Letter of Samuel Gorton written to Nathaniel Morton

Samuel Gorton’s letter in rebuttal to the charges in New England’s Memorial, commonly known as Morton’s Relation written by Nathaniel Morton:


In 1669, while Gorton in advanced years had retired from official cares, Nathaniel Morton published a libellous and most scandalous book. Morton professed to have derived the greater part of his information from Bradford's history, but an examination of this discloses that there is nothing set down in that history relating to Gorton. Morton also had been for years the keeper of the Plymouth records, so would have known that what he wrote of Gorton was wrong had he not avoided consulting them. Gorton wrote to him the following indignant letter of denial:

" I understand that you have lately put forth a book of records ; whether of Church or State I know not, but this I know, that I am unjustly enrolled in it. You peremptorily judge of one you know not, for I am a stranger to you; besides that, your understanding reacheth not the things whence God exerciseth his people (I Cor. ii, 14) with wishes of better things in you and all men. I must give you a true description of our understanding from the Apostle Jude, verse ten: therefore I have no railing speech to return, or judgment of blasphemy (as the words are), either to seek any revenge of myself or to comply with any such spirit I dare not; but I dare not but comply with the spirit of the Apostle in this his saying: The Lord rebuke thee (Jude 9). My second word concerns your assuming authority to canonize and put into the rank and number of Saints such men when they are dead which in their lifetime were persecutors, especially you having acknowledged them to be such yourself; as also to throw down under your feet and make as brute beasts having only hope in this present life such as are known to be fearers of God, worshipping him instantly day and night, though they be not acknowledged to be such by some particular Sectaries as yourself, for you are no orthodox Christian because you deny the whole and complete word of God to be concerned in the present state of the chuch of Christ, and have chosen a part of it only to concern your present profession ; therefore a Sectarie and no Catholic Christian. But for these things you seek to besmear me with, which return justly upon yourself, mine adversaries shall be my judges where any spark of humanity remains. I have often wondered in my younger days how the Pope came to such a height of arrogance, but since I came to New England I have perceived the height of that triple crown and the depth of that sea whence such things arise, and not from the presence of Peter, but from the corrupting of the Apostles' doctrine, bending and bowing it to comply with corrupt avarice, pride and superstition and vain imaginations of the minds of men setting up their gods at Dan and Beersheba (if you understand the etymology of the words). And the glory there is no other but that the Levitical Priests carved below the mount of God, forming it of the ear and heart jewels of the Egyptians, adorning carnal Israel who turn back in their hearts into the house of bondage whence they were delivered.

"A third word I have to say concerns your office of record; mistake me not, I meddle not with your record further than they concern myself. Do not vest my words, as once they were in a letter taken in pieces, and what was plainly expressed to be spoken of the clergy was applied to the Magistrates, to make me obnoxious among men; and when the truth appeared it was professed that it was done by a reverend Divine before the State of England, who got no honor there by that, whoever he was. Deal fairly with me, as I shall do with you and all men. I then affirm that your record is fetched further than Cape Cod, namely, from him who was from the beginning a murderer also; and truth he abode not in, nor can he abide it. And I take it to be the highest point of murder to strike at the life of the soul, which life is the spirit of Christ, which I profess to live by and account all other life not worthy the name of life with respect unto that (Gal. ii, 20). Your record, therefore, comes from afar. It ariseth out of the bottomless pit, the smoke whereof is as a stifling fog of darkness in your book.

" It is untruly recorded concerning Plymouth's dealings .with me ; conceals many passages that were enacted and falsifies things expressed. A difference between Mr. Ralph Smith and myself was not the occasion of Plymouth's dealings with me. If you had recorded truly you would made report that Plymouth's dealings with me had been their threatening of a widow, one Ellen Aldridge, who they said they would send out of the colony as a vagabond; whereas nothing was laid to her charge, only it was whispered that she had smiled in your congregation; and she having been a woman of good report in England, and newly come over; being careful of her credit, she fled into the woods to escape the shame which was threatened to be put upon her, there remaining several days and nights, at the least part of the nights, and absented herself again before people stirred in the morning. My speaking on her behalf (she being then my wife's servant) was the occasion that Plymouth government took to deal with me. Whereupon they called me to a court more privately held to examine me, and one of them indulging upon a point aggravating the matter more than it deserved, I said he spoke hyperbolically ; whereupon they asked your Elder then present what was the meaning of that word, and he was pleased to expound it that I told the Magistrate that he lied. And this was their dealing with me; and accordingly they gave their own construction of what I spoke afterwards. Only in your court more publicly, the foreman of the jury (your Elder's son, Jonathan Brewer) befriended me so much as to move the court that I should not speak on my own behalf at all, and there as no Attorney to be had in those days that I knew of.

