Agnes Grimshaw of Gorton

Participant in the Founding of the Colony of Rhode Island

The Rhode Island General Assembly first adopted a seal for the colony in 1664 (containing an anchor with the word “Hope” above it). The use of the word “Hope” was probably inspired by the biblical phrase “hope we have as an anchor of the soul.”

(Note: Webpage in preparation)

Agnes Grimshaw was born in Gorton, which is southeast of Manchester, in about 1588 or 1590. She married Thomas Gorton at Manchester Cathedral on September 14, 1612, and the couple had one child, Samuel, who was born in about 1616 but died as an infant. The couple apparently had no additional children.

In 1636, when Thomas’ younger brother, Samuel Gorton, emigrated to the American colonies in search of religious freedom, Thomas and Agnes accompanied him. Samuel founded a religious sect termed the “Gortonites” after arriving. He had conflict with the leaders at Massachusetts and bought the “Shawomet Purchase”, which is the modern city of Warwick, Rhode Island. Soldiers from Massachusetts were sent to arrest Gorton and six of his followers. This act caused Roger Williams to form an alliance in 1842 with leaders from Newport and Portsmouth in order to create the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Samuel Gorton was later elected as assistant to the Governor in 1649 and then as the first President in 1651 over the towns of Warwick and Providence, which were then called the Providence Plantations. The colony of Rhode Island was the first to declare independence from England at the start of the Revolutionary War.

Thomas and Agnes (Grimshaw) Gorton were apparently participants in the activities and drama of the Gortonites. A number of records exist documenting Thomas Grimshaw’s presence in Portsmouth 1637 to 1649. One record for Agnes indicates that Thomas was sued for the “extravagancies of his wife’s tongue” in 1646. Thomas and Agnes apparently died in Portsmouth, RI.

Agnes Grimshaw, who was born in Gorton in about 1590, was about 10 years older than the oldest known progenitor of the Audenshaw line of Grimshaws — George Grimshaw, who was born in 1600 and married Emme Taylor (see companionwebpage). Agnes has not yet been “tied in” to the Audenshaw Grimshaws, but may be a member of an earlier generation than that of George Grimshaw.


Webpage Credits


Webpage Credits

Thanks go to Norman Grimshaw for providing initial information that spurred the research for this webpage.

GORTON, Samuel (p. 302, 1st col.). Bapt. at Manchester, Lancs, 12 Feb. 1692/3, son of Thomas, husbandman, and Anne of Gorton. Thomas was probably son of Thomas, who was taxed at Gorton 1543, and he was the probable son of Thomas of Gorton taxed 1524. They were members of an ancient family settled at Gorton in Manchester, which occurs there in 1332 and 1421. On 10 Feb. 1634/5 he was complainant in the Chancery case of Gorton vs Foster and Lambe, where he is described as “Samuel Gorton of London, clothier.” On 27 Jan. 1647/8, while in England, he brought suit in the Chancery against one walker touching his feelings John Dukinfield, the member of a gentle Lancashire family. Prior to 11 Jan 1629/30 Mary, daughter of John Mayplet, haberdasher, of St. Lawrence Jewry, London, and Mary his wife. She was granddaughter of the Rev. John Mayplet, B.A. (Queen’s Coll., Chamb.) 1564. M.A. 1567. Rector of Great Leighs, en. Essex, and Vicar of Northolt, co. Middlesex, a writer upon natural history and astrology. Mary Gorton’s brother, Dr. John Mayplet (Christ Church, Oxon), B.A., 1634, M.A. 1638, M.D. 1647, was Principal of Gloucester Hall (now Worcester College, Oxon.) and Physician to Charles II. He later resided at Bath, co. Somerset, and is buried in the Abbey Church there with a tablet to his memory. (New Eng. Hist. & Gen. Reg., Vol. 82, pp. 185-3, 333-42; Vol. 70, p. 115.) Samuel was a volunteer for the Pequot War from Plymouth.

Othniel (3rd col.) married 1st Mercy dau. of Roger and Mary (1st wife) Burlingame and 2ndly, Mercy, granddau. of Moses and Mary (Knowles) Lippett. (R.I. Hist. Soc. Coll and., Vol 19, p. 16).

