A History of the Piscataqua River Region

1622 Ferdinando Gorges

(rough draft)

Ferdinando Gorges is a name largely forgotten in American history, but he is considered “The Father of English Colonization of North America.(2)” His interest specifically in Maine and the Piscataqua region was decades in the making.

His father, Edward Gorges, was the nineteenth descendent of Ranolf de Gorges from Carentan, in Lower Normandy. Ranolf crossed the English channel with the followers of William the Conquerer as part of the Norman conquest. Wraxall, near Plymouth England, became the English seat of the Gorges family. (2)

Although he was the owner of all the land from the Piscataqua to the Kennebec, he went on to specificly found “Gorgeana” which was later named to York. More about this can be read here: http://piscataquaplantations.com/1623-agamenticus-gorgeana-york/

As we have seen, many reasons contributed to European colonization on the East Coast of the New World including natural resources, logging, gold, silver, fish, trade, and the survival of the Virginia Company in Jamestown, and other colonial powers. They were competing with the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and other rivals for land and power.

Ferdinando, from Plymouth, England, became a rich and powerful man. Through military service, he was knighted by the earl of Essex. He became governor of the fort at Plymouth.

In 1605, George Weymouth returned from Maine, arriving in Plymouth with five captive Native Americans. Gorges kept three and sent two others to George Popham. He learned about the rivers, islands, safe harbors, where great men lived, how they were aligned, and what enemies they had. Gorges and Popham agreed that any colony should be through royal decree.

Just one year later, in 1606, King James issued a charter for two companies, the first being London and second Plymouth. The London compnay was able to move quickly, and they had ships out immediately headed towards Jamestown. The northern colony needed more exploration.

Since Sir Ferdinando Gorges had chartered several of the earlier expeditions to the region he knew of the strange epidemic and it’s catastrophic impact on the native populations noting “their vulnerability to European microbes and power.” (25) It is by no genuis stoke that by 1620, Gorges was chief agent for the Council for New England.

Gorges met John Mason through Sir William Alexander, who was seeking the Nova Scotia area and knew John Mason was involved in Newfoundland. Alexander ended up getting a slice of Nova Scotia through The Council of New England.

In 1622, Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason received a large land grant from The Council which they named “Ligonia” or Plough Patent. The name Ligonia derived from Gorges Mother’s maiden namewhich was Lydon and Plough because the first ship sent over was on The Plough. (2) The word Ligonia was later annoted as Laconia. The original boundaries of land granted to them both extended between the Kennebec River south to Merrimack River in Massachusetts. Mason acquired the area between the Piscataqua and south to the Merrimack. Mason’s portion became New Hampshire, and Gorges’s portion, was from the Piscataqua north to the Kenebunk, Maine (1).

In Maine, the present towns of Kittery, the Berwicks, and Eliot were originally part of the Piscataqua Plantation, with initial settlements at Quamphegan Falls, Spruce Creek, Sturgeon Creek and at Kittery Point, which in the 1630’s collectively supported a population of about 200 people. The plantation on the east bank of the Piscataqua River at Sturgeon Creek Village was renamed Kittery in about 1647. (1) In my website, I’ve decided to include all the surrounding towns that were settled around this time.

Mason/Gorges’s attention were diverted when England went to war against Spain in 1624 and France in 1626. By the time they ended, “The Great Puritan Migration”, which occured between 1620-1640, saw a huge number of settlements in the Bay Colony, but populations in NH/Maine stayed smaller. By the time they were able to redirect they attention overseas, they were both at the end of their life.

Gorges’s nephew Thomas was said to be perhaps the most significant and influencial, helpful to settlers, and was held in high honor (2). (move this)

Sir Ferdinando Gorges died in 1647 having never visited New England. King Charles I was beheaded, and Puritans under Cromwell gained control of England. During the King’s struggle, Gorges had remained loyal to him. It was perhaps well that he died two years before the king and was spared the grief of seeing puratin control. Gorges had been on the loosing side from the beginning, first in his fishing monopoly, then in his ideas of government, and finally his love for the king. After his death, Gorges’s heirs, being royalists too, were unable to assert their claims in America (9).

He did not leave any direction or inheritance on his lands, and in Gorgeana, an assembly voted to rule independentaly until further notice. Edward Godfrey was voted Governor, and was thus the first person to be voted Governor in what is now the State of Maine (2).

Court cases and disputes between the Bay Colony and Maine continued until 1677, when they finally agreed to Gorges claim, however, were able to purchase the rights for 1250 pounds from his decendants. Game over.


1631 The Castle Fort William and Mary New Castle


1500s Pre Colonial Exploration

1 Comment

  1. I like the efforts you have put in this, thank you for all the great articles.

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