Monday, November 3, 2008


reg · i · cide | rejə · sīde | noun  •  A person who kills or takes part in killing a king

It seems that in late 1648 and early 1649, King Charles I of England had a problem. It was the eve of the series of conflicts collectively known as the First English Civil War and he was on the ropes. The Puritan supporters of Parliament who were keeping him imprisoned had come to the conclusion that since he refused to negotiate with them about his fate, insisting that he ruled by divine right while secretly amassing forces which eventually led to the Second English Civil War, they were going to need to kill him. So, they put him on trial for treason, and he was eventually executed in January 1649. But family grudges die hard and when his son, Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, 31 of the 59 Commissioners who signed Charles I’s death warrant were still living and they were conveniently not covered by the general pardon given by Charles II and parliament to all of the former king’s opponents. Fearing for their lives (and rightly so) most fled the country and three of them John Dixwell, Edward Whalley, and William Goffe fled to the colonies, eventually coming to  New Haven, Connecticut. 

As many times as I’ve had to list New Haven or Milford, Connecticut as a birth, marriage or death place in my family tree, it seems that if I were to go out there and kick the dirt, I’d more than likely turn up the bones of one of my dead relatives. The next part of this story illustrates this point very well.

When the regicides came to New Haven they were already being pursued by 2 merchants from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who were given magisterial powers by the governor of that colony to apprehend the fugitives on behalf of Charles II. The fugitives were friends (or possibly even relatives) of some of New Haven’s elders and intended to leverage that connection to save their lives. When they arrived a couple days in advance of their pursuers, they were given shelter on the outskirts of town at a mill which was near a large wooded area into which they could flee if they needed to. Unfortunately for the 2 guys charged with capturing them, not much happened in New Haven on the weekends and by the time the magistrates in New Haven were stirred into action (mostly out of fear of falling out of favor with the King), the regicides were pretty well hidden. On Friday, May 17, 1661 a general court was held in New Haven and it was decided that warrants would be issued and deputies would be marshaled to conduct a thorough search of the area surrounding New Haven. One such search party raised at Milford consisted of Thomas Sanford, Nicholas Camp (my 8x great grandfather) and James Tapping. 3 days later on the 20th, they reported back to the deputy governor that they had found nothing. What they didn’t know was that 2 days before the general court was held, Whalley and Goffe (the regicides) had been led by a few residents of New Haven including another 8x grandfather of mine, Richard Sperry, to an apparently really good hiding place in the wilderness outside town and eventually ended up staying in a place that’s called to this day Judge’s Cave until about mid June. During their stay there, Richard Sperry, having the nearest habitation to their hiding place, provided them with food and they would often stay overnight at his home, especially during stormy weather. They only left their hiding place after the colonial governor, John Davenport, was suspected of concealing them so they showed themselves publicly to relieve the suspicion. They then went back into hiding (in the same spot; must have been really remote in those days) and remained there until August.

Both of the regicides ended up dying of old age in Hadley, Massachusetts (where they ended up in the end) thanks in part to the incompetent (intentionally or otherwise) searching skills of one of my ancestors and also in part to the ability of another of my ancestors to keep a secret. 


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