Add Thomas, omitted by Austin. Brother of Samuel. Bapt. Manchester 17 Nov 1588,m died, probably s.p., at Portsmouth, R.I. between 16 July and 21 Nov. 1649. Married at Manchester, 14 Sept. 1612, Anne Grimshaw. Volunteer to the Pequot War from Plymouth Mass., 1637, with his borther Samuel. Ferryman at Portsmouth, R.I., 7 Sept. 1640. On a jury at Portsmouth, 1 Dec. 1641. Freeman and General Sergeant, 16 March 1641/2; Ensign for Portsmouth 13:1:1644; sued by Richard Morris in 1646 for the “extravagancie of his wife’s tongue” in abusing Richard (Chapin’s Doc. Hist. R.I., Vol II, pp. 108, 120, 128, 161). Present at a Portsmouth town meeting, 29 Aug. 1644. Had land laid out to him at Wading River on 25 Ja. 1648/9. Town Sergeant and Water Bailiff at Portsmouth on 16 July 1649. Successor appointed 21 Nov. 1649. Died without issue or removed.

Samuel Gorton from Wikipedia

Samuel Gorton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Samuel Gorton (1592-1677), English sectary and founder of the American sect of Gortonites, was born on 12 February 1592 at Gorton, Manchester, in Lancashire.

He was first apprenticed to a clothier in London, but, fearing persecution for his religious convictions, he sailed for Boston, Massachusetts, in 1636. Constantly involved in religious disputes, he fled in turn to Plymouth, and (in 1637-1638) to Aquidneck Island (now Newport, Rhode Island), where he was publicly whipped for insulting the magistrates.

In 1642 he bought land, known as “Shawomet Purchase”, from the Narragansett people at Shawomet – now Warwick – where he was joined by a number of his followers; the authorities at Boston, frightened that his views would take hold among the population at large, sent soldiers to arrest Gorton and six of his companions. The Massachusetts soldiers ignored pleas from Roger Williams to respect the boundaries of Providence. As a result leaders from Providence got together with leaders from Newport and Portsmouth and formally created the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. After being arrested, Gorton and some of his followers served a term of imprisonment for heresy at Charlestown, but was released and formally banished when Winthrop and the other leaders found out Gorton was making converts. Of all the people banished from Massachusetts, none was more hated and feared by the Massachusetts leaders than Gorton.

Gorton’s beliefs included rejection of baptism, rejection of communion, and a total rejection in formal religious training.

In England in 1646 he published the curious tract Simplicities Defence against Seven Headed Policy (reprinted in 1835), giving an account of his grievances against the Massachusetts government. In 1648 he returned to New England with a letter of protection from the Robert Rich, 5th Earl of Warwick, and joining his former companions at Shawomet, which he named Warwick, in honour of the earl, he remained there until his death.

He is chiefly remembered as the founder of a small sect called the Gortonites, which survived until the end of the 18th century. They had a great contempt for the regular clergy and for all outward forms of religion, holding that true believers partook of the perfection of God.

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. He was elected a Deputy Governor in 1664, 1665, 1666, and 1670.

The spelling of Gorton’s first name with one L (Samuel, as opposed to Samuell) is a convention adopted by later scholars. In Gorton’s personal papers and publications, he consistently spelled his name with two Ls.

Gorton died on the 10th of December in 1677, and his grave is visible behind a private home, on Samuel Gorton Avenue off Warwick Neck Road in Warwick, Rhode Island. However, the grave aforementioned is that of one of Samuel’s descendants. Scholars agree that we actually do not know where he was buried, but there is a small memorial park with a bench, stone, and plaque commemorating the place where his homestead once stood on Warwick Neck Ave. in Warwick. Samuel’s homestead along with the rest of Warwick was burned to the ground during King Philip’s War.

Among his writings:

An Incorruptible Key composed of the CX. Psalms wherewith you may open the rest of the Scriptures (1647)

Saltmarsh returned from the Dead, with its sequel, An Antidote against the Common Plague of the World (1657)

See LG Jones, Samuel Gorton: a forgotten Founder of our Liberties (Providence, 1896).


