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New England In The Earliest Days
Before Plymouth Colony there was Sagadahoc, the short-lived settlement for which Sir Ferdinando Gorges had high hopes
August 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 5
It may be said that to this they had a perfect right; but it gave an opening to their opponents in England, who now realized more clearly what the Puritans were up to. The banishment of that merry scamp, Thomas Morton of Merry Mount, Sir Christopher Gardiner, and others, provided a matter to bring before the Privy Council. To everyone’s surprise, not least that of the Bay Puritans, Charles I’s Privy Council came to their defense and even offered them further support. They did not wish, they said, to discourage a colony that was of potential value to the nation, and anyhow the extruded persons were not very respectable. The Bay Puritans had influences very high up on their side, and thus Gorges’ first attempt to assert the general rights of the New England Council over the Bay Colony was blocked for the time.
It was not until Archbishop Laud was in the saddle and, realizing the implications of the Puritan migration overseas, formed the Commission of Foreign Plantation to control it, that Gorges got his opportunity. He proposed that New England should be divided into a number of provinces under proprietors, with a governor general over the whole, appointed by the Crown. Meanwhile the Bay charter was to be returned home for investigation by due process of law. The Puritans at once prepared to resist; they planned to fortify Boston Harbor. The undaunted Endecott defaced the flag of St. George on the ground that it was a popish symbol, and Massachusetts adopted its own ensign of a red and white rose. Only five years after their first settlement—and how it looks forward to 1776! They accepted all the advantages of the Crown’s protection, but they were not going to yield obedience in return.
This opened people’s eyes at home, though Laud’s respect for the law was such that no steps were taken until the Massachusetts charter was voided by due process of the courts, and that took two years. Gorges was to go out as governor general, with Mason as vice-admiral, in a new ship they were building, to control the shipping and trade that were now greatly increasing on the coast. But Mason, nearly twenty years younger than Gorges, died; “the Lord, in mercy, taking him away,” wrote Winthrop, “all the business fell on sleep, so as ships came and brought what and whom they would, without any question or control.” And, by a further special providence, when the ship was launched it “fell all in pieces, no man knew how.” Gorges was reduced to sending out a young nephew, William, to look after the various private family interests that were scattered about there, primarily the northern half of the Gorges-Mason grant, or Maine proper, which he called the province of New Somerset. In these last years Gorges was reduced more and more to his own family for support: after Warwick withdrew, significantly, from the New England Council, Edward, Lord Gorges, a cousin, took his place. Young William made no success of it in Maine and shortly returned home. Gorges’ servant, Richard Vines, remained on, holding the fort gallantly as deputy-governor.
At last the courts ruled in favor of the Crown over the Bay charter, and Gorges was named governor general. Massachusetts greeted this news by keeping “a general fast through all the churches, for seeking the Lord to prevent evil that we feared to be intended against us by a General Governor.” Either this or perhaps merely terrestrial events in England in the end turned out to be efficacious. Gorges sent various conciliatory messages, which Winthrop regarded as mere hypocrisy. Gorges, on the other hand, always spoke of Governor Winthrop with respect. There is no evidence at all that Gorges was hostile to Puritans as such; several of his friends he found among them; he was a firm Protestant, a fervent anti-Papist. When his cousin Thomas Gorges went out to govern Maine, he ruled it on rather Puritan lines and actually won the grudging approval of Massachusetts. All Sir Ferdinando cared about was the colonization of America; he was a man of one idea, but that a great one.
He received very little support from Charles’s Privy Council—only from Laud. He put forward to them his last and matured ideas on colonization, continuous with those of the Elizabethans: the special importance to England of an increase of trade and shipping, and consequently of colonies. He adduced the classic argument, borne out by England’s subsequent history, of the superiority of natural expansion by trading colonies to the imperialism of war and conquest—with Rome and Spain in mind. To this the pro-Spanish treasurer, Lord Cottington, replied: “Romans, Spanish and Dutch did and do conquer, not plant tobacco and Puritanism only, like fools.” When Gorges defended the Puritans by saying that, whatever their humors, their colonizing activity brought honor to the whole realm, Lord Cottington annotated, “What honour, if no profit, but extreme scandal to the whole Christian world?”
This shows something of what not only Gorges but Laud, too, had to put up with at home. However, in 1639 Gorges got his charter for Maine as a proprietary province, to support his position as governor general of New England, if ever he should come to it. It was all too late. He was no longer the man he had been; though capable of taking part in a horse race in his sixties, he now was “doubtful of the state of my own body, not able to endure the sea any long time.”