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Rhode Island


Historical Society


January, 1925

No. 1

The steam-boat Massachusetts which ran between Providence and New York.

Rkhard W. Com'itock, Jr. Memorial Collection See page 20

-f IV

Issued Quarterly





Point Pleasant, Bristol, William VassalVs Confiscated

Estate, by Howard W. Preston .... I

Early American Shoe Buckles, by Harald W. Ostby 8

Ninigret's Naval Campaigns, by Leicester Bradner 14

Notes ^^

Indian Implements found in Rhode Island, by

H. M. Chapin 22

Steamboat Massachusetts cover

Point Pleasant

u u .4

Indian Implements ^2-31








January, 1925

No. 1

Howard W. Preston, President Edward K. ALDRICH, Jr., Treasurer
George T. SpicrR, Secretary HOWARD M. CHAPIN, Librarian

The Society assumes no responsibility for the statements or the
opinions of contributors.

Point Pleasant
William VassalFs Confiscated Estate

V>Y Howard W. Preston

Few Bristol houses evoke as manv interesting memories as
the old hroad, gaml)rel-roofed home at Point Pleasant on Po|)i)a-
sqiiash Neck. Xot only its secluded position across the harbor
from the l)us\- town of manv nationalities, hut even the atmos-
phere of neglect that surrounds it renders it more vocal of the
])ast. The shades of the l)y-gone freqitenters of this pleasant
spot seein present to the sympathetic spirit.

Tradition has ascribed the building of the house to Nathaniel
Byfield. one of the four merchant speculators of l>oston, who
after King Philip's War bought of the Colony of Plymouth,
King Philip's country. Mount Hoi)e and Poppasc[uash Xeck.
Byfield was a practical promoter, he removed his residence from
Boston and settled on the tract of land he proposed to develop,
building a house in the new town, new Bristol (not destined,
despite the hopes of it, to become the commercial rival of ]>ris-





tol. England), and aiidtlier nn PoiJpasciua^h Xcck. lie was a
constant office holder. re])resenting the town in the IMymnnth
Colony General Court, serving as Chief Jtistice of the Court of
Common fleas in the County of Bristol, and also as Judge of
Admiralty tor .Massachusetts. Xew Hampshire and Connecticut.
He must have heen a ])ersislent hater, for angered 1)\- ( io\ernor
Joseph Dudle_\' he xoyaged to luigland. strove, hut in vain, to
ohtain the governor's recall. In his old age he returned to Bos-
ton to die and he laid to rest in the Westminster Ahhey of Xew
England, the Granary ISurial Ground in Boston. Eater the
estate passed to Judge Xathaniel Huhhard.

There are those who seem to speak with authority when they
aver that the house huilt hy Byfield stood farther north near the
head of the neck, and after jjassing through a period of degen-
eration was demolished many years ago.

Certain it is that Margaret Huhhard. daughter of Xathaniel.
was. according to the records of St. Michael's Church. I'.ristnl.
married April 21. 1760. to William \'assall. of lioston. as his
second wife. In 1762. Mr. \'assall hought the rights of Rehecca
Huhhard relect of Xathaniel Ilul)har(l in the estate on Popjja-
sqtiash Xeck. and also i)arcels from the other Hul)])ard heirs.
Henceforth the place is known as the Vassall Earm.

The \'assalls were a well known Massachusetts familv. own-
ing not only pro])crty in Xew England, hut lucrative estates on
the island of Jamaica. John Vassall. the elder hrother of Wil-
liam, huilt and occu])ie(l the dignihed mansion in Canihridge.
later famous as the head(|uarters of (general Washington during
the siege of P)Oston. and the home of Jared S])arks. l)Ut l)ctter
still as the home of the ])oet Eongfellow.

"( )nce. ah. once within these walls.
One whom memor\ oft recalls.
The h'alher of his Countr\- dwelt."

\\ illiam \'a>sall was a man of education ( Harvard 17,^.^) and
refinement, lie made the farm a gentleman's country estate,
with gardens and a]i])urtenances. Eike others of his order he
was faithful to tlu-ir tradition^ of loxaltw lie was a])])ointe(] a




]\laii(lanius Councillor in 1774, and though never sworn, yet
the fact of his a])i)itintinenl proclaimed his loyalty to the king,
and seemed to show his disloyalty to the liherties of America.
On a visit to his farm, it is said, he was mohhed hy the towns-
folk of Bristol and his carriage pelted with stones. Uv took the
hint and remained in Boston. In March, 1776, when the Ih'itish
army evacuated Boston, he accompanied them to Halifax,
whence he sailed to ICngiand, which henceforth hccame his
home. He was included in the act of banishment enacted in 1778
bv Massachusetts. h\n-tunately he was not ruined l)y the war as
so many of his ])arty were, as his Jamaica estates remained to
su])port him. He died in 1800 at Battersea Rise, England.

