William Babcock Weeden.

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parel £74.9., and in books £2. The tools of his trade were
worth £11.11. There was 2 oz. 8 dwt. in gold at £48.;
64 oz. 8 dwt. 9 grains in silver and " fashioning " at
£100.5. In stock were 15 pair shoe buckles at £1.5., and
" steel flucks and tounges for buckles " at £2. A parcel
of glass sleeve buttons stood at £1.5. One teapot, some
China and earthen ware were valued at £6.15. This shows
how the use of " China " or fine porcelain was creeping
in. His 6 knives and forks were valued at 15s. and his
pewter ware at £4. Table linen £2., one feather bed and
furniture at £3.5. and £11.16. in bed linen.

Amos King represented the artificer and man of all
so MSS. Probate Rec, Wills, Vol. IV., p. 73.

1751] Wm. Turpin, "Yeoman" 241

work, with wearing apparel at £17.5., books at £1. and
one bed. His carpenter's tools stood at £8.15. and a
shoemaking outfit at £1.10. He had 1 pair of " woosted "
combs at £3., with 2 spinning wheels, worsted and woollen
yarn. One loom and gears were valued at £6.10. In live
stock he had 3 cows, 13 sheep, 1 mare and 2 shoats. His
total personal estate was £244.13.8.

In another instance, a cooper, had £43.10. in wearing
apparel, £2.10. in books and £14. in 7 silver spoons about
11 oz. The owner had a few shoemaking tools and a
small farming outfit.

Stephen Arnold, 81 of a well-known family, indulged in
wearing apparel at £121.9., with sword and cane at £16.
His " plate " weighed 54f oz. at £82., and there is the
first mention of a " cradle " and furniture at £2.5. His
books were £2.10., and pewter ware £13.4. Glass, China,
earthen ware and one teapot stood at £9.7. Additional
earthen ware £1.3. Carpenter's and other tools, one
canoe, sail and oars £23., four pair oyster tongs £4., in
3700 shingles £9.5. and a negro boy stood at £140.
Evidently he did not improve much land, for his animals
were one cow at £14. and two swine at £10. The total
personal estate was £2251.4.6.

William Turpin — whom we may presume to be de-
scended from the school and innkeepers — was entitled
" yeoman," though he kept a shop. His wearing apparel
was £62.3. and in silver spoons and " other plate " he had
£30.2. His books were valued at £3.5., with one bible
additional. He had a stock of hardware, with an assort-
ment of dry goods. The usual housekeeping outfit was

The old custom was continued which circumscribed the
widow's property in case of future marriage.

si MSS. Probate Rec, Wills, Vol. IV., p. 101.

242 The Commercial Growth of Providence

Epenetus Olney bequeathed to his loving wife Mary,
his house with the adjoining meadows, orchards and fenc-
ing. She was to have the " whole command, management
and improvement for support of family, and bringing up
of small children, until Charles, the youngest, should be
twenty one." If she remained unmarried she was to in-
herit one-half of the above property for life; and Charles
was to inherit one-half. Should she marry again, Charles
was to inherit her one-half. Olney was a farmer and his
personal estate was £1010.19.3.

Men rarely signed now with a mark ; this manual ap-
peared more often in documents executed by women.
Sarah Carpenter used the -f- and had no books. Her
modest apparel, valued at £20., was equaled in a gift of
the same amount toward a " Friends' Meeting house being
built in Pautuxet." Her silver plate was £54., and her
pewter £16. In tin ware she had £1.15., in earthen £1.17.,
in wooden £1.10., in " tea ware " £10.5. Her table linen
was £6.15., and a loom with gears was appraised at £9.
There was a considerable amount in notes and bonds in the
personal estate of £1245.0.8.

Mary Rhoades, widow, was rich, with a personal estate
of £3636.9.11. Her wearing apparel was £77.15. and
her books £7. She possessed the largest amount, £90., in
" plate," noted so far and it was set forth on table linen
worth £27.4. There were four looking glasses at £30.,
£6., £2.10. and 5s., respectively. In pewter and tin
£23.15., in earthen ware £3.2.6., with a warming pan at
30s. Two linen and woollen wheels. One apple mill
£2.10., with cider. She had no farming outfit, but there
was 2800 lbs. tobacco valued at £93.6.8. A negro and
his bed stood at £160.

