Otis Olney Wright.

History of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; online

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Philip in an almost hopeless plight; and after a year's absence
he seems to have been resolved to meet his fate in the beautiful
land which held the graves of his fathers, and which had been
his home. Abandoned by his confederates, betrayed by his
friends, his most faithful followers fallen in battle, his wife and
son in the hands of his deadly foes, hunted from wood to wood,
from swamp to swamp, he had come to his ancestral seat to
make his last stand. Yet such was his temper that he would
not hear of peace. He even struck dead one of his own followers
for suggesting it. A kinsman of the man thus slain brought
news of Philip's hiding place to Capt. Church, who with his
soldiers was on Rhode Island. They at once crossed to Mount
Hope. The informer acting as guide, they made their way up
the west side of the Neck, toward the swamp within which
Philip had taken refuge. Creeping stealthily up, in the dark
of the early morning, the force completely invested the knoll
on which Philip was encamped. When the alarm was given,
he plunged into the swamp, only to meet two of his besiegers.
By one of them, the Indian Alderman, he was shot. Thus the
renowned chieftain, who had been the terror of New England,
fell, pierced through the lungs and heart. And thus ended the
mortal career of the most noted Indian in American history.

Notable Men of Swansea's First Century

Among the best known of Swansea's early settlers was
Maj. James Brown, brother of Capt. Willett's wife. He was
one of the original members of the Swansea Church, one of the
five citizens who were to admit to the town, and divide its
lands, long a leading citizen and officer, representative in the
Plymouth Court in 1671-2, a local leader in the campaign
against Philip, and successor of Capt. Willett, as an "assistant
in Plymouth Colony."

Another name not to be forgotten is that of Lieut. Hugh
Cole, an original member of the church, an early selectman,
representing the town seven of its first fifteen terms in the
General Court. Like the immortal Washington, Lieut. Cole
was a land surveyor.

In 1669 he bought of Philip five hundred acres of land on
Toweset Neck, on the west side of the river to which his name
was given.

When the Indian War broke out, two of his sons were
captured and taken to Philip's headquarters. Philip released
them with the advice that their father should seek safety on

Historical Address 81

Rhode Island. He at once took his family thither, probably
down the Bay, but he had hardly gone when his house was
fired. After the war he settled on the west side of the Neck
upon Kickemuit River. His farm, and the well which he dug
the year after Phihp's death, are still in possession of his de-

With Willett and Brown as the town's first trustees was
associated Nathaniel Paine, who afterwards settled on the
Mt. Hope lands, and became one of the founders of Bristol,
and the third Judge of Probate for Bristol County. The first
Judge of Probate was John Saffin, an early proprietor of
Swansea, admitted to the first rank among its inhabitants in
1680, a son-in-law of Capt. Willett, a member of the General
Court for Boston from 1684 and Speaker from 1686 till the
usurpation of Andros, settling in Bristol about 1688, Probate
Judge from 1692 to 1702, and also Judge of the Superior Court
one year.

An Associate Justice of the first court established in
Bristol County was John Brown of Swansea, a grandson of the
first John Brown.

One of the early large proprietors of Swansea land was
Governor WiUiam Brenton of Newport, who bought Meta-
poiset Neck of the Indians in 1664. Here he lived for a time
after King Phihp's War. He had been Governor of Rhode
Island Colony from 1666 to 1669, having been previously
Deputy Governor four years. He became a very extensive
land owner. His Metapoiset land was cultivated by Jared
Bourne, whose house was garrisoned during the war. He
bequeathed it to his son Ebenezer, who in 1693 sold it to Lieut.
Samuel Gardner and Ralph Chapman for £1700. Mr. Gardner
took the south part and Mr. Chapman the north. Mr.
Gardner had been a prominent citizen of Freetown, represent-
ing it in the General Court, and holding the offices of town
clerk, treasurer and selectman. To the latter office he was at
once chosen in Swansea, but did not long survive his removal

In 1779, Col. Simeon Potter, a native of Bristol, one of
Rhode Island's prominent men, settled on Gardner's Neck.
His homestead farm extended from Lee's to Cole's rivers. He
was the owner of other large tracts of land. For more than a
quarter of a century he was one of the prominent figures of
this community, a hospitable and generous householder, sur-
rounded by whatever wealth could command, owning also a
number of slaves. Col. Potter was representative in 1784, to
the General Court from Swansea. In 1795 he gave a valuable
parcel of land in Newport to support in that city a free school

82 History of Swansea

forever for the advantage of poor children of every denom-
ination. A large school house erected in 1880 is called the
Potter school. He bequeathed a small farm to one of his
former slaves, in the possession of whose heirs it remained
until about 1896, when they sold out. His homestead farmand
the house in which he lived are now owned by Mrs. Macomber.

