Ferdinando Gorges

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Ferdinando Gorges
Arms of Gorges (modern): Lozengy or and azure, a chevron gules. These arms resulted from the famous 1347 heraldry case of Warbelton v Gorges
2nd colonial governor of Maine
In office
1639 – 24 May 1647
Preceded byWilliam Gorges
Succeeded byThomas Gorges
Personal details
Bornc. 1565-1568
Clerkenwell, Middlesex, England
Died(1647-05-24)24 May 1647 (aged 79-82)
Ashton Phillips, Somerset, England
Spouse(s)Ann Bell (died 1620); 4 children.
Mary Fulford {Mrs Achims (a widow)}
Elizabeth Gorges, {Mrs Courteney (a widow)}
Elizabeth Gorges {Lady Smyth (a widow)}
ProfessionGovernor, entrepreneur and founder of the Province of Maine

Sir Ferdinando Gorges (c. 1565-1568 – 24 May 1647) was a naval and military commander and governor of the important port of Plymouth in England. He was involved in Essex's Rebellion against the Queen, but escaped punishment by testifying against the main conspirators. His early involvement in English trade with and settlement of North America as well as his efforts in founding the Province of Maine in 1622 earned him the title of the "Father of English Colonization in North America,"[1] even though Gorges himself never set foot in the New World.


Ferdinando Gorges was born between 1565 and 1568,[a] probably in Clerkenwell, in Middlesex where the family maintained their London town house, but possibly at the family's manor of Wraxall, in Somerset.[b] He was the second son of Edward Gorges of Wraxall, by his wife Cicely Lygon. The circumstances of his father's death aged 31 suggested to Baxter (Gorges's first biographer) that Ferdinando was born at about the time of his father's death on 29 August 1568.[8] Edward Gorges, however, evidently realizing that his illness was fatal, prepared his will on 10 August 1568,[9] (and proved on 17 September of the same year)[10] in which Edward bequeathed to Ferdinando a 23-ounce gold watch and devised to him the manor of Birdcombe, Wraxal, for a term of 24 years. The terms of the testamentary gifts led an earlier memorialist to conclude that Ferdinando had been born sometime between 1565 and 1567.[11]

His Ancestry[edit]

Arms of Russell of Kingston Russell & Dyrham: Argent, on a chief gules three bezants

Ferdinando Gorges was by blood in the male line a member of the Russell family of Kingston Russell, Dorset and of Dyrham in Gloucestershire, an early member of which was Sir John Russell (died c. 1224) of Kingston Russell, a household knight of King John (1199–1216), and of the young King Henry III (1216–1272), to whom he also acted as steward. However, the last male of the ancient Anglo-Norman Gorges family, about to die childless, bequeathed his estates, including Wraxall, to Theobald Russell, a younger son of his sister Eleanor Russell, on condition that he should adopt the name and arms of Gorges. Ferdinando was a descendant of this Theobald Russell "Gorges".

Canting arms of Gorges (ancient): Argent, a gurges azure (gurges being Latin for a whirlpool)
Quartered arms of Gorges on the chest-tomb of Sir Edmund Gorges (d. 1512) and his wife Lady Anne Howard, showing Gorges (modern) and Russell, All Saints Church, Wraxall

The Gorges family arrived in England with the Norman invasion.[c] The male line of the Gorges family died out in 1331 on the death of Ralph de Gorges, 2nd Baron Gorges (d.1331), of Knighton, Isle of Wight. They were said to have lived in Somersetshire from the time of King Henry I and held their estates in Wraxall since the time of King Edward II.[13] The Gorges were recipients of many royal appointments and privileges since Edward's time.[14]

Ferdinando's great-great-grandfather married the eldest daughter of John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk,[15] from which connection they claim royal descent. Ferdinando's father Edward Gorges, as first born, became the heir of the family estate in Wraxal when his father died in 1558 when he was 21.[16] Notwithstanding the family tradition in royal offices, neither Edward nor his father Edmund took part in public affairs (the early deaths of both of them may have been a partial explanation).[17]

