William Babcock Weeden.

Early Rhode Island; online

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Probably the social changes there occurring late in the
century were magnified and accelerated by the equal sys-
tem of inheritance.

The first official census taken in 1708 showed a popula-
tion of 7781. Newport had 2203, Providence 1446,
Kingston 1200, and six other towns 200 to 600 each. The
planters around Narragansett Bay were becoming more
and more amphibious with every generation. Governor
Cranston set forth the inclination of the youth of Rhode
" Island have to the sea." Families increased, while the
land did not, and the boys went into a larger world both
physical and mental. As we have noted in Providence
there was great activity in business of all kinds at the
turn of the century. The General Assembly encouraged
several kinds of manufacture, as hemp, duck, nails, cord-
age, etc. Production on shore fostered commerce at sea.
is Arnold II., 61.



186 Period Under Charter of Charles II.

Commerce increased largely after the peace of Utrecht.
Our vessels traded with both British and Dutch West
Indies, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Surinam, with Madeira
and the Azores and especially with our middle and south-
ern colonies. They carried out rum, lumber, staves and
hoops, horses and provisions ; they brought back salt,
rice, sugar, molasses, wines, cotton, English woollen and
linen goods. Flour and often Indian corn came freely
from our own colonies.

Here was not only trade and commerce, there was the
development of a people. The vessels were small — sixty
tons or less — and they required wary and skillful naviga-
tion in seas always liable to tempestuous weather. War
and piracy brought especial risks. Bold and ready sea-
men with adventurous traders flourished in this hardy and
stimulating life.

This lively commerce was carried on by paper money.
" Banks " or bills of credit were continually being issued
by the General Assembly, which in the most reckless way'
took little care for their redemption. Depreciation nat-
urally followed and was almost constant. Yet the cur-
rency in some way went, and business went with it. Gov-
ernor Richard Ward held the same opinion with the pres-
ent writer, that an active community must have a working
currency ; if it be not good, then it will have a poor one.
The governor said in 1740, " we never should have enjoyed
this advantage had not the government emitted bills of
credit to supply the merchants with a medium of exchange.
In short, if this colony be in any respect happy and
flourishing, it is paper money and a right application
of it that hath rendered us so." 19 The historical ques-
tion is not, how it might have been better, with better
legislation, but to narrate what was done,
is " Rider Hist. Tract," Vol. VIII., p. 158.



1707] African Slave Trade 187

The most important — indeed the controlling — factor
in Newport commerce £ . fully half a century was the
African slave trade} " The mother country led the way
in this unsavory traffic and the colonies followed. New-
port was the leading port for New England, though
most ports were somewhat interested. In 1708 the Brit-
ish Board of Trade addressed a circular to all the colonies
relative to trade in negro slaves. To stop such iniquity
says the twentieth century inquirer — far from it ! " It
being absolutely necessary that a trade so beneficial to
the kingdom should be carried on to the greatest advan-
tage." Governor Cranston replied that from 1698 to
December 25, 1707, no negroes were imported into Rhode
Island from Africa. This must have been a technical
statement. The privileges of the Royal African Com-
pany underlaid these investigations. In 1696 the report
said the brigantine Seaflower, Windsor, master, brought
from Africa 47 negroes, sold 14s in our colony at £30. to
£35. each; the rest he carried by land " to Boston, where
his owners lived." In 1700 one ship and two sloops sailed
directly from Newport to the African Coast ; Edwin Car-
ter commanded the ship and partly owned in the three
vessels. With him sailed one Bruster and John Bates,
merchants of Barbados, and " separate traders from
thence to the coast of Africa." All these vessels carried
cargoes to Barbados and sold them there. It is evident
that our commerce was ramifying and that the capital
of West Indies availed of the advantages of Newport.
Governor Cranston carefully limited his statement. In
February, 1707-8, the colony laid an impost of £3. on
each negro imported. In April the tax was allowed in
drawback if the negro was exported. The act was tin-

20 Cf. Weeden, " E. and S. N. E.," Vol. II., pp. 449-472, for a
full account.



188 Period Under Charter of Charles II.

kered in 1712, and again in 1715. The impost was of
such consequence in 1729 that it was appropriated one-
half toward paving the streets of Newport, one-half to-
ward " the great bridges on the main." The tax was
repealed in 1732.

Judge Sewall in Massachusetts was about the first to
speak out concerning the ethical bearing of slavery. The
Quakers instituted the first practical opposition, which
became quite effective a half-century later. Moses
Brown 21 cites from the Yearly Meeting Record in 1717,
" the subject of Slaves considered, and advise given that
Letters be Written to the Islands & Elsewhere not to
send any more slaves here to be sold by any Friend."

