William Babcock Weeden.

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Three Lippitts had each -J part in the sloop. Ann Lippitt
signs for a negro man in the crew, one share. One owner
holds V-2A part. David -\- Swanton, mariner, sells " all his
share " to John Andrews and Darius Sessions.

France had joined in the Spanish war in 1744, and our
privateers severely punished her commerce. It is esti-
mated 63 that over 100 French prizes were taken with rich
cargoes, some of over $50,000 value. Captain John Den-
nis was a terror to the French and they sent from Mar-
tinique a strong war-vessel to pursue him especially. They
misapprehended the Rhode Island rover; for the pursued
turned fiercely and after four hours of hard fighting made
the Frenchman his prize.

The colony aided stoutly in the expedition against
Louisburgh, and Captain Fones, with his sloop Tartar,
headed a small fleet doing much execution.

In 1754 the old householders' provision of fire buckets,
with the line of men passing them to and fro, was found
insufficient to protect the property in the growing town.
Obadiah Brown and James Angell were commissioned to
buy a " large water engine." The Boston machine was
a small beginning toward the steamer and hydraulic
hydrant of to-day, but it was a great advance over lifting
water by hand. According to Staples, in 1755 the colony
taxed Newport £14,000, South Kingston £5200., Provi-
dence £4900.

James and Obadiah Brown, brothers, descended from
Chad, the early proprietor and minister, were largely en-
gaged in commerce in the second quarter of the century.
63 Brigham, " R. I.," p. 186.



228 The Commercial Growth of Providence

James was father of the " four brothers," of whom we
shall hear much in the development of the larger Provi-
dence. " Nicky, Josey, John and Mosey " were household
words for a century. According to Moses Brown, 64 " My
Father's Books shews eight vessels under his manage-
ment, viz., Sloop Dolphin, Obadiah Brown, master, sloop
Mary Godfrey, schooner Ann, sloop Rainbow, sloop Pclli-
can, schooner Ann, Sam Gorton, master, sloop Mary
Gould, John Hopkins, master, sloop Shearwater, John
Hopkins, master- — all West India vessels, some to Surinam
with horses &c. From 1730 (or 1738) to 1748 (sic) I
find 15 and from 1748 to 1760 I find about 60 vessels by
my Father, Obadiah Brown Books owned by him Stephen
Hopkins, David Jenks, Nathan Angell and many others."

In another connection he says : " I find in our Books
only 84 vessels before the year 60, with their names and
mostly their masters."

Obadiah Brown was the younger brother and in
partnership with James, who died in 1739. Nicholas,
the nephew, was received into the partnership, and all the
brothers were trained in business by their Uncle Obadiah.
Moses married Obadiah's daughter and ultimately inher-
ited his property.

This period brings us to the consideration of, not a
new, but newly developed kind of citizen in Providence
Plantations. The original and truly educated immigrants
— trained in an English university like Roger Williams,
or in large affairs like the men of Newport — had long
passed by. Their descendants included in Providence
Bernon's " learned men," who were not learned as we
understand the term. Now comes a citizen, born and
trained on Rhode Island soil, who was, if not academic, a
largely learned man. Stephen Hopkins was born March
a* MSS. R. I. H. S.



1750] Hopkins the True Rhode Islander 229

7, 1706-7, at Massapauge, in the district now known as
South Providence. His father, Major William Hop-
kins, farmer, surveyor, etc., shortly removed to the bridle
paths of Chapumscook, now Scituate, where our subject
was reared and his essential character was formed. His
grandmother was a daughter of Captain John Whipple,
above noted, very prominent in plantation life about 1660-
1685. Carpenter, innholder, surveyor, member of town
council and of General Assembly, he acquired finally a
considerable practice at law. He traded likewise in a
large way for his circumstances. We can easily account
for the mercantile bent of our subject.

Samuel Wilkinson's daughter was Stephen's mother,
contributing not only the blood of that vigorous stock,
but the " inner light " of the individual derived from the
Society of Friends. Captain Samuel Wilkinson was com-
mended by Bernon for " his erudition in divine and civil
law, historical narrative, natural and politic," 65 taught
our subject mathematics and surveying. In this vocation,
like Washington, the youth learned men as well as lands.
The best instruction of all came from his mother, and it
was " thorough and comprehensive." There were in the
Hopkins home and in Grandfather Wilkinson's " circu-
lating libraries " used among the families and neighbors. 66

