Otis Olney Wright.

History of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; online

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1667 •• 1917





IT the annual Town Meeting, held March 2, 1914, the Rev.
/\ Otis 0. Wright, Elmer S. Sears, Edwin P. Kershaw,
-^ ^ Leroy J. Chace, and Lorenzo P. Sturtevant were ap-
pointed a committee to have charge of the preparation of a
history of the town, to be published previous to the two hundred
and fiftieth anniversary of its incorporation, said committee to
report at the next annual, or at a special meeting of the town, as
to plans, expenses, etc.

The committee met in the Frank S. Stevens Public Library
Building, May 1, 1914, and organized by choosing 0. 0. Wright
Chairman, and Elmer S. Sears Secretary and Treasurer. Mr.
Wright was appointed editor and historian of the work. ^ It
was agreed that since so much has been published concerning
the Town, the work should be largely that of editing and
compiling such records and other material as may be available
and adapted to the special purpose of the contemplated
anniversary and its celebration. It was thought that the vol-
ume should be limited to about 250 pages.

At the next Town meeting, March 1, 1915, the committee
reported progress, and it was "Voted — To accept the report
of the committee appointed at the last annual meeting relative
to a town history, and to appropriate $200 for the purpose of
carrying on the work."

At the annual meeting held March 6th, 1916, the com-
mittee reported progress, and offered the following Resolutions :
"Resolved, That the said Committee be authorized to com-
plete, print and publish said history, of about 250 pages, on or
before April 1, 1917, the expense of so doing not to exceed
$1000 for 500 copies bound in cloth, and 100 copies in sheets."

"Resolved, That the selectmen be authorized to make
plans, appoint committees, and to have general charge of a
celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Incorporation of
the Town, to be held on two successive days, between the first
and fifteenth of September, 1917, as they may determine; and
that all necessary expenses incurred by them for that purpose
shall be paid by the Town upon their order. "

The resolutions were adopted, and other citizens were then
appointed to act with the Selectmen as a general Town Com-
mittee on the Celebration, viz: Charles L. Chace, Thomas

Editor's Preface

Pomfret, the Rev. J. Wynne-Jones, Algernon H. Barney,
Albert Belanger, and Charles A. Chace.

In accord with the original plan of the committee, the
Editor has made free use of materials found in various works,
together with Town Records, Plymouth Colony Records,
Family Histories, Genealogies, and newspaper writings. He
gratefully acknowledges all these contributions to this work,
giving credit to each and all the sources from which he has
borrowed, after the custom of those who edit and compile.
By special permission, much interesting matter has been taken
from that great work done by J. H. Beers & Company, of
Chicago, Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern
Massachusetts. Such family records as pertain to the first
permanent settlers still represented in the Town, have been
brought to date; and a few who have been prominent in later
generations, in public or professional service have been selected,
as examples of history in the making. Others may have been
just as worthy of mention, but limits forbade; and we have
taken that which was most available. So far as practicable
the sketches have been approved by someone representing
each family presented. In the nature of the case some of the
records will be found incomplete and unsatisfactory.

In some matters referring to this locality I have quoted from
The Pilgrim Republic, a most interesting and valuable work by
John A. Goodwin, edited by Wm. Bradford Goodwin. I am
indebted to Miss Virginia Baker, author of Massasoits Town
Sowams in Pokanoket, and The History of Warren, R. I. in the
War of the Revolution. Miss Baker is experienced in genealo-
gical and historical research. A History of Harrington Rhode
Island by the Hon. Thomas WiUiams Bicknell, has been help-
ful not only because Barrington was included in Swansea until
1718, but for the reason that it is replete with information of
events of interest to all students.

The Hon. John S. Brayton who was born in Swansea, and
was always personally interested in the Town, secured the
Muster Rolls of the Revolution, at large expense, and presented
them, with the documents relating to the incorporation of
Somerset, to the Swansea Free PubUc Library, where they may
be found. Other valuable material, prepared or preserved by
Mr. Brayton, has been kindly loaned by his son, John S. Brayton
for this history.

Mrs. W. S. Winter, of Marion, Iowa, daughter of the late
honored citizen. Job Gardner, has contributed papers left by
her father, which will be of interest to many.

Valued assistance has been rendered by Miss Ida M.
Gardner, Orrin A. Gardner, William J. Hale, Charles E. Allen,

Editor* s Preface

Miss Ruth B. Eddy, Miss Martha G. Kingsley, Joseph G.
Luther, and others.

