Samuel Gorton and the Gortonists
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Gorton House Warwick, RI

This paper was researched and written by, Cecile (Sissy) Ann Avery-Pigman 2003
Do not copy, reproduce, reprint, or use this matrial in any way without express written consent from me. I can be contacted at: capigman@yahoo.com 

    

        SAMUEL GORTON AND THE GORTONISTS

 

                  

                                                          I

 

 

Residing in the British Museum is a manuscript called The Saxon Chronicles.  This is a work done by monks in the 10th century A.D.  One of the oldest family names emerging throughout the chronicles is that of Gorton.  The first record of the name was in Lancashire, England well before the Norman Conquest of 1066 A.D.

 

          The Gorton Family is descended from the Saxon race, a fair skinned people who settled in England about 400 A.D.  The Gorton’s were nobility in the County of Lancashire where they were “recorded as a family of great antiquity”[1].  By the 13th century the Gorton’s were considered one of the most distinguished families of County Lancashire.

 

          During the next three centuries the Gorton’s contributed to the culture of Britain.  In the period from the 16th to the 18th centuries England was overwhelmed by religious conflicts.  Many families lost titles and estates as religious groups gained and lost power.  The turmoil led many people to migrate to such places and Ireland and the Colonies of North America.  One of the first migrants to settle in the colonies was Samuel Gorton.  Samuel was accompanied by his wife, Mary (Maplett) Gorton, their daughter Mary and son John and Samuels’s brother Thomas.  They sailed from England on a ship called “The Speedwell” and arrived at Boston in 1637.

 

         

                                                          II

 

          Samuel Gorton was born on February 12, 1592 in Gorton, Lancashire, England.  He was baptized in the Cathedral Church in Manchester, England.  Samuel was the son of Thomas Gorton and Thomas’ second wife Anne.  His parents were well to do and quite connected with the English Heraldry.  Samuel received a classical education through his private tutors.  He was fluent in both the Greek and Hebrew languages which allowed him to study the Bible’s original text.  This ability led him to form his own ideas and opinions as to the Bible’s interpretation.

 

          Upon landing in Massachusetts Samuel found that the area controlled by the Boston Puritans was no better than what he’d left behind.  His radical religious and political ideals and his outspokenness soon put him at odds with the Government of Massachusetts.  A courteous and friendly man, Samuel was open-minded and did not hesitate to express his opinion.  He had very strong ideas when it came to religion and politics.  Samuel believed and fought for the separation of church and state, the right of all people to religious freedom whatever their religion was.  He believed that the Native Americans should be paid for their lands.  Samuel was against slavery and fought to ban it.  He was America’s earliest advocate for equal rights for women.  Not only did he think that women deserved the right to speak their minds, he also believed that they should be listened to! 

 

          Samuel’s outspoken beliefs, along with the fact that he was gathering a following irked Massachusetts’ Puritanical government.  Boston wanted to be rid of Gorton and his Gortonists, to the extent that he was once imprisoned because his maid smiled in church!  It is unknown exactly how long he was jailed as a result of this “crime”.

 

          After regaining his freedom Samuel and his followers were thrown out of Boston.  They settled an area of Rhode Island now known as Portsmouth.  One of Portsmouth’s most prominent citizens at that time was William Arnold, Benedict Arnold’s father.  William Arnold was well connected with the Massachusetts government.  He was also opposed to the Gortonist’s settling in Portsmouth and he appealed to Boston to “rid him of the Gortonists”.

 

          The puritan government enlisted two Indian chiefs, Ponham and Soconoco to do their dirty work.  The Indians raided Samuel’s home and burned it.  The Gorton family and his following retreated to a blockhouse to take refuge.  The soldiers arrived from Massachusetts; they surround the house and fired upon it until the Gortonists surrendered. 

