William Babcock Weeden.

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Irritant and counter-irritant Samuel Gorton appeared
in Providence, probably in the winter of 1640-41. We
shall treat him in connection with Portsmouth and the
Island. We must consider him now in the early troubles
of the Plantation. Poor Williams wrote Winthrop, " Mr.
Gorton, having foully abused high and low at Aquidneok,
is now bewitching and madding poor Providence
some few and myself do withstand his inhabitation and
town privileges." Wm. Arnold was also opposed to ad-
mitting Gorton. With his followers Gorton removed to
Pawtuxet, where they built houses and cultivated the land.
Massachusetts, availing of every pretext to obtain a foot-
hold in Narragansett Bay, now accepted the submission
of the Pawtuxet men. Gorton made a vigorous protest,
and would acknowledge only " the government of Old
England." In their favorite scriptural invective, he fully
equalled the Bay parsons, but they could rejoin by calling
his arguments " blasphemies." A more effective argu-
ment was put forth through the sword of the state. Mas-
sachusetts sent an armed force and there was bloodshed.
Gorton and his companions were taken to Boston and to
the common jail. Carried to meeting on the Sabbath, he
was indulged after service in a theological discussion with
Cotton. They chopped metaphysics to their mutual de-
light. The tyrannical court had caught a Tartar. They
thought Gorton ought to die, but did not dare to kill
him. They made a curious sentence for dispersion of
the culprits " into several towns " with " irons upon one
leg," etc. This wonderful product of the Bay civilization
may be best comprehended in the terms of the candid
Savage, a descendant of these same Puritans. " Silence
might perhaps become the commentator on this lamentable
delusion ; for this narrative almost defies the power of

1643] Samuel Gorton's Exploits 39

comment to enhance or mitigate the injustice of our gov-
ernment." 13 The prisoners were actually sent around
into different towns, but the ingenious magistrates at last
discovered that they had sapiently arranged for the pris-
oners to " corrupt some of our people by their heresies."
The bolts were filed off, and the authorities got rid of
the offenders against the inspired government of the Bay,
as they might.

The Gortonists went to Aquidneck again, and the leader
went to England, where he found much favor with the
powerful Earl of Warwick and his Parliamentary Com-
mission. In 164-3, as above stated, they named their
settlement for their English benefactor, and in their lead-
er's words, lived peaceably together, " ending all our
differences in a neighborly and loving way of arbitra-

A most romantic incident in the growth of our Planta-
tions grew out of Gorton's trial in Boston and his visit
to England. The Narragansetts conceived in some way
that a man or company who could overcome the English
in Boston and gain direct authority from the British
Government — source of all power — must possess a great
" medicine." Accordingly, Gorton, with a half-dozen
companions, visited Canonicus. 14 April 19, 1644, they
obtained from all the chief sachems a formal cession of
the Narragansett lands and people to England. The
instrument says directly they have " just cause and suspi-
cion of some of his Majesty's pretended subjects. . . .
Nor can we yield ourselves unto any, that are subjects
themselves." Perhaps Gorton built better than he knew,
but this movement with the Indians was an element in
excluding Massachusetts and confirming the territory of

is " Winthrop," Vol. II., 177.

i* Brigham, " Rhode Island," p. 70.

40 Planting in Providence

Rhode Island; as it was consolidated in the Patent of
1644 and the Charter of 1663.

We must glance at " Simplicities Defence against a
Seven Headed Policy," 15 published in London, 1646;
wherein Gorton gives the full history of these painful
proceedings, assuming the offensive-defensive in a most
vigorous fashion. The title-page is an essay, and we
extract briefly. " A true complaint of a peaceable peo-
ple, being part of the English in New England, made
unto the State of Old England, against cruel persecutors
United in Church Government. Wherein is made mani-
fest the manifold out-rages, cruelties, oppressions, and
taxations, by cruell and close imprisonments, fire and
sword, deprivation of goods, Lands, and livelyhood, and
such like barbarous inhumanities, exercised upon the peo-
ple of Providence plantations in the Nanhygansett Bay
by those of the Massachusetts, with the rest of the United

Massachusetts never caught a worse tiger in the field
than this fierce contestant. In logic and metaphysical
acumen, he was the equal of the Boston theologians ; in
matters spiritual, the illumined mystic could reach far
beyond their ken. In the forum of England he appealed
against them to the best men and won. Sufficient evi-
dence that he was not the mere railing " blasphemer "
described by the magistrates of the Bay.

