Otis Olney Wright.

History of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; online

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Lepo, Andrew
Ludwig, Charles
Lufe, Francis
Locke, C. W.
Miller, M.L.
Maker, William H.
McNeil, James
Mason, Wm. P.
Martin, A. F.
Miller, WiUiam H.
Murray, Edward
Magrath, Lawrence
Munsher, E.
Mowry, C. M.
Moise, A. D.
Nolan, Matthew
O'Chaloner, Henry
O'Donovan, Michael
O'Connor, Michael
Pierce, George R.
Thurber, Jonathan
Hanley, Daniel
Pierce, James M.
Pierce, Ezra V. B.
Peck, Joseph T.
Peck, A. S.
Peck, George E.
Perkins, L. T.
Petra, James
Piper, Joseph
Powers, J. P.
Ray, D. S.
Ray, T. S.
Reekton, Thomas
Ramsey, Michael
Romeo, John
Reynolds, John
Ragan, James
Shove, George A.
Snow, C. H.

Documentary History


Smith, Solomon
Smith, John
Smith, Andrew
Smith, Newton
Slade, Alfred L.
Sherman, Edwin
Stevens, Peter
Sweeney, Michael
Seymour, James A.
Tompkins, Daniel
Tripp, John E.
Thurber, James F.
Taylor, George A.
Thompson, William
West, Edward G.

Wheaton, Joseph H.
Wood, Adoniram
Wallow, OHver R.
Welsh, Maurice
Woodman, Edmund E.
Tompkins, James
Tower, Lorenzo
Taylor, James
Ueber, William
Whittemore, George W.
Wheeler, Joseph
Wheldon, Silas H.
Whitney, FrankUn T.
Weldon, Henry

For One Hundred Days:

Baker, Henry A.
Barnaby, James C.
Bullock, Charles H.
Edwards, Alonzo R.
Bjngsley, Amasa F.
Munroe, Charles R.
Read, Herbert
Rounds, WiUiam H.
Sweetland, James L. Corp.
Thurber, Jonathan W. Sergt.
Wheldon, Silas H.

Corp. Buffington, Samuel Leeland

Buffington, Ehsha W.

Chace, Edward M.

Kingsley, Myrvin A.

Read, Albert

Reynolds, William

Stebbins, Frank R.

Thurber, William G.

Wheeler, Edward M.

Wood, Benjamin N.

Young, John



Hon. John Summerfield Brayton


FOR nearly two centuries and a quarter, town meetings
were held here, but never in any town building other than

the meeting house. From the first the town meeting was
regarded as of high importance. In 1670 it was "ordered
that whatsoever inhabitant of this town shall absent himself
from any town meeting to which he shall be legally warned, he
shall for every such absence, forfeit four shillings. " Affairs of
the greatest importance were there discussed and settled, and
it was felt to be every citizen's duty to share in pubHc decisions.
What was a duty was also generally regarded as a privilege.

Originally these assemblies were held at the meeting
house in what is now Barrington, afterwards at North Swansea,
at private dwellings, in the meeting house at Luther's Corner,
and recently in the hall at Swansea Factory. The dwelling
house of Jonathan Hill and his son Caleb Hill, formerly the
residence of Mrs. Kate F. Gardner in this village, was thus
frequently used, as were also the houses of James Brown, James
Luther and of Caleb Slade, the latter now the residence of Mr.
and Mrs. James W. Henry. For four year just prior to the
division of the town the house of Capt. Joseph Swazey at the
north end of Somerset was thus utilized.

As long ago as 1812 a vote to build a town house was
passed, but it was speedily reconsidered, and the proposition
has never since been successfully carried through, although fre-
quently discussed in town meetings. The contention was
happily settled in March 1890, when the Hon. Frank Shaw
Stevens, in Town Meeting offered to build and present to the
Town, at Swansea Village the present handsome Municipal
Building which was dedicated September 9, 1891. We con-
gratulate Swansea upon receiving this tangible proof of the
loyalty and affection of her adopted son, and we congratulate
him that by this act he raised in the hearts of this people a
monument more enduring than the pile he reared. The wise
man says, "The Hberal soul shall be make fat, and he that
watereth shall be watered also himself. "

Outline Sketch

We aim to revive the memories of the old town, to recall
briefly some of the scenes, and some of the leading actors in its

72 History of Swansea

long and honorable history, and to sketch, though it can only
be in outline, the course of events which have given it
celebrity, and which merit more elaborate record than they
have received, or than can now be given.