The African trade from Newport and Boston was con-
ducted in small craft, usually of 40 to 50 tons burden,
never over 60. Small vessels were considered most profit-
able, and were handled generally by a captain and mate
with a crew of two or three men and a boy. When the
voyage was by way of the Islands, a cooper was included,
who made bungs, heads, etc., on the outward \oyage, to
be set up with staves from Taunton or elsewhere, and
bound by Narragansett hoops, into barrels and hogs-
heads, when he came into port. White-oak staves went
into rum casks and red-oak into sugar hogsheads.

The West Indies afforded the great demand for negroes ;
the climate rather than the morals of New England kept
away the blacks. The Islands also furnished the raw
material for the main merchandise, which the thirsty Gold
Coast drank, when bartered for its poor banished chil-
dren. Governor Hopkins stated that for more than
thirty years prior to 1764, our colony sent to the Coast
annually 18 vessels carrying 1800 hhds. of rum. It dis-
placed French brandies on the Coast after 1723. The
21MSS. R. I. Hist. Soc.



1725] Distilling Rum 189

commerce in rum and slaves afforded about £40,000 per
annum for remittance from Rhode Island to Great Britain.
Molasses and poor sugar distilled in Boston and Provi-
dence, and more in Newport made the staple export.

The most important change in the manufactures of the
early eighteenth century was in the introduction of dis-
tilleries for rum; Massachusetts and Connecticut partici-
pated, but Rhode Island surpassed them in proportion.
Newport was growing rapidly in wealth and commerce
and had twenty-two still-houses. Massachusetts held the
fisheries by preoccupation and advantage of natural situ-
ation. Newport found outlet for its increasing energy
in import of molasses, in manufacture of spirit, and the
daring voyage for slaves. The consumption of beer or
ale — the favorite drink of the seventeenth century — ap-
parently diminished. Lumbermen and fisher-folk de-
manded a strong stimulant to ameliorate their heavy diet
of pork and Indian corn. The trade in negroes from
Africa absorbed immense quantities of spirit. Rum from
the West Indies had always been a large factor, impelling
trade. Distilling in New England brought far-reaching
consequences, social as well as economic. It was found
that molasses and sugar could be transferred here and
converted into alcoholic spirit more cheaply than it
could be done in the lazy atmosphere of the tropics.

The African demand was very importunate. Captain
Isaac Freeman with a coasting sloop in 1752 wanted a
cargo of rum and molasses within five weeks from New-
port. His correspondent wrote that the quantity could
not be had in three months. " There are so many ves-
sels lading for Guinea, we cant get one hogshead of
rum for the cash. We have been lately to New London
and all along the seaport towns, in order to purchase the
molasses but cant get one hogshead." Let us remember



190 Period Under Charter of Charles II.

how rare cash was in the operations of those days. In
1740 Captain George Scott tried some dry goods with
most pathetic experience ; they left him dry, and were
hardly touched by the dry savage. He lost one-third
of his 129 slaves, while waiting to trade off his goods.
He sailed, carrying off a third of his stale cargo of goods,
believing that if he had stayed to dispose of them, he
would have lost all his slaves. " I have repented a hun-
dred times ye bying of them dry goods. Had I laid
out two thousand pound in rum, bread and flour, it would
purchase more in value than all our dry goods." Cer-
tainly the thirsty Guinea man had keen and sympathetic
interpreters of his appetites.

Bristol followed Newport closely in the latter half of
the century. Captain Simeon Potter, the famous priva-
teersman in the Spanish and French wars, appears as
early as 1764* investing his profits drawn from the Span-
ish Main in outfits for the Guinea coast. Forcible as he
was on the Main, he was even more crafty in circumvent-
ing the poor Africans. His instructions are most naive.
" Make y r Cheaf Trade with the Blacks and Little or none
with the white people if possible to be avoided. Worter
y r Rum as much as possible and sell as much by the short
measuer as you can." Again, " Order them in the Bots
to worter thear Rum, as the proof will rise by the Rum
Standing in y e Son." 22

These were the doings of the rough privateersman ; but
what shall we say of the pious and most respectable
" elder " of Newport, who sent slavers with uniform suc-
cess from Newport? On the Sunday after arrival, he al-
ways returned thanks " that an overruling Providence
had been pleased to bring to this land of freedom another
cargo of benighted heathen to enjoy the blessing of a
22Weeden, Vol. II., p. 465.



