Gorton: “a turbulent troublemaker”

Too often we look at the founding fathers as figures of the past as dull or two-dimensional unreal characters in the pages of a book or articles.  We forget that they were flesh and blood, and subject to the same pressures, prejudices and foolishness as those of us in the 21st century.  The history of Pawtuxet tells us that greed, petty quarrels and factions existed in the 17th century and even Roger Williams was not exempt.    

Differences between R. Williams and the Harris-Arnold factions concerning land ownership policies became very obvious, as the 12 purchasers wanted the Pawtuxet lands listed separately. This was so that newcomers would not get a portion of this territory as they had with the Providence lands.  As events unfolded, the disagreements became more acute as Harris, Arnold and Carpenter acquired more lands in Pawtuxet from the other proprietors.  Williams and Harris developed a hatred that lasted for decades as a result.

As early as July 27, 1640, attempts were made to draw a boundary line dividing Providence from Pawtuxet. One of the reasons was the fear that undesirable settlers might come to Providence and assume control of the government, thereby diminishing the role of the 13 original purchasers and jeopardizing their land claims.  The most feared of these recent arrivals was Samuel Gorton.   Arnold, on May 25, 1641, wrote that Gorton, "showed himself an insolent, railing and turbulent person,".

Gorton, and his followers, according to William Arnold were "ringleaders in disturbing the peace".  Gorton moved to the southern side of the Pawtuxet River, settling on the lands deeded to Robert Cole by Roger Williams and confirmed by Miantonomi. Gorton's move to Pawtuxet greatly alarmed the Arnold faction as they feared the Gortonoges (as they were called by the Indians) would increase in number and assume control.  Arnold was able to convince Robert Cole to sever his relationship with Gorton.  Cole, who changed his mind several times, decided eventually to ally with William Carpenter, William and Benedict Arnold  offering their lands to Massachusetts. 

These four did this on Sept. 8, 1642, and were  accepted by the General Court of Mass.  The other original purchasers of Pawtuxet refused to go along with this, but Massachusetts claimed authority over Pawtuxet for the next sixteen years.  Gorton, an exile from Massachusetts, fearing arrest, felt compelled to leave Pawtuxet.  As a result he purchased Shawomet further to the south in October or early November in 1642.

The move by the four Pawtuxet men, William Arnold, William Carpenter, Robert Cole and Benedict Arnold, to place their lands under Massachusetts control gave the northern colony the opportunity for a foothold in Narragansett Bay.  They hoped to use this to establish trade in the area and undermine the power of the Narragansett sachem, Miantonomi.  Massachusetts also hoped to punish Samuel  Gorton and his followers for their religious and political beliefs. The threat of the Bay Colony to Rhode Island was great.  Roger Williams feared Providence would be absorbed, and to protect her, as well as Shawomet and Aquidnick Island, he went to England in the summer of 1643 to obtain a charter.  The seriousness of the situation was made even more obvious by Massachusetts' refusal to allow Williams to sail from Boston, making it necessary for him to go to the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (New York) to embark.  Massachusetts authorities began to harass Gorton as early as Oct., 1642, when they wrote to Gorton informing him that they had assumed control and ordered him to their Court.  Gorton, as might be expected, felt he had no choice but to refuse and protested the action in very strong language.
By June of 1643, Arnold convinced Pomham, of Shawomet, and Socononaco, of Pawtuxet, two under sachems of the Narragansetts, to place their lands under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.  At this time, they firmly denied the right of Miantonomi to sell the Shawomet lands to Gorton and his followers.  By September, 1643, Massachusetts ordered Gorton to appear before the General Court of that colony.  Gorton and his followers refused to surrender and there was a siege that lasted several days.  Gorton and his men, realizing the hopelessness of their situation, agreed to articles of surrender to go as "freemen and neighbors" to Boston. Instead they were treated as captives and placed in jail.  Eventually, thanks to the Earl of Warwick, Gorton was able to have his claims recognized by England.  In gratitude to the Earl, the colony was named Warwick in his honor.

The old farmhouse seen to the right of the photo dominated the pawtuxet Falls in 1898.  At that time there was wooded dam, which was replaced in the late 1920s by a cement spillway.   (William hall Library Collection)

Page 15- Pawtuxet RI (Images of America Series )

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