Mr. Dorr thinks the main highways laid out at first
show that the early planters conceived their work to be
a new creation and must partake of " the flavour of its
own soil." English as they were, they knew that the
social and political institutions inherited and transported,
must be adapted to a new life, enforced by new conditions.
Nowhere was this inevitable tendency more manifest than

is Original in R. I. H. S.

1643] Turbulent New People 41

in Rhode Island. We have seen the Towne Streete and
the home-lot worked out together. Dexter Lane went
over to the Ferry across the Seekonk, for communication
with Plymouth and Boston was by that route. Above
Dexter's corner a way ran from the main thoroughfare
down to the Moshassuck, where a bridge was thrown
across. Gaol Lane (now Meeting Street) had not devel-
oped, but Chad Brown lived at the corner of the present
College Street and Market Square. A bridge was ulti-
mately thrown over at ancient " Weybosset," which means
stepping stones. Here the " great salt river " disputed
with the waters of the Moshassuck and Woonasque-
tucket, as the tides flowed in from the lower bay. Below,
Wickenden and Nicholas Power lived on the main high-
way ; between them Power Lane stretched over for another
connection with Ferry Lane. Yet lower, lived Pardon
Tillinghast and Christopher Unthank. Across from the
latter's homestead was a landmark which has totally dis-
appeared. The " Streete " wound round " Mile End
Cove " to reach the point below Foxes Hill. This cove
was filled in long ago.

The broad religious liberty of the Plantation brought a
good increase of population. Turbulent and difficult
neighbors, who agreed easily with Williams in " not doing
things," but were always ready to disagree and strive
against positive action. But they were generally of
strong character ; stiff timber for the framework of a state.
In 1646 there were in Providence and its vicinity — includ-
ing Warwick probably — one hundred and one men capable
of bearing arms, according to the diary of President Stiles.
John Smith, one of the original six, was granted land at
this time for a town mill. An obsolete, upright, plunging
mill, that broke the grain as rice is treated, gave the name
of Stampers Street to the locality. At a small fall on

42 Planting in Providence

the Moshassuck, Smith set up his useful occupation. A
volume might be written on the natural affinities of social
and political influence. A miller, tavern-keeper, or
socially inclined storekeeper in these primitive creative
days immediately radiated influence and power. The
" Town-mill " was an instituted force long before the jail
or meeting-house gave opportunity for a regular town-
meeting. It was like a club-center or exchange. Here
was a parliament " in perpetual session," and minute regu-
lation of town affairs was conceived and worked up in these
friendly debates.

Living was hard at first, in the homes along the Mos-
hassuck and Great Salt River. Fish and game were
plenty, but provisions for ordinary fare were scarce.
Williams' friendly connections with the Indians helped in
obtaining meat and corn from them. Labor being scarce
and vitally necessary in every new settlement, the produc-
ing power of the natives — brought in by exchange of
wampum — was a strong economic element in starting the
new life.

Moses Brown cites a sheet 16 written by his grandfather
James, which records traditions received from James'
grandfather Chad. This is fairly direct testimony. A
cow sold at £22 in silver and gold, which corresponds with
prices prevailing in Massachusetts in 1636 — a little earlier
— a pair of oxen at £40, and com at 5s per bushel. At a
feast in the early days the chief luxury was a boiled bass
without butter. There were numerous swine and goats
running on the commons, with few cattle. About 1640
there was a great decline in cattle throughout New Eng-
land. In 1641-42 cattle became plenteous in Providence,
Warwick, and especially in Aquidneck. 17 Even then farm-

16 MSS. materials for " History of Prov., P. R. I. H. S.
it Dorr, " Planting and Growth of Prov.," pp. 58, 59.

1643] Williams Gets the Charter 48

ing proper was in a crude state, for they worked with
" howes " instead of plows.

