m. BEF. 11 Jan 1629/30
Facts and Events
Samuel Gorton (1593–1677), was an early settler and civic leader of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and President of the towns of Providence and Warwick for one term. Having strong religious beliefs that were contrary to the established Puritan dogma and being very outspoken, he was frequently in trouble with the civil and church authorities in the New England colonies.
Baptized in 1593 in Manchester, Lancashire, England, Gorton received a classic education in languages and English law from tutors. His father was a merchant in London, and he was called a clothier of the same place in a 1635 court case. In 1637 he emigrated from England, settling first in Plymouth Colony where he was soon ousted for his religious opinions and his demeanor towards the magistrates and ministers. Settling next in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, he met with a similar fate, being whipped for his insubordination towards the magistrates. He next went to Providence, where he once again met with adverse circumstances until he and a group of others purchased land of the Indians, settling south of the Pawtuxet River in an area they called Shawomet, later named Warwick. Refusing to answer a summons following the complaints of two Indian sachems about being unfairly treated in a land transaction, Gorton and several of his followers were forcefully taken away to Massachusetts. Being tried for his beliefs and writings, rather than the original supposed infraction, Gorton was sentenced to prison in Charlestown, though all but three of the presideing magistrates voted to give him a death sentence.
After a few months Gorton was released from confinement, but banished from Massachusetts and his home settlement of Shawomet, which was claimed by Massachusetts. He and several of his followers soon sailed to England where he spent four years, writing and publishing a book about his Shawomet experience, but more importantly obtaining an official order of protection for his colony from the Earl of Warwick. Once back in New England, with his settlement of Shawomet (now called Warwick) secure, Gorton became a part of the civil authority that he had previously rejected, serving as assistant to the president, commissioner, deputy, and president of the two towns of Providence and Warwick. He served in civic roles over a period of 20 years until he was in his late 70s.
Gorton wrote a number of books, two of them during his trip to England, and several others following his return. A man of great learning and great intellectual breadth, Gorton believed passionately in God, the King, and the individual man, and was harshly critical of the magistrates and ministers who filled positions that were meaningless in his eyes. His beliefs and demeanor brought him admiration from his followers, but great condemnation from those in positions of authority, and he was reviled for more than a century after his death. In more recent times historians and writers have looked upon him much more favorably, considering him one of the great colonial leaders of Rhode Island.
Samuel Gorton was a controversial figure at the beginning of a european America, having been described by his contemporaries as "arch-heretic," "proud and pestilent seducer," a "most prodigous minter of exorbitant novelties," and by Edward Rawson, a secretary to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, - "a man whose spirit was stark drunk with blasphemies and insolences, a corrupter of truth, a disturber of the peace wherever he comes." Another contemporary, Nathan Morton, with whom Gorton had numerous correspondence, says of Gorton "was deeply leavened with blasphemous and familistical opinions."S5
Despite the opinions of his detractors, and having been banished from 4 New England Colonies within 5 years of arrival, Samuel Gorton would serve his town (Warwick RI) and later a united Rhode Island Colony in every major post, including that of President of Rhode Island. It was under his hand that the government of Warwick was specifically declared to be under the rule of English Law, unlike other New England colonies which were a mixture of English and biblical law. He firmly asserted that Englishmen in the Colonies were subject to and enjoyed the protection of the Laws, Rights, and Liberties of Englishmen (an argument which his detractors would later use when their charters were revoked under James II). It would be under his hand that slavery would be abolished in Rhode Island, (Roger William being in England at the time). He identified with many of the ideas of the Quaker, including lay clergy and women in the pulpit.
Samuel lived under the rule of four monarchs, a commonwealth, which was brought about by two ivil wars, and a Lord Protector. He would remember Queen Bess (1503-1603), lived his youth under James I of England, VI of Scotland (1566-1625). His adult life began with Charles I (1600-1649).