The absentee landU)rds were the first to lose control of their
property. The Cjeneral Assembly of Rhode Island at the De-
cember Session, 1776, ordered the Sheriff of Bristol County to
take possession of the real estates belonging to William Vassall,
Isaac Rovall and Thomas Palmer, suspected of being enemies to
the United States, while the Sheriff" of Providence County was
ordered "to take possession of two horses belonging to said
Vassall now in Providence." It was also ordered "that the
commanding officer in the County of Bristol is directed to cut
as much wood off' said estates as shall be wanted for the use of
the troops stationed in the towns of Bristol and Warren, keeping
an account of the quantity and making as little waste as i)Os-
sible" (R. I. Col. Rec. Vl'll, 66).

The next year, June, 1777, the .Assembly appointed a com-
mittee to inquire after and make an inventory of the ])ersonal
estate of William Vassall and commence actions for the rents
due for the real estates of William Vassall and Idiomas Palmer
(R. I. Col. Rec. VIII, 261). Thomas Palmer later through his
attornevs claimed that he had removed from Alassachusetts
Bay to Paramaribo in .Surinam, and had "on all occassions by
a uniform conduct testified his friendship" to the Cnilcd
States. .Apparently his estate was released.

The recei])t of £946, 08s. .Sd for one year's rent from Shear-
jashub I'ourne for the farm lately belonging to \\'illiam \'assall
is reported in July, 17*''> ( P. 1. Col. Rec. IX. 11 ).


liifdrmatidii was filed l)y Walter Channing at the session of
the Superior Court of judicature held at Providence, Novem-
])cr-. 1779. against William Vassall, who was cited to a])i)ear
before the Su])erior Court of Tiverton in July. 1780; and the
Pro-c ideiicc (iaccftc of December 18, 1779, gave notice of this;
describing the property as "a certain farm or tract of land situ-
ated in said Bristol containing by estimation abf)ut two hundred
and fourteen acres, be the same more or less, with a dwelling
house and other buildings thereon standing bounded as follows:
bv norlherlv on land of Thomas Green, easterly on salt water,
southerly on land Ijelonging to the Church of England .School
in said Bristol, westerly on the salt water together with all the
rights." etc.

Meanwhile, preparation for the reception of Rochambeau's
sick soldiers was necessary, and the (leneral Assembly in June.
1780, ordered "the buildings on the farm in P>rislol lately
l)elonging to William Wassail, Esq.. to be immediately i)Ut in
proper repair to receive the sick soldiers and such additional
buildings to be erected on the said farm and on the school farm
adjoining as shall be sufficient" ( R. I. Col. Rec. IX, 86).

The next month. July, the Vassall Farm is again before the
Assemblv. "Whereas the officers of His Most Christian Ma-
jestvs hos])ital have requested this Assembly to approjjriate a
suitable piece of land on the States farm at Poppasquash for
the liurial of such as may die at the said hospital — It is there-
fore \'oted and resolved that the principal director ot said hos-
pital be. .. .permitted to choose. ... for the pur})ose aforesaid
such a ])art of the said farm as may be convenient ; and that the
de])Ut\- ([uartermaster be. . . .directed to enclose the same within
a ])ale-fence."

It is further voted and resohed that whenever the said tarm
shall be sold this State will make reser\ation of the said burial
ground" ( R. 1. Col. Rec. IX, 164-5). A])parently no such
reservation was made when the farm was sold, and all trace of it
has vanished.

Possibly the estate was not long used by the French troops,
for in the Providence C'accttr of October 11, 1780, it is adver-


tised with the other confiscated estate as "the State farm in
[•Bristol late \\ ilh'am Vassalls containing 220 acres" to he sold
at ])ul)lic vendne to the highest hidder.

John Ih'own. of Trovidence, merchant, ])iirchased the estate
for £3203, 6s. m\. His (k(.'(\, Xovemher 20, 17S1 ( Hristol Land
Evidence I'ook 4, p. 225), from the (General Treasurer conveys
all the huildings "thereon standing except the Iiarracks erected
there h\' the State." ( )ne of these harracks conveyed across the
harbor on the ice to the town of I>ristol still stands in a mntilated
condition at 321 High Street.

