The Man who Named His Daughter Maha-shalal-hasbaz

A Note to My Readers: Lately I experienced genealogical burnout and posted that comment on my FaceBook page.  Years of research and writing and the constant influx of discovery…inquiries from others for corroboration…left me overwhelmed and I needed to take a break.   The responses ranged from the commiserating and comforting words of “been there” to the astonishingly hyper “never” post that had ten exclamation points.  Somewhere in the “in between”, a number of people recommended I go to another family branch and research there.  A nice thought, but I needed a real break…not a new research project.

One of the best and recurring bits of advice was to put down the research and garden…shop…hang out with some new people. All sound thinking, but I was in such a funk, it all sounded too easy. Until last weekend.

I went to a baby shower for my son-in-law’s sister where I ran into a group of women who had  just lost their grandmother. She was the family historian and the dad-to-be’s grandmother. She had kept treasure upon treasure…HER grandmother’s Quaker bonnet and schoolbooks and journals. The women began telling me about what they had and their memories of her and how they missed picking up the phone to talk with her. I told them what I did and we couldn’t stop talking about family history. My gift to them was to tell them THEY were her legacy and she had passed the baton. Their fresh grief washed away when they realized that she was still with them. Their gift to me was to re-energize my enthusiasm. Though I never met their grandmother…she felt like a friendly spirit. And I AM BACK!

Exploring my Quaker Roots

Of course, the conversation about Quaker heritage steered me to Obadiah J. Downing and his wife, Lydia H. Titus.  They were the last practicing Quakers of my ancestry and though I have been working on them and their ancestral lines for years, it was with the most rudimentary understanding of Quakerism and their contribution to American History.

In an effort to learn more, I contacted Swarthmore University which houses the Friends Historical Library.  They are in my backyard so to speak so I can spend as much time as I would like exploring Quaker history.   I called and spoke to an archivist and the five minute phone conversation energized and intrigued me so much that I had to restrain myself from jumping in the car and diving into their archival material then and there.

From experience I know that you don’t just go to a resource without preparation and I had better organize my work.

Gathering my Quaker materials and tidying up the Downing files, I realized I had unfinished business.  I had good records going back to George Downing who migrated from Warwick, R.I. in the late 1600’s to Oyster Bay, Long Island.  For some reason, I had stopped there…probably distracted by another ancestor…they are a noisy bunch and it happens more often than not.

The Downing files are a hodgepodge which included the family material of his first wife, Mary Coles.  Somehow I had ignored the abundant and interesting information on her family.  George Downing is my 6th great grandfather. Mary was his first wife.  I am descended from his second wife, Phebe Valentine.   But the Coles had a story to tell and had waited patiently for me while my ancestors quieted down until I was at their doorstep in Warwick, Rhode Island.

Samuel Gorton “One of the Noble Spirits”

Samuel Gorton

Mary Coles was the daughter of Daniel Coles and Maha-shalal-hasbaz Gorton.   Her grandfather, Samuel Gorton was born in Lancashire, England to well-heeled Thomas Gorton and his wife, Ann.  Samuel was privately tutored and classically educated, fluent in Greek and Hebrew.  His command of both languages served him well as he studied the bible in its original language.  He left England “to enjoy the liberty of conscience in respect to faith toward God and for no other end.”  Traveling with Samuel was his wife, Mary Maplet “a lady of education and refinement”.

When Samuel arrived in  Puritan ruled Boston in March of 1636, it became clear that his personal interpretation of the bible and his politics made his presence undesirable.  At one point he was jailed for his religious and political views and once freed, he and his followers were thrown out of Boston.  They made their way to Portsmouth, Rhode Island, but the “Gortonists” now numbering around 100 souls, suffered more from the hands of the Massachusetts Puritans.  William Arnold (Benedict Arnold’s father) was a prominent Portsmouth citizen and appealed to Boston to “rid him of the Gortonists”. Samuel’s house was burned and as they fled,  Massachusetts soldiers fired on them until they surrendered.

A trial was held…the group being charged with being “blasphemous enemies of the true religion” and escaped death by one vote.  Sentenced to wear chains and leg irons, Samuel and his followers were rescued from their fate by a secret supporter of Samuel Gorton…Massachusetts Governor, John Winthrop.  The sentenced was reduced to banishment.

In 1640 the Gortonists left Plymouth in a raging snowstorm and made their way to what was called Providence.  In 1642 they purchased the lands of Shawomet from the Narragansett Sachems.  The little community became friends with the Indians and settled down.  It was shortly after Samuel and Mary and their children arrived that their daughter, Maha-Shalal-Hasbaz was born.  According to the “History and Genealogy of the Cock, Cocks, Cox Family”, her name was a commemoration of “Gorton’s hegira from Boston to Warwick” referring to the Bible passage of Isaiah VIII:1, 3 which recounted a similar travail.

But Massachusetts was not done with Samuel and continued to harrass him and his followers, imprisoning him again only to release him upon condition that he leave the land that the Gortonists had purchased.

Samuel was released and a man of his word, in 1645 he returned to England sailing out of Manhattan.  His family remained behind living with nearby Indians.  While in England, Samuel met an old friend, Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick.  The two fashioned a manuscript “Simplicities Defense against a Seven Headed Policy” and presented it to Parliament.  As a result, in 1847 Samuel was granted a Royal Charter and received an “order of safe passage”.   He set sail for the New World and much to the displeasure of the Massachusetts government, they were required to provide him with military escort to Rhode Island and were ordered to never interfere with the Gortonists again.

Upon arrival to his Rhode Island home, he named the land Warwick after his friend.

In 1649 Samuel was elected General Assistant to the Governor and in 1651 he was elected as the first President of the towns of Providence and Warwick.  He also held offices as Commissioner and Deputy Governor.

On December 10, 1677 Samuel died at the age of 85 and is buried in Warwick behind a home off Warwick Neck Road.  The Gortonist sect continued for 100 years after his death.

All of this research and reading came about because Samuel named his daughter, Maha-Shalal-Hasbaz and in the New England of their day…and  given the Puritan propensity to name one’s daughters Patience, Thankful, Silence…the name of Maha-Shalal-Hasbaz Gorton compelled me to learn more about her and her parents.   Samuel and Mary Gorton’s daughter led me to the remarkable history of the founding of the colony of Providence and Rhode Island Plantations and the realization that along with Roger Williams, Samuel Gorton played a major role in its existence.

Now where was I?  Oh yes…back to the Downing files.


1. “The History and Genealogy of the Cock, Cocks, Cox Family”. Compiled by George William Cocks. Privately Printed 1914.

2. “The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton. The Founders and The Founding of the Republic, a section of Early United States History and a History of the Colony of Providence and Rhode Island Plantations in The Narragansett Indian Country now The State of Rhode Island 1592-1636-1677-1687”.  By Adelos Gorton.  Published:Philadelphia, 1907.

3. Derivation of Maha-Shalal-Hasbaz.   “Hurry to spoil!” or “He has made haste to the plunder!” -Marhar Shalal Hasbaz was the second mentioned son of the prophet Isaiah.[2] The name is a reference to the impending plunder of Samaria and Damascus by the king of Assyria. Maher-shalal-hash-baz is mentioned in the Bible in Isaiah 8:1-4, which section was later quoted in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 18:1-4. This is the longest name (and word) used in the Bible.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

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