A Trio of Guilford Tales
Regicides, Acadians, and a Poet
From the Green to the graveyards and running through every street in town, Guilford has fascinating tales to tell. Some reflect a significant contribution to the history of the town, the state of Connecticut, and even the nation. Others offer a glimpse into a singular event or the lives of interesting people. Here, we present a trio of tales from Guilford, each tied to a place you can still see as you explore our timeless community.
The 17th Century Regicides
King Charles I of England believed steadfastly in the divine right of kings, and this belief—coupled with religious dissent and financial difficulties in the realm—led to English civil war in the mid-1600s. In early 1649, a commission comprised of men chosen by those members of the English Parliament who supported Oliver Cromwell’s army signed a warrant accusing their monarch of high treason and condemning him to death. On a cold January 30, 1649, King Charles I was beheaded. His execution ushered in the Commonwealth, including the period when Cromwell served as Lord Protector of England, Ireland, and Scotland.
A scant 11 years later, shortly after Cromwell’s death, the Commonwealth dissolved and the Stuart monarchy was restored under King Charles II. Cromwell was exhumed and “executed” posthumously, and the survivors among the 59 men who had signed Charles I’s death warrant were branded “regicides” and hunted down. Two men—William Goffe and Edward Whalley—fled England for the American colonies in 1660, hoping for protection from Puritan sympathizers. Agents of the crown pursued them, and Goffe and Whalley led a chase through several settlements in the region.
Eventually they wound up in Guilford, where New Haven Governor William Leete hid them in his barn cellar for three days. The cellar, still in existence, is visible from River Street at the rear of the property on 6 Broad Street.
Goffe and Whalley lived in hiding in the region for years. The actions of Leete and others who chose to help these Puritan war heroes were a factor in New Haven losing self-rule because of the king’s displeasure. When King Charles II granted a new charter to the neighboring colony of Connecticut, New Haven was incorporated into it.
Regicides Cellar, 6 Broad St. The land on which this house stands was originally part of the homelot of Governor William Leete. It is thought that the cellar of the barn behind the house is the site of Leete’s house. From the plaque on the barn: “Here in June 1661, William Leete, then Governor of New Haven Colony concealed for three days Whalley and Goffe, two of the judges who signed the death warrant of Charles I of England. They were sought by emissaries of Charles II who after the Restoration ordered the regicides beheaded.”
The 18th Century Acadians
In 1755, French settlers had been living in L’Acadie, or Acadia, for well over a century. The British had assumed governance in 1713, renaming the region Nova Scotia, but little changed for the French residents until the Seven Years’ War broke out between the French and British in Europe. Hostilities extended to the New World in 1754 in what became known as the French and Indian War. On September 5, 1755, British ships occupied Minas Bay, and a British officer ordered French residents to gather at the church parish. There they were read an order from the British governor stating, “your lands and tenements and cattle and livestock of all kinds are forfeited to the crown, with all your effects, except money and household goods, and… you yourselves are to be removed from this Province.”
With those words, the French were exiled from Acadia, first imprisoned and then placed aboard ships bound for the American and Caribbean colonies and even back to Europe. About 5,000 would eventually make their way to the French and Spanish holdings in south Louisiana, where their descendants are today’s Cajuns (from “Acadians”).
Four hundred were deported to Connecticut, and the colony’s General Assembly assigned 50 towns to accept the exiled refugees. Guilford received 11 French Acadians in the spring of 1756, including at least 8 members of the Hebert family—Rene dit Groc Hebert and Marie Boudreau, and their grown son, Pierre, with his wife, Elisabeth Dupuis, and their four children, Fabien, Marie Isabelle, Anastasie, and Simon. Five more children were born to them in Guilford.
The Hebert family lived temporarily at 37 Union Street in what is known today as the “Acadian House.” The earliest portion of the home was built by Joseph Clay in 1670, and in the 1750s the property was owned by Samuel Chittenden. Marie Hebert likely died in Guilford, but Rene Hebert eventually moved back to Montreal, a voyage supported in part by the town of Guilford. Their children and grandchildren remained in the English colony, their lives and those of their descendants woven into the fabric of Guilford through time.
The northeast corner of Broad Street and Graves Avenue, showing Acadian House in the background, circa 1930-1945.
The Acadian House is one of the oldest buildings in Guilford, built as early as 1670 for Joseph Clay and his wife, Mary Lord. In the 1750’s it was inhabited by Acadians living there as refugees from Canada, after France lost the French and Indian War.
The 19th Century Poet
Fitz-Greene Halleck, a nineteenth century poet of fame and famous friends, was born in a home formerly on Whitfield Street in Guilford in 1790. Although he is not well-known today, he was part of the influential Knickerbocker group of literary giants, and his poetry was popular during his lifetime.
Halleck left Guilford for New York at age 21, becoming the confidential secretary to captain of industry John Jacob Astor. Halleck remained in New York for much of his life, using his keen understanding of personal relationships to advance literary careers for himself and others in an era before modern publicity practices.
Following Astor’s death, he was granted a stipend from the Astor family. With it, he returned to Guilford in 1849. He and his sister lived in various places on Water Street, including a hotel at the southwest corner of the Green. At his death in 1867, he lived at 25 Water Street. He is buried at Alderbrook Cemetery.
Known as the “American Byron,” Fitz-Greene Halleck was accorded many accolades upon his passing. In 1870, the poets Bryant, Whittier and Longfellow visited Guilford to honor Halleck with a cemetery monument. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes dedicated a statue to him in Central Park before a crowd of 10,000 people. Halleck remains the only American writer honored in the park’s Literary Walk. As such, perhaps Halleck deserves a bit of renown through the closing lines of his most famous poem, Marco Bozzaris…
For thou art Freedom’s now and Fame’s,
One of the few, the immortal names,
That were not born to die.
Fitz-Greene Halleck, 1790-1867
Fitz-Greene Halleck House, 25 Water Street, Guilford.