Matter pertaining to the Churches of this Town, the most
of which was prepared by the late Rev. Joseph W. Osborn for
the History of Bristol County, published in 1883, has been
revised to date and embodied in this work, together with other
materials suited to our purpose, from the same volume.

Mrs. Frank S. Stevens kindly allowed the use of some
mihtary papers of Col. Peleg Shearman, heirlooms of his

The following works relating to the Indians of this region
have been consulted by the Editor: Indian History, Biography
and Genealogy, by Ebenezer W. Pierce; King Philip's War,
by Elhs and Morris; Pictorial History of King Philip's War,
by Daniel Strock Jr. ; King Philip's War, by Richard Mark-
ham; A History of the American People, by Woodrow Wilson
Ph. D., Litt., D., L.L.D. Vol. 1. 'The swarming of the English."

I have also quoted from the Journal of William Jefferay,
Gentleman, on account of a visit to Thomas Willett; and from
Prof. Wilfred H. Munroe's, Some Legends of Mount Hope,
with reference to King Philip.

The selections from Goodwin's "The Pilgrim Republic"
are used by permission of the publishers, Houghton Mifflin






An Agricultural People 17

Sowams in Pokanoket 19

The Wonderful Cure of Massasoit 25

Massasoit 29-30

King Philip '. 31

Speech of Metacomet 33

Adventures and Fate of Weetamoe 34



First Records 51

Swansea Records 53

The Prison Ship Martyrs . 53

Pioneer Schools 57

Miles' Bridge Lottery 57

Deputies and Representatives 58

Revolutionary War Records 60

Alphabetical List of Roll 61

Military Record 1861-1865 66

HISTORICAL ADDRESS (Hon. John Summerfield Brayton) . 69


First Baptist Church 101

The Non-Sectarian Christian Church 108

The Six-Principle Baptist Church 117

Swanzey Village Meeting House 117

Catholic Churches 117

Christ Church 118

Religious Work on Gardner's Neck 122

Universalist Society of Swansea and Rehoboth 124

Swansea Monthly Meeting of Friends 124


Forges and Iron-works 129

Swansea Factory 130

Swansea Agricultural Library Association 132

Swansea Grange, No. 148 132

Fisheries 133

No. Swansea Mfg. Co 133

Swansea Dye Works 134

CONTEISTS— Continued


Allen Family 140

Arnold Family 142

Barney Family 143

Brayton Family 145

Chase Family 151

Cole Family 154

Eddy Family 156

Family of George Gardner of Newport 157

Gardner Family 158

Descendants of Peleg Gardner 161

The Haile, Hail, Hale Family 165

Kingsley Family 170

Joseph Gardner Luther 172

Horton Family 174

Slade Family 176

Mason Family 180

Pearse Family 181

Wilbur Family .-.••. 185

Heads of Families in Swansea in 1790 187


Thomas Willett 193

John Myles 197

John Brown 198

Marcus A. Brown 200

Daniel Edson 202

Job Gardner 203

Abner Slade 204

Valentine Mason 205

Jeremiah Gray 207

Daniel R. Child 209

Rev. William Miller 209

Rev. Joseph W. Osborn, Ph. D 210

Stephen Weaver 215

Joseph Mason Northam 217

Elijah Pitts Chase 217

Nathan Montgomery Wood 219

Five Gardner Brothers 222

Samuel Gardner 222

Hon. John Mason 225

Edward M. Thurston 226

Dr. James Lloyd Wellington 227

Mason Barney . 229

James H. Mason 231

Hon. Frank Shaw Stevens 231


Dorothy Brown Lodge 240

Swansea Free Public Library 240



Outline and Index Map of Bristol County 4

Memorial Tablet, Town Hall 56

Martin House 64

The Brown Homestead, Touisset 64

Hon. John Summerfield Brayton 70

Town Hall 82

First Baptist Church 102

First Christian Church 102

South Swansea Chapel 114

Old Book of Records 114

Christ Church 122

Rest House 126

Jonathan Hill House 126

Rev. Obadiah Chase 164

Mason Barney 164

Stephen Weaver IgO

Job Gardner 180

Jas. Lloyd Wellington, M. D. . . 196

Elijah P. Chase 196

Hon. Frank Shaw Stevens 212

Nathan M. Wood 212

Tree Where Roger Williams Found Shelter 236

Dorothy Brown Lodge Hall 236

Swansea Free Public Library 240

Frank S. Stevens School 241

Proposed High School Building 244




"^ WANSEA lies in the southwestern part of the county, and
1^ is bounded as follows: On the north by Seekonk, Reho-
^-"^ both, and Dighton ; on the east by Dighton and Somerset ;
on the south by Somerset and Mount Hope Bay.

