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Story of Samuel Gorton

First governor of PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS of Rhode Island,

and founder of Warwick, Rhode Island.

Samuel Gorton is my immigrant ancestor. He was baptized on February 12, 1592 in the Cathedral Church, Lancashire, Manchester, England. He was probably born there in the Parish known as Gorton. His father was Thomas Gorton and his mother was Thomas' second wife, Anne. Samuel's parents were influential and well to do, "not entirely unknown to the heraldry of England," wrote Judge George A. Brayton, Justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. Samuel had private tutors who taught him the classics. His fluency in both Greek and Hebrew enabled him to study the Bible's original text.

All around Samuel, the world was torn by religious wars. Samuel was caught in the unrest. He befriended a Separatist elder who later moved to Holland. The Separatists were the people who chose to separate themselves from the Church of England; some were eventually known as Pilgrims, others were known as Puritans. Samuel Gorton was neither a Pilgrim nor a Puritan. He was a nonconformist. He was a man of deep, strong feeling, keenly aware of every injustice inflicted on the humblest of God's creatures. An excellent preacher, he was also a profound thinker who, in his spiritual meditations, wandered off into infinity often forgetting his earthly surroundings. The Honorable Job Durfee, Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, thought that Samuel, "did indeed clothe his thought at times, in clouds, but then it was because they were too large for any other garment."

Yet, in ordinary life, no one was more plain, simple, and unaffected than Samuel. He was courteous, friendly, and elegant. He is said to have looked like a Saxon, tall and thin, with blue eyes and light brown hair. Early records say he was a clothier in London. This is where he might have met his wife, Mary Maplett. Incidentally, her brother was to become a famous personal physician for King Charles I. An articulate and passionate man, he was able to preach for hours at a time. A convincing speaker, Gorton spoke openly whenever he could get people to listen to him. His enemies complained about his charismatic language. Searching for religious freedom, Samuel, his wife Mary, the first three of their eventual nine children, and Samuel's brother Thomas sailed to America aboard the Speedwell, landing in Boston in 1636.

Samuel found the world of the Boston Puritans no better than the one he had left behind in England. He soon became involved in many disputes with the Puritan government in Massachusetts, so much so that they tried to imprison him. His every thought and word was an issue with the Puritan rules. His maid was put in jail because she smiled in church. Samuel went to jail for his maid and was later thrown out of Boston. It is believed that he went on to Portsmouth, Rhode Island with his family and spoke out against the magistrates there, calling them all "asses."

William Arnold (Benedict Arnold's father) was against Gorton and his followers settling near what is now Portsmouth. Samuel didn't sense this animosity and he unwisely built homes. The Arnolds' appealed to Massachusetts to help rid themselves of the Gortonists, as Samuel and his followers had become known. Massachusetts enlisted two Indian chiefs, Ponham and Soconoco, to get Gorton out. They raided Samuel's home and burned it down. The Gortonists retreated to a block house. Then Governor Winthrop, a friend of Gorton, had Mr. Chad Brown try to mediate. He was unsuccessful. The Massachusetts soldiers came and entrenched themselves. They started firing and Samuel hung out the English flag, which was promptly shot to shreds. The Gortonists surrendered and were put in jail. Governor Winthrop had to abide by this although he did not want to. They were brought to trial and escaped death by one vote. After repeated persecution and prosecution, the court banished Gorton and his followers to other towns. They had to wear leg irons. Since Samuel had always been a friend of Governor Winthrop, he appealed. By March, 1644, the Massachusetts Bay authorities found that Gorton and his company did no harm in the towns where they were confined and not knowing what to do with them, set them free and gave them fourteen days to make themselves scarce. This miraculous escape enabled Gorton to obtain the submission of the Narragansett Sachems Indians, an achievement which contributed in no small measure to the Independence of Rhode Island. He and about 100 other Gortonists braved a blowing snowstorm to walk and ride horses about 90 miles to the area now known as Providence.

Moving on was no new experience for the Gortonists. Each of them had been cast out of Massachusetts and most of them from other Rhode Island settlements. Gorton himself had been cast out of Boston, Plymouth, Aquidneck, and Newport before seeking refuge in Providence. By 1642, an English historian commented, "Gorton might almost be said to have graduated as a disturber of peace in every colony in New England." All of the settlers of Providence were outcasts from Massachusetts. Of all those who were banished because they dared to express opinions in conflict with the ruling hierarchy, Roger Williams is the most famous and Samuel Gorton is the most notorious. Samuel Gorton had the power to inspire fear, loathing, and wrath among his enemies.

Samuel and his followers purchased land from the Great Chief Miantonomo. This tract of land was to become known as the Shawomet Purchase. Other names on the deed, dated January 12, 1642, were: William Hutchinson, John Wickes, Sampson Shotten, and Robert Potter. In April, 1642, Samuel was elected Deputy Governor of the Land. They became friends with the Indians and Gorton and his older brother, Thomas, became adept in the Indian tongues. Even after the group became the owners of the land, there were problems. The Massachusetts Magistrates kept sending Gorton letters stating that the land was still under the rule of Boston. The magistrates even charged Samuel with blasphemy and burned the family home. They arrested and jailed him. His wife and children went to stay with friends and several Indian families. Samuel eventually cleared his name and was released from jail. However, he was told to leave Shawomet. He left, all right!