Stephen Hopkins' writings show that he studied the
great English classics. All accounts indicate that he was
a deep reader, as long as life lasted. Such men lacked
the scholastic method, but they read and thought seri-
ously, developing the powers of the individual mind.
President Manning, of Brown University, said of Hop-
kins in 1785, 67 " Possessing an uncommonly elevated

65 Updike, N. C, Goodwin, Vol. I., p. 54.

66 Foster Hopkins, p. 46.

67 Prov. Gazette, July 16.



230 The Commercial Growth of Providence

genius, his constant assiduous application in the pursuit
of knowledge " rendered him distinguished. But the most
significant testimony came from the trained and eloquent
John Adams, showing how one untaught in the schools
could teach the teachers themselves. " Governor Hop-
kins had read Greek, Roman, and British history and
was familiar with English poetry, particularly Pope,
Thomson and Milton, and the flow of his soul made all of
his reading our own, and seemed to bring to recollection
in all of us, all we had ever read." 68 Strange that, out of
the wilds of Scituate, there came a " flow of soul " which
could enthrall the best scholars and highest spirits of
America. In considering university education or lack of
it, let us remember Jowett said one was fortunate who
could pass through the Oxford courses without impairing
his mental powers. But Jowett was in himself a school-
master, and accordingly we must weigh his judgments
carefully.

The ability of young Hopkins was soon recognized by
the townspeople. When twenty-four years old he was
Moderator; at the next regular meeting in 1732, he was
placed in the influential position of town clerk — held for
ten years, or as long as he remained in Scituate. He
was sent to the General Assembly in 1732, and became
Speaker in 1741. His powers were valued wherever
known, as appears in his engagement in 1737 to revise
the streets of Providence and to project a map extending
over Scituate.

As the Browns led the merchants on land, so the Hop-
kinses and their kindred led sailors on the seas. Accord-
ing to Moses Brown, 17 vessels on his list were owned or
commanded by these natural seadogs. Esek, the most dis-
tinguished in this respect, left his home to enlist as a com-
es Foster, p. 48n.



1750] Commerce Develops Larger Ideas 231

mon sailor in 1738, soon becoming captain. He resided
at first at Newport, removing to Providence in 1755.

Stephen, this sturdy son of Rhode Island— bred from
her innermost stock— came to Providence Plantation in
1742. A generation had been sending abroad the ves-
sels built by Nathaniel Browne and others, loaded with
produce yielded by the fertile lands around the Great
Salt River. The Bay, Long Island Sound, the mighty
Hudson, all had helped to bring Newport and at last
Providence into closer contact with all the seaboard mar-
kets, as well as ocean commerce. The shell encasing the
early plantation was bursting outward into open and
freer life, through its communication with the great world
outside. Poverty, says Chaucer, is a " gret bringer-out
of bisyness." And it has been often said that men of
studious habit seldom acquire knowledge of affairs. In
Stephen Hopkins we have a remarkable example of edu-
cation by contact with affairs, enlightened by his own
constant use of books. It has been noted 69 how the
" learned men " of the little plantation impressed Gabriel
Bernon, coming from the larger opportunities of Europe.
Their " learning " was far from academic. It came from
the open-minded school of experience. Hopkins entered
into commercial ventures, especially in joint interest with
the Wantons at Newport. He must have been largely
acquainted at Newport, for his visits there began as early
as 1732, when he went as a member of the General Assem-
bly.

The enlargement of the plantation in a social sense is
indicated by the course of religious opinion. Four build-
ings, maintained for religious worship, existed in 1742;
the old Baptist meeting-house at the corner of Smith
Street, the Friends' on Meeting Street, King's Episcopal
so Ante, p. 209.



The Commercial Growth of Providence

at Church Street, and the Congregational at the corner
of College and Benefit Streets. There was one mill and
three taverns. A draw in Weybosset Bridge enabled ves-
sels to pass to and from Nathaniel Browne's old shipyard,
just above the bridge on the west side. Roger Kinni-
cut had succeeded Browne in the business about 1730.

The tide of life and trade had been surging down the
" old Cheapside " midway in Town Street, and keeping
with the current of travel from Boston to New York ;
it was now turning over the " Great Bridge " toward
larger territory across Great Salt River, rnd along the
roads leading to the southwest. Weybosset (sometime
Broad) Street, a landmark of this movement, was not
approved by " The Neck " when it was opened. The
Hay ward or Hay market had opened about 1738, a space
for the present Market Square, which gave a center for
increasing business.

The narrow lanes from Town Street to the waterfront,
curiously named for coins, were matter of contest between
the old proprietors and the freemen at large. Now in
1738, the freemen outnumbered the old proprietors, and
the latter lost their control of town affairs.