"A portion of this town was originally comprehended
within the limits of ancient Rehoboth. It forms a part of the
tract called by the Indians ' Wannamoisett, ' situated in this
town and Barrington, R. I. This town was incorporated in 1667,
and then included within its limits the present towns, Somer-
set, Barrington, and the greater part of Warren, R. I. The
town derived its name from ' Swan Sea, ' in Wales, and was so
spelled in the earliest records. In 1649, Obadiah Holmes and
several others, having embraced the Baptist sentiment, with-
drew from Mr. Newman's church, and set up a separate
meeting of their own. The attempt to break them up, and the
persecutions they met with, only increased their numbers. In
1663 they were much strengthened by the arrival of Rev. John
Myles and his church. In the same year Mr. Myles formed
a Baptist Church in Rehoboth the first in Massachusetts
(the fourth in America) . It was organized in the house of
John Butterworth, and commenced with seven members.
These and subsequent proceedings were considered such an
evil by the rest of the inhabitants that an appeal was made
to the Plymouth Court to interfere. Each member of this new
church was fined five pounds, and prohibited from worship for
a month. They were also advised to remove from Rehoboth
to some place where they would not prejudice any existing
church. They accordingly moved to Wannamoisett.

"Capt. Thomas Willett, a magistrate, and a man of great
ability and enterprise, having large possessions at Narragansett,
near by, came and settled here. Hugh Cole and some others
followed. Capt. Willett became subsequently the first
EngHsh mayor of New York. He and Mr. Myles may be justly
styled the fathers of the town.

*'In 1670 it was ordered that the lands should be pro-
portioned according to three ranks. Persons of the first rank
were to receive three acres; of the second, two acres; of the
third, one acre. In admitting inhabitants, the selectmen were
to decide to which rank they should be apportioned. This
singular division existed nowhere else in New England.

4 History of Swansea

"This town is memorable as the place where the first
Enghsh blood was shed in * King Philip's War. ' On Sunday,
June 20, 1675, King Philip permitted his men to march into
Swansea and annoy the English by killing their cattle, in hopes
to provoke them to commence the attack, for it is said that a
superstition prevailed among them that the side who shed the
first blood should finally be conquered. The Indians were so
insolent that an Englishman finally fired upon one of them,
and wounded him. The Indians upon this commenced open
war. As soon as the intelligence of this massacre reached
Boston, a company of foot under Capt. Henchman, and a
troop under Capt. Prentice, immediately marched for Mount
Hope, and being joined by another company of one hundred
and ten volunteers under Capt. Mosely, they all arrived at
Swansea June 28th, where they joined the Plymouth forces,
under Capt. Cudworth. Mr. Miles' house, being garrisoned,
was made their headquarters. About a dozen of the troop
went immediately over the bridge, where they were fired upon
out of the bushes, and one killed and one wounded. The
English forces then pursued the enemy a mile or two, when the
Indians took to the swamp, after having lost about a half-
dozen of their number. The troop commenced their pursuit
of the Indians next morning. They passed over Miles' Bridge
and proceeded down the river till they came to the narrow of
the neck, at a place called Keekamuit, or Kickamuit. Here
they found the heads of eight Englishmen, that the Indians
had murdered, stuck on poles; these they buried. On their
arrival at Mount Hope, they found that place deserted."

Outline and iNnEx Ma






MANY years ago Gov. Bourne, of Bristol, R. I., accom-
panied by a Mr. Miller, gave me a call, and after a word
of introduction humorously asked if I could tell him
what happened in this section of the town three hundred years
ago. I replied substantially that I could not trust my memory
to state anything that occurred here quite so far back.