Ferdinando's mother was Cecily Lygon, a daughter of William Lygon of Madresfield, Worcestershire[17] (1512-1567),[18] (whose ancestors' connection with the throne could be traced back to King Richard II), by his wife Eleanor Denys, a daughter of Sir William Denys (d.1533) of Dyrham,[19] High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, whose family was the heir of the Russells of Dyrham, a descendant of which family in a direct male line was Ferdinando Gorges.[20] Among their descendants were the Earls Beauchamp.[21] Ferdinando Gorges was named after his mother's brother, Ferdinando Lygon. After the death of Edward Gorges, Cecily married John Vivian of Brydges.[22]

Ferdinando's only sibling was his older brother Edward, who was baptized at Wraxall on 5 September 1564.[11] Edward entered Hart's College, Oxford, in 1582.[23]


Very little documentation exists regarding his early life and education. He was brought up at Nailsea Court at Kenn near Wraxall.[24] Although as far as is known Ferdinando had no direct connection with the Court in his youth, he could not have been impervious to two great cultural currents of the time: the growing resistance to the absolute power of the monarchy, particularly in ecclesiastical matter, sometimes subsumed under the concept of "Puritanism", and the beginnings of English exploration and exploitation of the Western Hemisphere,[25] the latter especially owing to his distant family connections with Humphrey Gilbert and his half-brother Walter Raleigh.[26]

Gorges's military career[edit]

No documentary evidence records Gorges's activities before 1587 (when he was around 20), but because in that year he is referred to as a captain, it is probable that he took up the profession of arms several years before then, perhaps in his mid-teens (not uncommon in England at the time).[27] It is likely that he was engaged in active duty shortly after the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War in 1585. In 1587 he was one of the "several eminent chieftains" commanding the 800 soldiers sent from Flushing by Sir William Russell to aid the Earl of Leicester's attempt to relieve the Siege of Sluis laid by the Spanish Governor General of the Netherlands, whose revolt against the Spanish Habsburg rule England had pledged to aid.[28] Gorges fought under the command of Lord Willoughby, whose family he developed a close connection with.[d] It is unknown whether he was captured during that engagement or later, but by September 1588 he was listed as among the prisoners at Lisle, for his name is among those English prisoners who friends in England petitioned to have Spanish prisoner exchanged for.[30] In 1589 Gorges was wounded at the siege of Paris. He was knighted at the siege of Rouen in 1591.[31] He was rewarded for his services by the post of Governor of the Fort at Plymouth, which he held for many years.[32] During the Spanish Armada of 1597 Gorges was able to raise the alarm that enabled the defence of the country, but autumn storms made sure that the Spanish fleet was dispersed.

In 1601, he became involved in the Essex Conspiracy and later testified against its leader, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.[3]

Colonization efforts in North America[edit]

His interest in colonization was invoked when Captain George Weymouth presented him with three captured American Indians.[33] In 1607, as a shareholder in the Plymouth Company, he helped fund the failed Popham Colony, in present-day Phippsburg, Maine.[34]

In 1622, Gorges received a land patent, along with John Mason, from the crown's Plymouth Council for New England for the Province of Maine, the original boundaries of which were between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers.[35][36] "Ye Province of Maine" had its birth in this charter, dated 10 August 1622, in the reign of England's King James. A reconfirmed and enhanced 1639 charter from England's King Charles I, gave Sir Ferdinando Gorges increased powers over this new province and stated that it "shall forever hereafter, be called and named the PROVINCE OR COUNTIE OF MAINE, and not by any other name or names whatsoever..."[37][38] In 1629, he and Mason divided the colony, with Mason's portion south of the Piscataqua River becoming the Province of New Hampshire.[39] Gorges and his nephew established Maine's first court system. Capt. Christopher Levett, early English explorer of the New England coast, was an agent for Gorges, as well as a member for the Plymouth Council for New England.[40] Levett's attempt to establish a colony in Maine ultimately failed, and he died aboard ship returning to England after meeting with Governor John Winthrop in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.[41][42]

