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King’s Agents, Judges and the Sperrys Along the West River

King’s Agents, Judges and the Sperrys Along the West River

In 1641 King Charles I of England was condemned to death and hung by decision of a panel of Judges. His execution set off a vengeful manhunt for the presiding judges by Charles’s son Charles II after his return from nearly 20 years in exile. Eventually one arm of this manhunt found its way to the Flats in 1662.

Two signers of King Charles’s death warrant were Judges William Goffe and Edward Whalley. After fleeing England for Boston in 1661, they kept ahead of the King’s pursuing agents and eventually found safety in New Haven at the home of Reverend John Davenport, who founded New Haven in 1638. The King’s agents had sent advanced word that they would be in New Haven to continue their pursuit, asking for the public’s help. With this forewarning, in May 1661 Reverend Davenport sent the two fleeing regicides to a place then called Milford meadows, which was located in a swampy area adjacent to present day Peck Hill Road.

The next day the two fugitives were relocated to higher and dryer ground about a mile to the northeast. Here they built a simple structure and named it “Hatchet harbor” after they found an “Indian Hatchet” at the site. Whether this hatchet was made of iron (trade ax) or stone is unknown. The word harbor refers to a safe place.

A few days later the King’s agents were diverted to New Amsterdam and Whalley and Goffe were taken to a new location atop “Providence Hill” (present day West Rock) where they would have easier access to provisions. Today this place is known as Judges Cave.

Nearly 20,000 years ago a huge bolder called a glacial erratic was deposited there by the receding glacier. Over millennia, this multi-ton piece of granite fractured into several pieces which formed two cave-like formations. According to Ezra Stiles “History of the Three Judges” here they safely hid from May 15, 1661 to June 11, 1661. On that night they were frightened by a “squalling catamount with blazing eyes”. The next morning (presumably) they climbed down through the gap to the home of Richard Sperry, a half mile to the west.

During their month in hiding Richard Sperry secretly provided food and provisions to Whalley and Goffe upon request from Reverend Davenport. Likely Richard Sperry knew his sympathies with Whalley and Goffe could implicate him and his family in harboring fugitives from the crown. The isolated location of Sperry’s home provided him with a fairly safe cover for his assistance. One version I heard many years ago from Woodbridge Town historian Carrol Alton Means told of Sperry instructing one of his children to bring the food to a place by the spring at the base of the gap (present day location of the parkway tunnels) and leave it for woodcutters who were working atop the ridge.

Richard Sperry and his family were Woodbridge’s first colonial family. The location of their original homestead is still not clear, but records mention the location as being close to a stream with a waterfall. (There are two possible locales to be considered as we continue.) In 1648 the family settled on the land that had been granted to Stephen Goodyear by the crown in 1640, as caretakers and homesteaders of this tract which included all the land between West Rock and the rise to the west, and north to present day Bethany, with the Flats as its southern point. Richard had married Steven Goodyear’s daughter Dennis (odd name for a girl) and eventually, in 1660, became owner of the property.

So it seems Woodbridge’s first family had a role in one of the earliest steps within the colonies towards eventual independence more than one hundred years later. A long gone bronze plaque commemorating the plight of the Regicides was affixed to one of the boulders sometime around the end of the Nineteenth Century. It read: “Opposition to tyrants is obedience to God”. Still visible is the chiseled square recess where it rested. This bronze plaque replaced a faded inscription verbatim inscribed on the boulder by James Meriwether in 1803.

In 1730 “Sperry Farms” occupied much of the flats north of present day Bradley Road. In or around that year, Ebeneezer Sperry, the great-grandson of Richard Sperry built a house on what is now the Luciani Homestead/Farm. In 1835 that house was added to by Ebeenezer Sperry’s great grandson, Charles Sperry, who was still living there as per the map of Woodbridge published in 1868 by F. W. Beers. Eventually the property was sold to Charles and Clara Bond. (As in Bond Road.)

Around 1920, Ettore and Lena Luciani purchased land from Mr. Bond’s widow which extended south from Bond road on both sides of Litchfield Turnpike to present day Lawrence Road and extending west beyond Amity Road, including part of Bradley Highlands. (Present day Emeritus Senior Living.) At the heart of this parcel was the Charles Sperry House into which Mr. and Mrs. Luciani settled to farm and raise a family.

