Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gage, Thomas (d.1656)

GAGE, THOMAS (d. 1656), traveller, was the second son of John Gage of Haling, Surrey, by Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas Copley of Gatton in that county, and brother of Sir Henry Gage [q. v.] His father sent him to Spain in 1612 to study among the jesuits, hoping that he would enter that society, but the young man conceived a deadly aversion for them, and assumed the monastic habit in the order of St. Dominic at Valladolid, taking in religion the name of Thomas de Sancta Maria. In 1625 he was in the monastery at Xeres in Andalusia, when a commissary of his order inspired him with a desire to go to the Philippine Islands as a missionary. It is evident from his own narrative that wealth and pleasure supplied him with stronger motives than religious zeal. His father, who would rather have seen him a scullion in a jesuit college than general of the whole Dominican order, threatened to disinherit him, and to stir up the jesuits against him if he again set foot in England. The king had forbidden any Englishman to go to the Indies, and Gage was smuggled on board the fleet in an empty biscuit barrel. He left Cadiz on 2 July 1625 with twenty-seven of his brethren. In a skirmish at Guadaloupe the Indians killed several sailors, some jesuits, and a Dominican. The missionaries desired to return, but ultimately reached Mexico on 8 Oct. Gage remained till February 1625–6 in the monastery where missionaries were first received.

Gage was disgusted by what he learned of the Philippines, and determined to remain in Central America. The day before the missionaries were to start, he and three other Dominicans gave their companions the slip, and set out for Chiapa. Gage was kindly received by the provincial of his order, was appointed to teach Latin to the children of the town, and obtained the goodwill of the bishop and the governor. At the end of six months he proceeded to Guatemala, where he was made M.A. in 1627, applied himself to preaching, and was appointed professor of philosophy. After leaving Guatemala he lived for some years among the Indians, and learned the Cacchiquel and Poconchi languages. Trouble about ‘some points of religion’ made him ‘desire the wings of a dove’ to fly to England (The English-American, p. 180). Having amassed a sum of nearly nine thousand pieces-of-eight, he resolved to return to Europe, though his superior refused permission. Accordingly he left Amatitlan, where he was parish priest, on 7 Jan. 1636–7. He crossed the province of Nicaragua, following the coast of the Pacific. A Dutch corsair took a coaster in which he sailed, and robbed him of seven thousand crowns. He at last reached Panama, traversed the isthmus, and sailed from Portobello on board the Spanish fleet, which arrived at San Lucar 28 Nov. 1637.

Having attired himself in English secular costume, he returned to London after an absence of twenty-four years from his native country. Unable to satisfy his religious doubts, he resolved to visit Italy. At Loreto, according to his own statement, he finally renounced the catholic religion on convincing himself that the miracles attributed to the picture of our Lady at that shrine were fraudulent. He immediately returned to England, landing at Rye on 29 Sept. 1641. Without delay he made himself known to Dr. Brownrigg, bishop of Exeter, who took him to the Bishop of London, from whom he received an order to preach his recantation sermon at St. Paul's on 28 Aug. 1642. To give fuller proof of his sincerity, he resolved to marry (ib. p. 211). After a year's hesitation, during which he spent his means in London, he was determined, by the favour shown to papists at court, to join the parliamentary side (ib. p. 211). He was rewarded by his appointment, in 1642, to the rectory of Acrise, Kent (Hasted, Kent, iii. 348). About 1651 he was appointed rector or preacher of the word of God at Deal. To show his zeal he gave evidence against Father Arthur Bell, a near relation of Sir Henry Gage's wife, and against Father Peter Wright, his brother's chaplain, both of whom, on his testimony, were condemned to death as priests (cf. Several Proceedings in Parliament, 15–22 May 1651). He also attacked Archbishop Laud.

