The town of York, Maine is located in York County, about 45 minutes south of Portland, Maine, along Interstate 95. It was first settled in 1630, and originally named Agamenticus, the Abenaki tribes term for the York river. In 1638 settlers changed the name to Bristol, after where many of them had come from, Bristol, England.
The Lord Proper of the area at the time was Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who would change the name again. This time to Gorgeana. In 1642, by charter of King Charles I, Gorgeana would become an incorporated town.
Sir Ferdinando Gorges was born in 1566, most likely in Wraxall, Somerset, England. His father was Edward Gorges Esq., and his mother was Lady Cecily Lygon. He had an older sibling, Sir Edward, who was baptized on 5 Sep 1564, and married Dorothy Speke, daughter of Sir George Speke.
Early in his life his military career took off, and he was knighted in 1591. By the early 1600’s he had dedicated his life to settlement schemes in the new world. Gorges believed that colonization should be left to the royals and nobles back in England, with the colonies kept under tight control. In 1620 Gorges succeeded in obtaining a charter to develop an area of land, for the Council of New England. The grant covered the entire area of North America between the 40th and 48th parallels. Gorges then wanted to take the land in the grant and distribute it as manors and fiefs to gentry and members of the Council of New England. In the end he was thwarted by self-governing English colonies.
Sir Ferdinando Gorges was married four times during his life, but only had children with his first wife, Ann Bell.
Wives of Sir Ferdinando Gorges:
- Ann Bell, daughter of Edward Bell or Writtle, Essex, England. She married Gorges at St. Margaret’s in Westminster. Ann was buried on 6 Aug 1620 in St. Sepulchers, London. Together they had 4 children, with only two surviving to adult hood.
- John Gorges
- Robert Gorges
- Ellen Gorges – died in childhood
- Honoria Gorges – died in childhood
- Mary Fulford, daughter of Sir Thomas Fulford, she was also the widow of Sir Thomas Achim of Hall Cornwall before marrying Gorges. She died on 1 Aug 1623
- Elizabeth Gorges, daughter of Tristram Gorges. She died in 1629.
- Elizabeth Smyth de Long Ashton Gorges, daughter of Sir Thomas Gorges and Helena Shackenburg. She married Sir Ferdinando Gorges on 23 Sep 1629
John Gorges, the first son of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, was born on 23 Apr 1593. He inherited the Maine province upon his fathers death. He was married twice, first to Lady Francis Fynes, daughter of Earl of Lincoln, second to Mary Meade, daughter of Sir John Meade. Gorges and Mary had four children together.
Children of John Gorges and Mary Meade:
- Ferdinando Gorges, of Ashley Wilts
- Jane Gorges, baptized on 24 Jun 1632
- Ann Gorges, born on 2 May 1635, baptized 12 May 1635.
- Cecily Gorges, baptized on 14 Feb 1631. She married Denis Backchurch
Little is known of Gorges second son, Robert, who was the Governor General of New England from 1623-1624. Unlike his father, Robert had traveled to the new world, and to Maine, but he did not stay in America and eventually returned to England.
Sir Ferdinando Gorges died on 24 May 1647 in Long Ashton, Gloucestershire, England. He would be known as a proprietary founder of Maine, who unsuccessfully promoted the colonization of the new world along aristocratic lines. Shortly after his death the Massachusetts Bay Company claimed his dominion and by 1652 a section of it would become York, MA.
During the French and Indian Wars the town of York became a hot spot, with the French encouraging the Native Americans of the area to attack because York was an English town. Many such English settlements and towns were attacked during this time just for this reason.
When King William’s war broke out, York would be targeted again. In 1692, during the Candlemas Massacre York was destroyed. Conflicts along with attacks on settlements and towns did not stop till the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, some 71 years later.
York, Maine was also the site of the Royal Goal (jail), a colonial prison. Most of what is seen today was built in 1719 using sections from the original jail. Jail keepers and their families would reside in the top part of the building. The Goal was used till 1879, when it was turned into a warehouse, and eventually a museum. The Goal is pictured below.
One of the most famous prisoners of the Goal was Patience Boston, a Native American slave, whose recorded surname was Samson. From her own account, taken while she was imprisoned in the jail, her father was John Samson and her mother was Sarah Jethro. She was born on 26 Dec 1711 on Monamoy, an island off the coast of Chatham, MA on Cape Cod.
Patience’s narrative of her life is very long, and she spent a considerable time telling it to the two men who would record it and later publish it. In it she explains that her mother died when she was 3, and shortly there after her father sent her to live the family of Mr. Paul Crow, who would educate Patience, and teach her about her “wicked” ways. Ways she said she was unable to stop, things like playing on the Sabbath, or when she was 12 years old, setting her masters house afire, three different times.
The wife of Mr. Crow seemed to have understood that Patience was a lost soul, and a child aching for attention, and spent a considerable amount of time trying to “bring the child around” to what were considered civilized behaviors of the colonial times, as well as being a mother figure to her. When Patience was 15 Mrs. Crow died, and with her death went all the work she had put into Patience. Patience shook off Mrs. Crows teaching and again began engaging in her previous “wicked” ways. It became too much for Mr. Crow to deal with, and Patience was set free. Something that would later become unusual, if not unheard of for a slave.
