Emigration plan of Gorges and Mason

Before the disaster of the Plymouth Company, grants of domain had been made. The first was to its secretary, Captain John Mason, who had been governor of Newfoundland. It embraced the country in Massachusetts between Salem and Newburyport, inland to the sources of the Merrimac River, and all the islands on its sea-front within three miles of the coasts. To forestall French settlements in the East, and to secure the country to Protestants, Gorges procured a grant to Sir William Alexander of the whole main eastward of the St. Croix River, excepting a small portion of Acadie. Sir William was Secretary of State from Scotland, and author of a hundred sonnets and some dull tragedies. The domain was named New Scotland. The charter being in Latin, it was written Nova Scotia, and has ever since retained that name. The baronet was invested with the regal privileges of a count-palatine, in 1630, and was created Earl of Stirling and Viscount of Canada. The domain was created a fief or dependence of the Scottish crown, and an attempt was made to establish a Scotch settlement there. It failed. Alexander lacked the energy necessary for such an undertaking.

When the suit of Charles for the hand of the Spanish princess was ended, he sought and obtained that of Henrietta Mary, sister of the King of France. Their marriage, in 1625, promised friendly relations between the two countries, notwithstanding she was a Roman Catholic; but the folly and baseness of the Duke of Buckingham, the court favorite, who had negotiated the union, soon plunged the two nations into war, the effects of which were seen in America. Sir David Kirk was sent with ships and soldiers to conquer Canada; and then occurred the surrender of Quebec to the English, mentioned in a previous chapter. It was a barren victory, for at almost the same time, Canada, Cape Breton, and undefined Acadie were restored to the French by treaty.

Meanwhile, Gorges and Mason had projected plans for a very extensive colonization. They obtained a patent for the country along the coast of New England between the Merrimac and Kennebec Rivers, and back to the St. Lawrence, under the title of the "Province of Laconia." It was represented to be a terrestrial paradise in beauty and fertility. Settlements at various points were projected and attempted, but none seem to have become permanent until about the year 1630. Mason and Gorges had agreed to divide their territory at the Piscataqua River, and in 1629 the former obtained a patent for the country between that river and the Merrimac, and gave it the name of New Hampshire. He built a house at the mouth of the Piscataqua, in 1631, and named the spot Portsmouth. He had been governor of Portsmouth, in Hampshire county, England, and these names he transferred to his new territory and first permanent settlement. Four years afterwards he died. His widow tried in vain to manage his large landed estate profitably. It passed into the possession of his retainers in payment for their services. These settlers were now left to themselves to fashion an independent state, but it was of slow growth. There was then only one agricultural settlement in all New England, excepting in Massachusetts, and scarcely the germ of a state had appeared. The colonists were mostly squatters, and moved frequently from place to place. They were chiefly hunters and fishermen, and cultivated the soil only for the production of a few vegetables and a little maize or Indian corn. Their huts were scattered along the harbors; and when some families came to Maine to establish a farming community, they were laughed at by the older residents as visionaries, and they went to the Plymouth colony. The whole enterprise was unprofitable to the proprietors. From the beginning the expenses had been greater than the receipts, and now the jealousy of different parties threatened the Company with utter ruin, whilst the French, resolved to maintain their hold upon New France, were building huts at the mouth of the Penobscot, and threatening to seize the territory between that river and the Kennebec. The Indians, too, were showing restlessness.

In this unpromising state of the affairs of the Plymouth Company, Gorges was again summoned before the House of Commons to show cause why the charter should not be revoked. The merchants were restive under the restrictions of the monopoly; the Commons regarded it as a royal instrument; churchmen looked upon it as a foe to prelacy, because Puritans were sheltered on its domain; and the new king, Charles (whose father had died in 1625), suspected the New England colonists were enjoying liberties inconsistent with the royal prerogative. Charles was as bigoted a believer in the divine right of kings as his father, and that belief manifested in practice proved his ruin.

Gorges defended the Company against the various charges with vigor, but he and his associates perceived that further contention for its existence would be useless. Therefore they prepared for its dissolution by dividing North Virginia into twelve royal provinces, assigning each to persons named; and at their last meeting in April, 1635, they caused to be entered upon their minutes the following record: "We have been bereaved of friends; oppressed by losses, expenses and troubles; assailed before the Privy Council again and again with groundless charges; and weakened by the French and other foes without and within the realm, and what remains is only a breathless carcass. We, therefore, now resign the patent to the king, first reserving all grants by us made and all vested rights--a patent we have holden about fifteen years."

The king appointed eleven of his Privy Council a "Board of Lords Commissioners of all the American Plantations," and committed to them the general direction of colonial affairs. Gorges, then sixty years of age, and robust in mind and body, was appointed Governor-General over New England. A ship-of-war was in preparation to bring him to America, but was broken in the launching, and the baronet never crossed the Atlantic Ocean. His nephew, William Gorges, was sent over as his lieutenant, to administer the government. He made his headquarters at Saco, where he found about one hundred and fifty inhabitants governed by a voluntary social compact. There he established a regular government on the 28th of March, 1636, the first within the State of Maine. Soon afterward a royal charter made the elder Gorges lord proprietor of a large territory in that region, called the "Province or County of Maine." Gratified by this mark of royal favor, he began energetically in his old age to devise laws for his palatinate, such as a soldier and royalist would be likely to conceive, but they were little heeded in America. Gorges lived eight years in the enjoyment of his vice-regal honors, and soon after his death his province passed under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I