Mr. lirown was the purchaser of several of the confiscated
estates. He bought the farm of Joseph Wanton, Jr., on I'ru-
dence Island (Tiverton Land bLvidence Book 7, p. 129), the
farm of George Roome in North Kingstown (North Kingstown
Land Evidence ISook 15 A. p. 1S5 ), where the convivial bachelor
l)arties descriljed by W'ilkins L']xlike were held, and also the
mansion of George Ivoome, formerly the residence of Henry
Collins at the Point ( now Washington Street), Newport ( New-
port Land Evidence Book IV, p. 99).

.\t the time of the French occupancy, the Vassall farm was
leased to Nathaniel Eales. Jr.. for £153, who claimed a rebate
upon account of the damages he sustained by reason of a num-
ber of barracks being erected upon the said farm and im])roved
as hosi)itals for His Most Christian Majestys army and Fleet
( R. L Col. Rec. IV. 342) and the Assembly granted him £5S.
10s to be deducted from the rent (R. L Col. Rec. IX, 357).

In 1801, Mr. I-Jrown's daughter Sally married Charles b'red-
€rick Herreshoff, a Prussian imjiorter settled in New ^'ork
City. Not long after the couple removed to Providence, and
Mr. Herreshoff devoted himself to the im]:)ro\ement ot Point
Pleasant, as the old Vassall Estate on Poppasifuash was now
called. The house was remodelled, gardens were laid out and
plants were imported, but the death of Mr. P)rown in 1S03
changed the situation. By his will Sei>teml)er 13, 1802, ])robated
1803 ( Providence Will Book 9, p. 260), he devised to his daugh-
ter Sarah HerreshoiT "a farm or tract of land in Bristol called
Point Pleasant containini'' two hundred and twentv one acres


with all the Iniilding and aj)|)urtenances on which she now

Through the action of his son-in-law and partner. John Fran-
cis, John Brown hecame the owner of over 200.C00 acres of
wild Adirondack land, wdiich he divided into eight townships.
These had at the time of his death proved unremunerative, and
it was to render this tract productive that Charles Herreshoff
made his home in the Adirondack wilderness, where he died in
1819. Point Pleasant was later the home of his son, Charles
Frederick Herreshoff, and here were born his sons John B.
Herreshoff' and Nathaniel G. Herreshoff', famous for the racing
vachts thev designed and huilt.

Early American Shoe Buckles

By Harali) W. ( )stby

How many of us, while rummaging around in old attics,
antique shops or museums. ha\c given much thought to the old
pair of shoe buckles which we ma\- ha\e noticed. We could
have hardly suspected the importance of such buckles in the
every day costume of early times, or could we have realized
what part they played in the jewelry intlustr}- of this section of
the country.

Were we to glance back to the time that our country was
settled, the costume of the colonists would be somewhat of a
shock to us. ( )ur im])ression of the I\u-itan fathers is ])robably
one of severe simplicity in dress and mode of living. How little
do we realize that, although of necessity they lived very simply,
their dress reflected not only the times but the part of England
Irom which they emigrated.

A stud}' of the b^.nglish costume of the Seventeenth and
I'jgbleenth Century shows that it was a period of great extrava-
gance and richness. The vanity of the French and English
rulers of the times was reflected in their extreme dress. In
America, just as in i'jigland, ])eopIe ])aid close attention to their
attire — its richness, its elegance, its modishness. Thev also


watclied closely the atlire oi their neighhors. not only from a
distinct liking for dress, hut from a regard of social distinction.
Dress was a hadge of rank, social standing, dignity and class
distinction, and was just as zealously guarded in America — the
Land of Liherty — as in luigland. Every season the settlers
eagerlv sought to learn the changes of fashion in iMigland from
incoming ships and travelers.

Our forehears did not change the style of their dress hy emi-
gration. They may have worn heavier clothing in New Eng-
land, more furs and stronger shoes, but history does not tell
that they adopted simpler or less costly clothing. It is very prob-
able that richness of dress was more manifest in Boston than
in other parts. There the men were mainly of the professional
and middle class, and were unlike the early Colonists of the

How can we better xisualize the dress of the day than to
describe one of the costumes. It consisted of a falling band,
short green doublet with wide arm pits slashed towards the
shoulders and zig-zag turned up ruffles, long green breeches tied
below the knee, yellow ribbed stockings, great shoe buckles and
a short red cloak.