Successive Pastorates of the First Baptist Church

The immediate successor of Mr. Myles in the Swansea
pastorate was Captain Samuel Luther, a founder and early
proprietor of the town, in whose affairs he wielded great in-
fluence, sustaining nearly every civil and military office in the
gift of his townsmen. He was ordained two years after the
death of Mr. Myles, and held the pastorate thirty-two years.
The old meeting house at North Swansea, which was familiar
to many of you, was built the year after his death, in 1717,
and stood until 1845, when it was taken down and the present
house of worship erected. Ephraim Wheaton who had been
his colleague, became his successor. He was a man of respect-
able property, of influence and of power, and successful in the
ministry, adding to the church by baptism about one hundred
persons in seventeen years.

"The Church of Christ in Swansea"

The First Christian Church (See Sketch)

The distance of the church after its removal to the lower
end of New Meadow Neck, caused the residents of the central
portion of Swansea to establish religious services near Luther's
Corner, as early as 1680, four years after the death of Philip.
Organization was effected and a pastor ordained in 1693. If
this be counted a Baptist Church it was the thirteenth in
America. Its record book styles it a "Church of Christ in
Swansea. " No doctrinal tests, but only evidence of Christian
character, were required for admission. Thomas Barnes, one
of the original proprietors of the town, was chosen and ordained
pastor at the time of organization, his death closing a suc-
cessful ministry of thirteen years. His successor, Joseph
Mason, was a son of Samson Mason, who was a soldier of
Ohver Cromwell, and who on coming to America settled in
Rehoboth. Another of his sons was the first deacon of the
church. John Pierce became colleague of Joseph Mason in
1715. These two men "continued in good esteem in their offices

Historical Address 83

until the death of Elder Mason in 1748 and of Elder Pierce in
1750, being each of them near ninety years old. "

Some of the older members of the Second Church, not
satisfied with the dismission of Elder Phihp Slade, left the
church and held services under his conduct at the house of
Deacon Ellery Wood, about a mile north of Luther's Corner.
They were organized as a church by the Six Principle Baptists.
Deacon Wood bequeathed his homestead for the maintenance
of worship and it become the home of Elder Comstock, (the
only pastor after Elder Slade,) and the house of worship as
well. The proceeds of the property which has been sold, are
now held in trust for the benefit of the denomination. (See

The Revolutionary War

Her contributions for the support of the war for national
independence constitute an important and honorable chapter
in the history of Swansea.

At a meeting held Sept. 26th, 1774, the town chose Col.
Andrew Cole, Capt. Levi Wheaton, Capt. PhiHp Slade,
Richard Cornell and Capt. Luther Thurber a committee to
meet with the delegates from the other towns of the county,
in Taunton "then and there to deliberate and devise measures
sutabel to the exigency of the times. "

A Hampshire county convention had just been held "to
consult upon measures to be taken in this time of general dis-
tress in the province, occasioned by the late attack of the
British Ministry upon the constitution of said province. " That
attack had come in the shape of an act of Parliament " For the
Better Regulating of the Province of Massachusetts Bay."
The principle of this act, Bancroft says, ''was the concentra-
tion of all executive power, including the courts of justice, in
the hands of the royal governor. Without a previous notice to
Massachusetts, and without a hearing, it took away rights and
liberties which the people had enjoyed from the foundation of
the colony" with scarcely an exception. It superseded a
charter, "which had been the organic law of the people of
Massachusetts for more than eighty years. " It provided that
the Governor's Council should be appointed by the King,
rather than chosen by the representatives of the people. The
Governor appointed by the Crown, without even consulting
his council, might appoint and remove all judges and court
officers. The selection of jurors was taken from the freeholders
and given to the sheriffs, who were appointees of the Governor.