" In the time of these agitations Mr. Smith took offense at me. Whether of himself or instigated I know not, neither know I any occasion I gave him, unless it was because his wife and others of his family frequented very usually morning and evening family service, and so did a religious maid living then with your teacher, Mr. Reyner. Mistress Smith after expressing herself how glad she was that she could come into a family where her spirit was refreshed in the ordinances of God as in former days. In this offense taken by Mr. Smith he applied himself to the Governor of Plymouth for help to break his covenant made with me, I having hired one part of his house for the term of four whole years. Whereupon I was persuaded to put the matter to arbitrament. The men were appointed, my writings delivered as I remember. John Cooke was one, an eminent member of your church, who shortly after said the writings were commanded out of their hands by the Governor' (Prence), insomuch that they could do nothing to issue the matter, neither could 1 procure my writings again unto this day, lest the justice of my cause should appear to any. But the court proceeded to fine and banish, together with sentence given that my family should depart out of my own hired house (Acts xxviii, 30) within the space of fourteen days upon the penalty of another great sum of money besides my fine paid, and their further wrath and displeasure. Which time to depart fell to be in as mighty a storm of snow as I have seen in the country; my wife being turned out of doors in the said storm with a young child at her breast (the infant having at that very time the measles breaking out upon it, which the cold forced in again, causing sickness nigh unto death), who had been as tenderly brought up as any man's wife then in that town; and I myself to travel in the wilderness I knew not whither; the people comforting my .wife and children when I was gone with this, that it was impossible for me to come alive to any plantation. I say no more of this now, though I can say much more, with the testimony of men's consciences; but I have been silent to cover other men's shame and not my own, for I could wish to be a bondsman, so long as I have to live upon the face of the earth, in human respects, that all the agitations and transactions that have passed between the men of New England and myself were in print without diminution or extenuation, without covert false dealing or painted hypocrisy. It should be a crown, aye a diadem upon my grave, if the truth in more public or more private agitations were but in prose though not in poetry, as it was acted in all the places wherein you seek to blemish me' (job xix, 23, 24; xxxi, 35, 36).

" I perceive what manner of honor you put upon me in Rhode Island, which the actors may be ashamed of and you to be their herald. I have been silent of things done at Plymouth, Rhode Island and elsewhere, and am still in many respects, but have not forgotten them. I have heard that some of Plymouth then in place were instigators of the island. I could name the parties of both places, being met together at Cohannet (Taunton). I carried myself obedient to the government of Plymouth so far as became me, at the least to the great wrong of my family more than in above said, as can be made to appear if required; for I understood they had commission wherein authority was derived, which authority I reverenced ; but the island at that time had none, therefore, no authority legally derived to deal with me; neither had they (Coddington's court) the choice of the people, but set up themselves. But such fellows as you can bring men to the whipping post at their pleasure either in person or name without fault committed, or they invested with any authority.

"Again I affirm you to be a deceitful recorder, in that you declare that I have spoken words (or to that effect) that there is no state nor condition of mankind after this present life. I do verily believe that there is not a man, woman or child upon the face of the earth that will come forth and say that ever they heard any such words come out of my mouth. And I appeal unto God, the judge of all secrets, that there was never such a thought entertained in my heart. Therefore, I do verily believe it was hatched in the bosom of the proper author of your scroll. I am far from the opinion you slander me with, for I hold and shall through God maintain that he who takes upon him to be an interpreter of God's word and brings not eternity into the things or matters whereof he speaks, that man is a false prophet or interpreter of the word of God. You could not have clothed me with any piece of Saul's armor that would have fitted me worse than this scandal, and I know you have many pieces thereof among you.

