First governor of PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS of Rhode Island,
founder of Warwick, Rhode Island & transcendental philosopher.
Samuel Gorton is our 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. 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. 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. 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. He headed to England. He left his family for three years 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).
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. 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. 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. He died on December 10, 1677 at the age of 85. 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.