Welcome to Judges Cave!
When I arrived on campus as a Yale freshman, I couldn’t believe how much history was all around me. It was crazy to think about how much younger my home state is than my university. When California was admitted to the union in 1850, Yale University had already existed for over a hundred years. Walking on the New Haven Green wasn’t a typical stroll in the park. That space had served as the main burial ground for the residents of New Haven for the city’s first 150 years. Last October, a tree on the Green fell during the peak of Hurricane Sandy, unearthing a skull that dates back to the late 1700s.
If the Green used to be a cemetery, what other common features within the city held a rich history? I wanted to know more. These streets, this city, these mountains, they were begging to be discovered. So I went on a fact-finding mission to figure out what other secrets New Haven holds.
This adventure brought me to West Rock Ridge, a nearly 1800-acre state park spanning four towns – Hamden, Bethany, Woodbridge, and New Haven. If you hike up Regicide Trail, you’ll come to a large rock formation called Judges Cave.
In 1649, fifty-nine British judges convened to condemn King Charles I to death. When the monarchy was restored eleven years later to Charles II, the new king demanded revenge for his father’s death. Some of the jury were seized and executed, others ran away and hid.
Edward Whalley, William Goffe, and John Dixwell, three of the judges, fled to North America, believing they would be safest in the Puritan colonies of New England. Dixwell escaped to New Haven, where he lived under the assumed name of John Davids. Unlike the others, he was assumed dead and not included in the manhunts. His years in exile were calm, peaceful, and uneventful. This was not the case for the other two fugitives.
Whalley and Goffe landed in Boston on July 27, 1660. The Puritans in the city received them kindly, but the judges feared discovery by royal informants. As the summer wore on, the people in Boston grew more and more uncomfortable about harboring these runaway Brits. Sensing the unrest, Whalley and Goffe left Massachusetts, ultimately ending up in New Haven. The Puritan Reverend John Davenport housed them, quieting any of his congregation’s concerns with a passage from the Bible. “Hide the outcasts, bewray not him that wander-eth,” he preached.
When the orders came for the judges’ arrest, Whalley and Goffe were forced to flee again, this time into the wilderness. With the help of several New Haven residents, the judges hid in the large rocks on the summit of what is now West Rock. They stayed hidden in the cave for a month during the summer of 1661. Several sympathetic locals brought them food throughout their stay. They were ultimately chased from their hiding place by a panther (!), which scared them into realizing that they could no longer survive in the woods. The pair escaped from New Haven under the cover of darkness and spent the remainder of their lives in hiding in Hadley, Massachusetts.
“Here May Fifteenth 1661 and for some weeks thereafter Edward Whalley and his son-in-law William Goffe, members of Parliament General, officers in the army of the Commonwealth and signers of the death warrant of King Charles First, found shelter and concealment from the officers of the Crown after the Restoration.
‘Opposition to tyrants is obedience to God’ 1896”
Traces of the judges still remain in New Haven. As you drive into the city center, look up at the street signs. Whalley Avenue, Goffe Street, and Dixwell Avenue all converge downtown and point towards the judges’ hiding place in West Rock State Park. History is all around us, and as I walk through New Haven, I plan to keep questioning and keep searching.