" Whereas you charge me with passion, I know not your meaning in that word. It is an ambiguous phrase, but through God's goodness I know the passion of Christ. And the Apostles' saying, that he fulfils the rest of his passion in the flesh (Col. i, 24), and he being in a multitude of passions (2 Cor. i, 12, 23). And I know that Elijah was a man of passions, yet he was strong in prayer. And here you extort a word from me which I thought would have gone in secret to the grave with me, for I never uttered it with my lips to any, though my heart hath resented it many a time. The thirty-three years is upon expiration since I arrived first in New England, in which tract of time I have washed my face .with tears day and night in the ordinances of Jesus Christ, under the scandals, reproaches, calumniations and wrongs put upon me, for no other reason (though covered with other wizards) but for the profession of Jesus Christ. Yet have not these passions been in any imbittered sourness of spirit, but from enlarged desires, when the thing desired hath been presented as in Joseph when he saw his brethren, and in Jacob when Rachel appeared unto him. And I know they are reserved in a bottle of transparent glasses and written not on the black lines of the oldness of the letter, but in the lines of the light of life, or newness of the spirit. And I well know that God hath turned men's dealings with me into schools of learning (overshooting them in their own bow), as God did in that carnal and cruel act of Joseph's brethren, that the glory might be in themselves and not in him (Gen. xlv, 4, 5). I have told you in this a small portion of my passion, yet more than was my purpose to have done. Scandalize me for it, and tell the wrold of it again and also of what I have lost by it; and whilst you are calculating and summing up the number of days contained in so many years I will appeal to God, the searcher of hearts, as a witness of the truth which I now write. Let me tell you this much, that I write now in passion, for it draws tears from mine eyes to see the nature of man (which I myself by nature am) so evidently and perspicuously appear in you; for he that writes or speaks of the word of God and cannot apply unto himself (in a true sense) whatsoever is contained therein, he is no true minister of salvation, but of condemnation (2 Cor. iii, 9; xi, 26, 27). But let this stand as a parable to you and your teachers, whilst you in the meantime vent your corrupting and contagious poison.

"And whereas you say in your records that I am a sordid man in my life. I tell you what I say of that, and do you hide it from none: That I dare be so bold as to lay my conversation among men to the rule of humanity with any minister among you. In all the passages of my life which God hath brought me through from my youth unto this day, that it hath been as comely and innocent as his, according to present occasions, so that nothing shall be covered or painted over with hypocrisy. Whose ox or whose ass have I taken, or when or where have I lived upon other men's labors and not wrought with my own hands for things honest in the sight of men, to eat my own bread ? But these things are beneath my spirit, either to speak or write; but you force to apologize; for would any man think that the spirit of one man should be so audaciously impudent as to bring forth such falsities?

" I would say something of the foundation of your church at Plymouth if I thought it were not a matter too low to talk of, for when suit was made to the church in Holland, out of which your church came, to procure a dismission of a sister there to the church of Plymouth, though the gentlewoman upon occasion had been in New England divers years, yet a dismission would not be granted. Their preaching member then with them I knew to be a godly man and was familiarly acquainted with him now about half a hundred years ago in Gorton, where I was born and bred and the fathers of my body for many generations. The Elders gave the ground and reason that they could not dismiss their sister to the church at Plymouth in New England because it consisted of an apostacised people fallen from the faith of the Gospel, and when through such importunities a writing was procured, properly of advice to their sister how to carry herself, her husband the solicitor, whom you know, I need not to name, and I think you know after what manner the writing was read in your church by your ancient Elder; part conceded and part expounded to the best. If you know not I do, for I was present, Now to have this testimony of aspersion concerning the foundation of your church by the mother out of which you came may be considered, I think you can say, little more orders of the church of Rome.

