William Goffe, d.c 1680

Radical army officer, regicide and Major-General who escaped to New England at the Restoration and became part of colonial folklore.

Portrait of William Goffe The son of a Puritan clergyman, William Goffe was apprenticed to a London grocer and became a freeman of the Grocers' Company in 1642. He joined Parliament's army during the First Civil War and is listed as a captain in Colonel Harley's regiment at the formation of the New Model Army in April 1645. By his marriage to Frances, daughter of Edward Whalley, he became connected to the family of Oliver Cromwell.

Goffe was one of the most radical of the Army officers, both in politics and religion. On the first day of the Putney Debates in October 1647, he proposed a prayer meeting before the debates began. Quoting Biblical prophecy, he was the first of the Army officers openly to call for negotiations with King Charles to end, and for the King to be brought to account. He repeated these demands at the Windsor prayer meeting of April 1648, where senior Army officers sought divine guidance to determine the causes of the troubles that continued to afflict the nation. Moved by Goffe's exposition of God's purpose, the officers resolved to bring the King to trial at the earliest opportunity. After the King's defeat in the Second Civil War, Goffe was appointed to the High Court of Justice and was a signatory of the death warrant.

Goffe commanded Cromwell's own regiment of foot during the invasion of Scotland in 1650 and fought with distinction at the battles of Dunbar and Worcester. He supported Cromwell's dissolution of the Rump Parliament in April 1653 and personally assisted in the expulsion of the radicals of the Nominated Assembly the following December. Goffe was elected MP for Yarmouth in the First Protectorate Parliament and was appointed a "Trier" to vet candidates for the clergy in 1654.

In March 1655, Goffe was involved in the suppression of Penruddock's Uprising, which led to the imposition of direct military rule under the Rule of the Major-Generals. Goffe was appointed Major-General for Berkshire, Hampshire and Sussex. Despite his complaints of lack of funds, and a sense of his own unworthiness, Goffe worked hard to bring about a godly reformation in his region. He was extremely hostile to travelling Quakers, whom he regarded as subversive and dangerous. He threatened to beat George Fox when he came to Sussex, and demanded the death sentence on James Naylor when he was brought to trial for blasphemy in 1656.

Although he initially opposed the offer of the Crown to Cromwell in February 1657, Goffe may have become reconciled to the idea by the time Cromwell himself declined it in May. He was named to Cromwell's Upper House, and remained a loyal supporter until the Protector's death. Goffe transferred his loyalty to Richard Cromwell in 1658 and is said to have advised him to use military force to resist Fleetwood and Disbrowe. Goffe lost all influence when Richard fell from power.

With his father-in-law and fellow-regicide Edward Whalley, Goffe fled to New England at the Restoration and hid in the frontier town of Hadley, Massachusetts. With the help of sympathetic colonists, Whalley and Goffe evaded capture by Royalist agents sent to seek them out. Goffe entered colonial folklore as the "Angel of Hadley", reportedly emerging from the forest to lead the settlers in repelling an attack by hostile redskins in 1675.


Sources:

Christopher Durston, William Goffe, Oxford DNB, 2004

Christopher Durston, Cromwell's Major-Generals (Manchester 2001)

Links:

The Angel of Hadley - Fact or Myth?