Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Angel of Hadley


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.

Modern historians can (and do) shoot factual musket holes through this story. There is no recorded attack on Hadley in 1675, and no 17th c. documents describe either a battle, or Goffe's providential appearance before one. The first written account of the legend doesn't appear until the late 18th c., more than a century after the supposed events took place.

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.

13 comments:

Marg said...

I didn't realise that you had joined the Hoydens and Firebrands Susan!

Interesting post. It would some times be interesting to find out the true evolution of some of these types of myths.

Anita Davison said...

What a great story, and despite its detractors, my romantic nature likes to think General Goffe did come to the aid of the townsfolk.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Marg, this is my first *official* post as a member, and I'm very happy to be here!

I'd like to think General Goffe appeared from the woods, too. It's such a satisfying story - no wonder it's had such a long life. Personally, I loved how this legend spans both the Restoration and colonial American history. Americans tend to focus only on the history that takes place "here", and overlook the bigger picture that includes politics in London. After all, in 1675, we were still English!

Kim Murphy said...

Interesting, Susan, especially since my upcoming blog will be on scalping. I think you'll see a bit of a different take on who was scalping whom. ;-)

Sandra Gulland said...

Great post, Susan! WELCOME!

nightsmusic said...

I don't know. They say that most myths are based on facts, no matter how tiny they may be. If historians aren't even sure when the pair died or where they're buried, how can they be so positive that the Hadley battle never took place?

Very interesting and congrats on joining Hoydens and Firebrands :)

theo

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Kim, I'll look forward to your blog!

As is unfortunately too often the case in American history, the Native Americans were definitely played by the Europeans during the wilderness wars of the late 17th and 18th c. I've read that it was the French who introduced scalping - proof positive that a white settler had been killed (or maybe not, since some people did survive), and worthy of a bounty. The French would probably say that it was an English idea, and the English, too, weren't above scalping for the same reason. And as you point out, a "civilized" 16th c. English nobleman who would condone the public ritual of beheading and drawing-and-quartering has no grounds to feel superior to "savages". *g*

But what I found most interesting about his legend is how it seems to be primarily a later invention. In many ways, it's a much more 19th c. point of view than a 17th c. one, reflected in that illustration above. By then things are very cut-and-dried, good guys vs. bad: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." The horrific treatment of Native Americans throughout the 19th c. and in western expansion in general certainly reflects this attitude.

Ironic, isn't it, that the first English settlers in Massachusetts would not have survived without the advice of the Native people?

(I'm going to post this reply over at H&F, too. Yay!! We have a discussion going! :)

Kim Murphy said...

It was the same in Jamestown. The colonists would not have survived if it hadn't been for the local tribes helping them. More on the French and English habits of scalping, as well as the Native, in my blog.

Btw--welcome to the Hoydens blog!

Arleigh said...

What a fascinating story!

BWS said...

Added this blog to my blog list at It's About Time http://bjws.blogspot.com/. Thanks, Susan, for the heads-up about this site. Barbara

Susan Holloway Scott said...

One of the most interesting aspects of these wars (well, at least to me!) is the perception of the captives - the women and children that were taken rather than killed. While many New Englanders regarded this as a fate almost worse than death, many of the captives assimilated quite happily into their adoptive Native American "families", and often seemed to have preferred that life to the one they'd left behind. Captive narratives make fascinating reading! But then these wars were so muddled by Christian Puritan teachings - God's righteous children triumphing over the heathen savages and so forth - that, like most history, there really are no clear answers....[cross-posted over on Facebook]

Kim Murphy said...

It was customary of many eastern woodland tribes to not kill women or children. It was dishonorable warfare. That changed with the coming of the Europeans. Many of the "captives" were forced to be returned and did not mesh back into society. They had more freedom with the Indians.

In non-Puritan Virginia, it wasn't just the women and children that joined the tribes. It became punishable by death to run off and join the Indians. Many records were lost thanks to the Civil War, but one woman was returned to England so she wouldn't have the opportunity to rejoin her Native family.

Steven P. Barrett said...

I happen to live in Hadley within a very short walking distance from where this "angelic miracle" was said to have occured, not to mention the Rev'd. Russell's hiding out of these two criminals. In fact, I pass by the very site on my way to Mass in the newer Most Holy Redeemer Parish,(which had been Holy Rosary Parish, Hadley's old predominately Polish parish.) The old parish church was the last architectural incarnation of Russell's original congregational church (and site of his crime of sheltering these regicides, for whom I have no shred of sympathy.)

Both Goffe and Whalley were top commanders in Oliver Cromwell's inner circle and army, and as such, along with their signatures on Charles' Death Warrant and participation in Cromwell's infamously genocidal campaign to obliterate Irish Catholics. Russell did for Goffe and Whalley what Nazi-sympathizers did for all those Nazis who escaped the burning mess they left behind in Germany.

As for what would've happened to Hadley if the so-called "savages" overtaken the town would've been no less as horrific than what Charles II's men most likely would've done to the town if they caught the regicides, while they were actuall within its limits, and certainly no less bloody than what the real savages, Cromwell's Roundheads, actually did to the Irish in Drogheda and Wexford.

While Goffe and Whalley were real men, the "Angel of Hadley" is a WASP inspired myth concocted mostly by a Yale President, Ezra Stiles back in the 1920s. Considering the times, the WASP near-dominance of all things pertaining to "Americana" and promoting "good Americanism" -- 'tis small wonder that even somebody as prominent as a Yale president was able to pull this nonsense off.

As I pass the mythical spot enroute to Mass, it does indeed give me pleasure to mull on that good old saying, "what goes around comes around."