Experience Salisbury, a single woman, did not possess
a large estate; but out of the £103.5.7., she expended

1751] An Insolvent Record 243

£50.7.2. in ordinary wearing apparel, and £12. in a gold
necklace. 82

There is recorded among prices, ^ part of the brig
Providence at £412.10. ; a boat and appurtenances at
£325., a canoe at £4. A set of saddlers' tools was ap-
praised at £12. The wearing apparel of a poor man, in
one instance, was £3.

General prosperity in the community did not exempt
those catering to its wants from occasional failure. Octo-
ber 12, 1742, 83 Arnold Coddington, a descendant of Gov-
ernor William, died insolvent. His inventory, £3640.0.3.,
was the longest recorded so far. He dealt freely in
luxuries, including colored broadcloths, callimancos, shal-
loons, camlet, crape and buckram, and stockings with
clocks. Silk gloves, linen and silk damask and " gor-
geous " ribands appear. For the maidens, there were
" Girls' fans " of black gauze. For males Mr. Codding-
ton provided buckles — gold and silver for shoes — and
" for all the other emergencies of human life." This
latter omnibus clause doubtless contemplated something
beyond buckles. Miscellaneous wants were not forgotten,
for the stock included not only hardware, but razors,
tooth-brushes, mouse traps and " sliding perspective
glasses." A little creative fancy may scatter these luxu-
ries among the various accounts of wearing apparel, shown
in our inventories. The eighteenth century reflected it-
self outwardly in the dress of the colonies, as well as in
the capitals of Europe.

Although Gabriel Bernon about 1721 could call the lead-
ing citizens of Providence " learned men," their peculiar

82 These ornaments became almost universal. A century ago in
the South County, a woman bewailed, " I am so poor, I have not a
bead to my neck."

83 MSS. Probate Records, Prov., Vol. IV., p. 60.

244 The Commercial Growth of Providence

learning could have been hardly obtained directly from
books. The inventories indicate that there were fewer
books owned by individuals in the early eighteenth than
there were in the latter seventeenth century. Possibly
there were small circulating libraries about, as certainly
they were used by the Hopkins family in Scituate.

About 1750 84 Chief Justice Cole, Judge Jenckes,
nephew of the Governor and afterward a bookseller, Col.
Ephraim Bowen, Nicholas Brown and others, formed the
" public subscription library " ; obtaining from the General
Assembly, the council chamber in the courthouse, for
storing the books. Boston and Newport, then, had the
only public libraries in New England. This library was
finally merged in the Providence Athenaeum. Stephen
Hopkins catalogued the first collection, which was mostly
burned. The list of 1768 shows standard classics, both
ancient — and the English, which included Milton, Hooker,
Spectator, Guardian, Bacon and Locke. There was
Prince's N. E. Chronology, and, Herrea : La Hontan stand
for American history. Political science was represented
by Coke, Vattel, Puffendorf and Grotius.

The old plantation, expanding its commerce, and
crowded against the hilly peninsula, could not be restrained
within the limits of the Great Salt River. Yet the pas-
sage and improvement beyond was very slow. The.
marshy soil and scant supply of fresh water repelled set-
tlers. A plat of 175'3 S5 shows a street from J. Whit-
man's house across Waterman's marsh to Mathewson's
land, now occupied by the street of the same name. 86
It has been stated that Beneficent Congregational Church

s* Foster Hopkins, p. 128.
85 Dorr, p. 127.

ss Mr. H. R. Chace has contributed much to the knowledge of
this district by his thorough studies.

1752] Public Schools Improved 245

dates from 1743, but the street westward was not im-
proved until a lottery for £600. started it in 1763. A
new town, Westminster, projected in honor of Charles J.
Fox, had been defeated in the General Assembly by votes
of Newport and the South County; a rare instance when
the southern hostility actually forwarded the development
of Providence. Westminster Street was named about
1769. There were only five houses on it in 1771.

Another indication of progress in the mid-century was
in the better attention given to public schools. After
an arrested movement in the latter seventeenth century,
there was a strange and dark period, when nothing is re-
corded concerning schools. In 1752, 87 a strong com-
mittee was empowered to " care for the town school house,
and to appoint a master." The house was then leased
to Stephen Jackson, schoolmaster, and it was leased again
in 1763. There had been schools meanwhile, for George
Taylor had a chamber for a school in the state house in
1735. In 1751 permission was given for a schoolhouse
on the west side. In 1767 a movement for genuine free
schools, according to Moses Brown, " was rejected by the
POORER sort of people." 8S At that time there were on
the west side 102 houses, having 911 inhabitants fit for
schooling; of whom 189 were between the ages of 5 and
14 years.

