USGenWeb Rhode Island Articles, Page 20 - Gorton
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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)

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 Wagnalls, 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 Mery Maplet 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 Gortons writing chair is in the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C.


By Kathryn Mae Gorton Thompson

The Saxon Chronicle is a manuscript which was painstakingly researched by Monks of the 10th Century and now dwells in the British Museum.  Emerging through the chronicles of History is one of the Oldest Familiy Names.  GORTON and the distinguished history of this Surname is interwoven into the tapestry of the History of England.  Historical analysts have used many sources in the preparation of this history.  Such as: The Domesday Book, The Ragman Rolls  (1291-1296)  The Curig Regis Rolls, The Pipe Rolls, The Haerth Rolls, Praish Registers, Baptismals, Tax Records and othe rancient documents and found the first Record of the NAME GORTON was in Lancashire, England where they were seated from very ancient times some will say , well before the Noman Conguest and the arrival of Duke William of Hastings in 1066 A.D.

The Surname Gorton was found in the archives, the name was sometimes revealed as Gorton,Gorten,Gortin,Gordon and these changes in spelling occured even between father and son.  It wsa not uncommon for a person to be born with one spelling variation, married with another and for yet another, to appear on his gravestone.  Scribes spelt the name the way it sounded as it was told to them.  From Century to Century spellings changed. The Family name  GORTON was found to be descended from the SAXON  RACE.  The SAXONS were a fair skinned people led by the BROTHERS GENERAL, Commanders Hengist and Hosa, who settled in England town about the year 400 AD. They settled first on the South British Coast, coming from the Rhine Valley.  They spread North and Westward from Kent and during the next four hundred years forced the Ancient Britons back into Wales and Cornwall to the West.  Cumbria and Scotland to the North.  The Angles held the Eastern Coastline.  The South folk in Suffolk, the North Folk, in Northfolk.  Under Anglo Saxon five century rule, the Nation divided into five separate Kingdoms.  A high King being elected as Supreme Ruler.

Alfred the Great emerged in the 9th Century as the saxon leader to dispel the Danish Invasion.  England by 1066 was Led by Harold "The King of the Saxons" and was enjoying resonable Peace and Prosperity.  The Norman Invasion from France under Duke William of Normandy and their victory at the Battle of Hastings found Saxon land owners to be forced to forfeit all of their lands. William with an Army of 40,000 men drove North wasting all of the land in his path.  All of the Northern Counties were destroyed. Both rebellious Norman Nobles and Saxons fled over the border into Scotland.  Those Saxons who remained were restive under Norman Rule.  Many moved northward tothe Midlands, Lancashire, and Yorkshire where Norman influence prevailed less.

The family name GORTON emerged as a Noble English Name in the County of Lancashire where they were recorded as a family of great antiquity seated at Gorton Near Manchester, until the early 1900s there was still a part of Manchester named Gorton, with manors and large estates in that area.  One of the earliest records is of Sir Thomas Gorton ( I have this manuscript) from the Manor Gorton. By the 13th Century the family had also acquired other estates in the County of Lancashire and became one of the Middle Ages Distinguished Lacastrian Families.  The next two or three centuries found the Surname Gorton flourishing and contributing greatly to the culture of the British nation.

During 16,17, and 18th Centuries, England was ravaged by religious conflicts. Protestantism, the new found Political fervour of Cromwellism and the remnants of the Roman Catholic church rejected all but the most ardent followers.  As each group gained power druing these turbulent times many were burnt at the stake but many more were banished form the land.  They lost all their titles, estates and status.  Many families were truly encouraged to migrate to Ireland or to the Colonies.  Some were rewarded with grants of lands and others were indentured as servants for as long as ten years.

In Ireland they became known as "The Adventurers for Land in Ireland".  They wer also known as "Undertakers". There is no evidence that the family name migrated to Ireland but this does not preclude the possibility of their scattered migration to that country.  These unsettling times were distrubing and the new world beckoned the adventurous. The Migrates some voluntarily form Ireland , some by Army Service, but mostly directly from England.  Some also moved to the European continent. Member of the family name Gorton sailed aboard the Armada of Small Ships know as "The White Sails" which sailed the Stormy Atlantic. These overcrowded ships were pestilence ridden, sometimes up to 40% of the passenger lists never reached their destinations.  Their numbers decimated by sickness and the lements and many were hterefore buried at sea.

Included amoungst the first migrants who settled in North America was Samuel Gorton in 1637, John Gorton Virgiina in 1679, Steven Gorton in Virginia in 1635.  Probably the most notorious and prolific Gorton Ancestor on the New America Colonies shores was Samuel Gorton. He and his wife Mary with the first two to three children and Samuels'  brother Thomas came over on the boat "The Speedwell" landing in Boston in 1637.  This Samuel is credited with being the first judge in the new world, a fair main, religious zealot and he hated the presecution of himself and his followers by the Puritans and was eventually banned by the Massachusettes Bay Society. He wrote a charter and went back to England presenting it to Parliament to gain his independence.  Hence he lived in peace eventually settling in Warwick RI. He founded that town and served for many years on the Providence Plantations and General Assembly,  Samuel Gorton was one of the first Governors of Rhode Island. Many books have been written about him. There is a 1907 Book by Adelos Gorton "The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton", a 1980 book by Thomas Gorton " Samuel Gorton of Rhode Island and His Descendents" These books included thousands of Gorton lines and ancestors.

When Samuel came over to the Colonies, the southern coast of Southern England was extremely overcrowded, near what is now SouthHampton, England. Today there is a huge ferry station where the Mayflower took off with ferries going back and forth to the Isle of Wight.

The new settlers, as Samuel Gorton, upon arriving in the New America Colonies found themselves yearning to see this vast land.  The east coast of the Colonies were  so overcrowded that from the port of entry on this coast, many settlers started treking their way west.  The Gorton name spread in the Americas.  They were granted lands along the banks of the St. Lawrence River and the NIagara Peninsula.  Samuel Gorton was great friends of the Indians and was granted most of the lands that are now the state of Rhode Island from the great Indian Chief Miantonomo. This is called the Showamet Purchase.

The Surname Gorton includes some very distinguished people. Including John Gorton is a famous Australian Politician. Slade Gorton was a Senator in Washington State in the U.S. Samule Slade Gorton founded the Huge Company The Gorton Fisheries in Gloucester, Massachusettes.  Thomas and Slade Gorton are very famous Gorton lawyers.  Sir Thomas Gorton of England. There are approximately 5,500 people that have the Surname Gorton that live in the United States.  The Gorton Coat of Arms is graned from an ancient grant to the family and it is described as Red with Gold Squares and a Gold Stripe accross the top. Above the squares is the Head of a Goat symbolizing strength.

                                           1999  Kathryn Mae Gorton Thompson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathryn Mae Gorton Thompson is from upstate New York and is a direct descendant of Samuel Gorton. Her line is: Samuel, John, John, William, William, Joseph, William, Warren, Edward, Edward, Kathryn. She started her genealogy research in 1972, and currently has thirty-three other Gorton cousins on the internet and sends out a bimonthly Gorton newsletter and so far has matched together thirteen families from the Gorton line. <[email protected]>

These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project. This document has been made available by Kathryn Mae Gorton Thompson, <[email protected]>, March 1999.
MailIf you have a (pre-1922) contribution from a Rhode Island book or newspaper you would like to share, please send me an e-mail with the publication title, author, and publisher. Thanks.