What they wished to learn was the location of the gar-
risoned house occupied by a Mr. Bourne at the breaking out
of King Phihp's War in 1675. This Bourne was an ancestor of
Mr. Miller. Mr. Miller seemed much interested in local histor-
ical matters, was well informed and was the author of several
valuable papers. I think he wrote the history of the Wam-

I could not give them much satisfactory information in
regard to the location of the garrison house, but after a some-
what extended conversation told them that I would give the
subject attention, investigate certain matters and report at a
future time.

The result of all my labors was that the garrison house
was located where Mr. Green's house now stands, near the
old Gardner Cemetery ; that this and the first house erected
here were identical. The proof is almost entirely traditional
and circumstantial. I know of no positive documentary evi-
dence. It has been handed down without dissent for several
generations that the first house on Gardner's Neck was located
as above stated. The circumstantial evidence is very strong.
The first settlers, whenever they could, other things being
favorable, selected sites for building near salt meadows or
fresh meadows. There were probably but comparatively few
clear spaces in the whole town; it was doubtless heavily
wooded. From these valleys and hill sides the maple, the
chestnut, the pine, the oak towered toward the sky. In my
old barn there are oak boards nearly two feet wide. The idea
of meadows, of open pastures, must be left entirely out of mind.
In places where the trees were scattered, probably underbrush
and wild shrubbery thickly grew.

Under these circumstances where would the closely
observing pioneer most hkely pitch his tent ; not on the hill top,
but in a partially sheltered place, where the land was a little low
and water might be easily obtained ; where without much labor

8 History of Swansea

salt hay or fresh meadow hay might be procm*ed for his stock.
These conditions are met in the locality of Mr, Green's res-
idence. On the west shore of Lee's River there is quite an
extent of salt meadow, also on the east shore of Cole's River;
water was obtained probably without digging more than
fifteen feet. The first house was doubtless located several rods
farther down the hill than Mr. Green's. We all know the
Sanders Sherman house was. Had the first settler built his
house where Mr. Davis' is, he would have failed to find water,
which circumstance might have proved his settlement a

From these considerations the site of the first house
may be safely inferred. Rut was it built of wood or stone?
This question in itself is not important, taken, however,
in connection with other historical facts it has some sig-

Hon. J. S. Rrayton in his address at the dedication of oiu:
Town Hall uses the following language: "A stone house, upon
the farm of Gov. Rrenton, at Matapoiset, occupied by Jared
Rourne, was used as a garrison, which the Rridgewater com-
pany was ordered to re-enforce. This Company reached the
garrison Monday night and found there seventy persons, all
but sixteen, women and children."

Gen. Ebenezer Pierce of Freetown, who wrote a book
entitled, I think, the "Pierce Family," devotes a chapter — or
part of a chapter — to the Gardners of this town. His grand-
mother was Elizabeth Gardner of Swansea. In referring to
the old cemetery here on the Neck he says :

"This is the family cemetery of the Gardner family and
nearly opposite on the other side of the road from the spot on
which tradition informs us that the first Gardner settler built
his log house, that was succeeded by a stone one. "

Who is correct? If Mr. Rrayton is in error I am largely
responsible for it, for I furnished him with certain traditions
which I supposed to be according to the facts, and it may be
they are.

There is some plausibihty in the tradition of Gen. Pierce.
Of what material would the first settler most Hkely build his
house, wood or stone? There was plenty of each. Rut the
stones were mostly underground; those that we see in our
numerous walls were nearly all turned out by the plow, and
then it would not be very convenient hauling or dragging them
amid trees and stumps. Would not the pioneer be as likely at
first to fell the trees and clear the land for the plow as to go to
digging rocks and stones?

Mr. Rrayton states in historical address, to which refer-

The Bourne Garrison House 9

ence has been made, that "The Bridgewater troops remained
at Bourne 's garrison until re-enforced, when the inmates were
conveyed down Mount Hope Bay to Rhode Island and the
house was abandoned.'*

The attack on Swansea was made the 20th of June and
history informs us that by the 23d of the month "half the town
was burned. " May it not be that the first house was wood,
was burned by the Indians after being abandoned, and when
Samuel Gardner came here he found no house standing and
built a log one as tradition has it?

(Here is an open field for conjecture and every one will
form his own opinion.)

