When Charles II returned to England and was restored to his throne in 1660, he was determined not to repeat the errors that had cost his father his head. He wished to heal his country after a bitter civil war, not sunder it further. In the spirit of reconciliation, he officially forgave all those who had fought against the royalist cause or had sympathised with Cromwell. Charles limited his vengeance to those who had a direct hand in his father's murder. The forty-one surviving regicides who had signed the death warrant of Charles I were to be arrested and tried, and many were hung. Those who had escaped punishment through death, like Cromwell himself, were exhumed from their graves and their bodies hung at Tyburn.
But at least two of these regicides managed to escape such a grim fate. Edward Whalley (1607?-1675?) and his son-in-law William Goffe (1605?-1679?) were both generals under Cromwell, and both, too, had signed the royal death warrant. Fearing the worst, the two did not wait for Charles's restoration, but fled to New England in the late spring of 1660, forever leaving behind their families and homes.
Boston was the largest city in the colony of Massachusetts, and remained a pious bastion of Puritan supporters. There the two regicides were welcomed almost as heroes, and embraced by the most powerful members of Boston society. The King soon learned of this, however, and by August a warrant for the arrest and execution of Goffe and Whalley was sent by a man-of-war to Boston. Friends of the pair were able to warn them, and with the help of the colony's governor (demonstrating his own divided loyalty!), Goffe and Whalley once again escaped.
From then the two men disappeared into exile, evading arrest and shifting from one town to the next throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. They were sheltered and protected wherever they went, their secrecy so complete that historians today remain unsure of exactly when they died, or even where they are buried.
But William Goffe soon acquired a more lasting identity. In the 1670s, the English were fighting King Philip's War against the Native American Wampanoags and their allies, who were striving to drive the colonists from theirs lands. Hundreds of settlers were killed. The English on the western frontier were particularly at risk, with villages and farms burned and many settlers gruesomely killed and scalped. Located on the edge of the Massachusetts frontier, Hadley was one of the villages at risk, and the settlers grew increasingly terrified as the Wampanoag attacks drew closer. The Englishmen were farmers, not soldiers, with little idea of how to defend their families and homes.
One night, however, a white-bearded gentleman appeared from the forest. With calm authority, he directed the villagers in how to defend their town, and drilled the men for battle. He never revealed his name, though the desperate villagers guessed his identity. When the inevitable attack came, he led them fearlessly into battle, and with such brilliance that the Wampanoags were soundly defeated and Hadley saved. Yet as soon as the men began to celebrate their victory, their leader vanished. In the way of legends, the villagers were certain they'd been saved by General William Goffe himself, and called him the Angel of Hadley.
But legends are tenacious, and the various versions of this one are often repeated as fact. Nineteenth century authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne embellished the tale further, and there are also several highly romanticized paintings like the one above right. (Here's another, with the solemn title The Angel of Hadley, or The Perils of Our Forefathers.) In some cases, the legend is even portrayed as a precursor to the American revolution in 1776, with Goffe portrayed as a brave man who dared to stand up to his tyrannical king.
Well, maybe not. But the modern town fathers of Hadley aren't about to surrender their savior. Last year marked the 350th anniversary of the little town, and the celebration was marked with the usual souvenirs, t-shirts, and refrigerator magnets. And, best of all, this commemorative shot glass, above left, in honor of the Angel of Hadley.