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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Anecdotes of the Three Judges

By Ezra Stiles (1727–1795)

[History of Three of the Judges of King Charles I. 1794.]

AMONG the traditionary anecdotes and stories concerning the events which took place at and about the time the pursuers were at New Haven, are the following:

1. The day they were expected, the Judges walked out toward the neck-bridge, the road the pursuers must enter the town. At some distance, the Sheriff or Marshal, who then was Mr. Kimberly, overtook them with a warrant to apprehend them, and endeavored to take them. But the Judges stood upon their defence, and placing themselves behind a tree, and being expert at fencing, defended themselves with their cudgels, and repelled the officer; who went back to town to command help, and returned with aid, but found the Judges had escaped, having absconded into the woods with which the town was then surrounded.

2. That immediately after this, on the same day, the Judges hid themselves under the bridge, one mile from town, and lay there concealed under the bridge while the pursuivants rode over it and passed into town; and that the Judges returned that night into town, and lodged at Mr. Jones’s. All this, tradition says, was a preconcerted and contrived business, to show that the magistrates at New Haven had used their endeavors to apprehend them before the arrival of the pursuers.

3. That on a time when the pursuers were searching the town, the Judges, when shifting their situations, happened, by accident or design, at the house of a Mrs. Eyers, a respectable and comely lady; she, seeing the pursuivants coming, ushered her guests out at the back door, who, walking out a little ways, instantly returned to the house, and were hid and concealed by her in her apartments. The pursuers coming in, inquired whether the regicides were at her house? She answered, they had been there, but were just gone away, and pointed out the way they went into the fields and woods, and by her artful and polite address she diverted them, put them upon a false scent, and secured her friends. It is rather probable that this happened the next day after their coming to town; and that they then left the town, having shown themselves not to be concealed in Mr. Davenport’s, and went into the woods to the mill, two miles off, whither they had retired on the 11th of May….

5. About the time the pursuers came to New Haven, and perhaps a little before, and to prepare the minds of the people for their reception, the Reverend Mr. Davenport preached publicly from this text (Isa. xvi. 3, 4,): “Take counsel, execute judgment, make thy shadow as the night in the midst of the noonday; hide the outcasts, bewray not him that wandereth. Let mine outcasts dwell with thee; Moab, be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler.”

This doubtless had its effect, and put the whole town upon their guard, and united them in caution and concealment….

6. To show the dexterity of the Judges at fencing, this story is told: That while at Boston, there appeared a gallant person there, some say a fencing-master, who, on a stage erected for the purpose, walked it for several days, challenging and defying any to play with him at swords. At length one of the Judges, disguised in a rustic dress, holding in one hand a cheese wrapped in a napkin, for a shield, with a broomstick whose mop he had besmeared with dirty puddle water as he passed along: thus equipped, he mounted the stage. The fencing-master railed at him for his impudence, asked what business he had there, and bid him be gone. The Judge stood his ground—upon which the gladiator made a pass at him with his sword, to drive him off—a rencounter ensued—the Judge received the sword into the cheese, and held it till he drew the mop of the broom over his mouth, and gave the gentleman a pair of whiskers.—The gentleman made another pass, and plunging his sword a second time, it was caught and held in the cheese till the broom was drawn over his eyes.—At a third lunge, the sword was caught again, till the mop of the broom was rubbed gently all over his face.—Upon this, the gentleman let fall, or laid aside his small sword, and took up the broad-sword, and came at him with that.—Upon which the Judge said, Stop, sir, hitherto you see I have only played with you, and not attempted to hurt you; but if you come at me now with the broad-sword, know that I will certainly take your life. The firmness and determinateness with which he spake struck the gentleman, who desisting, exclaimed, Who can you be? You are either Goffe, Whalley, or the Devil, for there was no other man in England that could beat me. And so the disguised Judge retired into obscurity, leaving the spectators to enjoy the diversion of the scene and the vanquishment of the boasting champion. Hence it is proverbial in some parts of New England, in speaking of a champion at athletic and other exercises, to say that none can beat him but Goffe, Whalley, or the Devil.