A word in regard to the stone house. No one knows when
it was erected, but it probably stood eighty, ninety, possibly
a hundred years. It must have been a peculiar structure,
judging from some of the statements we have heard respecting
it. Mr. Leonard G. Sherman, an old resident of the town, son
of Sanders Sherman, told me that it had nine outside double
doors. I replied that in that case I should not think there
would be much of the outside left. He said he did not know
anything about that, but it had nine double doors and no
mistake, for when he was a boy he worked for Capt. Henry
Gardner topping onions. After supper Mrs. Gardner used to
tell him stories about old times on the Neck, used to tell him
particularly about the old house, that it had nine outside double
doors, that it was the custom to draw back logs in with the
horse going out the opposite door. Deacon Mason Gardner,
who lived in the house in which we are to-night many years,
often told of seeing, when a boy, the back logs drawn in by
horses and rolled into the fire. This house, which was often
called the old stone fort, must have been a study in architec-
ture and I think if photographs of it were obtainable every
family in this section of the town would desire one.

The mistakes of history are often amusing. Let me here
give an illustration: My pastor preached a sermon several
sabbaths ago in which he referred to King Philip's War, stating
that at the breaking out of the war ten persons while attending
public worship at the Swansea Village church were killed by
the Indians. After service I reminded him of his mistake,
saying that there was no church in Swansea Village at the time
of the out-break — and never was till a hundred and fifty years
after the war — and that no settler was killed at or in any
church in town at the time. He said he thought he was correct
according to history. He went to his house, took down
"Ridpath's History of the United States, " — a popular history
and extensively used at least in the Middle and Western

10 History of Swansea

states — and found himself correct according to Mr. Ridpath.
The church in which the people were assembled for worship
on Sunday the 20th of June, the day of the out-break of the
war, was located "near Kelly's Bridge on a neck of land now
lying within the limits of Barrington, R. I.," possibly 5 miles
in a direct line in a west or northwesterly course from here.
You will all remember that Swansea embraced in its ancient
limits the present town, the towns of Somerset, Barrington
and a part of Warren.

Mr. Brayton tells us "that in King Philip's War the first
blood was shed on Gardner's Neck." Possibly or probably
this is a correct statement, yet there are those who seem to
think that it was in the central or west part of the town that
the first man was killed or wounded.

It would be interesting to refer more fully to King Philip's
War, but I will not do so and speak more especially of certain
families who settled on the Neck soon after its close. In doing
this I shall quote largely from Gen. Ebenezer Pierce of

So far as is known, Samuel Gardner — Lieut. Gardner as
he was often called — was the first of that name who settled in
Swansea or on Gardner's Neck. He was probably an English-
man. He came from Newport, R. I., settled in Freetown,
resided there several years, acquired considerable property
and became a well-known man in this section of the colony.
Gen. Pierce says of him: "Thus it seems that Samuel Gardner
became an inhabitant of Freetown in the latter part of 1687, or
early in 1688; for in addition to the fact that he owned half
of the fifth lot, and in his deed of the sale of those premises said
that it was that on which he dwelt. His name appears as
Clerk of Freetown and also selectman in 1688; and to the last
named office he was re-elected in 1690 and '92. Assessor in
1690-91. Town Treasurer in 1690. Representative or Deputy
to the General Court in 1690 and '92; and one of the town
council of war in 1690." (First Book of Town Records of
Freetown is the authority for these statements.)

The earhest tax lists of Freetown now extant are in the
handwriting of Samuel Gardner, to whom alone we owe a
knowledge of the date at which the south bridge over Assonet
River was erected, who built it and what it cost, together with
the names of those persons taxed to meet this expense and
what sum each was assessed and paid.

It is a singular and significant fact that the town of
Freetown, which was incorporated in July 1683, had no public
record until after Samuel Gardner became one of its inhab-
itants in 1687 or 1688, and the only records of taxes made

The Bourne Garrison House 11

after that time for a long term of years were those Samuel
Gardner helped to assess.

Of all the town councils of war, and each town in Bristol
County probably had such a council consisting of three persons,
Samuel Gardner alone was selected by the General Court as
the council of war for that county, and the concise, and at the
same time particular record that he kept of his doings as one
of the council for the town of Freetown, is the most remarkable
thing of the kind brought to the writer's notice; and when
compared with other public documents of that early date,
emanating from this town, shows Samuel Gardner, in intel-
ligence and executive ability to have been head and shoulders
above any other man or men that Freetown could boast.
From the Registry of Deeds for Bristol County we learn that
on the 30th of December 1693, or a little more than a month

Online LibraryOtis Olney WrightHistory of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; → online text (page 1 of 27)