Not To Judge, But That’s Not Really A Cave Per Se
Judges Cave, New Haven
January 13, 2008
Another old page that I should rewrite someday. At least there are some newer pictures of my family during a later visit.
One thing is for certain here in Connecticut: We call things “caves” that are vastly different from what normal people think of as being caves. As my friend Rob Y said to me just yesterday, “If a rock overhangs a few square feet of ground, it’s called a cave in Connecticut.” Another odd thing about our not-really-caves-caves is that many seem to have a rather incredible story attached to them. White people were always hiding in them back in the day.
While all those caves and dens protected people from capture, it could easily be argued that Judges Cave high atop West Rock in New Haven is the most important and perhaps had the most impact. My friend Andy and I made a visit during our hike of the Regicides Trail, which travels the length of West Rock State Park. The park itself has a rather interesting story, one which I’ll explore in my trail write up a bit more as there is plenty to focus on with the cave now.
“Regicides Trail?” you just said a few seconds ago. Yup… and as all scholars know, a “Regicide” is the murder of a monarch. But there has never been a King (or Queen) in Connecticut. Read on… There is so much online about the rich history of Judges Cave, it would be wasteful for me to just re-do it here.
Here’s a bit by some Yale Forestry student.
I dug further… and found a rather cute yet spartan description written by some kid named Jonathan Lee:
“The thing I remember the most about our field trip to Three Judges Cave is Three Judges Cave. We had to walk about a mile and a half before we were there. As soon as the cave was in sight, we all started running to it. Anyway, some people found a tall structure of rock, which had a little place to sit on (I mean there were no cushions on it but you could sit there without falling off). He thought that this was a lookout. The possibility of that to us seemed very possible! The judges, Goffe, Whalley and Dixwell, could have sat upon the rocks and seen at least a mile. What I also found interesting about the place was the judges’ names, Goffe, Whalley, Dixwell. You may remember those names from three streets in New Haven. Before this nobody knew why they are named, now I do, because of Three Judges Cave!”
It is a really cool story, Jonathan Lee – Back in the 17th century a bunch of judges ordered King Charles I to death, Oliver Cromwell took over afterwards, he died and then Charles II ascended to the throne. He then issued death warrants for all the living judges who put his father to death. Most fled, some were caught.
Two of them ultimately ended up in New Haven, stayed with the Reverend John Davenport (First pastor of Center Church where the Underground Crypt is) and then had to flee to the wilderness to avoid capture from the British. They (Edward Whalley and his son-in-law William Goffe) hid out here, in this cave, to avoid capture. Aided by local anti-royalist Richard Sperry who, with his family, secretly carried food up to the rock to feed the fugitives.
They lived in the rock for a few cold months, being fed by sympathetic local Puritans. Then a catamount (panther) scared them silly so they fled from the big cat. Pure Hollywood stuff. The third judge was some random judge named John Dixwell joined the original two later and hid out up in Massachusetts somewhere.
I don’t mean to gloss over this story, but really… with all the resources online about this already, is one more really necessary? After all, in the end, to paraphrase from young Jonathan Lee above, “The thing I remember the most about my hike to Three Judges Cave is Three Judges Cave.” Good enough for me. So now when driving in New Haven along Whalley Avenue or Goffe Street (and Hamden’s Dixwell Avenue), you can remember their story.
The huge, split, glacial erratic is believed to have originated from the Hanging Hills in Meriden. It has been memorialized in many artist’s paintings, notably Frederic E. Church and George Henry Durrie. (Example above). Durrie’s 1850’s paintings almost always had West Rock in the background and were in such demand, that Currier & Ives reproduced more than a dozen of his paintings and lithographs in the 1860’s. You can check out his work at the New Haven Colony History Museum like I did.)
Chris saysFebruary 19, 2008 at 12:50 pm
Ive always felt that this plethora of rock would be better named Judges Boulders or just Hey Those Rocks over there!
Rebecca Walch saysOctober 20, 2008 at 12:03 pm
Do you know who, in 1661-1664, owned the land that Three Judges Cave is on?
grizzly mattams saysMay 30, 2009 at 2:15 pm
here is a walk through video of judges cave that i did on a hike this past spring:
Margaret Lewis saysFebruary 8, 2011 at 7:40 pm
Richard Sperry owned the land that the cave was on.
Joe Medford saysDecember 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm
Just a note Three Judges cave was named after Three judges Whalley, Dixwell and Goffe, The rock formation was hit by lighting in 1880 thats why there is a large piece broken away from the rest
Peter Parker saysFebruary 12, 2012 at 1:37 am
I think the actual cave was on the face of the rock seen from the small park near the intersection of Whalley ave and Blake Street. The Judges hid in homes of sympathizers, I believe a fair amount of misinformation made all safer. They could be signaled when to come down, and the British could be observed when sending a patrol from the West Rock. I seem to recall that a Pirate Captain is aid to have lived up there at one time, for much the same reasons.
anthony matthews saysAugust 31, 2012 at 1:21 pm
does any one know when john dixwell joined the other two whalley and goffe in new haven?
Dick Radis saysOctober 28, 2012 at 12:44 pm
I remember “Three Judges cigars back in my old NH days (1937-1965).
Any of Y’all remember those.
Dick Radis saysOctober 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm
Hi, again –
I stand corrected – “Judges Cave” cigars – I believe they are still around.
Jessica saysFebruary 9, 2014 at 5:16 pm
The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe: Smuggled through Connecticut. Written by Chris Pagliuco
Tom saysFebruary 25, 2016 at 9:48 pm
The cave is properly called Judges Cave. The historical record has Dixwell meeting Whalley and Goffe in Hadley, Mass., before Dixwell proceeded to New Haven to live out his life under an assumed name. There is no record of Dixwell ever going to the cave.
For more information on the Judges and more links than you might ever wish to click, visit the Regicides pages on my West Rock website: http://westrocktrails.blogspot.com/p/on-trail-of-regicides.html
Joe Rigdon saysMay 8, 2016 at 11:04 am
“Do you know who, in 1661-1664, owned the land that Three Judges Cave is on?”
The first owner that I know of was Stephen Goodyear who REPORTEDLY fed the two regicides that hid there. But since they didn’t flee there until 1661 and he died in 1657, he could not have been the person that fed them. Stephen passed the land down to his son in law Richard Sperry who had come to New Haven along with Rev Davenport and Gov. Eaton in 1637 on board ‘Hector’. In 1643 he was farming for Stephen Goodyear and undoubtedly knew of the caves. Richard married Stephen’s daughter, Denise or Dennis, in 1644 or 1648 in New Haven and inherited Stephen’s farm after his death on 27 May 1657. Richard died 18 April 1698 and was buried at what is now Center Church on the Green Churchyard New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut. It was most likely he was the one that actually fed and sheltered the two regicides.
You may also be interested in this: . Richard and Denise were my 9th great grand parents.
Joe Rigdon saysMay 8, 2016 at 11:06 am
Hotlinks not working here so cut and paste this http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=12320101
Alayne(Sperry)Cox saysJuly 15, 2016 at 5:06 pm
I am also a direct descendant of Richard & Dennis Sperry. My maiden name is Alayne(Sperry)Cox. I’m not quite certain where I stand as to how many generations removed I am from them. I am 73 yrs. old and obviously am related somehow to Joe Rigdon. I was born in Hartford, Connecticut. My brother Bradford Sperry is the family genealogist!