"A fourth word I have to say concerning the stuff, as you contemptuously call it. What stuff you ignorantly make of the word of God. For the rest of your expressions, which you charge upon us, you falsely apply them. We never called sermons of salvation, tales; nor any ordinances of the Lord an abomination or vanity; nor holy ministers, necromancers. We honor, reverence and practice these things; therefore through guilt you falsify our intent. And, however, you term me a belcher out of error, I would have you to know that I hold my call to preach the Gospel of Christ not inferior to the call of any minister in the country, though I was not bred up in the schools of human learning; and I bless God that I never was, lest I had been drowned in pride through Aristotle's principals and other human philosophy. Yet this I doubt not of, but that there hath been as much true use made of the languages within this twenty years past for the opening of the Scripture in the place where I lived as hath been in any church in New England. When I was last in England through importunities I was persuaded to speak the word of God publicly in diyers and eminent places as any were then in London; and also about London and places more remote; many times the ministers of the place being hearers, and sometimes many together at appointed lectures in the country. I have spoken in the audience of all sorts of people and personages under the title of a Bishop or a King; and was invited to speak in the presence of such as had the title of Excellency; and I was lovingly embraced wherever I came, in the word uttered, with the most eminent Christians in the place. And for leave-taking at our departure, not unlike the ancient custom of the Saints upon record in the Holy Scriptures, and I daresay as evident testimony of God's power going forth with his word spoken, manifested as ever any in New England had, publicly and immediately after the words delivered; the people giving thanks to God that ever such came to be uttered among them; with entreatly to stay, and further manifestations, in as eminent places as are in England; whence myself did know the Doctors of note had formerly preached and at that time such as had more honors than ordinary preachers have; who gave me the call thither in way of loving Christian fellowship, the like abounding in the hearer. Therefore, I know not with what New England is leavened or spirited. Indeed, once in London three or four malignant persons caused me to be summoned before a committee of Parliament because I was not a university man. I appeared and my accusers also, one of them a schoolmaster in Christ's Hospital, another or two Elders of independent or separated churches, who were questioned what they had against me. They said I had preached. Divers of the committee answered and said that was true, they had heard me. The chairman asked my accusers what I had said. They said I had spoken of cherubims, but they could not repeat anything; but they said they were sure I had made the people of God sad. But the sum of all their accusations was brought out in a book which they said contained divers blasphemies. The book was only that which was printed concerning the proceedings of the Massachusetts against myself and others. The honorable committee took the book and looked over it and found no such thing there as they ignorantly suggested. Then my accusers desired Mr. Winslow might be called forth, whom they had procured to appear there, whom they thought would oppose me strongly with respect to the book. He spoke judiciously and manlike, desiring to be excused, for he had nothing to say concerning me in that place; his business with me lay before another committee of Parliament; which gave the Table good satisfaction. My answers and arguments were honorably taken by the chairman and the rest of the committee, and myself dismissed as a preacher of the Gospel.

" Some of you have upbraided us as not having the word of God with us because of our paucity. I think those called Quakers are as many as you ; but I think them never the better for this. multitude, nor the Papists who cover that part of the earth called Christendom. It hath ever been the way of the world to make itself great by multitude (Gen. x, 8, 9, 10; Hosea i, 7, n) ; but Christ stilleth his flock to be little and his disciples few (I Cor. xvi, 19).

"A fifth word I have to say is, in that you send the reader to a book printed by Edw. Winslow for a more full and perfect intelligence. Mr. Winslow and myself had humanlike correspondence in England, and before the honorable committee which he referred himself unto; and not to wrong the dead, I saw nothing to the contrary but that I had as good acceptation in the eyes of that Committee as himself had, though he had a greater charter and a larger commission than myself had. I do not know or remember any particulars in that book, for since the publishing thereof I have always had my thoughts exercised about things of better and greater concernment. I saw it in London, but read but little of it; and when I came over to these parts my ancient friend, Mr. John Brown, discoursing with me about those affairs in England, told me he had read such a book printed or put forth by Mr. Winslow. I told him I had seen it, but read very little of it. Mr. Brown, you know, was a man approved among you and elsewhere (for aught I know or ever heard) wherever he came; an Assistant in your government, a Commissioner for the United Colonies, etc., who thus spoke to me in our discourse. I will not pervert nor alter a word of the will or words of the dond. I say he affirmed this unto me, that he. would maintain that there were forty lies printed in that book ; and I doubt not but Mr. Brown's word and judgment in his time would have been acceptable and taken by any of you as authority regarding the book. Therefore add thy writing unto it if any spark of humanity be left, to inform your readers of the truth of things; or else take it to yourself that you are he who goes about to seduce and corrupt the minds of men with falsities. Warwick, June 3Oth, 1669. Samuel Gorton

The following are Adelos Gorton, the historian’s comments:

It is not known that Morton was wanting in the humanity to add the writing in acknowledgment of his errors, for such a writing could not at the time been published in the colonies, the only press then in the colonies being that which was under the control of the Massachusetts authorities.

There were many people in Massachusetts and in Rhode Island who felt the need of something to justify their history, and accordingly the truth as Gorton had made plain was suppressed, and the scandalous fiction of Morton was seized upon with avidity and copied and recopied in hundreds of thousands of books, and is to be found in all libraries having new England histories; while the truth, the letter of Gorton's here given, the writer could find but in one of the public libraries in the second largest of our cities. The circulation of Morton's fable was so profuse that it became the generally accepted correct life sketch of Samuel Gorton.

Sources: The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton by Adelos Gorton 1908

Contributed by Kathryn Currier

posted December 8, 2009



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