Sir Ferdinando Gorges

Gorges, Sir Ferdinando (gôrˈjĭz) [key], c.1566–1647, English colonizer, proprietor of Maine. He was knighted (1591) for his services to Henry IV of France in the French Wars of Religion and was subsequently (1596–1601, 1603–29) military governor of Plymouth, England. Gorges was a leading figure in the Plymouth Company, chartered in 1606, and one of the two chief backers of the Sagadahoc colony, which was planted in 1607 at the mouth of the Kennebec River, Maine, and failed in 1608. In the following years he directed the many fishing and trading expeditions that the company carried on along the New England coast and defended its monopoly of the fisheries. He procured the services of Capt. John Smith to head a new settlement, but three successive expeditions foundered soon after leaving harbor, and the discouraged Smith withdrew. In 1620, Gorges obtained a revised charter for the Plymouth Company in which its territory, for the first time called New England, was established as lying between lat. 40°N and 48°N. The company reconstituted itself as the Council for New England, and grants were made to the individual members in the hope that they would become more interested in the project. Interest, however, centered in the more southern ventures, and Gorges found no financial support. The Pilgrim colony at Plymouth, patented under the London Company, had mistakenly settled within the bounds of the New England Council grant, but in 1621 it received a patent from the council and had Gorges's interest henceforth. Not so the Massachusetts Bay colony, against which Sir Ferdinando carried out a long struggle in England on the ground that its patent was irregular. In order to make the whole of New England a royal colony, over which Gorges was to be governor-general, the Council for New England surrendered its charter in 1635. The territory of New England was to be divided among the eight lords of the council, who were to hold it under new patents, but because of the growing intensity of the struggle between Charles I and Parliament in England the new arrangement was never consummated, and the Puritan commonwealth of Massachusetts was left free. In 1622, Gorges had received, with John Mason (1586–1635) a grant of the territory lying between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers. They divided that area in 1629, Gorges taking the land east of the Piscataqua River, which became the province of Maine. His grant was confirmed by royal charter in 1639. Events in England prevented him from raising funds to colonize his domain. His grant passed to his heirs. His grandson, Ferdinando Gorges, 1630–1718, in 1677 finally sold to Massachusetts all rights to Maine for £1,250.

See J. P. Baxter, ed., Sir Ferdinando Gorges and His Province of Maine (3 vol., 1890, repr. 1967); H. S. Burrage, Gorges and the Grant of the Province of Maine (1923); R. A. Preston, Gorges of Plymouth Fort (1953).

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