84 History of Swansea

Worse than all, the regulating act sought to throttle the town
meeting, that dearest of all institutions to New England, whose
people, as Bancroft so well puts it, "had been accustomed, in
their town meetings, to transact all business that touched them
most nearly, as fathers, as freemen, and as Christians. There
they adopted local taxes to keep their free schools; there they
regulated the municipal concerns of the year : there they chose
their representatives and instructed them: and there most of
them took measures for the settlement of ministers of the
gospel in their congregations: there they were accustomed to
express their sentiments upon any subject connected with
their interests, rights, liberties, and religion. "

The new act allowed only two town meetings annually, in
which town officers and representatives might be chosen, but
no other matters introduced. Every other assembly of a town
was forbidden, except only upon written leave of the Governor,
and then only for business expressed in that leave. Thus the
King trampled under foot the customs, laws, and privileges of
the people of Massachusetts.

This act went immediately into effect, and at once forced
a choice between resistance and submission.

In this juncture, the Committee of Boston sent a circular
letter to all the towns in the province, in which they said:
"Though surrounded by a large body of armed men, who,
having the sword, have also our blood in their hands, we are
yet undaunted. To you, our brethren, and dear companions
in the cause of God, we apply. To you we look for that advice
and example which with the blessing of God shall save us from
destruction. " This urgent message roused the State : William
Prescott of Pepperell, who in less than a year was to stand at
the head of a band of American soldiers to dispute with the
British regulars the possession of the Bunker Hill redoubt,
expressed the mind of the State, when he wrote for his neigh-
bors, "We think, if we submit to these regulations, all is gone.
Let us all be of one heart and stand fast in the liberties where-
with Christ has made us free." Everywhere the people were
weighing the issue in which they were involved, and one spirit
animated the country.

This was the situation in view of which Swansea sent Col.
Andrew Cole and his associates "to deliberate and devise
measures sutabel to the exigency of the times. " And this was
why in a town meeting which the new regulating act interdicted
but which was nevertheless held, Swansea chose Colonel
Andrew Cole, Col. Jerathmiel Bowers and Capt. Levi Wheaton
as "a committee for said town to meet with other committees
of the several towns in the province, at Concord to act on

Historical Address 85

measures agreeable to the times. " This was why later, they
chose a Committee of Inspection to execute the wishes of the
Continental Congress.

Thus by their votes in town meeting, New England every-
where bade defiance to Great Britain. In this town twelve of
these meetings were held in one year.

Committees of Inspection, Correspondence and Safety
were appointed by all the towns, composed of their leading
men. Through them the authorities reached the people at
large, and secured the execution of their plans.

The events of the fateful morning of April 19, 1775, are
known to all. The six companies of Rehoboth are all on
record as responding to the Lexington alarm. It is not likely
that the three Swansea companies, which with those of
Rehoboth constituted the first Bristol regiment, failed to re-
spond to the call, though no record of such response has come
to my knowledge. The town, two days later, ordered the
Selectmen to provide 40 "gons" 250 lbs. of powder, 700 lbs. of
lead and 600 flints, and directed "that fifty men be enHsted to
be ready at a minute's warning. " May 22nd a Committee of
Inspection was appointed, and it was voted *'that the town
will secure and defend said committee and empower them to
follow and observe such directions as they shall receive from
time to time from the Provincial Congress or Committee of
Safety. " At this time five shillings penalty was imposed for
wasting a charge of powder, and the offender's stock of
ammunition was forfeited.

In order to ascertain Swansea's response to the call for
troops the muster rolls of the Revolution have been examined
and a book has been placed in the library into which such parts
of them as relate to Swansea have been transcribed. An
indexed alphabetical list has been prepared which shows that
not less than four hundred and sixteen Swansea men bore arms
in the War for Independence, many of them however, only for
brief periods along our own shores. On this list the surnames
which occur oftenest are Peck, Martin, Anthony and Bowers,
which each have seven representatives, Kingsley nine, Wood
and Pierce each eleven. Cole and Barney each twelve, Mason
eighteen, Chase nineteen, while Luther leads all the rest with
a record of twenty-seven.