It was cjuite natural under these conditions that men's shoes
received considerable attention. They were at this time made
with short, square toes, heavy soles and usually high red
heels. Those of the women were very soft and thin, and as a
rule of silks and satins. In fact, they were so soft and thin
that our Colonial ladies when compelled to walk wore a heavy,
wooden-soled clout to protect their feet and slippers.

The extreme long toe was the early fashion in men's shoes.
This style reached such an extreme that it became necessary to
hang the toe of the shoe up with a chain caught at the knee.
Such shoes were fastened over the instep with short laces deco-
rated by large, highly colored shoe roses.

It was natural that the style should swing to the other
extreme, when blunt toes came into vogue. This style required
a different ornament to overcome the ugliness of the toe, and it
was at this time that the metal shoe buckle was introduced, being


at first very small, hut quickly becoming large and very ornate.
Shoe huckles were worn to such an extent in England that it is
recorded ahout thirty tliousand workmen were employed in
Birmingham alone in the manufacture of them. A great many
fine patterns were imported from France. Buckles were worn
in France until the time of the Revolution, when luxuries were
given up and precious metals of all kinds confiscated by the
State. They continued to he worn in England until the close of
the Eighteenth Century, when their use declined and gradually
disappeared. They were, however, worn at Court for many
years. It is natural to expect that the Colonists continued this
style as long as their English relatives, although they had
adopted a much larger and less ornate shape. So great a panic
was createfl by the buckle going out of fashion that the manu-
facturers petitioned the Prince of Wales to use his influence to
prevent buckles being given u]). He went so far as to inaugu-
rate a new style. ])ut this did no good.

It is curious to note that the shoe string (considered efifem-
inate at that time) took the ])lace of the buckle, ^\'ith the ado])-
tion ot the shoe string, the height of the shoe was gradually
increased, and it was then that long trousers reaching to the
instep came into fashion.

In England as well as America ver}- little has ever been writ-
ten on the use and manufacture of shoe buckles, and yet they
played an important part in the costume as an article of adorn-
ment. A study of early ])ortraits shows them to be a part of
every costume, and the many dififerent styles denote the thought
given to their choice. "Cover the Buckle" was a favorite dance
step of the time, and the infant mind was taught the refrain
"( )ne. Two, Buckle Aly Shoe."

The manufacturing of shoe l)uckles was prol)al)ly much more
difficult for these early craftsmen than the designing. What
tools or machines they had were operated bv hand, and the melt-
ing f)f metals verv difficult. The large outside dimensions, the
thickness in the middle of the ])uckle. and the extreme curves of
the piece niade hand work im])ossihle. To cut the centre would
mean a waste of material, which would add too much to the


cost. It seems evident that this problem was solved by the
jeweler buying a casting from the foundry. In this way thick-
ness and curve could lie obtained in one operation, and there
would be no necessity of cutting out the center. The jeweler
then smoothed the rough casting off with a file, making it ready
ti» a])|)l\- the |)recious metal to the top. This was accomplished
])y Ideating out very thin whatever metal was to be used, and
attaching it to the blank. He used a piece of tin to braze these
two parts together, and the process was called "plating." The
difficulty with this form of plating is that when the tin does not
run evenly the metals ]:)art in dift'erent places, and to overcome
this a new ])rocess was invented called "close plating." It only
diff'ered from the first in that no solder was used, and the two
metals were really melted together. When the blank reached
this stage, it was onlv necessary to put a |)attern on the ])recious
metal, which was applied Ijy what is termed a chasing tool. This
is simi)ly a hardened |)iece of steel, on one end of which a scroll
[jattern is cut. l')\' turning the tool in ditTercnt directions
between each blow of a hammer on the other end. the desired
l)attern can be ol)tained. This tool is very simple for the average
workman, and is used in place of a regular engraving tool, which
cuts the i)attern rather than embossing it. The shoe buckle of
the times was usually a large, narrow, rectangular metal band,
the center being open, in wliich was swung the attachment for
holding it to the shoe. In order to cover this and the short shoe
lace, a piece of leather was inserted in the open space, and held
in ])lace with another metal finger. These two sets ot fingers
were usually made of steel and riveted in place by a post which
crossed in the middle of the narrow part of the buckle.

Shoe buckles diff'ered from Iielt. knee or garter buckles in
that they are larger and curved to fit over the instep. Ik-lt and
garter buckles in most instances were the .same pattern, excejit
the garter buckle was much smaller with very little curve. It
also had a ditTerent arrangement of attachment.