In 1835 an addition was added. The original house had been built over the basement of the house Ebeneezer Sperry had built in the early 1730s, and was likely retained as a root cellar. When the Luciani Family settled there, the basement continued in use as a root cellar and to store homemade wine. These memories come from Agnes Luciani DeFilippo, (now 95 years) who remembers a removable trap door and vertical ladder as access to this dirt floor cellar from their pantry.

Now let’s fast forward to 1956. Mr. & Mrs. Luciani take a one month visit to the Old Country. While they were gone their sons and daughters razed the old homestead and built a new home a short distance from the old one to surprise their parents. When they leveled the building there remained the root cellar used by Ebenezer Sperry. Instead of filling it in, they built a beautiful swimming pool using the cellar’s trap-rock walls as the pool’s outline. In this pool my friends and I swam on many hot summer days with Mrs. Luciani’s grandsons. Occasionally she would tell us about how, when her husband Ettore, bought the parcel from the widow Bond in 1910, she told him that the root cellar from the original house was built by Richard Sperry and from that house food was delivered to the gap for “woodcutters” working atop the ridge.

As youngsters, we were intrigued by the story and were certain that we were swimming in what was the cellar of the first house built in Woodbridge. (But records show the house being built around 1730, almost seven decades after Richard Sperry aided the Regicides.) So where in the Flats did the Sperry family actually settle?

As per a collection of research papers written in 1990 by Sperry descendent Vic Sperry, his family tradition maintains that Richard Sperry built his home on the western side of the valley by a stream with gentle falls which flowed easterly to join the West River. This describes two possible locations. One is the Luciani Farm which is bisected by an ancient stream which first passes under Amity Road by Brookside Market and then gently drops through a series of small falls and pools until it comes to level ground at the farm. Historically, these falls were known as Sperry’s Falls (not to be confused with the later Sperry’s Falls located off Dillon Road). They were probably named by Ebeneezer Sperry when he settled there in 1730. Vic Sperry’s research did mention that Ebeneezer Sperry had used some timbers from his grandfather’s (Richard) original dwelling. So we can be certain that this is not the location of Woodbridge’s first colonial home, but at least some of the original timbers, re-used in the construction of Ebeneezer’s home survived until 1956.

More likely, the location of Richard Sperry’s original homestead was in the area of Amity and Bradley Roads – possibly on part of what is now Amity Road! Fifty feet south of that junction flows a stream with a west to east direction, which is then piped under Amity Road, and continues some distance toward Litchfield Turnpike. When Sperry settled, it was likely Amity Hill which was very steep. You can still see the original contour today. Again, through Vic Sperry’s research, the first Sperry house had been built on a rise overlooking the valley on the far side of the brook where the Paugussett Trail (Ancient Highway) begins its climb toward Milford. Also, in a publication entitled “Early Reminiscences of the Town of Woodbridge” by Charles Bond from the 1920s tells of a visit the two Regicides paid to Richard Sperry.

On this visit they saw men with red coats riding up the valley toward the house. The Judges fled to the woods on the hill and concealed themselves behind a huge boulder, 20 rods (125 feet) west of Sperry’s house. The mentioned name for that boulder was Savin Rock (not the one in West Haven). Today that glacial erratic can barely be seen through the undergrowth from the parking lot behind the building at 264 Amity Road, even though it is as large as a bus.

With these coordinates it seems likely that Sperry settled in this location which provided him with an excellent view of his domain. Before him lay land which had already been farmed for hundreds of years by the prehistoric people who lived there. Over the years I’ve collected many stone farming tools from the farms which are no longer there. These and other pre-historic artifacts from the flats can be seen on display at the Woodbridge Town Library.

When I was very young I remember visiting with my parents a fieldstone house which was located where the Wells Fargo Bank now stands. That house was owned by Nick and Angie Battista, and the stream that still flows through that property ran along the south side of their house not far from their side entry.

Before the Battistas moved into that home it was lived in by Mr. & Mrs. Antonio Perrotti. Agnes Luciani DeFilippo was close friends with their daughter, Jenny, and remembers a still behind the house which was operated by Antonio and his wife. This was probably not the only still in use at that time in the Flats.

By Simon Donato

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