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 – May 24, 1647
Preceded by William Gorges
Succeeded by Thomas Gorges
Personal details
Born July 1565
Clerkenwell, Middlesex, England
Died May 24, 1647
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 {Lady Smyth (a widow)}
Profession Governor, entrepreneur and founder of the Province of Maine

Sir Ferdinando Gorges (July 1565 – May 24, 1647), the "Father of English Colonization in North America",[1] was an early English colonial entrepreneur and founder of the Province of Maine in 1622, although Gorges himself never set foot in the New World.


Sir Ferdinando Gorges was born in July 1565 in Clerkenwell, Middlesex, England, the son of Edward Gorges, Esquire and Lady Cicely Lygon. He was born only a few weeks before his father's death. He is named for his mother's brother, Ferdinando Lygon. Very little documentation exists regarding his early life and education. He was brought up at Nailsea Court at Kenn near Wraxall.[2] He is descended from a cadet branch of the Russells of Kingston Russell, Dorset, which had changed its name to the matronymic Gorges, which family had died out in the male line on the death of Ralph de Gorges of Knighton, Isle of Wight, 2nd Baron Gorges, in 1331.

He entered the army at an early age and had obtained the rank of captain at the siege of Sluys in 1587, was a prisoner at Lisle in 1588, wounded at the siege of Paris in 1589 and knighted at the siege of Rouen in 1591.[3] He was rewarded for his services by the post of Governor of the Fort at Plymouth, which he held for many years.[4] In 1601, he became involved in the Essex Conspiracy and later testified against its leader, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.[5]

His interest in colonisation was invoked when Captain George Weymouth presented him with three captured American Indians.[6] In 1607, as a shareholder in the Plymouth Company, he helped fund the failed Popham Colony, in present-day Phippsburg, Maine.[7]

In 1622, Gorges received a land patent, along with John Mason, from the Plymouth Council for New England for the Province of Maine, the original boundaries of which were between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers.[8][9] "Ye Province of Maine" had its birth in this charter, dated August 10, 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..."[10] In 1629, he and Mason divided the colony, with Mason's portion south of the Piscataqua River becoming the Province of New Hampshire.[11] 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 crown's Plymouth Council for New England.[12] 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.[13][14]

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 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.[15]


Sir Ferdinando Gorges died on May 24, 1647[16] in his home in Long Ashton (then known as Ashton-Phillips) and is buried in the All Saint's Churchyard, Long Ashton, Somerset, England. He is buried in the Smyth crypt without markings due the circumstances of the time.[17] 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, another Ferdinando, finally sold to Massachusetts all rights to Maine for £1,250.

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. 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. New England was left to follow a very different destiny from that which Sir Ferdinando had devoted so much of his life.[18] It wasn't until 1820 that Maine achieved separate statehood.[19]

Personal life[edit]

He married four times. His first wife was Ann, daughter of Edward Bell of Writtle, Essex, whom he married in 1589 at St. Margaret's, Westminster, and who died in 1620: they had two sons, John and Robert, and two daughters, Ellen and Honoria, the last of whom died young. Secondly, in 1621, Mary, daughter of Thomas Fulford of Devon, the widow of Thomas Achims of Hall, Cornwall. Thirdly, in 1627, at Ladock, Cornwall, to Elizabeth Gorges (d.1629), daughter of Tristam Gorges of St. Budeaux, and widow firstly of Edward Courteney (d.1622)[20] of Landrake and of Trethurffe, Ladock both in Cornwall, and secondly of William Bligh (she died within a few weeks of the marriage). Fourthly, at Wraxall in 1629, to Elizabeth, Lady Smyth, widow of Sir Hugh Smyth of Ashton Court and the daughter of Sir Thomas Gorges and Helena, Marchioness of Northampton.[11][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Franklin Jameson, Henry Eldridge Bourne, Robert Livingston Schuyler, The American historical review, Volume 4:P683
  2. ^ University of Toronto Press, and the Royal Military College of Canada, 1953, Preston, Richard Arthur, GORGES OF PLYMOUTH FORT, The Life of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Captain of Plymouth Fort, Governor of New England, and Lord of the Province of Maine, pp. 19–20
  3. ^ New England Historic Genealogical Society (2000). The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 29, 1875. Heritage Books, Inc. pp. 44–47. ISBN 978-0788401954. 
  4. ^ "Sir Ferdinando Gorges Facts". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "GORGES, Sir Ferdinando (c.1568-1647), of Plymouth, Devon; later of Ashton Phillips, Som.". History of Parliament. The History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  6. ^ Wikisource:Gorges, Ferdinando (DNB00)
  7. ^ "Sir Ferdinando Gorges". Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "Grant of His Interest in New Hampshire by Sir Ferdinando Gorges to Captain John Mason". Teaching American History. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "A Grant of the Province of Maine to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason, esq., 10th of August, 1622". Yale Law School. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  10. ^ Fisher, Carol B. Smith, "Who Really Named Maine", Bangor Daily News, 26 Feb. 2002, pg. A9; Burrage, Henry S., GORGES and The Grant of the Province of Maine 1622 A Tercentenary Memorial, pp. 167–173.
  11. ^ a b "Sir Fernando Gorges". Empire in your backyard. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  12. ^ York Deeds, Maine Historical Society, Maine Genealogical Society, John T. Hull, Portland, 1887
  13. ^ History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1912
  14. ^ Portland in the Past, William Goold, 1886
  15. ^ "The Massachusetts Bay Colony's annexation of Maine". Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  16. ^ "Gorges, Sir Ferdinando", Dictionary of National Biography, (Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds.), Vol. XXII, Macmillan and Company, New York, 1890
  17. ^ Univ. of Toronto Press, Royal Military College, Kingston, Ont., 1953, Preston, Richard Arthur, GORGES OF PLYMOUTH FORT.., PP. 344–345
  18. ^ Preston, Richard Arthur, GORGES OF PLYMOUTH FORT, The Life of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Captain of Plymouth Fort, Governor of New England, and Lord of the Province of Maine, Univ. of Toronto Press, and the Royal Military College of Canada, 1953, pg. 345
  19. ^ "About the Maine Senate". Maine Senate. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ George Streynsham Master (1900). Collections for a Parochial History of Wraxall. J.W. Arrowsmith, printer. p. 22. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 

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