From such rolls as are extant the following facts are gath-
ered: Seven Swansea men served at least five months of 1775
in Col. David Brewer's regiment near Boston, as did a few in
other regiments doing duty there. Probably many more did
actually serve that year. The alarms of war were brought
close home to this section. From the time when the British

86 History of Swansea

took possession of the island called Rhode Island in December,
1776, till they abandoned it two years later, the milita were
often called into service. Troops were repeatedly called to
Slade's Ferry, Rowland's Ferry, (now the Stone Bridge in
Tiverton) to Bristol, to Warwick Neck, (a part of which is now
known as Rocky Point) and even to the Island itself.

In May 1779, it was "voted that there be a guard on each
of the necks for safety of the good people of the town. " Later
in 1779 "voted 22 men to guard the shores." Eight Swansea
men served in the artillery company of Capt. Fales of Taunton,
at Slade's Ferry in December, 1776.

Of three militia captains of this town Peleg Sherman,
afterwards Colonel, was a leading factor in the conduct of
Swansea's relation to the great struggle. He was often mod-
erator of town meetings and at the head of important com-
mittees on military affairs. He was in active service along our
shore during the British occupation of Rhode Island, e.g. at
Slade's Ferry from January 6 to June 5, 1777, and at Bristol
later in the same year. He also served the government as
commissary for the supply of stores to the troops. His home,
where at one time troops were quartered, was at Shewamet
Neck, at what is now known as the Henry H. Mason place,
where he died Nov. 20, 1811, aged sixty-four.

PhiUp Slade, another of the mihtia captains, was also often
on important committees. He was selected to wait upon
General Sullivan, "to represent to him the fenceless condition
of the town, and pray him to be pleased to order a gard for us
against our enemies on Rhode Island. " He was on July 5th,
1779, appointed one of the committee "to confer with General
Gates at Providence upon some measures for the safety of the
town," and at the same meeting he and John Mason "were
chosen deligates to represent the town at Cambridge in form-
ing a new constitution, "

The same thing can be said in perhaps less degree of the
third Captain Peleg Peck, whose company served frequently
along our shores, as for instance, at Bristol, in December 1776,
on a secret expedition to Tiverton, where it was stationed from
Sept. 29th, to Oct. 30th, 1777, at Warwick, R. I., from
January to April 1778, and later in the same year, on Rhode
Island about six weeks.

A pay roll for the Continental pay of Capt. Peck's com-
pany who were called out by an alarm to Tiverton, states that
"by order of Col. Peleg Slead all the men in Swansea were
joined in one company under Capt. Peck," to respond to an
alarm at Tiverton. The roll bears one hundred and seventy-
eight names, and shows that the men served from four to nine

Historical Address 87

days. In the expedition of Gen. Sullivan on Rhode Island,
Col. Carpenter's regiment of Rehoboth and Swansea men
distinguished themselves for their bravery, Benjamin Smith
of Swansea being wounded by a bursting shell.

Another of the local leaders in this struggle was Col. Peleg
Slead, one of the largest land owners of the town, who was
called to fill many important offices of town and State, and
who proved himself an ardent friend of his country's cause.
He died Dec. 28, 1813, at the age of eighty-four, and is buried
in the cemetery on his homestead farm, not far from Swansea
village. (See Sketch.)

On a muster roll dated Sept. 16th, 1777, eight Swansea
men are returned as enlisted for the present war in Col. Henry
Jackson's regiment, which was probably in service on the
Hudson. On the 19th of June, 1778, ten men were drafted for
nine months from their arrival at Fishkill, and about the same
time three for nine months from their arrival at Springfield.

April 10th, 1778, the General Court having ordered 2,000
men to be raised to recruit the State's fifteen battalions of
Continental troops for service either in Rhode Island or on the
Hudson, twenty-six Swansea men were sent to Col. William
Lee's regiment. In 1779, twelve Swansea men were in Con-
tinental regiments on duty in Rhode Island. During this year
one-seventh part of the male population was ordered under
arms in the national service. Swansea was behind on its quota
only three men, few towns showing a better record. 1780 and
1781 saw other men in small numbers enlisted for three years
or the war.

Thus, with constant drafts for men and money, the war
wore on to its triumphant close in 1783, when the people had
the joy of knowing that the last British soldier had left our
shores, and that through great sacrifice in blood and treasure
Independence was secured.

Ship Building

One of the earlier industries of the colonies was that of
ship building.

