamin Franklin apparently came to the idea a little late. In 1725, when he was just 19 years old, Franklin self-published a pamphlet titled A Dissertation Upon Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain, which argued that humans didn't actually have free will and weren’t responsible for their behavior. Maturity prevailed, however, and Franklin later burned almost every copy of the booklet he could find.

21. Benjamin Franklin wanted to rearrange the alphabet.

Ben Franklin's eccentricity wasn't limited to that strange philosophy. He once had a plan to rearrange the English alphabet by eliminating the letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y, declaring them redundant. It didn't katch on.

22. If you're reading this while watching a sunrise, you might have Ben Franklin to thank.

A more reasonable Franklin contribution: bifocals, which he invented in order to both see from a distance and read text up close without having to switch lenses.

23. Ben Franklin didn't think very highly of the bald eagle.

A close-up of a bald eagle's head.
photosvit/iStock via Getty Images

Continuing his role as America’s most eccentric Father, Franklin also advocated for the turkey to be the nation's official bird. He once dissed the bald eagle, calling it a bird "of bad moral character."

24. Ben Franklin (sarcastically) thought highly of flatulence.

Franklin also authored a text titled "Fart Proudly," a mocking essay intended to irritate the Royal Academy of Brussels, an institution he felt was too focused on impractical science. In it, he advocated for a breakthrough in making toots more pleasant-smelling. (He never sent it.)

25. Ben Franklin bathed without water.

Franklin's unique perspective extended to personal hygiene. He often opted for what he dubbed an "air bath" over a cold water bath, wandering around nude in his quarters for a half-hour each morning while reading or writing.

26. John Adams and Ben Franklin once argued about a window.

Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia
rabbit75_ist iStock via Getty Images

Franklin and John Adams made for a bit of an odd couple. Forced to spend the night together in a hotel while traveling in 1776, the two argued over whether the window should be open or closed. Adams believed night air could lead to colds; Franklin, obviously fond of a little breeze, dismissed the notion as nonsense and advocated for fresh air. (Franklin won: The window stayed open.)

27. Most of Philadelphia came to Ben Franklin's funeral.

When Franklin died in 1790, roughly 20,000 people attended his funeral—two-thirds of Philadelphia’s population at the time.

28. Ben Franklin and George Washington both had big egos.

Franklin was told by friends early in his life that he should start to consider humility a virtue, while Washington reportedly had to corral his predilection for arrogance.

29. George Washington's famous hairdo wasn't a wig.

George Washington and his generals
kreicher/iStock via Getty Images

While Washington may have curbed his ego, he still made time to look good. His famous white 'do was not a wig, but his actual hair, powdered white and carefully styled each morning.

30. George Washington had a tree-shaking temper.

While he looks out at you from the $1 bill with total calm, Washington could unleash a hellacious temper if you caught him on the wrong day. Leading the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, Washington used so much profanity that General Charles Scott, who witnessed the event, said he cussed "until leaves shook on the trees … never have I enjoyed such swearing before or since."

31. George Washington helped ensure the presidency would be a short-term gig.

Later in life, Washington's newfound modesty helped usher in a significant principle of the U.S. presidency. Despite the public's desire for him to run for a third presidential term—which he would've won with ease—Washington elected to leave after two terms so he could resume being a regular citizen, avoiding the kind of long-term rule associated with monarchs.

32. George Washington gave up the presidency to make whiskey.

Once he returned to private life in 1797, Washington opened a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon, which quickly became the largest whiskey distillery in America.

33. George Washington wasn't optimistic the Constitution would last.

Close-up of the Constitution.
jaflippo/iStock via Getty Images

Before taking on the presidency, Washington was wrapped up in the Constitutional Convention, a gathering of minds intended to elaborate on the famous document that would provide concise guidelines for future lawmakers. But Washington was unsure whether it would have any lasting impact. Walking with a friend just before the convention came to a close in 1787, he said, "I do not expect the Constitution to last for more than 20 years."

34. George Washington suffered from a host of medical problems.

In fact, it was Washington himself who didn't last that long. Plagued by a series of ailments including malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, and diphtheria, the Founding Father died in 1799 at age 67. Suffering from a severe sore throat, he asked doctors to bleed him. They did, with five pints being removed from his body in a single day.

35. Alexander Hamilton begged George Washington to let him fight.

Ink drawings of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on either side of George Washington.
Campwillowlake iStock via Getty Images

Washington's onetime assistant, Alexander Hamilton, had a heartier constitution. Relegated to writing Washington’s letters, Hamilton pleaded with the then-general to let him see some action on the battlefield. Hamilton faced the British in the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 and came away with a victory.