Samuell Gorton, A Forgotten Founder of our Liberties, First Settler of Warwick, R.I., by Lewis G. Janes, Preston and Rounds, 1896

Gorton, Adelos, The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton, Philadelphia, George S. Ferguson Co., 1907

Thompson, Kathryn Mae Gorton, Family History and Story of Samuel Gorton, Rhode Island Reading Room, 1999

From Dave Utzinger’s Database

Entries: 651240 Updated: 2011-02-28 18:10:05 UTC (Mon) Contact: Dave Utzinger

ID: I055113

Name: Thomas Gorton 1

Sex: M

Birth: BEF 17 NOV 1588 in Gorton, Manchester Parish, LAN, ENG

Death: BET 16 JUL AND 21 NOV 1649 in New England

Note: As previously stated (supra, pp. 185-186), he seems to have accompanied his younger brother Samuel to New England, as he appears with him at Plymouth in New England in 1637 and later at Portsmouth. R. 1. Among the volunteers for the Pequot War from Plymouth were “Mr. Goarton” (i.e., Samuel Gorton) and “Thomas Goarton”. Chosen ferryman 7 September 1640, that he had land by the ferry, that to Thomas Brooks and to Thomas Gorton 30 acres apiece were to be laid out at Wading River (entry of 25 June 1648), that on 16 July 1649 Thomas Gorton was chosen town sergeant and water “baily,” and that on 21 Nov. 1649 John Albro was chosen sergeant in place of Thomas Gorton. As the entry of 21 Nov. 1649 contains the last reference to Thomas Gorton in the Portsmouth records, it is reasonable to suppose t’ int he died shortly before this date.

Father: Thomas GORTON

Mother: Anne ….

Marriage 1 Agnes Grimshaw

Married: 14 SEP 1612 in Manchester, LAN, ENG


Samuel Gorton b: BEF 2 NOV 1616 in Gorton, Manchester Parish, LAN, ENG


Title: New England Historical & Genealogical Register


Media: Book

Page: 82:341

Samuel Gorton by Jan Markle

Samuell Gorton born 1592 Gorton, Manchester, England, died Dec. 10, 1677, Warwick, Rhode Island

July 6, 2005

To descendents of Samuel Gorton I of Rhode Island:

Since it is Independence day I am writing this to give you some information about your ancestors on Frances Lenore Myers’ side (Constance Gates’ mother). Frances Myers’ mother’s name was Mary Augusta Gorton and she descended 7 generations back from Samuel Gorton (William7, Benjamin6, John5, Benjamin4, Samuel3, Samuel2, Samuel1), the original settler who founded Warwick, Rhode Island.

It is a shock to read about Samuel Gorton’s political views since he apparently was the original thinker who influenced much of our country’s philosophy. He believed in separation of church and state and believed an individual could have direct contact with God and did not need priests. He was against slavery and was for equality of women (this was in 1642!)

He was so radical that they kicked him out of the original colony in Boston (It’s a long story but fascinating to read. Read online: The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton by Adelos Gorton, 1907. Frances Lenore Myers is on p 517!) ) and he was banished to Roger Williams’ more tolerant settlement in Rhode Island. Samuell Gorton founded his own religious settlement in Warwick (pronounced “War-ick”), R.I., a coastal area about 25 miles north of Newport, RI. His followers became known as “Gortonites”, who later became Christian Trancendentalists and then Unitarians, the Unitarian Church (now Universalist Unitarian). That’s pretty shocking to think that our ancestor was a main thinker behind our democratic government and created his own religion.

But then I find out that since there were only a few original families in the settlement, they all intermarried, so some of our Gorton blood has different names. Mary Gorton, granddaughter of the original Samuel Gorton, marries Samuel Greene and they buy her Grandad Samuel’s original house. So, then the “Greenes” lived in the Gorton house.

One of their sons, William Greene, becomes Govenor of RI, and his son, William Greene Jr., also a govenor, active in the revolution, marries a woman who is friends with Benjamin Franklin. Gov. William Greene Jr.’s cousin, Nathanael Greene (the famous revolutionary hero who did a lot to win the war for the colonists), was George Washington’s right-hand man during the revolution and many revolutionary meetings with George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were held in Samuel Gorton’s original house in RI!

On his father’s side, Nathanael Greene descended from James Greene, one of the original settlers who came with Samuell Gorton to Rhode Island but Nathanael Greene also descended directly from Samuell Gorton via Samuell’s daughter, Susannah Gorton, who married a Barton and their daughter, Mary Barton, married a Greene. Nathanael was Mary (Barton) Greene’s grandson.

That’s enough, right? No, the actual cause of the outbreak of the revolutionary war, the first shot fired in the war, almost a year before the 1773 Boston Tea Party, (where colonist threw the tea overboard, after the Tea Act gave the East India Company a monopoly on the trade in tea and made it illegal for the colonies to buy non-British tea, forcing the colonies to pay the tea tax ) happened in Rhode Island, to cousins of the descendents of Mary Gorton and her husband, Samuel Greene!