America Painted to the Life, book published in London, 1659, by Ferdinando Gorges Esq., grandson of Ferdinando Gorges

Ferdinando Gorges's son was Robert Gorges, Governor-General of New England from 1623–1624. But Robert Gorges was seen with some suspicion by American colonists, who were skeptical of Gorges' almost feudal idea of governance and settlement, and ultimately Gorges returned to England. In the 1630s Ferdinando Gorges attempted to revive the moribund claims of the Plymouth Company. In concert with colonists banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he formally questioned the issuance of its royal charter in 1632, and forwarded complaints and charges made by the disaffected colonists to the Privy Council of Charles I. His efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.[43]

Marriages and children[edit]

He married four times:

  • Firstly in 1589 at St. Margaret's, Westminster to Ann Bell (d.1620), a daughter of Edward Bell of Writtle, Essex, by whom he had two sons and two daughters:
    • John Gorges;
    • Robert Gorges;
    • Ellen Gorges;
    • Honoria Gorges, who died young.
  • Secondly in 1621, he married Mary Fulford, 3rd daughter of Sir Thomas Fulford (1553–1610) of Great Fulford in Devon,[44] and widow of Thomas Achims (alias Asham)[45] of Hall, in Cornwall.
  • Thirdly in 1627, at Ladock in Cornwall, to Elizabeth Gorges (d.1629), who died a few weeks after the marriage, a daughter of Tristam Gorges of St. Budeaux (a direct descendant in the male line of the Norman Gorges family) and widow firstly of Edward Courteney (d.1622)[46] of Landrake and of Trethurffe, Ladock, both in Cornwall (descended from the Courtenay Earls of Devon),[47] and secondly of William Bligh.
  • Fourthly, at Wraxall in 1629, to Elizabeth Gorges, Lady Smyth, widow of Sir Hugh Smyth of Ashton Court (near Wraxall) and daughter of Sir Thomas Gorges and Helena, Marchioness of Northampton.[39][48]

Death and succession[edit]

Sir Ferdinando Gorges died on 24 May 1647,[49] at his wife's home in Long Ashton (then known as Ashton-Phillips), and is buried in the Smyth crypt, All Saint's Church, Long Ashton, without markings due to the circumstances of the time.[50] His eldest son, John, inherited his Province of Maine, of which Robert, his younger son, had been for such a short time Governor. In May 1677 his grandson Ferdinando Gorges finally sold all his rights to Maine for £1,250, to the state of Massachusetts.

The epilogue to Sir Ferdinando Gorges' story is very brief. Although his grandson eventually accepted a paltry sum after many years of trying to secure the good name of his grandfather, he proceeded to acquire some validity of his grandfather's claims by the Puritans.[clarification needed] This sale finally extinguished the interests of the Gorges family in those American lands which Sir Ferdinando had labored to develop as a proprietary province owing to a close relationship to the English Crown.[clarification needed] New England was left to follow a very different destiny from that to which Sir Ferdinando had devoted so much of his life.[clarification needed][51] It was not until 1820 that Maine achieved separate statehood.[52]

See also[edit]

Notes, references and sources[edit]