After this failure, in 1768 the town partially erected
a brick schoolhouse on the old court house lot. It was
completed by individual proprietors, who had possession
of the upper story. As was inevitable, this mixed munici-
pal and proprietary control produced unsatisfactory re-
sults, until it was changed in 1785. S9

S7 Staples, p. 495.

88 Ibid., p. 500.

89 Ibid., p. 502,

246 The Commercial Growth of Providence

Another reminiscence of Moses Brown's concerned the
matter of marine insurance, made necessary by the en-
larged commerce, and especially by direct shipments to
Europe. By 1756, 90 and probably earlier, Stephen Hop-
kins had an office of his own, for insuring risks at sea.
Others underwriting on this system were John Gerrish
and Joseph Lawrence.

In 1758 Benjamin Franklin's post-office — a harbinger
of American unity — established its station in Providence,
under the administration of Samuel Chace. The office
occupied several points — at one time opposite St. John's
Church, until in 1768 it was moved into Market Square.
At this period the water by the present Steeple Street
was deep enough to send brigs and barks to London and
Dublin. The enterprising merchants, John Innes Clark
and Nightingale, were located on the long dock there.
Joseph and William Russell were the chief importers of
English and Irish goods. This extensive trade compelled
the merchants to publish important advertisements in the
Boston newspapers. Cotton Mather's critical spirit was
laid, so far as trade and commerce were concerned. The
Providence Gazette, issued by Sarah and William God-
dard in October, 1762, afforded opportunity for publish-
ing this intelligence at home. It was issued at the Sign
of Shakespeare's Head in 1763. After November 12,
1768, it was assumed by John Carter, a pupil of Doctor
Franklin and an excellent printer. Under his manage-
ment the Gazette was equal to the best colonial news-

There were a few books sold by the general traders,

but Daniel Jenckes opened the first regular book-shop at

this time at his place of business. The larger culture of

the new and growing community involved a new use of

so Foster Hopkins, p. 117.

1768] Books and Symbolic Signs 247

books. The best current English literature was freely
imported and sold. This Sign of Shakespeare's Head was
just above the Great (Weybosset) Bridge.

These signs marked some important phases of social
history ; one of the many correspondences between mind
and matter. The sign informed not only by legend, but
by symbol and significant association. For our colon-
ists, the love of home and old English associations was
fostered by these symbols and swinging signs, which were
in full use in the eighteenth century. They were in all
the busy portions of Providence, while the Bunch of
Grapes and Turk's Head signs were famous for gener-

The new court (or state) house was built at this time
on Town Street just above Meeting or Jail Lane. Town
meetings were held in the hall or lower story. Here
exhibitions and dramatic performances found audience,
Franklin's book on electricity had been read, and one
Johnson advertised lectures on the new discoveries, March
1, 1764. 91 We may perceive that even heretical Provi-
dence must provide against the subtle ways of Satan, for
the orthodox scientist had to specify that the " guarding
against lightning is shown not to be chargeable with pre-
sumption, nor inconsistent with any of the principles of
natural or Revealed Religion."

We may now consider Stephen Hopkins, the citizen of
Providence, in his political functions. No one was so
often moderator of the town-meeting. He represented
the town almost constantly in the General Assembly, and
was its Speaker in 1744 and again in 1749. He became
Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Rhode Island in
1751. In Judge Durfee's opinion, for ordinary judicial
business at that time, " honesty, good sense, diligence and

»i Dorr, p. 157.

248 The Commercial Growth of Providence

fair-mindedness were tolerable substitutes for professional
learning." And in Ins judgment " Hopkins, though not
a lawyer, was doubtless a good judge." 92

In 1754 he was to pass upward and outward, from
town and colony toward the larger representation which
was to form the American Union. Chancellor Kent held
that the leaders of the Albany Congress prepared the
way for the future independence and expansion of the
Republic. Our subject was a delegate and no one entered
more fully into Franklin's ideas and purposes. Pro-
ceeding from opportunities and acquaintances began here,
he commenced correspondence with many men of power
throughout the country. These were the beginnings of
that wonderful system conducted by committees of corre-
spondence, which ultimately so underrun the colonies and
prepared them for the eruption of independence.

Hopkins was elected Governor in 1755. 93 The " seven
years " or " old French War " oppressed the colonies.
Little Rhode Island made tremendous exertions, issued
paper money and tried her credit to the utmost. Lord
Loudon, the English commander-in-chief, complimented
the Governor on his prompt support, and General Wins-
low, commanding for Massachusetts, said that our colony
" comes nearest up to their quota." The Governor's
opponents charged him with nepotism and special com-
mercial regulations for his private advantage during the
war. As he was re-elected in 1756, we may conclude these
were the administrative methods of the time, rather than
any personal fault of Hopkins.