It seems that Rufus Greene, who was captain of the “Fortune”, a ship owned by Nathanael Green, (first cousin of Mary Gorton’s great-grand-sons, Caleb and Christopher and later revolutionary hero), was stopped by a hated British Captain of the ship the Gaspee, who was trying to commandeer Rufus’s ship and tax the rum he was carrying.. When Rufus refused, he was beaten, taken prisoner and the ship seized and sent to Boston (“to avoid riots in RI”). This incident caused the townspeople to rise up and destroy the Gaspee and the first shot was fired at the British Capt., who almost died but was saved by a RI doctor.

No one would admit to King George who had participated in the attack on the Gaspee, although a sizable reward was offered. The people of RI were in favor of the action! This spirit of unity soon spread to the other colonies with the formation of the Committees of Correspondence. These were groups formed of private citizens in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York who began, in 1763, to circulate information about opposition to British trade rules. These groups became particularly active following the Gaspee event. The First Continental Congress followed soon after and then the Declaration of Independence.

So your direct ancestor thought up much of what democracy is today. Although the Gortons married into other families and took on other names, the “Gortonites” in Rhode Island held similar political beliefs and became a cohesive society. When it came time, only 4 generations later, to stand up for political truth in 1772 and 1776, Samuel Gorton’s views lived on, contributing who knows how much of our country’s history! Can you believe it?

If you ever feel frustration when our country does not live up to its democratic ideals perhaps, even though it is 10 generations later, there may be still something of Samuel Gorton flowing in your veins!

Until the next chapter,

Take care,

Jan Markle

PS. Yes, Gorton Fishcakes Company was formed by one of the descendents of Samuel Gorton: Slade Gorton.

In the spring of 1677, Gorton returned to Warwick and, at the age of 85, he built this house at Warwick Cove. A later dwelling is now on the site and a boulder with a bronze tablet marks the place. – Warwick Rhode Island,

More info on Samuel Gorton and his complicated conflict with the Boston colony leading to exile to RI and an article about the history of the Gorton surname, by Kay Gorton Thompson

Dramatic story on the burning of the Gaspee

More info on founding of Warwick, RI by Samuel Gorton

More on Mary Gorton and Samuel Greene and other Greenes in RI

Samuel Gorton by Gladman

Virtual American Biographies

Samuel Gorton

The “cantankerous”, “contumacious” and “obnoxious” Samuel Gorton has been subject to misrepresentation by the historians of four centuries. He is most commonly described as “bewitching and bemadding” not only Providence but the whole of southern New England. Edward Winslow’s contemporaneous Hypocrisie Unmasked is the usual starting point for those seeking an introduction to Samuel Gorton, appearing as it does to consist of testimony from several sources, including John Winthrop, of Gorton’s “mutinous …seditious …uncivil ….riotous” and “licentious” behaviour. But Hypocrisie Unmasked was composed at the specific request of the government of Massachusetts with the expressed purpose of discrediting Gorton before the English government. Gorton’s own testimony in Simplicities Defence and elsewhere tells a different story, which whilst not was never contradicted in his lifetime, or since, has not been thoroughly researched in its own right. Far from being the “dangerous” and “crazed thinker” of tradition Samuel Gorton was in fact a “strenuous beneficent force”, whose importance to the independence of the colony of Rhode Island, and his courage in securing it, was matched only by Roger Williams.

Samuel was born and raised in the village of Gorton, south-east Lancashire. His baptism is recorded in the registers of the parish church in Manchester, 12 February 1593. His parents were Thomas and Ann Gorton and contrary to several reports Thomas was not a London merchant but a Gorton husbandman (a small-scale tennant farmer ), recorded only in the Manchester area. However, like many of his peers and contemporaries in the region, Thomas was clearly prosperous in other fields as this was a man able to provide for the apprenticeship premiums of at least two of his four sons, Samuel and Edward (a carpenter), and the informal education, probably by private tutor, of at least one – Samuel. His later career would demonstrate his knowledge of rhetoric, logic and English common law. Such provision was beyond the abilities of a simple husbandman. (At least one of his daughters married into the local yeomanry.) Samuel was most likely apprenticed to a Manchester clothier (cloth merchant) at around the age of nineteen and as such contracts often resulted from existing commercial relationships it would not be unusual if Thomas was operating as a carrier of goods by pack train for a merchant (or merchants), albeit with a low profile for tax purposes.