The appearance of his ‘English-American; or New Survey of the West India's,’ in 1648, caused a remarkable sensation. His account of the wealth and defenceless condition of the Spanish possessions in South America excited the cupidity of the English, and it is said that Gage himself laid before Cromwell the first regular plan for mastering the Spanish territories in the New World (Burnet, Own Time, ed. 1833, i. 137; Long, Hist. of Jamaica, i. 221). He was appointed chaplain to General Venables's expedition, which sailed under Venables and Penn for Hispaniola. On 20 Dec. 1654 a frigate was ordered to carry him to Portsmouth (Cal. of State Papers, Dom. 1654, p. 586). The fleet failed at Hispaniola, but took Jamaica, where Gage died in 1656 ‘in the States' service.’ On 18 July in that year the council in London ordered that certain arrears of pay due to him should be given to his widow, Mary Gage, and they recommended the Jamaica committee at Ely House to settle upon her a pension of 6s. 8d. a week (ib. 1656–7, p. 28). His daughter Mary was buried at Deal 21 March 1652–3.

His works are:
  1. ‘The Tyranny of Satan, discovered by the teares of a converted sinner, in a sermon preached in Paules Church, on the 28 of August, 1642. By Thomas Gage, formerly a Romish Priest, for the space of 38 yeares, & now truly reconciled to the Church of England,’ London, 1642, 4to.
  2. ‘The English-American his Travail by Sea and Land; or a New Survey of the West India's, containing a Journall of three thousand and three hundred miles within the main Land of America,’ London, 1648, fol., dedicated to Thomas, lord Fairfax; 2nd edit. ‘enlarged by the author and beautified with maps,’ London, 1655, fol. This second edition is entitled ‘A New Survey of the West India's.’ The third edition appeared at London in 1677, and the fourth in 1711, 8vo. Southey, who has quoted this work in his notes on ‘Madoc,’ says that Gage's account of Mexico is copied verbatim from Nicholas's ‘Conqueast of West-India,’ which itself is a translation from Gomara. But though Gage might have borrowed some historical facts from previous writers, his book contained most interesting information derived from his personal observations and experiences. He was the first person to give to the world a description of vast regions from which all foreigners had been jealously excluded by the Spanish authorities. Gage's work was, at the command of Colbert, translated into French, with some retrenchments, 2 vols. Paris, 1676, 12mo, Amsterdam, 1680, 1699, 1721, 1722; it was translated also into Dutch, Utrecht, 1682, 4to, and into German, Leipzig, 1693, 4to. Selections from the French translation are inserted in Thevenot's ‘Relations de divers Voyages curieux,’ Paris, 1672 and 1696, fol. In 1712 there appeared at London ‘Some Remarkable Passages relating to Archbishop Laud, particularly of his affection to the Church of Rome. Being the twenty-second chapter of Gage's Survey of the West Indies, as 'twas printed in the Folio Edition before the Restoration, but supprest in the Octavo since,’ 8vo.
  3. ‘Rules for the better learning of the Indian tongue called Poconchi, or Pocoman, commonly used about Guatemala and some other parts of Honduras.’ Printed at the end of ‘The English-American.’
  4. ‘A Duell between a Iesuite and a Dominican, begun at Paris, gallantly fought at Madrid, and victoriously ended at London, upon fryday, 16 May 1651.’ This tract relates to the evidence he gave against Peter Wright and Thomas Dade, a Dominican friar.

[Biog. Universelle; Brydges's Censura Literaria (1807), iv. 263, v. 225; Camus, Mémoire sur la Collection des Grands et Petits Voyages, pp. 116, 291, 292; Challoner's Missionary Priests (1843), ii. 259, 336; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Dodd's Church Hist. iii. 296; Foley's Records, ii. 520, vii. 284; Gage's Hengrave, p. 234; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), p. 853; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vi. 291, vii. 609, viii. 144; Nouvelle Biog. Générale; Quétif and Echard's Scriptores Ordinis Prædicatorum, ii. 758.]

T. C.