I say nothing on a few variations in narrating this story—as that some say that the scene was at New York, where the fencer staked and offered a hat-crown full of silver to the man that should beat him. The place certainly was Boston, if anywhere, for they never were out of New England; and that the fencer discerned and recognized his master in the art of fencing, and desisted instantly, saying, You are my master, Colonel Goffe, who taught me fencing.—You, sir, and no other man can beat me….

To return: after lodging two nights at Hatchet Harbor, they went to the Cave. From Sperry’s they ascended the west side of Providence Hill to this Cave. But why this Cave should be spoken of as being in “the side of the hill,” I cannot conceive, unless it might so appear to the Judges, for the Cave is high up the hill, even on the very summit; although, being enveloped in woods, they might not, especially at first, consider it as on the summit; it is, however, on the very top of the West Rock, and about half or three-quarters of a mile from the southern extremity. This Cave, then, I shall consider as their first station or harbor, as they called all their residences Lodges, Harbors, or Ebenezers, without accounting their short lodgments of two nights each at the Mill and at Hatchet Harbor. In 1785 I visited aged Mr. Joseph Sperry, then living, aged seventy-six, a grandson of the first Richard, a son of Daniel Sperry, who died 1751, aged eighty-six, from whom Joseph received the whole family tradition. Daniel was the sixth son of Richard, and built a house at the south end of Sperry’s farm, in which Joseph now lives, not half a mile west from the cave, which Joseph showed me. There is a notch in the mountain against Joseph’s house, through which I ascended along a very steep acclivity up to the Cave. From the south end of the mountain, for three or four miles northward, there is no possible ascent or descent on the west side, but at this notch, so steep is the precipice of the rock. I found the Cave to be formed on a base of perhaps forty feet square, by an irregular clump or pile of rocks, or huge, broad pillars of stone, fifteen and twenty feet high, standing erect and elevated above the surrounding superficies of the mountain, and enveloped with trees and forest. These rocks coalescing or contiguous at top, furnished hollows or vacuities below, big enough to contain bedding and two or three persons. The apertures being closed with boughs of trees or otherwise, there might be found a well-covered and convenient lodgment. Here, Mr. Sperry told me, was the first lodgment of the Judges, and it has ever since gone and been known by the name of the Judges’ Cave to this day. Goffe’s Journal says, they entered this Cave the 15th of May, and continued in it till the 11th of June following.—Richard Sperry daily supplied them with victuals from his house, about a mile off, sometimes carrying it himself, at other times sending it by one of his boys, tied up in a cloth, ordering him to lay it on a certain stump and leave it; and when the boy went for it at night he always found the basins emptied of the provisions, and brought them home. The boy wondered at it, and used to ask his father the design of it, and he saw nobody. His father only told him there was somebody at work in the woods that wanted it. The sons always remembered it, and often told it to persons now living,—and to Mr. Joseph Sperry particularly. They continued here till 11th of June. Mr. Joseph Sperry told me that the incident which broke them up from this cave was this, that this mountain being a haunt for wild animals, one night as the Judges lay in bed, a panther or catamount, putting his head into the door or aperture of the Cave, blazed his eyeballs in such a hideous manner upon them as greatly frightened them. One of them was so terrified by this grim and ferocious monster, her eyes and her squawling, that he took to his heels and fled down the mountain to Sperry’s house for safety. They thereupon considered this situation too dangerous, and quitted it. All the Sperry families have this tradition.

Mr. Joseph Sperry also told me another anecdote.—That one day, the judges being at Mr. Richard Sperry’s house, some persons appeared riding up toward the house through a causey over the meadows, so that they could be seen fifty or sixty rods off; who, by their apparel, and particularly their red coats, were by the family immediately taken to be, not our own people, but enemies. They were the English pursuivants, unexpectedly returned from New York, or Manhados. Upon which the guests absconded into the woods of the adjoining hill, and concealed themselves behind Savin Rock, twenty rods west of Sperry’s house. When the pursuivants came to the house and inquired of the family for the two regicides, they said they knew not where they were; they had transiently been there, but had gone into the woods.