The three independent colonies of Rhode Island, feeling
their lack of sovereign power and in their detached weak-
ness, had sent Williams to obtain recognition from Old
England. He found favor, and through his powerful
friends secured from the Parliamentary Commission a
" Free Charter of Civil Incorporation and Government for
the Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay in
New England." This was not a " mere land patent," nor
a trading charter like that of Massachusetts. It was a
real, effective government charter, bestowing upon the
grantees the power " to rule ... by whatever laws
they desired." 18 Vane's name appears among eleven
signers. The exiled Williams returned through Massa-
chusetts — his passage being exacted by the authorities
of England — and bearing this precious document — a tri-
umph for civilization. At home his arrival was occasion
for the greatest communal expression the little common-
wealth had put forth. Fourteen canoes met him at Seek-
onk and the voyagers filled the air with shouts of welcome.

The enthusiasm did not crystallize immediately and
form a government. No organization was provided in
the instrument and one must be made. Independent com-
munities acting or disputing through town-meetings with
jealous neighbors and some doubt as to the stability of
the home government — all combined to delay union under
the charter. Finally Providence, Portsmouth, Newport,
and Warwick sent committees to Portsmouth, May 18,
1647, to arrange for a General Assembly and to accept
the charter. Some facts should be noted, which indicate
deep principles underlying the formal proceedings of the
time. The Assembly finally acted on a Code of Laws,

is Brigham, " Rhode Island," p. 75,

44 Planting in Providence

which had been formed and submitted to the towns. In
adopting it, Providence happily called it the " model that
hath been lately shown unto us by our worthy friends of
the Island." The code as relating to offenses ends with
the following expression, which Judge Staples well calls
" significant " : " These are the laws that concern all men,
and these are the penalties for the transgression thereof,
which, by common consent are ratified and established
throughout the whole colony and otherwise than thus what
is herein forbidden, all men may walk as their consciences
persuade them, everyone in the fear of his God. And let
the Saints of the Most High, walk in this colony, without
molestation, in the name of Jehovah, their God, forever
and ever."

The Puritan walked with God literally, and his conduct
purified human history. But the process, as rendered
into common living, bred a more than doubtful civic effi-
cacy. A class of worthy men like Endicott, Welde, Dud-
ley, in a degree Winthrop — while they walked, were much
more seriously concerned for ; the walk of other men.
Each troubled his conscience for the acts of another fel-
low. This was not a merely personal exertion, for it
was a natural result of theocratic, irresponsible power
diffused among common men. 19 Hooker getting partially
out of this thraldom, founded a stable government in
Connecticut — theocratic in origin, but democratic in prac-
tice. Massachusetts labored for a century and a half
in throwing off theocratic limitations that Hooker avoided
practically in his Church Discipline. He did not, like
Roger Williams, free the soul absolutely, but he forged
out a working form of democracy from its theocratic

i» " The New England Puritan desired to force his own profession
of faith on his fellowman, till it had become a morbid and OTer-
whelming passion." — Doyle, " Eng. Col. in Amer.," Vol. II., 245.


THE ISLAND. 1638-1663

BEFORE treating the settlements of Portsmouth and
Newport, we should consider the general significance
of the various proceedings in the colony of the Bay, which
compelled the migrations to these places. There was a cer-
tain compulsive unity and largeness of principle involved
in or evolved from all the jarring discords, proceeding
from vagaries of theocratic government and the resultant
consequences. Some two and one-half centuries have been
required to grasp these occurrences, and to interpret them
according to the accepted principles of enlightened his-

The banishment of Williams, the condemnation of Anne
Hutchinson, the expulsion of Coddington — fellow of
Vane — with a large company drawn from the better citi-
zens of Boston, all these movements tended in one direc-
tion. On the other hand, the reversion of Coddington
and the islanders toward conservative government evinced
the constructive sagacity of English commons, the heredi-
tary reverence for English law. Mrs. Hutchinson could
not align herself with any established government, and
soon migrated again to the Dutch settlements. Samuel
Gorton's career and his whole political action embraced
both characteristics of this developing polity. Again,
when Coddington's judicial prejudices would have ended
in actual " usurpation," the sturdy, practical sense of
these come-outers — whether from Massachusetts or Eu-
rope — repudiated him and reset the government on the
concurrent action of the citizens.