In 1750 Kent County was detached from the northern
country. Bristol County included the southeastern terri-
tory which had been detached from Plymouth colony.

82 Durfee, " Judicial History," p. 93.
93 Cf. Brigham, pp. 200-203.

1768] Hopkins-Ward Controversy &

Newport was the center of business, wealth and culture
at this period. King's, our familiar " south " county,
was cognate in many characteristics, and Higginson con-
sidered that it added features of the country life of Vir-
ginia. 94 The commercial interests of the port of Bristol
allied it politically to growing Providence, but the south-
ern part of the colony opposed the north.

This sectional diversity culminated in the canvass of
1755-1767, which was the fiercest controversy known in
a controversial community. Stephen Hopkins led the
north, winning over Samuel Ward, of the south. We
must study the character and circumstances of Ward, as
this contest reflects social conditions affecting the planta-
tions then, and possibly now. Ward's grandfather had
been attached to the Commonwealth in England ; emigrat-
ing to Newport, he was much respected there. The son
Richard was a merchant and held many offices in the
colony. Samuel was born in 1725. He went to the
grammar school at Newport, then one of the best in the
country. Doubtless he was tutored by his brother, a
Harvard graduate. 95 Certainly, he grew up in Berkeley's
community, where, for the moment, light and leading was
as good as anywhere in the world. At twenty-one years
he was both merchant and farmer, for Richard's estates
westward in King's took him out and mounted him as a
country squire. Marrying Anne Ray, of Block Island,
they were dowried with a farm in the southern part of
Westerly and settled there. He kept a store in the vil-
lage and was engaged in commerce, both at Newport
and Stonington. He practiced farming — high for the
time — improved the breeds of animals, succeeding espe-
cially with Narragansett pacers for export. Consider-

9* Harper's Mag., LXVII., p. 439.
95 Gammell, " Samuel Ward," p. 237.

250 The Commercial Growth of Providence

ing the average life of New England, we may say that
he represented both patroon and patrician. Ward was
a fruit out of the world at large; Hopkins, his opponent,
was the product of Rhode Island.

Mention has been made of the four brothers Brown.
Their father, James, died in 1739. Their mother, Hope
Power, descended from Pardon Tillinghast, was left a
widow with six children under fifteen. Living to be more
than ninety, she saw her four sons accomplished in vari-
ous industries, and ranking among the foremost men of
their time. This best of mothers bred them within the
home, while without their Uncle Obadiah trained them in
severe integrity and the better mercantile methods of the
time. Schooling was limited, but these men were edu-
cated through strict conduct of affairs. The brothers
were now operating with Obadiah or as Nicholas Brown
& Co. They distilled rum and manufactured candles of
spermaceti, traded to the West Indies and turned their
merchandise at home.

John, the third brother, should be noticed especially,
for after Hopkins, he was the leading and essential Rhode
Islander of the latter eighteenth century. The present
writer was lucky enough to find 96 his first memo, or pocket
day-book, running from October 23, 1755, to November
19, 1758. He was then nineteen and traveling on his
brother's or his uncle's affairs. These shrewd entries
picture the life as well as the ways of business in the
Plantation of Providence. John could spell a piece of
crockery ware into a " point boal," but his self-taught
English was sufficient for the largest affairs and always
clear. He appreciated academic education for others,
laying the cornerstone of Brown University, and serving
as its treasurer for twenty years. His first entries show
96 In MSS., N. Brown & Co. I

1757] John Brown's Memo-Book 251

that he was keepii.g accounts, posting books for Esek
Hopkins and others, chiefly at " nite "; 10s. to 15s. being
charged for each sendee. The entertaining punch ap-
pears frequently, and occasionally " my club " costs Is. to
6s. at a tavern ; once we have " Club at 6d. a dame."
Again " Punch, playing Catt 19s." Abraham Whipple
is often loaned a few shillings. " Watermillions " down
the river ameliorated a hot day in August, when George
Hopkins " overpaid your part of Expenses at the pru-
dence frolick." Probably the clam was too common to
be noticed. A curious transaction shows that Benjamin
West paid £15. " for which I am to stand his chances of
being Drafted out of the Melishe." Doubtless, the mean-
ing was — drafted out to serve in the militia. Many sup-
plies are furnished the brig Providence, including one pair
Swivel Guns £100. by John Brown.