About a year later Patience was married to a “Negro” servant, as she addressed him in her narrative. This marriage put Patience back into slavery, as her husbands master wouldn’t have it any other way. It would not be long before Patience discovered alcohol, and she would become addicted.
Patience was clearly a troubled girl, who grew into a troubled woman that developed a problem with alcohol. During her narrative she described being verbally and physically abusive to her husband while under the influence, and fantasizing about murdering her first child when she found out she was pregnant. The child would later die due to Patience’s lack of understanding of babies, and her inability to be gentle with the child, and while explaining this to the men interviewing her she displays guilt over that child’s death. Something that she says she didn’t feel then, because she was still heavily drinking. When Patience became pregnant with her second child she said she was able to stop her “wickedness”, and that she loved to hear her husband read from the Bible at night. But it didn’t last, with Patience stating that she had left God, and he had left her. Again Patience began to drink, and again she thought of murdering her second child, just as she had thought of doing to her first. During a small sentence in her narrative it seems Patience had tried hard to overcome that, but it was not meant to be, and at 2 months of age the baby died, in what Patience described as a sudden death.
Patience drank again, and this time got into a fight with her husband. To vex him, as she put it, she claimed that she had in fact killed her second child. To which her husband said he would have to inform the Justice. Patience said she would go with him, and accuse herself. When her husband realized she was drunk he waited till the morning when she was sober, maybe hoping to talk to her again. But Patience had other plans, and found more alcohol to drink, to as Patience put it “harden me in the Lies I had framed against my self.”
Found several times not to be sober during her questioning and examination for the crimes, she was acquitted. Being a slave she was sent back to prison till “what to do with her” was decided. Instead of going back to her previous master she chose to be bound to a new master for 2 years, her husband also consented to this. Patience’s new master would be Capt. Dimmick, who then sold her a year later to Mr. Joseph Bailey of Casco Bay.
The interviewers must have redirected Patience at this time, as the narrative shifts to the murder of her masters grandson, Benjamin Trot, who she admits to killing, and says its was due to a “groundless prejudice.” She had been sold by Mr.Bailey to a new man, said to be the grandfather of Benjamin Trot, whose name I have been unable to find. Patience swore an oath to herself that “that I would kill that Child, though I seem’d to love him, and he me; which is an Aggravation of my bloody Cruelty to him. Having solemnly sworn that I would be the Death of the Child, I was so far from repenting of it, that I thought I was obliged to fulfil it.” She also admits that she would have killed her master herself, but that it wasn’t something she could do, presumably because she was physically no match, and because it seems she was unable to procure poison to kill him by. She goes on to tell the men her ideas of how to kill the boy, and how they either didn’t work out or how she felt “a sense of God’s Eye upon me; so that I had not Power to strike.” She eventually decided on pushing him down a well, lured him over, and did just as she had planned, using a long pole to hold him under water till he was dead. She then walked to the Justice and admitted what she had done.
The jury found her guilty of “wilful murder” and she was sent to prison. From here Patience spends the weeks and months speaking to the interviewers, and speaking of gaining her salvation. She clearly finds her conscience while being locked up in the Goal, and felt guilt over what she has done. Patience spends her days repenting for what she has done, and while imprisoned she gives birth to her third and last child, a boy, who would be entrusted to a good family who cared for both the welfare of the child and his faith in Christ. She also explains that during her trail the judge “asked me why I did not plead not Guilty now, as I did on my Trial at Barnstable; I answered, because then I was not guilty, but now I was. I was further asked, whether I had not been over perswaded by any Body to plead as I did? I answered no; but I did it to please God. Some before my Trial, that were jealous lest l should be awed by Men to plead guilty, examined me pretty strictly about the Matter; I could not but speak with some Earnestness, and say to this Purpose; You and I shall appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and then you’l know that I own my Guilt because I dare not dishonour God, and wrong my Conscience.”
Patience Boston Samson was executed on 24 July 1735, by hanging.
Today York is a peaceful seaside town, and a busy tourist spot in the summer. There are several museums in the area to visit, as well as burial grounds and cemeteries, which dot the country side throughout New England. The Old York burial ground can be found in the center of Old York, and is a fun little place to explore.
Thorn, Jennifer. Writing British Infanticide – Child Murder, Gender, and Print 1722-1859. Rosemont Printing & Publishing Corp., 2003.
Cohen, Daniel A. Pillars of Salt, Monument of Grace – New England Crime Literature and The Origins of American Popular Culture 1674-1860. Amherst and Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006.
Hardesty, Jared Ross. Unfreedom, Slavery and Dependence In Eighteenth-Century Boston. New York and London: New York University Press, 2016.
Moody, Samuel, and Joseph Moody. Faithful Narrative of The Wicked Life and Remarkable Conversion of Patience Boston alias Samson. ME: S. Kneeland and T. Green in Queen Street, 1738.
Baxter, James Phinney, and Frank Dennett Marshall. Agamenticus, Bristol, Gorgeana, York. York, ME: Old York Historical and Improvement Society , 1904.
“Sir Ferdinando Gorges.” Encyclopedia.com. 2004. http://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/us-history-biographies/sir-ferdinando-gorges.
Swett, Sophie . “Agamenticus and Passaconaway.” Seacoastnh.com. 1996-2016. http://www.seacoastnh.com/Places-and-Events/NH-History/agamenticus-and-passaconaway/?showall=1.