Three hundred forty-four years ago, on June 12, 1676, natives from the area of the Connecticut River Valley attack the poorly defended town of Hadley, Massachusetts. When any salvation seemed beyond hope, the story is told that a mysterious elderly gentleman appeared in their midst. Not only did he rally the residents, but he took it upon himself to put himself in command. He directed where to direct fire, where to shift their defense, as the natives changed their strategy (including multi-pronged attacks). The attack foiled, the natives withdrew. The smell of gunpowder and smoke thick in the air. The town’s savior disappeared. Years later, the nineteenth-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne would later name him the “Gray Champion”.
Now, here is why I adore history! To some people, history is a stuffy subject—a collection of dates to memorize. But history can be a mystery. History can be as fun as the most exciting treasure hunt. In our story, after research and study, they have proposed that the Angel of Hadley is General William Goffe.
Who was William Goffe?
During the period surrounding the time when the Puritans departed England to settle in the New World, England was shifting into a period of change and unrest. These resulted in a series of civil wars on how England, Scotland and Ireland were to be governed. The two warring parties were the Parliamentarians and the Royalists.
In 1649, the Parliamentarians seized control and tried King Charles I, and executed him on January 30, 1649. Both Goffe and Edward Whalley were two of the fifty-nine signatories on the King’s order of death. Oliver Cromwell defeated the Crown Prince Charles II’s bid to regain the throne in the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651. Charles fled to mainland Europe.
After the war, Cromwell became a dominant political figure became the Lord Protector of England, unifying the British Isles under his rule (1653-1658).
After Cromwell’s death, and a brief period of rule by his son, Richard, the English political government was in crisis and the monarchy was restored.
Goffe and his father-n-law knew that with the return of the monarchy, the parties involved in the regicide of the previous king would be punished with a swift hand. On May 4, 1660 — four days before Charles II returned to power, the decision was made for Goffe and Whalley to make their escape. Knowing that their future was uncertain, the men left England under the names of Shepardson and Richardson on the ship Prudent Mary.
The fugitives arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 27. Other prominent Puritans welcomed them. They visited the home of Charles Chauncy. Future Governor John Leverett was a Parliamentary Army Officer during the war and was the colony’s agent in England. He may have been the pair’s primary contact. Goffe and Whalley had dinner at the home of Daniel Gookin, a fellow passenger on the Prudent Mary.
Daniel plays a vital role in our later story as he becomes a major proponent converting native Indians to Christianity. Working with Rev. John Eliot, he becomes the Superintendent of all praying Indian villages.
Goffe and Whalley settle across the Charles River in the village of Cambridge. Here, Boston is close by, and yet they could receive fair warning should the King’s agents arrive in the Boston Port.
On September 22, the King issue’s a proclamation to arrest Goffe and Whalley. Just as the King’s agents set sail for Boston to deliver dispatches, compatriots to Goffe and Whalley book separate passage to race and warn their friends. On November 30, the Act of Indemnity from Parliament, not the writ, arrives. The Act granted pardon to, but not all, who had acted against the crown during the Civil Wars.
On February 25, 1661, deciding to no longer place their friends in risk harboring fugitives, and risk capture, the two move on to New Haven, Connecticut. Here, they arrive on March 7 at the home of Reverend John Davenport, founder of the colony. The writ for their capture arrives in Boston on March 8. Governor Endicott had welcomed Goffe and Whalley at their arrival and had turned a blind eye. He issues a warrant knowing that the pair has already slipped out of Massachusetts.
By April 30, word had come to New Haven about the writ for arrest. They issued a similar warrant. What’s worse, they learned that that there is a pair of agents, Kellond and Kirk, who have warrants for their arrests. These warrants grant Kellond and Kirk the power to search the colonies of New Haven, Connecticut, and even the freedom to search the Dutch colony of Manhattan.
They move Goffe and Whalley to the home of Colonel William Jones. Colonel Jones was a powerful supporter for the pair, as he was Oliver Cromwell’s brother-in-law, and another veteran from the Civil Wars. Jones was also a passenger on the Prudent Mary. They stayed with Jones until May 11. Jones helping them move from house to house.
Kellond and Kirk arrive in New Haven on May 13. Apart from acting as agents for Goffe and Whalley’s capture, the royalists were promised sizeable rewards by their King. They would not give up their charge.
From May 15 until June 21, Goffe and Whalley hide in a cave. In the seventeenth century, New England was experiencing what today’s scientists call a “Mini-ice age”. In severe weather, the two would stay at a nearby home. Intel from their supporters reported that the King’s agents had travelled to Manhattan to direct their search.
During Kellond and Kirk’s search, offering sizeable rewards, they learned that the fugitives had been in New Haven, and had been seen in Davenport’s home. The two interrogated Davenport, demanding that he divulge where the pair were hiding. They threatened to take action against him.
Upon hearing news of this and no longer wishing to put any of their friends or supporters at risk, Goffe and Whalley decide that the jig was up and that it was time to turn themselves in. They return to New Haven. Once they arrive, they reveal themselves long enough to draw Kellond and Kirk off Davenport and deflect any future suspicion from him. They then revealed themselves to Deputy Governor Leete to surrender. Leete, however, refused to take them into custody and urged them to go back into hiding. Returning to the cave, the men remained there from June 24 until August 19.
The pair spent the next two years in Milford, hidden in the home of Micah Tomkins. Legend has it that Tomkins had the house built for the purpose. Goffe and Whalley lived in a cellar hidden underneath the family spinning room.
In 1664, the men had received word through their network that royal commissioners were traveling from Boston to Manhattan. They also commissioned them to search a residence. Since the wording of the commission named the subjects of the search as mentioned in “High Treason”, the fugitives assumed that they were the target. They returned to the cave, but could not remain there, because an Indian hunting party discovered them. Once again, they had to go on the move, and go to where the King’s agents wouldn’t look for them. This meant the frontier.
On October 13, they made for Hadley.
Was General Goffe the Angel of Hadley?
This is what we know. Increase Mather was a prominent religious leader of the Massachusetts Colony. He is known to have acted as an intermediary for Goff’s letter’s home to his family and supporters. Mather is also famous for writing a contemporary history of the King Philip’s War. Mather could have received some account of the fight in a letter from Goffe. It was Major John Talcott’s men who arrived in time to help fight off the Pocumtucks Indians. And it is with Talcott’s own brother-in-law, Reverend John Russell, who was supposed to have been sheltering Goffe. Massachusetts Governor Leverett, a friend to Goffe, is known to have visited Hadley during the time would have lived there. The age of our “Champion” is about right. Born in 1605, Goffe would have been seventy-one years old at the time of the Hadley Fight.
Although there is no specific historical source that cites that Goffe was present at the Hadley fight on June 12, 1676, I view that it more likely it was him. And through the efforts of many influential colonial religious, political, military, and a network of Puritan supporters went to magnificent effort to cover-up Goffe’s involvement and protect his concealment.
Today in Hadley you can find a memorial stone at 102 Russell Street, near Whalley Street, commemorating where Reverend Russell’s house once stood.