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 1565-1568?
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 (1565-1568? – May 24, 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.


Family and early life[edit]

Sir Ferdinando Gorges was born sometime between 1565 and 1568,[a] probably in Clerkenwell, in Middlesex County where the family maintained their town house, but possibly in the family estate near Wraxall, Somerset, in the county of Somerset.[b] He was the second son of Edward Gorges, Esq., and Lady Cicely Lygon. The circumstances of his father's death at 31 suggested to Gorges's first biographer that Ferdinando was born around the time of his father's death on August 29, 1568.[8] Edward Gorges, however, evidently realizing that his illness was fatal, prepared his will on August 10, 1568,[9] (and proved on September 17 of the same year)[10] in which Edward bequeathed 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]

Gorges's ancestors on his father's side arrived in England with the Norman invasion.[c] The male line of the Gorges family died out on the death of Ralph de Gorges of Knighton, Isle of Wight, 2nd Baron Gorges, in 1331. A cadet branch of the Russells of Kingston Russell, Dorset, changed its name to the matronymic Gorges, and it was from this branch that Ferdinando descended. They were said to have lived in Somersetshire from the time of Henry I and held their estates in Wraxal since the time of Edward II.[13] Ferdinando's great-great-grandfather married the eldest daughter of the first Duke of Norfolk,[14] and from this event they claim their royal connection. The Gorges were recipients of many royal appointments and privileges since Edward's time.[15] Ferdinando's father Edward, as first born, became the possessor 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, daughter of William Lygon of Madresfield, Worcestershire[17] (1512-1567),[18] whose ancestors' connection with the throne could be traced back to Richard II, and Eleanor Dennis, a descendant of Edward III through her father and of Edward I through her mother.[19] Among their descendants were the Earls Beauchamp.[20] Ferdinando Gorges was named for his mother's brother, Ferdinando Lygon. After the death of Edward Gorges, Cecily married John Vivian, Esq., of Brydges.[21]

Ferdinando's only sibling was his older brother Edward, who was baptized at Wraxal on September 5, 1564.[11] Edward entered Hart's College, Oxford, in 1582.[22]

Very little documentation exists regarding his early life and education. He was brought up at Nailsea Court at Kenn near Wraxall.[23] 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,[24] the latter especially owing to his distant family connections with Humphrey Gilbert and his half-brother Walter Raleigh.[25]

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).[26] 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.[27] 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.[29] In 1589 Gorges was wounded at the siege of Paris. He was knighted at the siege of Rouen in 1591.[30] He was rewarded for his services by the post of Governor of the Fort at Plymouth, which he held for many years.[31] 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]

His interest in colonization was invoked when Captain George Weymouth presented him with three captured American Indians.[32] In 1607, as a shareholder in the Plymouth Company, he helped fund the failed Popham Colony, in present-day Phippsburg, Maine.[33]

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.[34][35] "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..."[36][37] In 1629, he and Mason divided the colony, with Mason's portion south of the Piscataqua River becoming the Province of New Hampshire.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40][41]

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.[42]


Sir Ferdinando Gorges died on May 24, 1647,[43] 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 to the circumstances of the time.[44] 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 to which Sir Ferdinando had devoted so much of his life.[45] It wasn't until 1820 that Maine achieved separate statehood.[46]

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)[47] 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.[38][48]

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 August 29, 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.[28]


  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.
  11. ^ a b Brown 1875, pp. 7-8.
  12. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:4; Thayer 1892, p. 20.
  13. ^ Laughton 1890, p. 241.
  14. ^ Laughton 1890, pp. 241-42.
  15. ^ For a list of the major distinctions, see Baxter 1890, p. I:2 n.2
  16. ^ Baxter 1890, p. II:165.
  17. ^ a b Baxter 1890, p. II:165-66.
  18. ^ Grantham, Scott (October 6, 2016). "William Lygon, of Madresfield". Geni. Retrieved December 2, 2016. 
  19. ^ Richardson & Everingham 2011, p. 407.
  20. ^ "Obituary: Earl Beauchamp". Gentleman's Magazine. 220: 743–44. May 1866. 
  21. ^ Richardson & Everingham 2011, p. 409; Gorges & Brown 1944, p. 164
  22. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:4.
  23. ^ Preston 1953, pp. 19-20.
  24. ^ Baxter 1890, pp. I:4-13.
  25. ^ Baxter 1890, p. I:13.
  26. ^ Baxter 1890, p. 14.
  27. ^ Bater 1890, p. 14.
  28. ^ Smith 1954, pp. 469-70.
  29. ^ Baxter 1890, pp. 14-15 n. 12.
  30. ^ Brown 1875, p. 8 n.*.
  31. ^ "Sir Ferdinando Gorges Facts". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  32. ^ Wikisource:Gorges, Ferdinando (DNB00)
  33. ^ "Sir Ferdinando Gorges". Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  34. ^ "Grant of His Interest in New Hampshire by Sir Ferdinando Gorges to Captain John Mason". Teaching American History. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  35. ^ "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. 
  36. ^ Fisher, Carol B. Smith, "Who Really Named Maine", Bangor Daily News, 26 Feb. 2002, pg. A9
  37. ^ Burrage, Henry S., GORGES and The Grant of the Province of Maine 1622; A Tercentenary Memorial, pp. 167–173.
  38. ^ a b "Sir Fernando Gorges". Empire in your backyard. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  39. ^ York Deeds, Maine Historical Society, Maine Genealogical Society, John T. Hull, Portland, 1887
  40. ^ History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1912
  41. ^ Portland in the Past, William Goold, 1886
  42. ^ "The Massachusetts Bay Colony's annexation of Maine". Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  43. ^ Laughton 1890, p. 243.
  44. ^ Preston 1953, pp. 344-45.
  45. ^ Preston 1953, p. 345.
  46. ^ "About the Maine Senate". Maine Senate. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  47. ^ 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
  48. ^ 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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