36. Alexander Hamilton was the subject of the country's first political sex scandal.

Alexander Hamilton’s health was also robust enough to carry on an affair with a married woman, Maria Reynolds, while serving as U.S. treasury secretary in 1791. When her husband threatened to go public with the scandal, Hamilton wrote and circulated a pamphlet detailing his side of the story. The Reynolds Affair became the country's first major political sex scandal.

37. The Reynolds Affair was wrapped up by Alexander Hamilton's nemesis.

In an odd footnote, when Maria Reynolds later sued her husband for divorce, her lawyer was Aaron Burr.

38. Alexander Hamilton launched the Coast Guard.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill
Professor25/iStock via Getty Images

Beyond setting up the country's banking and financial systems, Alexander Hamilton was also concerned with protecting America’s coastlines. To help suffocate smuggling and enforce tariff laws, Hamilton organized a marine service; it later became known as the United States Coast Guard.

39. Alexander Hamilton's son died in a duel defending his father's good name.

Dueling was part of the Hamilton family long before Alexander's fateful encounter with Aaron Burr. Three years prior, Hamilton's son Philip challenged a lawyer named George Eacker to a pistol fight after Eacker was overheard criticizing his father. Eacker shot Philip, who died the next day.

40. Alexander Hamilton probably acted as a lawyer in the country's first murder trial.

In 1799, Hamilton's life gained one of its most interesting footnotes. As a practicing lawyer in New York, Hamilton teamed with future dueling foe Aaron Burr in what is believed to be the United States' first murder trial on record. After the body of Elma Sands was discovered, a grand jury indicted her boyfriend, Levi Weeks, for the crime. The wealthy Weeks enlisted Hamilton, Burr, and Henry Livingston for his defense. He was acquitted, though public opinion largely declared him guilty.

41. Alexander Hamilton also founded a newspaper.

Hamilton founded another cultural touchstone—the New York Post—in 1801. Then titled the New York Evening Post, it’s one of the longest continually published newspapers in the U.S. When he felt like opining, Hamilton would dictate articles to editor William Coleman.

42. The Federalist Papers went a long way in shifting public opinion on independence.

Hamilton, however, had used his own hand to author the Federalist Papers, a series of essays sent to newspapers in the 1780s to rally support for ratifying the Constitution. Hamilton used the pseudonym Publius, collaborating with James Madison and John Jay.

43. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton hated each other.

There was little love lost between treasury secretary Hamilton and fourth president James Madison, who frequently sparred with over economic strategy. Onetime friends, their acrimony set the tone for Madison’s tenure in office.

44. James Madison's wife was a celebrated hostess.

Said to be shy and reserved, Madison apparently had a counterbalance in wife Dolley, who entertained the whole of Washington. At the time, the city was not exactly a hotbed of partying, and her lavish affairs helped endear congressional members to the idea of Madison as president.

45. James Madison is our tiniest president.

To date, Madison remains our smallest president at 5 feet, 4 inches and 100 pounds.

46. There's a $5000 bill with James Madison's face on it.

James Madison's portrait on US money.
johan10/iStock via Getty Images

Madison is also the president to grace the little-known $5000 bill, part of a series of high-value denominations printed between 1928 and 1945. The bills were mainly used to settle large transactions between banks.

47. Another vice president's wife wrote a book on James Madison.

Although Madison had two vice presidents die in office, he had better luck with future VP Dick Cheney: The former vice president’s wife, Lynne, wrote a well-received biography of Madison in 2014.

48. Sam Adams was a child prodigy.

An illustration of Sam Adams
stocksnapper/iStock via Getty Images

While all of the Fathers had formidable intellects, Sam Adams had quite an early start. He was admitted into Harvard College at age 14 and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1740.

49. Sam Adams wasn't exactly a brewer.

In terms of Founding Father extracurricular activities, Sam Adams is frequently credited with being a beer brewer. That's not really true, though. Adams' father did make malted barley that was sold to breweries, and his son inherited the business and became known as a "maltster." But politics soon dominated Adams' time, and the business fell by the wayside.

50. You can drink at a pub where the Founding Fathers hung out.

Adams may not have been a brewmaster, but like a lot of Founding Fathers, he didn't mind pulling up a chair at a pub. You can enjoy a beer at the same location as Founding Fathers Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Adams. The Green Dragon Tavern in Boston is said to have been the preferred watering hole of the men—a place where politics could be discussed without the hassle of sobriety.