Gorges, Ferdinando (DNB00)

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GORGES, Sir FERDINANDO (1566?–1647), naval and military commander, governor of Plymouth, the ‘father of English colonisation in America,’ of a family said to have been settled in Somersetshire from the time of Henry I, and holding estates in the parish of Wraxall from the time of Edward II, was the younger son of Edward Gorges of Wraxall, whose great-grandfather, Edmund Gorges, married Anne, eldest daughter of John Howard, first duke of Norfolk. Gorges's elder brother, Edward, was baptised at Wraxall on 5 Sept. 1564, and he himself is mentioned in his father's will, dated 10 Aug. 1568; the date of his birth may therefore be approximately fixed at 1566. It would seem that he early adopted the profession of arms; may possibly have served in the Low Countries under the Earl of Leicester, and probably against the Great Armada, with his father's cousin, Nicholas Gorges, who commanded the London contingent of the squadron under Lord Henry Seymour. He may have been with Norreys in Portugal in 1589, and was certainly with the Earl of Essex in Normandy in 1591. He is spoken of as having distinguished himself at the siege of Rouen, as being wounded, and knighted by the general (‘Journal of the Siege of Rouen,’ pp. 68, 71, in Camden Miscellany, vol. i.; Devereux, Lives of the Earls of Essex, i. 271). Some years before that he was acting as overseer of the fortifications of Plymouth and its neighbourhood (Calendar of State Papers, Dom. 1591, p. 152), and four years later is referred to, in a similar connection, as ‘a gentleman of worth and experience’ (ib. 13 Oct. 1595), though even at this later date certainly not more than thirty. But from this time onward he was intimately connected with Plymouth, and for many years was officially designated as ‘governor of the forts and island of Plymouth.’ His duties, however, did not by any means confine him to that neighbourhood. He does not appear to have had any part in the expedition to Cadiz in 1596, but is mentioned as having, with the Dreadnought and Foresight, joined Essex for the ‘Island Voyage’ in 1597 (Devereux, i. 434), though his name has no place in the lists as given by Monson or Lediard. We find him, after the expedition, arranging with the mayor of Plymouth for the return of ‘such parcels of armour and other furnitures as remain in the fort of Plymouth, furnished by the city [of London] for the late service to the islands’ (Gorges to Mr. John Trelawney, 30 Jan. 1597, Addit. MS. 5752, f. 104). In January 1598–9 Gorges is named as serjeant-major of the army in Ireland with Essex (Devereux, ii. 9), an appointment which he must have either refused, or given up within a very short time (Archæologia, xxxiii. 249). In July, at any rate, on a rumour of a threatened Spanish invasion, he was at Plymouth taking measures for the defence of the town (ib. xxxv. 213), and it would seem that he continued at Plymouth till January 1600–1, when, in answer to a summons from Essex [see Devereux, Robert, second Earl of Essex, (1567–1601)], he joined him in London on the 31st. By thus summoning him to London, Essex showed that he counted on him as a partisan—a fact that throws great doubt on Gorges's statement that he had not heard from Essex for two years before. His own evidence proves that he was at once received as a member of the party, that he was present at the meeting at Drury House on Tuesday, 3 Feb., when rebellion was at least suggested (Jardine, i. 332), and was still with Essex on 8 Feb., when the lord keeper, the lord chief justice, and others were made prisoners and (it was asserted) held as hostages by Essex. Whether alarmed by Raleigh's warning (Edwards, Life of Ralegh, i. 256; Archæologia, xxxiii. 250), and desirous to secure the lord keeper's interest in his favour, or misunderstanding an order of Essex, Gorges released the prisoners; and though arrested along with Essex and his companions, he seems to have been admitted at once as a witness against his chief. That he did not give his evidence with a clear conscience may be judged by Essex's address: ‘My lords, look upon Sir Ferdinando, and see if he looks like himself. All the world shall see by my death and his life whose testimony is the truest’ (Jardine, i. 335). Notwithstanding Gorges's subsequent protestations (Archæologia, xxxiii. 261) it cannot be maintained that his conduct at this period was in the slightest degree chivalrous. And yet, two years later, he was spoken of as implicated in the so-called ‘Main plot’ (Edwards, i. 396), though of the fact there was no evidence whatever, and, indeed, he seems to have been at the time on bad terms with Raleigh (ib. ii. 312).

