STOURTON, ERASMUS, probably the second Anglican clergyman (the first whose name is known) to come to Newfoundland; b. 1603, eldest son of Edward Stourton of Narborough, Leicestershire, and his wife Mary; m. Elizabeth Gravenor, by whom he had six children; d. November 1658, at Walesby, Lincolnshire.
Although Stourton describes himself only as “late preacher to the Colony at Ferryland” in a petition dated 9 Oct. 1628 (PRO, C.O. 1/4, 59), he is undoubtedly the Erasmus Stourton who, in 1619, matriculated from St. John’s College, Cambridge, at the age of 16. He graduated with a b.a. in 1622–23 and was ordained September 1625.
After he secured his m.a. in 1627, Stourton went to Newfoundland to serve the colonists at Ferryland as chaplain. Here he came into conflict with Sir George Calvert (later Lord Baltimore), who had sent out Capt. Edward Wynne to establish a colony at Ferryland in 1621, which Calvert himself visited for the first time in 1627. In 1628, Calvert, a Roman Catholic, brought out, in addition to his family and 40 others of the Catholic faith, two priests who celebrated mass and carried out “all the other ceremonies of the Church of Rome in the ample manner as it was used in Spain.” This so aroused Stourton’s militant protestantism that the ensuing religious squabbles between the two men resulted in Stourton’s banishment from the colony in 1628 on Calvert’s orders. Stourton returned to England in the same year and there continued for a while his ineffectual efforts to stir up the Privy Council and other authorities against the “Popish Colony” at Ferryland.
Stourton later became chaplain to Christopher Villiers, Earl of Anglesey, and rector of Walesby in Lincolnshire, 1631–58, where he died in November 1658.
It is difficult to present a picture of Stourton as a human being, since so little has been written about him. While Calvert calls him “an audacious man, a narrow-minded sectary, and a troublesome meddlesome busy-body” and M. F. Howley, an eminent historian, later refers to him as “an aggressive Protestant, unbearable, and most likely seditious,” it could be that, under the existing circumstances, such epithets were greatly exaggerated, by reason of enmity or prejudice. What might be said on Stourton’s behalf, with some degree of justification, is that he fulfilled his work as missionary to those early colonists and settlers with some distinction and to the satisfaction of the hierarchy of his church in England. He shows himself a man of courage, no reed shaken by the wind, in his conflict with the powerful and influential Calvert. The mere fact of his coming to Newfoundland, his willingness to forgo the amenities of his home land, is evidence of commendable devotion and sacrifice. It would indeed appear that he possessed some of the qualities required for the life and work of the true pioneer.
PRO, C.O. 1/4, 59. For details of Stourton’s early life see: Lincolnshire pedigrees, ed. A. R. Maddison (3v., Harleian Soc., L–LII, 1902–4), III. Alumni Cantabrigiensis, ed. John and J. A. Venn (2pts. (10v.), Cambridge, 1922–54), pt.i, v.IV, M. F. Howley, Ecclesiastical history of Newfoundland (Boston, 1888). Prowse, History of Nfld. (the account given by Prowse of Stourton’s arrival in Newfoundland in 1612 as chaplain to John Guy’s colony is not supported by recent scholarship). Rogers, Newfoundland. A. L. Rowse, The Elizabethans and America (London, 1959).