Like many English people Samuel did migrate to London, probably on completing his apprenticeship, being first recorded there with his marriage to Mary Maplett, daughter of John Maplett, a prosperous haberdasher. By this time Samuel had established himself in the clothing trade. The couple were married at the church of St Mary Magdalen, Old Fish Street, 20 May 1628. Mary was remarkable not least in the possession of both reading and writing skills, unusual for a woman of the age. (She would bear Samuel nine surviving children, most of those births being under the most difficult frontier conditions.) In 1637 Samuel, his brother (Thomas junior) and their families joined the “Great Migration” of English Puritans (1630-1642), although he may have originally intended to sail in the same party as William Dyer and his wife Mary (the Quaker martyr) c.1634. William Dyer had lived and worked in the cloth trade in the same part of London.

Having arrived in Boston at the height of the Ann Hutchinson affair (the “Antinomian Crisis”) the Gortons rejected that oppressive society and moved on to Plymouth where it is reported that Samuel “began drawing away part of the congregation to a separate meeting”; but there is no evidence of this. His household obediently attended the compulsory Sabbath church services whilst Samuel was also holding his own twice-daily meetings. Religious instruction in the home was expected of the godly householder but Samuel attracted outsiders, including those not granted a voice in the formal church – women and young people. It is also commonly reported that his religious opinions were “obnoxious” to the people of Plymouth. Recent research suggests he was in fact close to the original beliefs of the Pilgrim Fathers, but that by 1638 Plymouth Colony was moving away from the principles shared by the Mayflower Pilgrims and religiously closer to their less tolerant and economically dominant Massachusetts neighbours, who had recently expelled Ann Hutchinson and her supporters. Regular attenders at the Gorton religious gatherings were a maid in the household of the serving minister John Reynor, and the wife of the previous incumbent, Ralph Smith, who was also the Gortons’ landlord. Mary Smith told Samuel “how glad she was that she could come into a family where her spirit was refreshed in the ordinances of God as in former days”. Mary and her first husband, Richard Masterson, had been members of John Robinson’s congregation in Dutch exile, from which the Pilgrim Fathers had emerged, suggesting Gorton’s beliefs were not so outrageous to others as has been claimed. As the Hutchinson crisis began in similar private meetings (conventicles) in Boston, the Plymouth authorities grew suspicious.

Probably at the instigation of those authorities Ralph Smith, to whom Smith was beholding for allowing him to retain his large house when replaced in the ministry, now attempted to withdraw the Gorton lease. When Samuel resorted to mutually agreed arbitration private papers were confiscated by Governor Thomas Prence. Then, a maid in the Gorton household was threatened with deportation for “smiling in congregation” and Samuel appeared on her behalf, only to find himself defending his lease. He challenged the court for abusing procedure and appealed to the people to “stand for your liberty”. For this he was accused of “sedition” and “mutiny”, fined £20 and banished. But the deputies of the court protested against both the sentence and the conduct of the magistrates, particularly in their refusal to allow them the vote on the question of Gorton’s guilt. Nine refused to attend the next sitting of the court and seven were fined 3 shillings as many as three times for continuing their protest. The Gortons were turned out of their home at the height of the worst blizzard so far experienced by the New England settlers. John Winthrop recorded at the time: “Five men and youths perished between Mattapan and Dorchester, and a man and a woman between Boston and Roxbury”. The women and children were taken in by friends but Samuel, Thomas and John Wickes were forced out into the wilderness, through knee-deep snow with several rivers to cross.