In 1605 George Weymouth [q. v.], returning from a voyage to the north-west, and bringing back five natives of North America, put into Plymouth. Gorges undertook the charge of three of these Indians, who, in course of time, as they learned English, described to him their country, its climate, its rivers and its harbours, with which they had an intelligent acquaintance. From this grew up in Gorges's mind a desire to colonise the country of which he had learned so much, and during the following years he set on foot many expeditions for discovery or settlement, though with but scanty success. A Plymouth company, associated with a company in London, was formed in 1606, and the two together obtained a grant from the crown of the territory in America, extending fifty miles inland, between the parallels of 34° and 45° north latitude. The attempts at settlement, however, all failed, and in 1619 the association was dissolved. Gorges then formed another company, incorporated on 3 Nov. 1620, under the name of ‘The Council established at Plymouth, in the county of Devon, for the planting, ruling, ordering, and governing of New England in America,’ the patent of which granted them the territory between latitudes 40° and 48°, and extending through the mainland, from sea to sea. It was not, however, till after several attempts, and difficulties arising out of the intrusion of dissolute interlopers, that the colony of New Plymouth was permanently settled in 1628. Others followed, but in 1635 the council resigned its charter to the king. In 1639 Gorges obtained a new charter, constituting him lord proprietary of the province of Maine, with powers of jurisdiction for himself and heirs.

The great and lasting interest attaching to the foundation of the New England colonies has rendered this the most notable of the work of Gorges' long and busy life, of which, beyond this, only scanty traces now remain. In 1606 he was a commissioner for enforcing the orders of the council respecting the pilchard fishery, and in 1617 was engaged in a curious negotiation with the merchants and shipowners of the west-country, whom he was commissioned to invite to co-operate with those of London in measures for the suppression of piracy on the high seas, which, he wrote, ‘has in the last few years deprived the kingdom of no less than three hundred ships, with their lading and merchandises, and their seamen reduced to captivity’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. App. p. 265 a and b). In 1623 he commanded the Great Neptune, apparently his own ship, and one of those which Penington [see Penington, Sir John] was ordered to place at the disposal of the Marquis d'Effiat. Gorges more than shared the scruples of his admiral and brother captains; and under the pretext of requiring full security for the safe return of his ship, finally brought her back to England, when the others were delivered to the French (Gardiner, Hist. of England, v. 378–94). When the civil war broke out, Gorges adhered to the king, and is mentioned in 1642 as living at Bristol, and concerting measures for the defence of the town, in consequence of which he was denounced by the parliament as a delinquent (Barrett, Hist. of Bristol, p. 414; Seyer, Hist. of Bristol, ii. 310). The house which he then occupied is now Colston's School (ib. 404). His advanced age must, however, have rendered him incapable of taking any active part in the hostilities, and he does not seem to have been seriously disturbed. He died in 1647.

Gorges was married four times, and had issue, besides two daughters who both died young, two sons, John and Robert. Robert was in 1623 sent out as lieutenant-governor of the New England territory, with a large personal grant of land on the northern side of Massachusetts Bay. John succeeded to his father's vast territory, but left it to itself, and the interest of the Gorges family in it seems to have lapsed.

[America Painted to the Life, by Ferdinando Gorges, Esq. (4to, 1658–9), is a series of pamphlets edited by John's son. One of these, A Briefe Narration of the Originall Undertakings of the Advancement of Plantations into the Parts of America, especially showing the Beginning, Progress, and Continuance of that of New England, by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, is the basis of all other accounts of Gorges's colonial work. The others, though professing to be partly written by the old knight, are, in reality, crude compilations of little worth; Jardine's Criminal Trials, i. 314 et seq.; Archæologia, xxxiii. 241 et seq.; Appleton's Dict. of American Biography; The Gorges' Pedigree, by the Rev. Frederick Brown, in the Historical and Genealogical Register, January 1875 (Boston, Mass.), is not free from errors, which can be corrected by a reference to the Somersetshire Visitation of 1623, in the Harleian Society's Publications, vol. xi., and more fully in a transcript in the Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 5822 ff. 136, 137; other references in the text.]

J. K. L.