Its ancient territory included the home of that justly
celebrated and honored Indian chief, Massasoit, who became
the fast and inalienable friend of the English of Plymouth
Colony, and whose home was at Sowams, within the territory
now covered by the village of Warren. Its soil was probably
first trodden by Englishmen when a visit was paid to Massasoit
in the summer following the Pilgrim's landing, by Edward
Winslow, afterwgu'ds Governor of Plymouth Colony, and
Stephen Hopkins. The object of the visit was to explore the
country, ascertain the strength and power of the sachem, pro-
cure corn, and strengthen the mutual good understanding.
They reached Massasoit's residence July 4th, having crossed
the Titicut or Taunton River about three miles from Taunton
Green, and passed through what is now the town of Swansea
from east to west.

The next visit of the colonists was that of Capt. Miles
Standish and fourteen of the EngHsh to the home of Corbitant,
a petty sachem under Massasoit, who lived " at the head of the
Neck, " called by the Indians Metapoiset, formerly Gardner's
Neck, South Swansea. Corbitant's residence could not have
been far from Swansea Village. Some historians locate it in
this village. Capt. Standish and his party came to take venge-
ance on Corbitant, in case a rumor that he had taken the life
of Squanto, a friendly Indian, was true. They attacked his
wigwam in the dead of night, badly wounding three of its in-
mates. As it was found that Squanto had not been slain, no
harm was inflicted on Corbitant. The wounded were taken to
Plymouth for treatment and afterwards returned with their
wounds healed.

In March, 1623, Winslow accompanied by John Hampden
paid his second visit to Massasoit, having been informed of his
serious illness. They came down the east side of Taunton river
to what is now Slade's Ferry ; where they were told that Massa-
soit was dead. Anxious, in that case, to conciliate Corbitant,
Winslow decided to visit him at Metapoiset. Finding on their
arrival that he had gone to visit Massasoit, and being assured
that there was no certain news of the death of the chief, Win-
slow sent a messenger to Sowams who brought back word that
he was still alive. Winslow then hastened to Sowams and
found Massasoit apparently near death, but by the judicious
use of remedies he was able to save his life. This humane act
determined the long and effective friendship of Massasoit for

Historical Address 73

the colonists, and so proved of the greatest value. Winslow
and Hampden departed from Sowams followed by the bless-
ings of the sachem and all his people. At Corbitant's invi-
tation they, on their way home, spent a night with him here,
being treated with most generous hospitality.

During the twenty years next succeeding, the colonists
added to Plymouth the six settled towns, Duxbury, Scituate,
Taunton, Barnstable, Sandwich and Yarmouth. A trading
post was located in Sowams as early as 1632, in which year
Massasoit fled for shelter from the Narragansetts "to an
Enghsh house at Sowams. " But there was no settlement in
this vicinity sujQQcient to warrant a town organization till 1645,
when Rehoboth was incorporated. The same year John Brown
bought Wannamoisett Neck of Massasoit. Three years later
the church of Rehoboth suffered a "serious schism," the "first
real schism" in rehgion which had taken place in the colony.
Obadiah Holmes and eight others withdrew, set up "a meeting
by themselves," and afterwards joined a Baptist church in
Newport, whither some of them moved.

The same year a Baptist church was organized in Swansea,
in Wales, under the pastorate of John Myles, who for the pre-
vious four years had preached with great success in various
places. This was in the fkst year of Cromwell's protectorate.
Under the religious freedom thus gained, the church at Swan-
sea grew to a membership of three hundred. Mr. Myles be-
came the leading Baptist minister in Wales. When the mon-
archy was restored the act of uniformity was passed, which
drove two thousand of the best ministers in England from their
places. Mr. Myles, with some members of his church, came to
America in 1663. Finding that in Rehoboth there were per-
sons holding his faith, he went thither and formed a church of
seven members.

Their "holy covenant" is a remarkable document, both
in respect to the piety, and the spirit of Christian fellowship,
which it evinces. They declare that union with Christ is the
sole ground of their union, and of the Christian fellowship
which they seek and will give.

Nevertheless, as soon as it became known that a Baptist
church had been organized, the churches of the colony solicited
the court to interpose its influence against it, and Pastor Myles
and James Brown were fined each £5 and Nicholas Tanner 20s.
for setting up a pubHc meeting without the knowledge and
approbation of the court, to the disturbance of the peace.
They were further ordered to desist from their meeting for the
space of a month, and advised to remove to some place where
they would not prejudice any other church. This colonial dis-

74 History of Swansea

favor towards those holding Baptist views is the fundamental
fact in the origin of Swansea.