They eventually made their way to Aquidneck Island (Newport) where Anne Hutchinson and her supporters had settled. Here they found that William Coddington was abusing his power as Governor and “Judge” of the community to establish his own “feudal fiefdom”. After new elections in which the franchise was broadened Coddington was deposed and a new government formed under William Hutchinson, husband of Anne, and Samuel Gorton. They changed the name of their town from Pocasett to Portsmouth and continued what has been described as the first “experiment in civil democracy” in America. But Coddington had taken the town records and land-title with him in removing south to found the town of Newport, which meant the “Gorton government” could not legally apportion land to newcomers. Coddington eventually returned to power and set about removing those who had opposed him. Having committed no offence Samuel Gorton was tricked into court by a repeat of the Plymouth tactic of prosecuting one of his employees. The “snare” was successful and when he accused the court of manipulating witnesses, and the law itself, a brawl broke out in the court room when Gorton was ordered to be seized and taken away. Samuel Gorton took no part but William Coddington did. Anticipating popular support for Gorton Coddington had stationed armed men nearby and Gorton and his supporters were arrested. He was again banished but this time after a public whipping. After receiving his “stripes”, still half naked and bleeding from the lash, he dragged his chains behind him to pursue Governor Coddington as he rode away, promising to repay him in kind. After the death of William Hutchinson Coddington harried Ann from the island, threatening to return her to Massachusetts for further punishment. She and her extended family removed to Long Island, where they were massacred by Indians in 1643. Opposition to his rule continued and Coddington returned to England in 1651. Dishonestly claiming to have discovered and purchased the island himself, he fradulently acquired a patent for Aquidneck in his sole name. He was in fact only one of twelve original joint purchasers.

Samuel Gorton was attracting followers who appreciated both his own less extreme religious opinions and radical political views. In terms of religion, he denied the necessity of a professional ministry – insisting that each man and woman was his or her own priest- and rejected literal interpretations of Old Testament stories in favour of interpretation for the age, and greater emphasis on the actual teachings of Christ – The Word. Gorton preached that Christ was already risen, was here and now, and heaven was attainable on earth. His controversial political beliefs were that, all men being equal under Christ, the courts of men were not fit places to question religious opinions. Church and state should be kept apart: “any erection of authority of the State within the Church, or the Church within the State, is superfluous and as a branch to be cut off”. Like Roger Williams, he was a champion of “Soul Liberty”. Several of his supporters were banished from Aquidneck with him for sharing these beliefs and this growing party next settled in Providence with Williams. Here it soon became apparent that a faction among the original proprietors, led by William Arnold, were exploiting newcomers in the Pawtuxet area by selling them land then denying room to expand and rights to common grazing. This faction also controlled the town government. newly erected buildings were torn down and straying cattle impounded “until satisfaction were made”. In some instances, Gorton claimed, ropes restraining the cattle had been deliberately cut. There is evidence that “Gorton’s followers” at this time “outnumbered those of Roger Williams” and that he became spokesman for the majority of settlers, many of whom were not represented on the town council. The exploited began to resist the exploiters and when cattle belonging to Francis Weston were seized a melee ensued and injuries suffered by both sides. With their position of privilage and power under threat the Arnolds appealed to be taken under Massachusetts jurisdiction. In a letter to the Boston government they accused Gorton and his associates of all kinds of “uncivil” and “riotous” conduct; but while claiming to represent the majority themselves they were tellingly obliged to add “or very nearly”. As many of the Providence settlers were already expelled from Massachusetts for their religious beliefs, subjection to Massachusetts authority would have meant they would again be banished from their own lands, convenient for the Arnold coterie and for Massachusetts, who had designs on Narragansett Bay. Roger Williams returned to London to lobby for a patent for what would eventually become Rhode Island, an independent colony in its own right.

Hearing that Massachusetts was now making threats against his life because of his religious teachings and political popularity, Gorton and a party of twelve families removed to Shawomet, thirty miles beyond the Massachusetts border, where “both the Massachusetts and Plymouth confessed us to be outside of the confines of their Patents”. But Shawomet was in the region where the Arnolds, Indian traders on behalf of Massachusetts and now “official representatives of the Bay”, had their strongest links with local Narragansett tribes. The Gorton party had purchased their lands from the chief sachem, Miantonomo, who had also aided Roger Williams and the Hutchinson party – all outlawed by Massachusetts. Miantonomo was called to Boston where he was humiliated before the court. Within weeks of selling the land to Gorton he was dead, murdered by his Mohegan rival, Uncas, with the direct complicity of Massachusetts and Connecticut in what has been termed “a clear case of judicial murder”. When two minor sachems, Pumham of Shawomet and Socononocco of Pawtuxet, trading partners of the Arnolds, also requested to be taken under Massachusetts jurisdiction they were accepted as “praying Indians” even though “Massachusetts had hitherto shown no interest in Christianising the Indians”. Under the Arnolds’ orchestration and Boston’s sanction they proceeded to mount a campaign of harassment and intimidation against newly founded Shawomet. Houses were broken into and ransacked while the occupiers were working in the fields, stones were thrown at women and children when the men were absent and other acts of robbery were common. The settlers’ precious cattle were a prime target. They had not been settled long enough to establish a cycle of crops and English traders were forbidden to trade with them. And all the while Massachusetts was demanding they travel the sixty-plus miles to Boston to defend their ownership of Shawomet in a court that had no jurisdiction over the territory, the same court that had humiliated Miantonomo in telling him he had no right to sell his own land to heretics.