1729] Newport Respectability 191

Gospel dispensation." And Peter Faneuil, builder of the
" Cradle of liberty " in Boston, had actual ventures on
the Gold Coast, planned and sent direct by him. 23 Every-
thing is not better than it was in the olden time, but we
have improved some things.

Governor Samuel Cranston died in 1727 after an admin-
istration of thirty successive years, under his wise and effi-
cient headship. That the turbulent colony of the seven-
teenth century should move steadily in any one direction
so long, is remarkable from any point of view. It is
significant that the satisfactory ruler of a people holding
so many beliefs was an " impartial and good man not
assembling with any sect." Even Cotton Mather, Avho
in the Magnalia expressed his horror concerning the " col-
luvies " in Rhode Island, admitted in 1718, a condi-
tion of efficient Christianity. Not only had toleration in
worship established itself, but it was proving that an
organized state, with its varied interests, could thrive
politically and economically, under liberty of conscience
for each individual citizen.

In 1729 the colony was divided into three counties,
with corresponding courts. Newport County comprised
the Islands with New Shoreham ; Providence included the
town, Warwick and East Greenwich ; King's North and
South Kingston with Westerly, the shire centering at
South Kingstown. In 1730 a census ordered by the
Board of Trade showed a population largely increased to
17,935, which included 1648 negroes and 985 Indians.
Newport had 4640, closely followed by Providence with
3916; North Kingstown 2105; Westerly 1926; South
Kingstown 1523; East Greenwich 1223; Warwick 1178;
Portsmouth 813; Jamestown 312; New Shoreham 290.
The growth in Narragansett was remarkable. The

23 Weeden, Vol. II., p. 468.



192 Period Under Charter of Charles II.

Indians were nearly all settled there, in the district now
known as the town of Charlestown. Of the 1648 colored
slaves Newport had 649 and the two Kingstowns 498. The
colony owned about 5000 tons of shipping and employed
400 sailors.



CHAPTER VII

THE COMMERCIAL GROWTH OF PROVIDENCE.
1711-1762

HISTORY is imbedded in chronology ; though dates
are more significant of superficial events than of the
deeper causes which produced those events. Even the
death of a king or a change of dynasty is but a way-
mark indicating the origin of changes in government.
The course of events proceeds from subtle causes, making
changes on the surface of affairs which we can only
follow through dates.

It is convenient to fix the passing of the plantation
from agriculture to commerce at the coming of the ship-
builder, Nathaniel Browne, in 1711, though the trade
which should employ his prospective vessels had been long
growing. Pardon Tillinghast was granted land Janu-
ary 27, 1679-80, 1 opposite his dwelling place, twenty
feet above high-water mark for a store and wharf. This
was below the present Power Street and across the Towne
Streete, being the virtual shore of the Great Salt River.
The " town wharf " was subsequently established a little
farther north. It is hard to believe that a ton of tobacco
could be exported so early as 1652. But the record 2 in
two places states that Wm. Almy shipped this quantity
to Newfoundland. Placing the wharf was a momentous
step, for it was to wake up the torpid, inert planters
and send their produce down the Salt current into Nep-
tune's domain. The voyagers halted at the West Indies,
often went on to Gibraltar and ultimately rounded the

i " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. VIII., p. 62.
2 Ibid., Vol. XV., p. 591 ; again at p. 55.

193



194 The Commercial Growth of Providence

great southern capes, seeking the wealth of Ormus and
of Ind.

The bold, farseeing cooper, Tillinghast, was only mak-
ing a way-mark, as has been described. For Njew Eng-
land commerce 3 showed many signs of increasing activ-
ity, profiting largely — and not losing, as is often stated
■ — by the Navigation Acts of Charles II., which checked
the Dutch. In Newport a naval office was opened in
1682. Salisbury on the Merrimac became a port of en-
try in 1684. Ipswich escaped the leading-strings of
Salem and got its port in 1685. All around our Bay
at Bristol and Wickford as well as at Newport, trans-
port was seeking convenient carriage by water, and ven-
turing out into the larger sea.