The Lottery system was a crude method for bringing
out the social energies of those days. The universal gam-
bling spirit, potent individually, was forced outward into
social channels, and made to support all kinds of enter-
prises good in themselves and desired by the public. It
was initiated here in 1744, 70 when a lottery was granted
by the General Assembly to rebuild Weybosset Bridge.

Commerce proper, since Gideon Crawford, the merchant,

in 1687, and Nathaniel Browne, the shipbuilder in 1711,

had developed sufficiently on the Town Street wharves to

draw downward from the northern districts all the produce

70 Staples, p. 197.



1751] Direct Commerce to London 233

intended for export. By 1745 northern Rhode Island
and the Blackstone valley of Massachusetts were sending
farm products to the Providence merchants for exchange
into West Indian and European wares. These larger
movements were encouraged and more or less initiated by
Stephen Hopkins. In the middle of the last century, a
capable investigator, William Hunter, said, 71 " Stephen
Hopkins taught Providence her capabilities and calcu-
lated rather than prophesied her future growth and pros-
perity." The inevitable superiority of a port at the
head of navigation was beginning to tell in competition
with richer Newport; though the latter had a century of
advantage in enterprise and development. By the close
of the French war in 1763, the larger commerce was well
established.

In 1747 Robert Gibbs, Stephen Hopkins and some
forty of the most forecasting citizens obtained an ordi-
nance for Back Street, the present Benefit. The proprie-
tors of old home-lots contending for their graveyards, had
vainly opposed the movement. Hereafter the term in
deeds and wills was altered to " house-lot." The Fenner
estate looking out on Market Square threatened violent
resistance. Gradually compromise prevailed and the most
radical change of the eighteenth century was instituted, 72
reconstructing the " East Side." The members of the
First Congregational Church had not been able to get
to their location, the site of the present county court-
house.

The large commerce for which the West Indian ventures
had prepared the way, made a significant advance in
1751 or about that time. Theretofore the shopkeepers
of our little plantation had been middlemen or jobbers, as

7i Newport History Mag., Vol. II., p. 142.
72 Dorr, p. 150.



234 The Commercial Growth of Providence

we say. They were tributary to Newport directly — to Bos-
ton, New York and Philadelphia for the abundant Euro-
pean goods a higher civilization was demanding. Now
they were to become importers ; for Colonel Edward Kin-
nicut — brother of Roger, the shipbuilder — loaded a ves-
sel in the Seekonk with timber and took this first direct
cargo to London. He brought back goods enough to
furnish three shops ; his own, Obadiah Brown's and
Daniel Jenks\ The vessel was owned by the two latter
jointly, with Stephen Hopkins. Kinnicut finally died in
London in 1754.

In 1757 Captain Esek Hopkins brought in a valuable
prize, the snow Desire. This was among the early prizes for
our port, which, according to Moses Brown, were captured
" during the (French) war, to the making of many rich
and some poor." The shrewd Quaker correctly estimated
the speculative risk of this business ; but it stimulated
enterprise and developed brave and venturesome seamen.

When Hopkins settled in our plantation he found the
scale of living advancing rapidly. The personal apparel
and household goods which had been luxurious for the
Crawfords in the second decade, had become customary
and necessary for a well-to-do community much increased
in numbers. Captain James Brown, father of the " Four
Brothers," died in 1739; a fair type of the merchant bred
out of West Indian commerce. He appointed his " Relict
Widdow," Mrs. Hope Brown, one of his three executors, 73

His wearing apparel was valued at £92., with Books at
£10.10. In bonds, "bills of credit" (paper currency),
etc., £1656.0.8. appeared, in book debts £416.2.4., in gold
and silver £126.10. The domestic outfit included £6.15.
in table linen, in brass and copper £19.10., in iron ware
£31.1., in pewter £18.18. Two small looking glasses with
73 MSS. Probate Rec, Vol. III., p. 357.



1751] Pewter Was in Common Use 235

16 earthen platters and a cannister amounted to £6.6.
Ten " Baker " glasses with two sets China dishes and
bowls stood at £12.10.

The beaker was a distinctive wine-cup, originally of
earthen ware in England. Such vessels were not men-
tioned in our colony, but made of the incoming glass, they
frequently appear in the inventories of this period.