Before leaving Providence Gorton had written a lengthy and highly critical letter to Massachusetts, attacking their government and intolerant religious practices, and refusing to obey summonses to the Boston court. Until Roger Williams returned with the patent, Gorton told them, the only colonial government recognised in Shawomet was that agreed amongst its own inhabitants. The following year, after months of suffering at Shawomet, having recently learned of the fate of their friends the Hutchinsons on Long Island, and on the day another cow returned with arrows piercing its sides, a second letter was sent to Boston. Containing the often quoted lines “If you present a gun, make haste to give first fire: for we are come to put fire on the earth, and it is our desire to have it speedily kindled”, this letter provided the image of Samuel Gorton as the “dangerous firebrand” he is often represented to be. But, although containing another attack on Massachusetts’s integrity, the letter was an understandable response to the frustration, deprivation and stark terror being endured in Shawomet, and was in fact written by Randal Holden. It is often cited in mitigation of Massachusetts’s actions in sending a band of forty musketeers “and many Indians” to sieze the “dangerous incendiary” Samuel Gorton dead or alive. However, Massachusetts had not received the letter when despatching its forces.

Panic broke out when the Massachusetts troops attacked and two women died from exposure as a result of fleeing into the woods when unable to reach the boats intended to take the women and children to safety in Providence. The men occupied a blockhouse and barricaded themselves in, from where they non-violently resisted attempts to burn them out. On the final morning of the siege alone over four hundred rounds were fired at the blockhouse by the soldiers, “according to the emptying of their bandoliers”. During the entire siege the Gorton party fired only two shots in return, “at random and in the night, to keep them from working their trenches near unto us”; Gorton’s preferredweapon was hunour, calling out to the ofiicer commanding – Captain George Cooke – that the wheels were coming off his chariot of war. After failing to dislodge the defenders Cooke tricked his way into the house. Having agreed, in the interest of avoiding bloodshed, to Gorton’s suggestion that he and his party would go to Boston, but as free men, Cooke ordered the Gortonists to be seized. Nicholas Power and Richard Waterman escaped in the confusion, John Greene having already slipped away in the night in search of his wife Alice, one of the two women later found dead. The rest of the Gortonists, their homes ransacked and cattle taken as reparation, were dragged to Boston in chains.

They were placed on trial, the charge being blasphemy, although Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop admitted in his famous Journal that the fertile lands and natural harbours of the Narragansett territory were “like to be of use to us”. The prisoners were offered the chance to gain their freedom by denouncing Samuel Gorton’s teachings, as contained in the two letters. All the prisoners stood by the opinions expressed there. After a trial in which Gorton confounded the charges of blasphemy they were nonetheless pronounced guilty by a nine to three majority of the magistrates, voting in favour of death by hanging. As in Plymouth, the colony deputies – representatives of all the towns in Massachusetts – refused to ratify the sentence. Winthrop grew concerned at growing levels of support for the prisoners in Boston, even some of the soldiers sent to arrest them were now sympathetic. In the absence of a unanimous verdict the final decision rested with him and he chose to sentence the prisoners to hard labour in chains at “the pleasure of the court” – indefinitely. Gorton and six others were dispersed to as many towns across Massachusetts. The clergy continued to preach against the Gortonists and some even urged the people to whom they were impressed to starve them to death. Francis Weston died in Dorchester as a result of the hard treatment he recieved. Elsewhere across the colony, however, the prisoners attracted sympathy. They were, after all, otherwise ordinary settlers whose land had been seized illegally, and they were by no means the first to criticise the Boston government. Winthrop began to hear disturbing reports of broader support for the prisoners, particularly in Salem, where Randal Holden was held, and closer to Boston in Roxbury and Charlestown, where Richard Carder and Samuel Gorton were serving their sentences. Although forbidden to speak to anyone not authorised by the General Court their case was nonetheless being circulated and well received.