In May, 1757, he took the sloop Mary to Philadelphia,
being furnished forth with a most varied list of family
wants ; earthen tea pots for Aunt Brown, " Tea Board to
seet wine glasses &c " for mother, " 1 seet Chaney " for
Mrs. Angell. The sloop carried out candles, oil, whale-
bone, rum, fish and two passengers at £1.7. and £2.0.6. ;
returned with flour and other merchandise. An " Alle
blaster Babe " (again " Babey ") was ordered and he
booked for himself " Franklin on Electricity." Proceeds
of a cheese from Mrs. Angell was to be laid out in Brushes.
Geese feathers were often ordered from Philadelphia. No
narrow home-territory could furnish enough ganders and
goslings to fill the ever-increasing feather beds. Aunt
Corlies replenished her " Chaney " by this convenient op-
portunity. He bought a horse and rode home.

There was much intercourse with Nantucket where our
manufacturers obtained their oil and " head-matter." In
an interesting list of goods carried on one of Iris many

252 The Commercial Growth of Providence

trips, there are coats, jackets, " Briches," stockings,
checked and white shirts ; and for fair and feminine cus-
tomers silk and linen handkerchiefs, " 7 white Nach-
lasses, 4 White Caps, 1 Wigg, 1 Hat, 1 white Jackett."
Captain John Beard paid four pistoles for $400 insur-
ance on his sloop to Mountechrsto " Clere of all sea-
susure." There are constant entries of sugar, rum,
head-matter and goods of all sorts. Generally the prices
are in lawful money, but all sorts of currency are used as
in the above agreement for insurance. Providence and
Newport, Warren and Bristol prosecuted whaling to some
extent ; but Nantucket far surpassed them.

Joseph and Moses Brown might have been of the type
of Gabriel Bernon's " learned men " of a generation earlier.
But Nicholas and John were educated by the great cur-
rent of affairs. Born of the best stock in narrow circum-
stances, these youth were thoroughly disciplined in a
Puritan home. Without, they took in large ideas from
the mariners, who carried their small craft through the
stormy subtropical seas, going sometimes to Europe, and
traded their cargoes skillfully with Frenchmen and Span-
iards. James Brown, the father, and Obadiah, the uncle,
began as captains in this traffic and ended as merchants.
These mariners afloat or ashore were intelligent, enter-
prising men, dealing in the world's commodities, and sen-
sible of the expanding opportunities of colonial English-
men. Sufficient attention has not been given to the cir-
cumstances of our community now looking outward, and
comprehending the encircling world of commerce. A cen-
tury earlier these protesting Puritans had been shut within
themselves, indulging their freedom of conscience in petty
struggles of common life, or in speculations on a future
life and world beyond. In the atmosphere of the eight-
eenth century, the descendants of these idealists went

1757] Eighteenth Century Brings Larger Citizens 253

abroad and, expanding in a wider existence, became large
men for the time.

John Brown especially could enjoy at nineteen a
tavern-punch or a Prudence Island frolic with vikings
like the Hopkins' sailors or Abraham Whipple. But
his leisure never wasted, was at times and at evening em-
ployed in writing up accounts and regulating business for
these fellows and companions. At twenty-one he was
fitted for mercantile travel by land or sea, taking a vessel
to Philadelphia, converting her cargo, riding home on his
newly bought horse ; a merchant finished and accomplished
in the ready school of experience. Ultimately as large in
body as in mind — for he filled the wide seat of a common
chaise — he was the most sagacious and enterprising citi-
zen of the growing community of Providence.

As we turn into the middle decade of the century, we
find great increase of comfort in the households. Besides
the merchants, traders and mariners, commerce had created
artisans and workmen, who worked the still-houses, coop-
ered the casks and ministered to the personal wants of
the new population. Many of these owned houses and
eked out the living of the family on the homestead.

As an example of the man of moderate affairs, we have
the inventory of Peter Thacher, 97 owner of ^ Sloop Dol-
phin, worth £350. He had a small stock of dry goods
and a personal estate of £1121.12.4. His household goods
included 15 teacups at £5.10., a box and 2 drinking
glasses at 10s., a comb and tobacco pouch at 12s., a silver
watch at £30. We seldom get the detailed prices of a
wardrobe. Let us quote, 1 frock coat £1.10., 2 jackets,
1 coat £3., 1 great coat £2., a fustian waistcoat £2., a
black suit of clothes £11., two old " wiggs " £2.5.
Leather breeches and cape coat £8., ticket No. 2939 in

" MSS. Probate Rec, Vol. IV., p. 287.

Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 19 of 29)