Governors of Connecticut

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William Leete

From: The Governers of Connecticut
By: Frederick Calvin Norton
Published: 1905


WILLIAM Leete is generally known in history as the sturdy governor who sheltered and defended the regicides when they were in Guilford. This was one of the unimportant incidents of a particularly busy life, yet it has found a place in various local histories and in more pretentious biographical works. His ancestors were members of an ancient family. Gerard Letie, or Leete, owned lands in 1209, during the reign of King John, in Morden, Cambridgeshire. Matthew Lety, John Leet, Henry Leete, were all Englishmen of prominence and their names appear in the public rçcords previous to the year 1550.

William Leete was the son of John Leete, of Dodington, and Anna Shute, daughter of one of the justices of the King’s Court. He was born in Dodington, Huntingdonshire, England, in 1612 or 1613. Educated as a lawyer, Leete was for a time clerk of a Bishop’s Court at Cambridge, where he witnessed the oppression and cruelties imposed on the unoffènding Puritans.

In 1643 Leete and Samuel Desborough met the Court at New Haven, when New Haven colony was planned and organized. He was one of the deputies from Guilford to the General Court of New Haven colony until 1650; and from 1651 to 1658 was magistrate of the town. During the latter year he was elected deputy governor of the colony, and continued in the office until he was chosen governor in 1661. He held this position until the union of the colony with Connecticut in 1664. After the consolidation of the colonies Leete was an assistant until 1669 when he was chosen deputy governor of Connecticut colony. He was reelected to this office annually until 1676, when he became governor of the colony.

Shortly after his election as governor, Leete moved to Hartford from Guilford, and he resided in that town until his death in 1683. His remains were buried in the old cemetery at Hartford; and Treasurer John Talcott made an entry in his account book that it cost the colony eleven pounds of powder for firing the “Great Gun at Gov’r leetes funerall.”

Governor Leete was a popular official; his administration abounded with good results through a particularly difficult period, and his great integrity won the approbation of friends and enemies. Dr. Trumbull wrote of him: “He died full of years and good works.” Paifrey summed up his public life in these words: “Leete was an intelligent and virtuous ruler and Connecticut prospered under his care.”

The story of Governor Leete’s experience with the regicidesGoffe and Whalley - when they fled to New England, upon the restoration of Charles I., is as follows:

Ezra Stiles in that curious little volume, “The Judges,” states that Goffe and Whalley were in Guilford twice. The first time was when they were flying from Boston to New Haven. The second visit has been the foundation of a story, which, according to Dr. Bernard C. Steiner, the brilliant historian of Guilford, is much disputed as some of the details are clearly wrong. Goffe and Whalley probably went to Governor Leete’s home and were secreted there several days and nights. Finally the judges returned to their
place of concealment in New Haven. There is a tradition given credence in several histories that the governor’s daughter, Anna, who afterward became the wife of John Trowbridge of New Haven, fed the regicides from the governor’s table. Dr. Steiner, an eminent authority, says these men were hidden in Guilford, if at all, in June, i66i. President Stiles relates the story thus:

“It is an anecdote still preserved in that family that she (the governor’s daughter Anna) used often to say that when she was a little girl these good men lay concealed some time in the cellar of her father’s store, but she did not know it until afterward; that she well remembered that at the time of it she and the rest of the children were strictly prohibited from going near that store for some days, and that she and the children wondered at it and could not perceive the reason of it at that time, though they knew afterward.”

“Tradition says that they were, however, constantly supplied with victuals from the governor’s table, sent to them by the maid who long atter was wont to glory in it - that she had fed those heavenly men.” As the governor’s daughter, Anna, referred to in this anecdote, was born on March 10, 1661, and the regicides were there in June of the same year, the error is obvious.
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