A plain house of worship was at once built, just over the
southern border of Rehoboth, in New Meadow Neck, the mem-
bers gradually settling near it. The catholic spirit of Mr. Myles
drew thither not only Baptists, but others who were tolerant of
their opinions.

Being without town government, these settlers thought
to secure for themselves that measure of civil autonomy. Prev-
ious to Oct. 3d, 1667, Plymouth granted to Thomas Willett and
his neighbors of Wannamoisett the privilege of becoming a
town. On the above date they signified their desire for incor-
poration. To the new town was given the name borne by the
place in Wales whence Pastor Myles had been driven, Swansea,
the Sea of Swans. It lay between the two upper forks of
Narragansett Bay, south of the Rehoboth and Taunton lines,
and extended from Taunton to Providence river. It consists
of a series of five main peninsulas or necks projecting south-
ward, and separated by arms of the bay and the streams flow-
ing into them. The first neck on the east is Shewamet, now
Somerset, lying between Taunton and Lee's rivers; the next
is Metapoiset, now known as Gardner's Neck, between Lee's
and Cole's rivers; the third is Kickemuit, between Cole's and
Warren rivers. This tract is traversed by the Kickemuit river,
which, where it broadens towards the bay, divides the tract
into Toweset and Monthaup (or Mount Hope) Necks. The
fourth is New Meadow Neck, between Warren and Barrington
rivers; and the fifth is Wannamoisett Neck, between Bar-
rington and Providence rivers. The area of the old town has
been three times reduced: first in 1717, by the separate incor-
poration of Barrington ; second by the settlement of the line be-
tween Massachusetts and Rhode Island in 1747, whereby Little
Compton, Tiverton, Barrington, Cumberland and the part of
Swansea now known as Warren fell to Rhode Island ; and third
in 1790, when the tract known as Shewamet was made a
separate town by the name of Somerset.

As we have seen, the motive to this settlement was re-
ligious. Ecclesiastical freedom was the goal which led the
founders hither. The church was thus the basis of the town,
and the town organization was in order that, in gaining eccle-
siastical Hberty, they need not sacrifice the high privilege of
American citizenship. Some of those who were active in plant-
ing the church and town were not Baptists. They, however, saw
that underneath the difference which separates Baptists from
their fellow Christians, there was a fundamental adhesion to
the essentials of the faith. Hence they were willing to co-oper-

Historical Address 75

ate with Baptists in extending the bounds both of the kingdom
of God and of the Commonwealth. This diversity of opinion
resulted in a town where a larger measure of religious liberty
was enjoyed than anywhere else in the colony.

Historians agree in caUing Pastor Myles and Capt.
Thomas Willett the fathers of the town. To Capt. Willett,
with four others, was given the trust of "the admittance of
town inhabitants." The terms of membership which Willett
proposed were laid before the church, and, after consideration
by that body, a reply was made by Mr. Myles and John But-
terworth. This document is a careful "exphcation" of the
sense in which the proposals are to be understood and accepted,
and reveals the scholarly and trained mind of the pastor. Like
all other documents relating to the settlement, this clearly
shows the rehgious motive to have been dominant. The "ex-
plications" made by the church were agreed to by the trustees,
and the proposals, as thus explained, were adopted by the
town February 20th, 1669.

On the foundation thus laid, Swansea was built. Until
this time Baptists had been excluded from every colony in New
England except Bhode Island. The organization of this town
on the basis of religious toleration was thus an important epoch
in the history of religious opinions and of ecclesiastical life.
This church, which still lives and worships at North Swansea,
was the first Baptist church formed in Massachusetts, and the
fourth in the United States. Thus this town may justly claim
to be the cradle of that branch of the Christian church in this

At the close of King Philip's war, owing to the broken
condition of his church, Mr. Myles labored three years in
Boston. Finally the urgent entreaties of his people caused his
return. As the settlement was mainly broken up, and a new
one had been started further down the Neck, a parsonage and
a church were there built. The death of Mr. Myles in 1683
closed a faithful and fruitful ministry of thirty-eight years.