Samuel decided to rid himself of the yolk of the Massachusetts Magistrates once and for all. He headed to England, but had to detour through the New York area, since he was still a wanted man in Massachusetts. He left his family for three years and sailed to England and presented his written manuscript, "Simplicities Defense Against a Seven Headed Policy," London, 1649 (a copy of this is in the U.S. Library of Congress).

With the help of his friend, the Earl of Warwick, Gorton obtained hearings from Parliament since King Charles I had left power. Finally, Samuel was granted a royal charter with the help of the Earl of Warwick. Once he had the charter, he also got an order of safe passage and conduct given to him from the Earl. Upon sailing back into the Boston Harbor, he showed the magistrates the grant and they were very angry because they had to give Samuel safe passage back to Rhode Island. The charter also said that the Massachusetts government had to help Samuel set up his government. Never were they allowed to again interfere with Samuel Gorton.

Once charter government was established in Warwick, Gorton was satisfied and we hear no more of him making trouble. He was continuously honored by fellow citizens. Also, the town of Warwick was formed, and named after the Earl of Warwick. Records show that in March 1664, Samuel was still active and appointed Administrator of John Smith's will. Happily, he lived to see religious freedom secured to the colony in its Constitution.

In 1649, Samuel Gorton was elected general assistant to the Governor, and in 1651, was elected the first President over the two towns Warwick and Providence, called the Providence Plantations. Mr. Gorton was from this date the first citizen of Warwick, and his name stands at the head of the Warwick Commissioners for several succeeding years. He was elected a Deputy Governor in 1664, 1665, 1666, and 1670.

The Massachusetts Magistrates had often denounced Gorton as an anarchist, a blasphemer and rogue. This was not the real Gorton. Gorton's moral character was of the highest caliber and though he differed from the Orthodox Puritans he was never a blasphemer. He was an independent thinker and a true champion of liberty. He was a graduate of Pembroke College and Cambridge and was a minister of the Gospel. Throughout his life he was a close friend and devoted admirer of Governor John Winthrop.

The Gortonists beliefs have been described as a type of Christian Transcendentalism. The group believed Jesus Christ was divine, but they did not believe in the Trinity. They didn't think preachers should be paid, felt women were equal to men, were totally against slavery, and thought each individual had a right to read and study the scriptures for himself. Gorton staunchly believed that people should pay the Indians for their lands. Gorton's political creed may be stated briefly: true liberty can be found only within the framework of the law, which protects the civil right of the individual and the minority from the passing whim of the majority. He believed that government should be limited to civil affairs.

By about 1670, Gorton was in his advanced years and had retired from official cares. He died on December 10, 1677 at the age of 85. Samuel's grave is in Warwick behind a home off Warwick Neck Road. There are several Gorton cemeteries there. To this day, several lines of Gorton's live in the area. Much has been written about Samuel and his chair is in the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C. Samuel can be called a forgotten founder of liberty.
References and Books to read about Samuel Gorton

1907 The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton by Adelos Gorton, a very rare book.

1980 Samuel Gorton of Rhode Island and His Descendants, Thomas Gorton.

May 1942 Bulletin of the Newport, Rhode Island Historical Society titled: "Samuel Gorton" by William Wager Weeden.

Samuel Gorton's letter to Lord Hyde - Providence: Society of Colonial War 1930, page 5 (Also called GORTON TO HYDE

Massachusetts War with Samuel Gorton, Providence: RHODE ISLAND PENDULUM, 142.

"The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge," Samuel Macauley Jackson New York Funk and Wagnall's, dated 1909, page 25-26

"Simplicities Defence Against Seven-Headed Policy," by Samuel Gorton London, 1646.

"The Founding of New England," Boton: The Atlantic Monthly 1921, page 142

"An Abstract of The Laws of New England," John Cotton, London 1641, page 10.

"The Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, The Story how Samuel Gorton fought in the Pequot War," by Nathaniel B. Shurleff, Boston 1855, page 104, 1856, page 70.

"History of Rhode Island." John S. Taylor, NY 1853, page 40.

"The Complete Book of Emigrants," by Peter Wilson Coldham 1607-1660, page 227. Year 1644, entry April 19.

The Copy of Act of Submission by Pessicus Sachema and the Narragansett Indians to the government of England. Samuel, Gorton, John Wickes, Randal Holden and John Warner are appointed to execute the Deed witnessed by Christopher Helme, Robert Potter and Richard Carder.

Also in "The Complete Book of Emigrants," entry dated April 1647. PROBATE THE WILL of Mary Maplett of St. Giles Cripplegate, London, whose daughter Mary was married to Samuel Gorton of New England.

"The American Genealogist," 1989, by Donald Lines Jacobus, Vol 18-20, page 186, Samuel Gorton.

Samuel Gorton's writing chair is in the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C.