  1. ^ Sources vary on his birthdate. His first biographer, James Phinney Baxter, sets his birth as shortly after the death of his father on 29 August 1568.[2] This year is also used by Hasler's 1981 History of Parliament, which relies principally on a family history.[3] Miller Christy, who examined English colonizing records, although not the Gorges family papers, suggests that his birth was around 1566,[4] a year also used by the 1890 Dictionary of National Biography[5] and followed by the online Encyclopædia Britannica. William Retlaw Williams has his birth year as 1584.[6]
  2. ^ No records of Ferdinando's birth or christening have survived. The registers of St. James, Clerkenwell, are imperfect and in disarray. And given that the Gorges family carefully recorded births, marriages and deaths in their ancient parish church in Wraxall, the fact that no record of Ferdinando's birth exists there suggested to Baxter that he was born in Clerkenwell.[7]
  3. ^ Baxter says that the Gorges family take their name from a hamlet in Lower Normandy near Carentan. From thence Ranolph de Gorges accompanied the Norman conquerors in 1066.[12]
  4. ^ In 1634 Gorges named Robert Bertie, the Baron's son and by then First Earl of Lindsey, as beneficiary of one of his proprietary colonies in the New World.[29]


  1. ^ Laughton 1890, p. 241; Christy 1899, p. 683
  2. ^ Baxter 1890, pp. I:1-3.
  3. ^ a b Hasler 1981.
  4. ^ Christy 1899, p. 683.
  5. ^ Laughton, 1890 & p241.
  6. ^ Williams 1895, p. 37.
  7. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:3 & n.3.
  8. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:3.
  9. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:2.
  10. ^ Brown 1875, p. 7. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFBrown1875 (help)
  11. ^ a b Brown 1875, pp. 7-8. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFBrown1875 (help)
  12. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:4; Thayer 1892, p. 20.
  13. ^ Laughton 1890, p. 241.
  14. ^ For a list of the major distinctions, see Baxter 1890, p. I:2 n.2
  15. ^ Laughton 1890, pp. 241-42.
  16. ^ Baxter 1890, p. II:165.
  17. ^ a b Baxter 1890, p. II:165-66.
  18. ^ Grantham, Scott (6 October 2016). "William Lygon, of Madresfield". Geni. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  19. ^ Heraldic Visitation of Gloucestershire, 1623, Maclean, Sir John (Ed.), London, 1885, p.51
  20. ^ Richardson & Everingham 2011, p. 407.
  21. ^ "Obituary: Earl Beauchamp". Gentleman's Magazine. 220: 743–44. May 1866.
  22. ^ Richardson & Everingham 2011, p. 409; Gorges & Brown 1944, p. 164
  23. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:4.
  24. ^ Preston 1953, pp. 19-20.
  25. ^ Baxter 1890, pp. I:4-13.
  26. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:13.
  27. ^ Baxter 1890, p. 14.
  28. ^ Bater 1890, p. 14.
  29. ^ Smith 1954, pp. 469-70.
  30. ^ Baxter 1890, pp. 14-15 n. 12.
  31. ^ Brown 1875, p. 8 n.*. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFBrown1875 (help)
  32. ^ "Sir Ferdinando Gorges Facts". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  33. ^ Wikisource:Gorges, Ferdinando (DNB00)
  34. ^ "Sir Ferdinando Gorges". Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  35. ^ "Grant of His Interest in New Hampshire by Sir Ferdinando Gorges to Captain John Mason". Teaching American History. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  36. ^ "A Grant of the Province of Maine to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason, esq., 10th of August, 1622". Yale Law School. 18 December 1998. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  37. ^ Fisher, Carol B. Smith, "Who Really Named Maine", Bangor Daily News, 26 Feb. 2002, pg. A9
  38. ^ Burrage, Henry S., GORGES and The Grant of the Province of Maine 1622; A Tercentenary Memorial, pp. 167–173.
  39. ^ a b "Sir Fernando Gorges". Empire in your backyard. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  40. ^ York Deeds, Maine Historical Society, Maine Genealogical Society, John T. Hull, Portland, 1887
  41. ^ History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1912
  42. ^ Portland in the Past, William Goold, 1886
  43. ^ "The Massachusetts Bay Colony's annexation of Maine". Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  44. ^ Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitations of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p.380
  45. ^ Vivian, p.380
  46. ^ Vivian, J.L., ed., The Visitations of Cornwall: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1530, 1573 & 1620; with additions by J.L. Vivian, Exeter, 1887, p.117
  47. ^ Vivian, 1895, p.246
  48. ^ George Streynsham Master (1900). Collections for a Parochial History of Wraxall. J.W. Arrowsmith, printer. p. 22. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  49. ^ Laughton 1890, p. 243.
  50. ^ Preston 1953, pp. 344-45.
  51. ^ Preston 1953, p. 345.
  52. ^ "About the Maine Senate". Maine Senate. Archived from the original on 7 December 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2014.