The terms of their confinement had stated that any breach of the order forbidding them to speak would be punished by death, but the government now found itself powerless to proceed in the face of popular opinion. The prisoners were released and regrouped in Boston where, to the further embarrasment of the church and civil authorities, they were welcomed “joyfully” by many of the people. A warrant was issued ordering them to leave the town by noon and banishing them from Massachusetts. The party made their way to Aquidneck, where Coddington’s government found they were similarly powerless to enforce the existing orders banishing them from the island. Samuel Gorton was even reinstated as magistrate in Portsmouth. Massachusetts stepped up its attempts to absorb the Narragansett region and those who would eventually become Rhode Islanders continued to resist. In one clash Gorton arrested the duplicitous Captain Cooke, who was then serving with the Massachusetts force harassing the Providence area. Although Williams had by now obtained the patent from the English Parliament Massachusetts and Plymouth were refusing to honour it, and it became clear that a further mission to London was required to have the patent ratified, and to have Shawomet – not established when Williams departed and so not named in the patent – formally included. Gorton, John Greene and Randal Holden departed for London, probably in the late summer of 1645. Forbidden to enter Boston on “pain of death” they were forced to travel to the Dutch territories in New York to gain a passage for Amsterdam, and from there to London.

In August 1646 Randal Holden returned to Rhode Island with ratification of the Williams patent, and a letter of safe conduct through Boston. The Shawomet people changed the name of their town to Warwick in honour of the Earl of Warwick, Parliamentary “Governor for Foreign plantations”, who confirmed the validity of the patent. But Edward Winslow arrived in England to oppose it on behalf of Massachusetts andPlymouth, to challenge and discredit Samuel Gorton, and request that he be prevented from returning to New England. His Hypocrisie Unmasked had been composed at the request and with the assistance of John Winthrop from ‘evidence’ supplied by Coddington, the Arnolds, Winslow and Winthrop himself. As Plymouth was now claiming the Narragansett region for herself the testimony it contained was provided by all of those who stood to gain from Gorton’s removal from New England. In all, Gorton appeared three times before the Warwick Commission for Foreign Plantations, defending attacks on both his and his settlement’s integrity; on each occasion he was successful. He also appeared before another committee and was satisfactorily examined on his fitness to preach. Despite the efforts of Winslow, and the delaying tactics employed by Massachusetts’s agents in having him arrested on board the ship that was to take him home, on the eve of departure (and on a false charge of unpaid debts), Samuel Gorton finally returned to Rhode Island in May 1648.

It is commonly reported even today that Samuel Gorton would accept no government or magistracy. Yet he served as a magistrate in Portsmouth and as a member of the General Court of the new colony of Providence Plantations and Rhode Island that in 1652 forced William Coddington to publicly confess his fraudulent actions in claiming Aquidneck for himself. The occasion must have given Gorton great personal satisfaction in witnessing his former persecutor’s humiliation. He went on to serve the colony as President in 1651 and as a magistrate until he retired from public office, aged seventy-eight, in 1670. In 1657 he was the author of the first protest against slavery in America. His religion was first and foremost humane, and tolerant towards the opinions of others. As with the early Quakers to whom he offered unconditional sanctuary, he may have disagreed with them but they were welcomed as equals and neighbours. Indeed, more than any other figure in New England his enlightened approach resembles what we recognise today as modern Christianity.

The story of Samuel Gorton is central to the history of Rhode Island, and the story of Rhode Island central to the history of New England. In this case, history was not written by the victors; it was written by those who had the only printing press, who were also the founders of New England’s first seat of learning at Harvard. Over the centuries the stories of those men and women – Roger Williams, Ann Hutchinson, Samuel Gorton, Mary Dyer – who opposed the excesses of the Puritan founders were ignored and then forgotten. Both Williams and Hutchinson have been subject to fitting historical revision and rescued from the margins they had been consigned to. The same cannot be said of Samuel Gorton, study of whose career in pursuit of the right to free speech and freedom of religion reveals nothing more sinister than the “middling sort” of Englishman evolving into the proto-American.

Based on the recently completed thesis, ‘ “A strenuous beneficent force”: The Case for Revision of the Career of Samuel Gorton, Rhode Island Radical’, submitted by G. J. Gadman in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Manchester Metropolitan University for the degree of Master of Philosophy (History), awarded February, 2004.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

Another, Better Biography 


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, call 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 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 Gortons 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)




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