Early Public Schools

In the original partition of the public lands, there was re-
served a pastor's, a teacher's and a schoolmaster's lot. This
shows, that, at the outset, the people counted on the estabhsh-
ment of schools. December 19, 1673, it was ordered "that a
school should be forthwith set up in this town for the teaching
of grammar, rhetoric and arithmetic, and the tongues of Latin,
Greek and Hebrew, also to read EngHsh and to write," and

76 History of Swansea

"that Mr. John Myles the present pastor of the church here
assembling be schoolmaster," or ''to have power to dispose the
same to an able schoolmaster dm-ing the said pastor's life."
The salary was to be "£40 in current country funds," but on
condition that Mr. Myles and his successor should accept what-
ever the people would bestow in a weekly contribution for their
ministerial services. Mr. Myles accepted the proposition and
held his school in various parts of the town on successive
months, to suit the convenience of pupils. Thus he deserves
grateful remembrance not only as the first pastor but also as
the early schoolmaster and teacher of youth who laid the
foundation of the public schools of Swansea.

After his death no mention is made of a school till 1698,
when Jonathan Bosworth was employed at £18, one fourth in
money and the rest in provisions at money prices. He was to
teach the first month in Wannamoisett Neck, the second in
New Meadow Neck, the third in Kickemuit, the fourth in the
Cole neighborhood, and fifth on Metapoiset, and so in succes-
sion. Later, John Devotion was engaged at £12 and board and
£20 for feeding a horse, to keep a school in succession "in the
four quarters of the town. " In 1709 he engaged for six years,
and in 1715 for twenty years more. At this time it was voted
that he should "teach our youth to read Inglish and Lattin
and Wright & sifer as their may be occation. " He was to teach
five months each year, from October through February, the
first two months near his own dwelling, and the other three
in other parts of the town. His compensation was £17 10s. a
year, three pounds of which was to be paid for the use of the
schoolmaster's lot. Such were the beginnings of our public

Division of Inhabitants Into Ranks,
AND Division of Land

To the trustees of the town was also assigned the duty of
dividing the public lands. The method of division was as un-
democratic as it was unprecedented. The men were divided
into three ranks, according to the judgment of the trustees as
to their standing. Promotions and degradations were made
from time to time by a committee appointed by the town. The
men of the first rank received three acres to two granted those
of the second and to one granted those in the third. The major-
ity were of the second rank, though more were of the third than
of the first. For ten years this ranking system was in force.
But it broke down when in 1681 the committee granted to five

Historical Address 77

men, their heirs and assigns forever, "the full right and interest
of the highest rank. " It was all these freemen could stand to
have a landed aristocracy. But to have it made hereditary
they would not endure, and so the town by unanimous vote
repudiated the act of the committee, and from that time the
practice went into disuse.

Captain Thomas Willett

Of Capt. Thomas Willett much might be said. One of the
last of the Ley den colony to come to Plymouth, he early se-
cured and always enjoyed the confidence of the colonists.
Their agent at the Maine trading posts, successor of Miles
Standish in mihtary command, largely engaged in coastwise
traffic, long an assistant in the Plymouth government, an
arbitrator between his colony and Rhode Island on boundary
disputes, chosen by Governor Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam
as a man of fairness and integrity to represent the Dutch in
their controversy with the English. "More acquainted with
the manners and customs of the Dutch than any Englishman
in the colony, " and hence the leading adviser of the English in
the negotiations which resulted in the surrender of New
Amsterdam; prominent in organizing New York, its first
mayor, and who "twice did sustaine the place," trusted
beyond any other man by EngUsh, Dutch and Indians, a settler
in Swansea as early as 1659 or '60, and until his death its
foremost citizen, dying Aug. 4th, 1674, less than a year before
Swansea was ravaged by Philip's Indians, buried with his wife
near the head of Bullock's cove in East Providence ; such in out-
hne was the life of Capt. Thomas Willett. (See Sketch)

King Philip's War

The gradual ahenation of their lands to the Enghsh, and
the consequent growth of EngHsh settlements, threatened the
ascendency if not the existence of the Indian tribes. Against
the latter contingency the colonists sought to guard. When
the Plymouth authorities gave Capt. Willett liberty to pur-
chase lands in Swansea, they added the express proviso, "so as
he do not too much straiten the Indians." But by his land
sales, PhiUp, son and successor of Massasoit, became shut into
Mount Hope peninsula, so that his only land route out lay
through Swansea.

We cannot now refer to the events which led to Philip's

78 Hislory of Swansea

fierce and fatal outbreak, which, in its course, despoiled New
England of a dozen towns, six hundred dwellings, and as many
of its choicest young men. Swansea was destined to suffer the
first baptism of blood and fire.

