KING PHILIP'S War was raging. Hundreds of the people of New England had fallen victims to the fury of the savages. Whole villages had perished, their inhabitants being slain or carried away as captives. The country was in a state of terror, for Philip was a ruthless foe, and the war-whoop of his followers meant death by tomahawk or fire-brand.
The whites were ever on the lookout. The farmer took his gun with him to the fields, and listened always for the sound of alarm from his cabin. The churches were guarded like forts, and men prayed with musket in hand. By night the villages slept with a watch posted at every avenue of approach. Despite all this, the dusky savage glided upon his foe undetected, and generally left behind him a havoc of smoking ruins and dead bodies.
Hadley, Massachusetts, was a frontier town at this time, 1676. It was on the northwestern edge of white settlements, and beyond were the forests full of deadly Narragansetts. One day, in the midst of summer, the people were gathered at church, engaged in divine worship. The hour had been set apart for fasting and prayer, that the land might be delivered from the scourge of warfare. As the people prayed, the men clutched their muskets and the women cowered in dread.
Precaution was well taken. In the midst of their devotions yells smote upon their ears. The Indians had crept through the bushes and, under cover of the forests, had passed the guards and were upon the people before they knew of their danger. The men ceased their prayers and grabbed their guns. Hurrying out, they found the foe in the streets of the village, filling the air with terrible cries of ferocious triumph.
Confusion and terror reigned among the inhabitants. On all sides the Indians were beginning their deadly work. The suddenness of the attack prevented the villagers from getting ready with their usual vigor, and it seemed that a panic would ensue, and everybody would be slain or captured. Hadley then would be one more of the towns wiped out by the Indians!
Just at the critical moment, a strange man appeared among them. He was tall and stately, with long white hair, and dressed in the old-fashioned style of England. His face glowed with determination, his manner gave confidence, and his voice inspired the people to resistance.
"Here, get into line and order at once! The women and children must retire to the church! Come on, men, with me! Ready, march. He gave orders in a quick fashion, and the men, without question, obeyed at once. It seemed to them that God had sent an angel to deliver them from their trouble.
Inspired by the thought that God had answered the prayers which, only a short while before, they had offered up, and firm in the belief that an angel led them, they shouted with one voice, "Lead on! We follow to the last man." Their shout of determination matched the war cry of the Narragansetts themselves.
With remarkable vigor for an aged man, the stranger led the attack. The men of Hadley followed closely, and pressed vigorously upon the ranks of the Indians. Seeing the sudden vision of a white-haired figure in a strange dress, the Indians were dismayed, and began to waver.
"Make ready! Fire!" cried the leader, and raised his stick. The men of Hadley sent volley after volley into the terrified enemy, who turned and fled to the forest, pursued by the whites until they were completely out of sight. They then returned to the town to thank their savior who had led them successfully through this dreadful disaster.
He was nowhere to be found. He had mysteriously disappeared—even as mysteriously as he had come, and from that time on no man in Hadley ever saw him again, except the minister himself, the only one in all the town who knew anything about him.
To solve the mystery we must go back to England, to 1649, the year in which Charles I. was executed. To his death-warrant there were signed the names of fifty-nine judges. After a number of years his son, Charles II., mounted the throne and swore he would behead everybody who had had anything to do with the murder of his father. As a result, many of the judges paid the death penalty.
We have only to do with two of them—Whalley and Goffe—who, when they saw the fate that awaited them in England, fled to America and landed in Boston about thirteen years before the incidents occurred which are the chief interest of this story. Here they hoped to live in peace. But word came that they were wanted in England, so they moved to New Haven to escape capture at the hands of the King's men. The King had sent royal messengers to America to find and arrest the regicides, as they were called. He was resolved to put them to death.
These messengers found nothing but trouble in their path. The people, who knew Whalley and Goffe very well, would give no information whatsoever to the King's agents, but passed the two judges on from town to town, hiding them in cellars or attics, and even in caves in the woods, that they might escape. They lived for months, sometimes even years, in the houses of friends, and only a few people would know when they were in the village. At one time the royal pursuers passed over a bridge, while Whalley and Goffe were lying beneath it, only an arm's length from the horses' feet!
Once they dwelt in a cave, their food supplied by the people of a neighboring village, when the Indians found their retreat. The poor fugitives feared the savages would betray them, so they hastened to find a new place of shelter. They made their way to Hadley, aided by many friends and traveling only by night. Here they were received by the minister of the village and given a refuge in his house. For twelve years, they lived comfortably here, never venturing outside, their presence quite unsuspected by the villagers. It was not until the Indians attacked the village that one of them, Goffe, showed himself, and in the manner we have described!
After the attack was over, the mysterious leader disappeared from view and from history. What became of him and his companion will forever remain one of the mysteries of the romantic period in our history when this country was very young.