'idle metals used in making liuckles were generally gold, silver,
pinchbeck, ]jewter. steel and lirass. Most of the specimens indi-
cate that it was the custom to make the back of an inferior and


stiffer metal, a])plyin_i;- the precious metal to this. For this pur-
pose, brass and jjinchheck were used the most. Brass is an
alloy of one part zinc and three parts of cojjper. Pinchbeck, a
metal said to be invented l)y Christopher Pinchbeck in 1670,
was an alloy of one part zinc to ten of copper. The apjiearance
of this metal was so much like gold that it appealed to all who,
either through lack of means or because they were thrifty,
thought gold too expensive a metal to use for this article of
adornment. In those days when a journey of even a few miles
led over roads infested by thieves, careful folk preferred not to
temi)t them by wearing expensive ornaments. This metal was
used as an imitation of gold until well into the Nineteenth Cen-
tury, when the process of electro plating made it easier and
cheaper to dejiosit a wash of gold on any metal.

Brass and pinchbeck dififer from each other slightlv in color,
brass being lighter. If unaccjuainted with the respective appear-
ance of these metals, l)rass may l)e distinguished by having a
metallic smell, especially when warmed a little. It is curious to
note that pinchbeck was at first used in all forms of jewelry,
but so aroused the indignation of the jewelers of precious metals
that legal proceedings were instituted, which resulted thereafter
in the alloy being only allowed for such things as shoe buckles
and buttons.

Designs tor buckles were obtained bv enil)ossing, piercing,
varying the outer edge by setting stones and also by riveting to
the top small, highly ])olished ])ieces of silver or steel, which
reflected artificial light and imitated ])recious stones.

It might be of interest to explain how such a buckle is made
in these days. Hand work being so expensive and machinery
and melting ])r()cesses so much more highly developed, the pre-
cious metal is first plated to a thick ingot, which is then rolled
down to the recjuircd thickness between powerful rolls. It is
cut into short ])ieces and the two ends thinned out bv the use of
what are called reversible rolls. This leaves the center the
recpiired thickness. It is then ])laced over a steel cutter plate
set in a ])()werful jiress and a cutting plunger is forced down on
it, whicli cuts out tile large center piece. It is afterwards bent


into shape and struck into a die. which has a pattern on it. hy a
blow from a very heavy hammer set in a ch'op. Holes for the
rivets are drilled or punched and the attachment for a])plying it
to the shoe riveted on, which completes the manufacturing of
the huckle with the exception of polishing, in these days, the
making of shoe buckles would not re(|uire what we term a
jeweler. It is a machine o])eration. and does not recpiire skilled

The largest collection of early ])uckles ever made is owned in
England by S. P. Fane, and the collection consists of al)out four
hundred examples. Mr. Fane states that he has never found a
Inickle containing the maker's mark. This might l)e accounted
for 1)\- the fact that the article cannot lie hall-marked, l)ecause it
would not stand the precious metal test, and the maker would
prefer to withhold his mark for such articles as he is able to
have hall-marked.

History of the early days of our country shows that every
town had its small jeweler, who made such articles as wedding
rings and sold such jewelry as was imported from Europe.
Tradition savs that during the years of our Revolution a F'rench
soldier, said to be a deserter from I^afayette's Army, settled in
the town of North Attleboro and set up his forge, making shoe
l)uckles and metal l)uttons. We have no authentic record of
their being made in this city until 1788, when Cyril Dodge, a
jeweler of Providence, carried on business two doors north of
the I'aptist Meeting House on North Main Streets It is
recorded that he manufactured shoe Inickles and was success! ul
in accumulating propertw I le built the 1 )r. AX'beaton liouse and
the ( )badiah lirown house, and it was jokingly .said that he paid
for them in silver buckles. The real pioneer, however, seems to
have been Nehemiah Dodge. In 1794, he began ])usiness on
North Main Street, a few doors south of the historic b'irst bap-
tist Church. He was the first manufacturer in this country to
use gold ])late, and records show that when he died in 1826 he
left the large estate of $70,000.

It is sometimes thought that one of the reasons why this
industry located in J'rovidence was on account of the develop-


ment in the metal industry resulting from the establishment of
the shop of Joseph Jenks in F'awtucket. He took out the first
machinery patent in America in 1650. and it is probably that the
problem of producing machines for making belt buckles was

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