In household furnishings we find 6 feather beds at
£129.19. ; 15 chairs, 1 looking glass, 2 oval tables at £28.,
and one clock. There was a considerable stock of mer-
chandise for sale in English and other goods. The dis-
tilling apparatus on sale indicated the importance of that
business. Two stills and worms, tubs, cranes, pumps and
troughs were valued at £800. Four negroes £300. Two
yoke of oxen £66. Two cows and calf £26. One horse,
saddle and bridle £54. The total personal estate
amounted to £5653.14.4.

Next the feather bed, perhaps the most constant and
significant unit of domestic comfort in the previous half
or three-quarters of a century, had been in pewter ware.
In the early days of Town Street the table service had
been of wooden ware, reinforced with occasional earthen
pieces. Pewter in plates, platters, cups and spoons
usurped the place of these humble vessels ; and even cham-
berpots became almost universal.

The ware of our colony and the more lofty plate of
Europe was variously compounded; but generally of tin,
with lead in smaller proportion. Between silver on the
one hand and glass ware on the other, pewter has lost
rank in our time, but enthusiasts still admire its modest
character. They claim that the soft pearl-gray color
is more beautiful than the brilliant white of silver; which
must always be rather harder to an eye seeking quiet. 74

**Masse\ "Pewter Plate," p. 8.



236 The Commercial Growth of Providence

As mentioned, pewter was preceded by platters and even
porringers of wood; and it went out of general use when
porcelain and stone-ware became sufficiently cheap in
price. The ware was manufactured by casting or ham-
mering, or by both processes united. The necessary
molds used in casting were always expensive. The articles
were finished by hand or on a lathe and then burnished.
Pewterers had shops in Boston.

Doubtless many of the shoe-buckles, so generally worn,
were made of pewter; there were inkstands and a covered
tobacco-box. The necessary punch-ladle abounded at
this period ; frequently oval and deep in the cup, with a
slender handle of turned wood. Our colonists generally
had the tankard; a term loosely applied, but commonly a
covered vessel, holding a quart or more.

It is difficult to adjust actual values and nominal prices
in these records. When the common currency is not re-
deemable, prices vary, but do not respond absolutely to
the fluctuating standard. Labor and articles of mer-
chandise in common domestic use, do not oscillate in price
as rapidly as the currency varies. Imports and foreign
trade must closely follow the true financial barometer.

The wars compelled the poor American colonies to use
public credit, the only available substitute for money.
Rhode Island blundered worst in issuing paper money and
in not redeeming it. Unlike Massachusetts, she had no
Hutchinson to repair in some degree the consequences
of her legislative folly. Hutchinson, though a Tory in
the Revolution, literally forced the Bay to place her cur-
rency on a specie basis ; for this he deserves eternal grati-
tude.

It is better to have too much currency than too little.
It is often assumed that paper money of necessity brought
evil and disaster; but it is untrue. Bad as a bad cur-



1751] The Bad Currency Breaks Down 237

rency is, it is better than none. No other principle can
explain the extraordinary instinct of producers, demand-
ing more and yet more money. Merchants, and especially
bankers, see the constant evils of redundant money, but
producers still cry for more. While this depreciated
money existed in our period, affairs were expanding and
the community was prosperous. History must relate
what was, and not try to interpret what ought to have
been.

Let us refer to the meager records for some estimate of
values. In May, 1726, 75 a judgment was awarded in
court of £181.10 in " bills of credit " to liquidate a claim
of £100. in silver, showing a depreciation of about 55 per
cent.

By 1740 the depreciation in Old Tenor had proceeded
so far that the General Assembly created a grade of New
Tenor in bills for £20,000, bearing four per cent, interest
for ten 3 r ears. The nominal rate fixed for silver in this
medium was 9s. per ounce, and in Old Tenor 27s. per
ounce. 76

February 27, 1748-9, a committee of the Assembly
passed bills of credit at the rate £1050. in paper for £100.
sterling. A few months before exchange had been at the
rate of 570 per cent. This rapid fall of paper indicated
a coming crash in business, to be caused by this depre-
ciating currency. The bills of the various issues or
" Banks " were being burned at periods of ten years ;
but the process was not fast enough.

The colonies of Massachusetts and Rhode Island were
destined to part company in finance. In April, 1751,
their bills of credit were equal in value. In September
those of Rhode Island had fallen 20 per cent, below her

75 Arnold, Vol II., p. 82.

76 Ibid., p. 128.



238 The Commercial Growth of Providence

neighbor's. Bills on London sold for 1100 per cent, pre-
mium in Old Tenor. The New Tenor had fallen to less
than half its nominal value. Generally, prices and con-
tracts had been quoted in Old Tenor. In 1763 7T the
General Assembly attempted to bring order out of the
confused currencies by enacting that silver and gold should
be the legal tender, unless contracts should otherwise
specify. A scale of depreciation to guide the courts was
applied to transactions of the previous thirteen years.
This placed the Spanish dollar at £5.7. in 1751, and at
£7., Old Tenor, in 1763.