The coming of Gideon Crawford, a trained Scotch
merchant, in 1687, gave stability and due direction to the
rising trade. The movement toward commerce was so
zealous that Thomas Olney tried to check the granting
of land for wharf lots about the end of the century.
However, the internal life of the plantation had not been
much affected by the outward commerce. For the water-
power on the Moshassuck, granted in 1655, had not been
all employed in 1705. Then a lot for a saw-mill was
assigned to Richard Arnold. 4

The population of the colony trebled itself in the first
quarter of the eighteenth century. But the whole econ-
omy of life in the plantation was stimulated and devel-
oped by the ship-building instituted in 1711. A new in-
dustry applying native material and employing a variety
of workmen increased the wealth and stimulated the intelli-
gence of a community in equal proportions. It was said
that the " intolerance of Massachusetts " drove Nathaniel

3 Weeden, " E. and S. New England," Vol. I., p. 264.
* Dorr, " Planting and Growth," p. 50.



1711] Browne Begins Shipbuilding 195

Browne 5 from Rehoboth. January 28, 1711, the town
granted him one-half an acre on " Waybosset Neck on
salt water," so long as he shall use it for building vessels.
He was an Anglican and the ground was afterward made
the site of King's, now St. John's Church. He had suffi-
cient means as well as skill, and built sloops and schooners
up to sixty tons in size. These vessels carried horses as
well as other farm-produce, with timber, staves and hoop
poles to the West Indies. The common lands were now
to afford exports as well as pasturage. It will be ob-
served that the early planters lack the enterprising ele-
ment bred in the fisheries of Massachusetts.

Great interest attaches to pioneers in all new move-
ments in civilization. When Gideon Crawford settled in
the little farming hamlet of 1687 he married ffreelove
Fenner, a daughter of Arthur Fenner, the strongest
friend of Roger Williams and the granddaughter of
Wm. Harris, his strongest opponent. Such stock gave
heredity and fitly endowed the mother of a race of enter-
prising merchants. Crawford died in 1709, having im-
pressed his methods on the community for about a score
of years. To such a wife a good merchant could be lit-
erally a good husband. Accordingly, he left his whole
property to her for life — after her death to be divided in
halves between the sons William and John. She survived
her husband five years, carrying forward the business in
all its details; and the results justified his prudent con-
fidence. The mother was to elect which son should live
with her. If William be chosen, at twenty-one years he
was to pay John £100. His daughters Anne and Mary
were to receive each £50. whenever married. The whole
" moveable " estate (household goods) was given to his
wife.

e Dorr, " Planting and Growth," p. 58.



196 The Commercial Growth of Providence

The persona] estate, November 5, 1707, 6 was £1556.12.,
not including book debts, of which £775.10. was in " bills
and bonds," £16.9.10. in silver, in shop goods £355.9.
Two negroes were valued at £56. Sheep were £13.10.;
2 horses £18. ; hogs £3.4. In furniture, the feather bed
always was the first choice of rich or poor and 5 good
examples with equipment stood at £60.15. Tablecloths
and napkins £2. Chairs £4. Pewter and brass £10.17.
Books could only muster £2.12., showing that the new
merchants and the granddaughter did not read as much as
William Harris did, two generations earlier. Plate was
valued at £15.11., not equal to the £17. belonging to the
wealthy farmer, Stephen Arnold, in 1699.

But the wearing apparel showed the greatest change,
as it proceeded in the habit of living. For the time in
1699, £12. was a large outfit for a rich farmer like Ste-
phen Arnold. Eight years later the record shows £20.17.
for the merchant as he walked " on change," and his
ways were far from extravagant. In swords, pistols and
small arms, he had £10.18.

June 17, 171 2, 7 ffreelove Crawford, the widow's inven-
tory is set forth. We cannot compare the two estates
precisely, but from other sources learn that her manage-
ment had been very energetic and successful; increasing
the property. The personal estate was £947.1., of which
£188.4.6. was in shop goods, £642.12. in " bills, bonds and
mortgage deeds," £26.15.6. in paper and silver, £12.17.6.
in gold. Clearly, the mercantile business was conducted
largely on credit, as considerable evidences of debt ap-
pear in nearly all estates of any size.

There is a moderate increase in the plate, £21.5.6. over

e " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. VII., p. 271,
7 Ibid., Vol. VII., 117.



1712] How the Merchants Lived 197

the amount left by her husband. It consisted of a silver
" Tankard," salt seller, 2 porringers and 7 spoons. £34.
in three feather beds and outfit ; two having been given
to John and Mary, the daughter ; 5 pewter and 1 basin, 1
" alequart " £2.5.; 5 platters, 5 basons, 10 porringers, 11
plates, 1 alepint, 2 plate rings, 1 alequart and small pew-
ter, altogether £3.19. Evidently the merchants, as well as
the farmers, ate from pewter. The utensils at £11.13.
were chiefly in brass and copper, with a few in iron. In
wooden ware and 6 spoons £6.8.2. For her business and
her pleasure, the feminine merchant had five of the " horse
kind " at £24.16. Other animals have disappeared.