  • Baxter, James Phinney (1890). Sir Ferdinando Gorges and his Province of Maine. Boston: Prince Society. In three volumes, online, at archive.org, as follows: Volume 1 consists of Baxter's memoir of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and A briefe relation of the discovery and plantation of New England … (London: J. Haviland for W. Bladen, 1622). Volume 2 includes A briefe narration of the original undertakings of the advancement of plantation into the parts of American… by … Sir Ferdinando Gorges … (London: E. Brudenell, for N. Brook, 1658) as well as other works of Gorges and his son Thomas Gorges. Volume 3 is devoted to Gorges's letters and other papers, 1596-1646.
  • Brown, Frederick (1875). The Pedigree of Ferdinando Gorges. Boston: Reprinted for private distribution from The Historical and Genealogical Register (January 1875). The original article is Brown, Frederick (January 1875). "The Gorges Family". New England Historical and Genealogical Register. 29: 44–47. ISBN 9780788401954.
  • Christy, Miller (July 1899). "Attempts toward Colonization: The Council for New England and the Merchant Venturers of Bristol, 1621-1623". American Historical Review. 4 (4): 678–702, at 683.
  • Clark, Charles E. (1970). The Eastern Frontier: The Settlement of Northern New England, 1610-1763. New York: Knopf. LCCN 78111231.
  • Gorges, Raymond; Brown, Frederick (1944). The Story of a Family Through Eleven Centuries, Illustrated by Portraits and Pedigrees: Being a History of the Family of Gorges. Boston: Privately printed [D. B. Updike, the Merrymount Press].
  • Hasler, P.W., ed. (1981). "Gorges, Sir Ferdinando (c.1568-1647), of Plymouth, Devon; later of Ashton Phillips, Som.". House of Commons, 1558-1603. London: H.M.S.O for the History of Parliament Trust.
  • Laughton, J.K. (1890). "Gorges, Sir Ferdinando". In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of National Biography. 22. New York: Macmillan and Co. pp. 241–43.
  • Major, Minor Wallace (Fall 1970). "William Bradford versus Thomas Morton". Early American Literature. 5 (2): 1–13. JSTOR 25070464.
  • Pearson, John C. (October 1943). "The Fish and Fisheries of Colonial Virginia". William and Mary Quarterly. 23 (4): 435–39. doi:10.2307/1923194. JSTOR 1923194.
  • Preston, Richard A. (October 1939). "Fishing and Plantation". American Historical Review. 45 (1): 29–43. doi:10.2307/1905047. JSTOR 1905047.
  • Preston, Richard A. (1953). Gorges of Plymouth Fort: A Life of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Captain of Plymouth Fort, Governor of New England, and Lord of the Province of Maine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Richardson, Douglas; Everingham, Kimball G. (2011). Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (2nd ed.). n.p.: Create Space. ISBN 978-1461045137.
  • Smith, Bradford (July 1954). "[Review:] Gorges of Plymouth Port: A Life of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Captain of Plymouth Fort, Governor of New England, and Lord of the Province of Maine by Richard Arthur Preston". William and Mary Quarterly. 11 (3): 468–70. doi:10.2307/1943320. JSTOR 1943320.
  • Thayer, Henry Otis (1892). The Sagadahoc Colony: Comprising the Relation of a Voyage Into New England. Portland, Maine: Gorges Society.
  • Williams, William Relaw (1895). The Parliamentary History of the Principality of Wales, from the Earliest Times to the Present …. London: Priv. print. for the author by E. Davies and Bell.

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