 

          Samuel and his assemblage (now numbering about 100) were put on trial charged with being “blasphemous enemies of the true religion and likewise of all civil government.”  They escaped death by one vote and were sentenced to “wear chains and leg irons at the pleasure of the court.”  The governor of Massachusetts at that time, John Winthrop, was a quiet friend of Gorton’s.  He appealed to the court and had the sentences reduced to banishment from Portsmouth.  Banishment was nothing new to Samuel Gorton.  Prior to this incident he had been thrown out of Boston, Plymouth, Aquidneck and Newport.  By 1642 an English historian said, “Gorton might almost be said to have graduated as a disturber of the peace in every colony in New England!”

 

 

                                                          III

 

          Samuel, his family and his band of believers left Portsmouth in a blizzard.  They walked about 90 miles to the area that is now known as Providence.  They purchased land from the great chief Miantonomo.  This purchase came to be known as “The Shawomet Purchase”.  The Gortonist’s became friends with the Indians and became fluent in their language.  In 1642 Samuel was elected as Deputy Governor of this new land.

 

          Though the Gortonist’s were many miles away from Massachusetts, the government there was still not happy with his existence or with his religious and political ideas and with his befriending of the Indians.  Gorton was noted in history as a man who “had the power to inspire fear, loathing and wrath among his enemies”.  The puritanical government of Boston, it seemed, did fear and loathe him even though he was far from Boston.  The magistrates of Massachusetts harassed Samuel with correspondences stating that the land he had purchased was under Boston rule.  Samuel ignored the letters.  Once again the government charged him with blasphemy and once again soldiers from Massachusetts arrived and burned his home.  Gorton was again imprisoned for a time and released on the condition that he leave the land that the Gortonist’s had purchased.

 

Samuel did indeed leave.  He made arrangements for his family to live with Indians families nearby, then he disappeared.  While Boston was celebrating what they saw as a victory, Samuel was on a ship to London.  There he met with his old friend, Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick.  Samuel presented a manuscript to Parliament entitled

Simplicities Defense against a Seven Headed Policy.[2]   With the help of the Earl of Warwick Samuel was granted a Royal Charter and received an order of “safe passage and conduct”.  Needless to say the Massachusetts government was not happy upon Samuels return to Boston and even less happy with the Royal Charter.  The militia now had to escort Samuel safely back to Rhode Island and the government was ordered to never interfere with Samuel Gorton or the Gortonist’s again.

 

 

IV

 

 

          Samuel returned, safely, to the land he and his followers had purchased.  He named the land Warwick after his friend the Earl.  In 1649 Samuel was elected General Assistant to the Governor and in 1651 he was elected first President of the towns of Providence and Warwick.  For many years he held offices of Commissioner and Deputy Governor.

 

          In 1670 Samuel retired from official office.  He died on December 10, 1677 at the age of 85.  Samuel is buried in Warwick behind a home off Warwick Neck Road.  Samuel Gorton has been noted as a “forgotten founder of liberty”.

 

          The Gortonists sect survived for about 100 years after Samuel’s death.

 

The author of this paper, Cecile (Sissy) Ann Avery, is the eighth great-granddaughter of Samuel Gorton.  Her line of ancestry is as follows:

 

Cecile Ann Avery, born 12 Nov. 1965, Ellenville, NY, her mother is:

 

Helen Mae Bennett, born 04 October, 1929, Ellenville, NY,  her father is:

 

Walter Bennett, born 01 Sept. 1892, Ulster Heights, NY, his mother was:

 

Minnie Bunting, born 2 Jun. 1867, Ulster Heights, NY, her mother was:

 

Bathena Maria Wakeman, born 6 Dec. 1833, Ulster County, NY, her mother was:

 

Phebe Gorton, born 5 Aug. 1811, Town of Neversink, NY, her father was:

 

William Gorton III, born 19 Aug. 1771, New London, CT, his father was:

 

William Gorton Jr., born 21 Sept. 1748, Mashapaug, RI, his father was:

 

William Gorton, born 1705, Warwick, RI, his father was:

 

John Gorton, born, 1632, Gorton, Lancashire, England, his father was:

 

Samuel Gorton, born, 1592, Gorton, Lancashire, England

 

 



[1]  Kathryn Mae Gorton Thompson, 1999

[2] This document is in the US Library of Congress.