Convinced that war was inpending, Maj. James Brown of
Swansea, on the 14th of June, 1675, laid the facts of the case
before Gov. Winslow, and two days later Capt. Benjamin
Church brought to Plymouth conclusive evidence that war
was at hand. Measures were at once taken to oppose force to
force. On Sunday, June 20th, the predicted outburst occurred.
Some of Philip's men raided Swansea, entering houses, helping
themselves to food, shooting cattle and committing other acts
of lawlessness. Most of the men were in church, but one was
found at home, whose cattle were shot, and whose house was
entered and liquor demanded. When it was refused, violence
was resorted to, whereupon the householder shot one of the
Indians, inflicting a serious, though not fatal wound.

A son of Major Brown at once bore tidings of the outbreak
to Plymouth. A fast was proclaimed for Thursday, June 24th.
The troops of all the towns were ordered to rendezvous at
Taunton, Monday night, and messengers were sent to Boston
to urge prompt assistance. A stone house, upon the farm of
Gov. Brenton, at Metapoiset, occupied by Jared Bourne, was
used as a garrison, which the Bridge water company was or-
dered to re-enforce. This company reached the garrison Mon-
day night and found there seventy persons, all but sixteen,
women and children. The next day, a part of the soldiers
having escorted Mr. Brown to his home, on their return
met thirty Indians, and a little later met some of the men of
the garrison going to a barn for corn. Though warned of their
danger, the men proceeded and were assailed, six of them be-
ing killed or mortally wounded.

Thus the first blood of the war was shed on Gardner's Neck.
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 abandoned. This
house stood on the farm long occupied by Mr, Saunders

On the next day, June 23d, another man was shot within
the bounds of Swansea, and his wife and child scalped. On
Thursday, the appointed Fast Day, some of the Swansea
settlers returning from church were attacked. One was killed,
another was wounded, and two men going for a surgeon were
slain. On the same day in another part of the town others were

" By this time half of Swansea was burned. " By Monday

Historical Address 79

night, June 28th, two companies of foot and one of cavalry
from Boston had joined the Plymouth forces already assem-
bled at the garrison house of Pastor Myles, which was near
Myles's Bridge, at Barneyville. This bridge spans what is now
known as Palmer's river, from Walter Palmer, an elderly settler
of Rehoboth, its first representative at Plymouth, whose
farm was on its banks. Across this bridge a detachment of
cavalry pushed, but were fired upon and driven back with the
loss of one killed and two wounded. Tuesday morning several
Indians having appeared, were driven across the bridge and
five or six of them slain. That night, Philip fearing that he
should be caught in his own narrow peninsula, escaped to the
Pocasset country, Tiverton, across the Mount Hope Bay.
Major Savage, who had been placed in command of the Massa-
chusetts troops, having arrived, the combined forces marched
into Mount Hope Neck, in search of Philip. On their way, at
Kickemuit, near the present village of Warren, they saw, set
upon poles, the heads of the men who had been slain at Meta-
poiset. They continued their march down the Neck, but they
found the wigwams untenanted and no Indians to be seen.

Thursday the Massachusetts troops returned to Myles's
garrison, the cavalry going on to Rehoboth for better quarters.
Returning the next morning they came upon some Indians
burning a building, and killed four or five of them. On Sunday,
July 4th, Capt. Hutchinson brought orders for the Massachu-
setts troops to go to Narraganset country, and seek an agree-
ment which should hold that tribe back from the support of

The next two weeks saw the expedition of Capt. Fuller
and Church to the Pocasset and Seaconnet country, which
revealed the bitterly hostile temper of these tribes; the two
expeditions which Church led to the Pocasset Swamp, in one
of which Philip lost fifteen men, the march of the major part
of the Plymouth force by way of Taunton tow£U"d the swamp,
the apparently successful negotiation of the Narragansetts,
their return to Swansea and their junction with the Plymouth
troops, at Pocasset Swamp, within which Philip had taken
refuge. Philip eluded his besiegers on the night of the last
day of July, crossing Taunton river, probably near Dighton
Rock. Though assailed while crossing Seekonk plain by the
men of Rehoboth who slew some thirty of his men, he escaped
into the Nipmunk country. Thus he was launched upon a
life and death struggle with the colonists.

With unabated fury the contest raged through the re-
mainder of 1675 and the first half of 1676. But the sanguinary
and ferocious conquest of the Narragansetts, the desertion of

80 History of Swansea

many of his confederates and the death of many more, left

Online LibraryOtis Olney WrightHistory of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; → online text (page 7 of 27)