Alert drivers may wonder about the small burial ground squeezed onto a narrow grassy divider between the fast moving traffic of I-95 North and Parkway South across from Lowes.

At one time, the Gorton Family Burial Ground lay on an unpaved country lane that wound its way up and down the hills from New London to Lyme. Passers-by hurrying along in the early nineteenth century unpaved roadway may have noticed fresh graves in the small enclosure in the corner of a grassy field as each grave was added to those of the Gorton family. Years passed and progress transformed what was once a quiet rural road into a wide paved one and eventually into a super speedway! While the development of I-95 through Waterford in the 1950s, ’60s and later into the 21st century improved travel across southern Connecticut, the road construction projects wrought significant damage to a small rural cemetery in its way.

The farm of William and Lydia Collins Gorton is long gone, just like other old farms in town. All that is left of the burial ground has been squeezed onto a narrow grassy divider between fast moving traffic and Parkway South. All seven Gorton children born in the years 1730 to the 1750s, are said to have been buried there. Today about six graves remain. At one time, there were many more. Mr. Gorton allowed the town poor and others to be buried there alongside his family. Among them were Amy Whipple and the two Fargo sisters, Elizabeth and Lucretia who lived on Fargo Hill. “I’ve been told there were about 25 graves there,”[1] writes the late Waterford town historian, Margaret Stacy, “Maybe more!” She mentions that David Rice, another early resident of the area, said there were once 100 graves there.

At one time the burial yard was fenced off and there was a stile on the east side. It was used as a shortcut for children living in the area, who probably cut through the graveyard on their way to Gilead School located in the area that is now probably under Lowes parking lot.

William, son of John Gorton, was probably born in Mashapaug, Rhode Island and married Lydia Collins in 1726 in Westerly. Their children included:

Benjamin Gorton, b. July 25, 1737, m. Mehitable Douglas

Mary Gorton, b. Sept. 30, 1739, m. (1) Reuben Beebe (2) Jediah Caulkins

John Gorton, b. June 2, 1742, m. (1) Mary Mannering (2) Susanna Davis

Lydia Gorton, b. August 6, 1744, died unmarried

Sarah Gorton, b. Dec 31, 1746, m. Charles Brown

William Gorton, b. Sept. 21, 1748, m. (1) Phebe Daniels (2) Louise Hall

Collins Gorton, b. Aug. 23, 1752, m. Naomi Keeny

A short story told about William who is said to have adopted his wife’s Quaker Faith:

“One day he met a man with whom he had had some altercations and they had another sudden argument. William had a volatile temper and when the other man hit him, he was about to retaliate. The other fellow asked, “Now William, what does your new religion tell you to do when your enemy smites you?” William recalled that it says to turn the other cheek. “That’s right,” said his opponent and hit him on the other side of the face.

Then William said: “And what does the good book say now?” “It doesn’t say anything further.” With that William said “The scriptures have been fulfilled.” He took off his jacket and beat the other man good.

William was a Delegate to the Friends Convention near Poughkeepsie, New York in November of 1761, and died in an accident on the way home from the Convention. He drowned in the Hudson River when the boat in which he was traveling capsized, probably in a storm. William’s wife, Lydia Gorton, was left a widow with six children when her husband died. She lived another 48 years and died November 20, 1809 at age 95. The Gorton family home that stood at least another 150 years upon the Gorton farm until it was razed in the 1960’s to make way for the expanded turnpike.

History of the Gorton Family in the Colonies:

William Gorton was the grandson of Samuel Gorton, the Patriarch of the family, who emigrated from England and arrived in Boston in 1636. [2] Samuel was a minister, who played a significant role in the religious turmoil of early New England. From the moment Samuel first stepped foot in the new world in 1636, he created a stir by playing a significant role in creating and organizing much of the New England Baptist church sect. His long and complicated life story sheds light on the religious turmoil of early New England.

Samuel Gorton was born in 1592 in England, during the time of great religious strife. He was a member of the separatists, a group critical of the Church of England; Samuel, his wife, and nine children (William among them) escaped first to Holland and eventually landed in Boston in 1636.

Samuel quickly found life with the Boston Puritans no better than the world he left behind in England. He became involved in many disputes with the Puritans. It was said: “His every thought and word was at issue with the Puritan rules.” He was called an anarchist, a blasphemer, and a rogue. Eventually Samuel was sent to jail and was later thrown out of Boston.

He and his family fled to Portsmouth, RI. There he and his followers fared no better. Authorities appealed to Mass Bay authorities for help. Boston sent soldiers who fired on Gorton and his followers, who were put into jail. At trial, they were said to have escaped death by one vote and were banished from the area.

Gorton appealed to his friend, Governor Winthrop for help. Back in the Boston area, the group continued to disobey church rules. “In 1644 the Massachusetts Bay Authorities found that Gorton and his company did harm in any town wherever they were confined. Not knowing what to do with them, the authorities set them free and gave them fourteen days to make themselves scarce. He and about 100 other Gortonists braved a blowing snowstorm to walk and ride horses about 50 miles to the area now known as Providence.”[3]

There he and his group purchased land from the Indians for a settlement called “Shawmut,” (later renamed “Warwick.”) Gorton continued to annoy the Massachusetts authorities by writing several letters of rebuke — that provoked considerable anger from the governor and he made powerful enemies among the Massachusetts magistrates.

Gorton’s letters continued to infuriate the court, so forty soldiers were sent to Warwick. He and his followers, called “Gortonists,” were tried for heresy and sedition in Boston. They were found guilty and all but three of the magistrates called for the death penalty. Eventually they were all set free but were banished from Massachusetts and the Plymouth colonies. The Gortonists found refuge on Aquidneck Island. Immediately Gorton fled to England and presented his case to Parliament. He returned with an order to reinstate the Shawmut purchase. In gratitude to the Earl of Warwick, the name of the Shawmut settlement was changed to Warwick.

Once the charter government was established in Warwick, Gorton was satisfied and we heard no more trouble from him. Happily he lived to see religious freedom secured to the colony in its Constitution.

William’s son, Collins Gorton 1752- 1834

The Gorton family like all citizens of the Colonies were profoundly affected by the events of the Revolutionary War. According to an article by the Sons of the American Revolution, “During the first few years of the revolutionary war, this state was literally full of Tories. They filled our jails to overflowing.”[4]

Collins Gorton, son of William and Lydia, was accused of being a Tory sympathizer and sentenced to Newgate Prison for two years. He was wounded in an attempt to escape and his left arm had to be removed. A ball had passed between his ribs and settled in his back and could not be extracted. A surgeon, David Jewell, testified to the attempted escape in 1782. Collins had many friends in the area. Eighteen New London or Waterford residents signed a petition for his release. He eventually returned home and lived until 1834 when he was buried in the Gorton Family Plot.

William, the son of William and Lydia Gorton was a first selectman of the newly incorporated town of Waterford, according to historian Margaret Stacy.

Notes

[1] William was buried in New York state.

[2] Gorton Thompson, Kathryn Mae. “Family History and Story of Samuel Gorton”. Rhode Island Reading Room. http://sites.rootsweb.com/~rigenweb/article20.html

[3] Shepard, James. “The Tories of Connecticut.” The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. https://www.connecticutsar.org/the-tories-of-connecticut/

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