For several years the immigration of shipwrights was en-
couraged, and special privileges were given them, such as
exemption from the duty of training, and from the taxation of
property actually used by them in their business. These induce-
ments brought hither a number of good carpenters. In 1694 a
sloop of forty tons burden was built in Swansea, and in 1697 a
ship of seventy-eight tons. In the early part of the last cen-

88 History of Swansea

tury, Samuel Lee came to this country in the interest of
English people, to look after timber land. He settled on
Shewamet Neck and built a house near the residence of Mr.
Wm. M. Chace, establishing a shipyard at the landing, where
for several years he carried on a large industry. In 1707 a
ship of 120 tons, — a large craft for those times — was launched.
In 1708 a brigantine of fifty tons and a ship of one hundred
and seventy tons, in 1709 two brigantines of fifty-five tons
each, and in 1712 a sloop of eighty tons were built in Swansea.
The river upon which Mr. Lee located his yard soon after his
advent took and has since retained his name, Lee's River.

Vessels have been built near the residence of Mr. William
H. Pearce, on Cole's river.

Prior to 1801, when he moved to New York, Jonathan
Barney built several small vessels on Palmer's river. In 1802
his son. Mason Barney, being then less than twenty years of
age, contracted to built a ship. Although young Barney was
acquainted with the nature of ship building, through his
father carrying it on, he himself did not know the use of tools.
His courage and self reliance in taking such a contract, when
so young and inexperienced, foreshadowed the character of the
future man. By his zeal, enthusiasm and determined will he
overcame the great difficulties which to most men would have
been insurmountable. From this beginning sprung up the
ship building business at Barneyville, and Mr. Barney's sub-
sequent great prominence in business circles. He sometimes
employed two hundred and fifty men, annually disbursing
large sums of money. The sails of the good substantial vessels,
which in the course of a half a century he built, whitened almost
every sea.

During his business career he built one hundred and forty-
nine vessels, from the small fishing smack to the ship of 1,060
tons, the largest vessel that had then been launched in this
section of New England.

It has been pubUcly stated, without denial, that Mr.
Barney built more vessels than any other man in this country
had then built.

The financial crisis of 1857 found him with two large ships
upon his hands, with no market. In them he had invested a
large part of his fortune, which was thus entirely dissipated,
and he was compelled to give up business. With him passed
away the ship building interest of Swansea.

Mr. Barney died on the first day of April, 1869. The
house in which he was born in 1782 which dates from old
colonial times, was destroyed by fire some years ago.

He was a fine specimen of an earnest, enthusiastic and

Historical Address 89

persevering man. He was unaflPected, original in his character,
simple in his tastes and habits, always genial and hospitable.
In his death the community lost an enterprising, honest and
eminent citizen.

Other Manufactures

Richard Chase began the manufacture of shoes here in
1796, and pursued the business for nearly fifty years, employing
more people than any other man in town except Mr. Barney.

Other industries have been pursued in a small way, such
as the making of paper and the manufacture of cotton, which
last industry was commenced at Swansea Factory in the year
1806 by Oliver Chace, and it was also carried on at a small mill
at what is now Swansea Dye Works; cotton was carded and
spun, and the yarn sent out to be woven into cloth by farmers'
wives and daughters, as was the case in all cotton manufac-
tories in those days.

All these early industries, with others of which I cannot
now speak, have passed away.

Post Offices

The first post-office in Swansea was established on the
first day of July, 1800. Mr. Reuben Chace was appointed
post-master. He opened an office at his dweUing-house, for
many years known as "The Buttonwood," some three quar-
ters of a mile west of Swansea village.

On the 17th day of June, 1814, Mr. John Mason was
appointed post-master, and he removed the office to the
village, where it has since been located. Mr. Mason continued
in office until the 12th day of June, 1849, when Mr. John A.
Wood was appointed post-master, who retained the office
until the sixth day of June, 1853, when Mr. John Mason was
again appointed, and who remained in office until the 23d day
of March, 1864, when Mr. John A. Wood was reinstated as
post-master. Mr. Wood held the office until the 18th day of
June, 1867, when his son, Mr. Henry 0. Wood, was appointed
his successor. Mr. Henry O. Wood served as post-master for

Online LibraryOtis Olney WrightHistory of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; → online text (page 8 of 27)