She gave to her son, Wm. Crawford, her part in the
sloop Dolphin. To Wm. and John Crawford 4 /s part of
the sloop " now building " by Nathaniel Browne to be fin-
ished and rigged by the estate. To Wm. and John £137.
each in merchantable shop goods or current money of
New England. To her daughter, Ann Carr, £100. in
money or goods, and the same to Mary. In wearing
apparel the wealthy widow left £47.7. If her widow's
weeds were duly maintained it was done in the spirit of
the Quakers, with enforced humility. Like the modest
Friends, her costume, if not brilliant, was rich and royal.

At the same date Nathaniel, one of the solid family of
Watermans, left £1019.3. 7. 8 in personal estate and a
moderate outfit. His wearing apparel was £12., befitting
a proprietor who lived quietly.

A steady-going farmer, Obadiah Browne, rich in lands
with £377.0.1. in personal estate September 12, 1716, 9
had felt the social changes sufficiently to expend £17.5. in
dress. Adding a pair of shoe buckles lis. and eleven

s " Earlv Rec. Prov.," Vol. VII., p. 102.

9 Ibid., Vol. VI., p. 187; again Vol. XVI., p. 6. 8



198 The Commercial Growth of Providence

" black doggs " 10 6s. we have about as good a wardrobe
as the first merchant Crawford allowed himself. For his
wife's apparel, including 2 table cloths, napkins and a
child's " stifen coate," only £15. was estimated. Observe
the contrast with the widow Crawford and the social posi-
tion of the two dames must have been about the same in
the plantation. Two years earlier Benjamin Greene, Jr.,
a bachelor apparently and something of a " swell,"
arrayed himself at a cost of £18., though his personal
estate was only £88.17.4. He improved his mind by read-
ing two bibles, a testament and Hodder's arithmetic, cost-
ing 15s.

Browne's library contained only 1 bible and other
books at lis. 6d. He had a good stock in cattle, £98.5.,
the cows appraised at £3.10. each, 2 mares £19., 30 loads
English hay £30., 16 loads meadow hay £10., 2 linen
wheels and 1 old woollen 8s., 1 pair worsted combs 2s.
Hemp on stalk 18s., 6 lbs. dressed hemp 5s., 17 lbs.
dressed flax 14s. 2d. Flax in Sheaf £1. " Hatchel sum
tow geame and feld hemp 9s. 6d." There was a moderate
supply of pewter £3.17-10., including the durable chamber-
pot at 4s. Brass kettles £4. A table with the inevitable
" Joynt Stoole " 12s. and 7 chairs at 10s. But now
appears a Looking Glass and hour glass at 4s. Quite
often scales for weighing money are found in the inven-
tories ; in this case they were appraised at 6s.

Another vocation is represented by Captain John Dex-
ter, Mariner, August 3, 1716, 11 in a personal estate of
£297.11., with 1599 gallons molasses at Is. 8d., £133.5.,
sugar £17.1. and a negro woman and boy appraised at

io These canine names appearing now and then trouble a social
investigator until he perceives that they describe an article of
dress.

ii " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. V I, p. 180.



1716] Wigs Are Worn 199

£60. His wearing apparel was £10.12. and probably he
went where other fashions prevailed, for two wigs, a rare
article, appear at £1. A pair of shoe buckles lis. 8.
and two gold rings at £1.0.3. completed the sailor's adorn-
ment. His ten books were estimated at £1.12. and the
" English Pilatt " at £1.8.

Occasionally a woman's -4- is found in the records of
this period. The culture of English descended ladies in
the West Indies hardly exceeded that of Rhode Island.
In 1719, 12 Agnee King, wife of Thomas, a planter in
Barbados, conveys the estate of Joshua Verin in Provi-
dence, signing with a -f-.

As Pardon Tillinghast closes the regime of the seven-
teenth century, we may note his inventory, February 15,
1717-18, 13 for our interest in one so much identified with
the plantation, rather than for its particular details.
The persona] estate was £542.4.3. and his sober apparel
only £10.19. Beds and bedding £32,7. Table cloths,
napkins and towels £2.10. A bell metal mortar 8s.
Glass bottles and a glass cup 5s. Bottles are valued in
nearly all the households, but seldom a cup of that mate-
rial, which was to become so useful. " Hatt Paper " and
Pillion 12s. In books and 1 silver spoon £1. The cooper-
preacher took his " learning " direct from the Scriptures
and rendered it into wisdom, through discreet intercourse
with busy men. Silver plate was coming in slowly. The
well-to-do Thomas Fenner had only £1.5.

Negroes appear in many estates, in moderate as well
as large fortunes. The women are valued from £10. to
£40. ; doubtless their use in house service increased the



Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 15 of 29)