We have given this sketch of fluctuating values to ex-
plain as far as possible the social relations of expenditure
and of prices.

If we look closely into the inventories we shall perceive
the effect of such fluctuating currencies, in the prices
caused by better ways of living required in the growing
commercial community.

Hon. Joseph Jen ekes, Esq. {sic), had wearing apparel
worth £84.13. and books to the value of £15. The worthy
gentleman made up in redundancy of titles what he lacked
in substance, for his personal estate was only £121.1.
Captain Abraham Angell had £108.10. in wearing ap-
parel; and £12. in books and mathematical instruments.
He must have been frequently thirsty, for there were 8
China punch bowls at £9. The domestic outfit included
one dozen China plates at £6., earthen ware at £1.10.6.,
silver spoons at £12.5. There was a horse, saddle and
bridle at £50., with % parts and ^ part of a two-mast
boat at £20. His total personal estate was £851.10.4.
Some occasional prices interest us. A punch bowl and
cover — probably of pewter — was appraised at 8s., a pair
of leather breeches at £1.8., a pair of boots and an old

77 Arnold, Vol. II., p. 244.



1751] Dress of the Mid-Century 239

wig at £2.10. Knives, forks and razors were common,
and the inevitable joynt-stool stood at 20s.

January 12, 1741-2, 78 Thomas Harris's inventory shows
wearing apparel at £50. Coke upon Littleton, a great
Bible and several books at £25. He walked out in a large
pair of silver shoe buckles worth £4.15., and carrying
either a cane or a walking staff with silver ferrule and
ivory head — the two valued at £1.16. His four swords
stood at £4. Seven and one-half yards " bought " broad
cloth was appraised at £32.5., and thirteen and one-
quarter yards of " Home Made " at £13.5. Four feather
beds at £110., with the furnishings, 1 warming pan £4.
Case of Drawers £7. Large round table £3.10. Great
table £7. He had a moderate farming outfit in a per-
sonal estate of £839.4.6.

October 23, 1742, 79 Captain William Walker died in
Narragansett intestate; Mrs. Hope Browne being " Big-
est Creditor " to his considerable movable estate, was
appointed administratrix. He owned but one feather
bed, and for a sober married citizen was a very extravagant
fop. In wearing apparel he left £166.13.16., and in
" Plate" £43.18. On his finger he flourished a gold ring
with " five sparks supposed to be dimonds," valued at
£20. His " camelian seal " was in gold at £2.10. ; his
highly decorated person was supported by a " gold cane "
worth £15. His house was amply furnished and con-
tained 21 pictures in frames at £5.5. A small time piece
was appraised at £10. ; a China punch bowl £2.5. ; sundry
glasses £2.8. ; 16 spoons, tongs, strainer — probably of
pewter, with case at £1.; earthen ware 5s. Snuff-boxes
were rarely mentioned and Captain Walker's toilet in-
cluded one at £1.5. He had one burning and one spy
glass at £2.2. ; a hunting horn at £2. ; one pair polished
78 MSS. Probate Rec, Wills, Vol. IV., p. 25. 79 ibid., p. 52.



240 The Commercial Growth of Providence

nut crackers £3. ; one coffee-mill £1.4. We may note a
knife and fork, the first described with a carved handle at
£1.10. And a knife with one " totam " to pour rum was
valued at £2. A doctor's saw and " Checkard Bord "
stood at £1. He was a trader, dealing in drugs and
carrying a small stock of dry goods. The negro's bed
and bedstead were appraised at £3.5. ; one wine press £1.
and two negro men £300. In books he had £46.14.1., but
very likely they were for sale. The whole personal estate
was £2498.18.

In contrast we may take account of the way of living
of a farmer, Pardon Sheldon, whose personal estate was
£1063.7.3. His wearing apparel was £61.10. Books
£1. and table linen £3.10. His kitchen furniture included
iron ware at £10.15., brass at £13.10., and wooden ware
at £5.5. There was earthen ware and glass at £3.10.
The hetchel, the useful wool-cards, with wheels for spin-
ning wool and cotton, all appeared. Ten loads of good
hay with some " ruff " were appraised at £45.10., and 700
lbs. of tobacco at £23.

Thomas Taylor, 80 a " gooldsmith," had in wearing ap-



Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 18 of 29)