46 The Island

Here was an idea, tending outward until held in and
controlled by traditional law and its attendant institu-
tions. It fermented again and again, leavening what it
touched, until Roger Williams' soul-liberty at last estab-
lished itself under an orderly government, which was
based on representation of the people.

Anne Marbury, of Lincolnshire, a parishioner and be-
loved disciple of Rev. John Cotton, in Boston, England,
soon outgrew the parson's teaching, for she assimilated
theology and philosophy as readily as she took her moth-
er's milk. Moreover, according to Winthrop, she was a
" woman of ready wit and bold spirit." In intellect and
vigor of temperament she would have been remarkable in
any time or place ; she was extraordinary when women were
expected to listen humbly, and in no wise to create any
function of their own. Nothing astonished her prosecu-
tors and judges in Massachusetts more than her mastery
of a situation, her speaking at will or holding her tongue
under provocation.

She married William Hutchinson and migrated to the
Bay in 1634. They occupied a house where the Old
Corner Book Store now stands, and the dame's parlor was
soon a literal center of light and leading. Meetings and
talks were held sometimes for women and sometimes for
both sexes ; illuminated gatherings, such as the Puritan
world had never known. The Hutchinsons were " members
in good standing " of the Boston Church, and the whole
community were much exercised in controversy about
" faith " and " works." Governor Vane, John Cotton,
with a majorit}' of the Boston Church, Mrs. Hutchinson
and her brother-in-law, Rev. John Wheelwright, upheld
the former doctrine. Against them, there stood for
" works," Winthrop, Wilson the pastor (Cotton being
preacher or teacher), and virtually all the clergy of the

1637] Antinomians and Heretics 47

colony, outside of Boston. Frequent disputes, intense
excitement prevailed, yet the sensible Winthrop could say
of the doctrines, " no man could tell, except some few, who
knew the bottom of the matter, where any difference was."

Any powerful current opinion tends to differentiate
metropolitan and country politics. In December, 1636,
Vane, claiming that the religious dissensions had been
charged falsely to him, announced that he must return
to England. The court arranged for a new election,
when he changed his mind. In May following Winthrop
and the " implacable " Dudley x wore elected Governor
and Deputy. Boston could only return Vane and Cod-
dington as Deputies. Vane could not withstand the strong
and sagacious Winthrop, and sailed away for England.

The partisans of " faith " were now classed as Antino-
mians, and those of " works " as " legalists." Agitation
was developing new lines of division. Mr. Richman 2
considers the crisis most interesting. " Was not the
covenant of Works — i. e., Puritanism challenged to the
death by the covenant of grace — i. e., by Antinomianism
and Anabaptism ; by the doctrines of the inward light,
by the very spirit of Roger Williams, now in exile? "

The legalists determined to crush their opponents. In
August, 1637, a synod at Cambridge condemned eighty-
two " erroneous opinions " and nine " unwholesome expres-
sions " ; nice discriminations in heresy. The agitators
conformed to the new phases of affairs, or were reformed

i Dudley was technical Puritanism incarnate. In the " Magnalia "
Cotton Mather says he had in his pocket these delightful verses:
" Let men of God, in courts and churches, watch
O'er such as do a toleration hatch."
The rhyme halts, but mark the exquisite harmony of church and
state; and consider whether Roger Williams and a new state were
not needed,
a " Rhode Island— Its Making," p. 46.

48 The Island

altogether. Vane, as we have noted, wobbled and quit.
Cotton, anxious for " his former splendour throughout
New England," ranged himself with the strong party in
the state. Winthrop, too large a man not to love Roger
Williams, was too fond of statecraft to be left outside the
ruling element.

In the spirit of Dudley's blessed harmony, the Court
followed the action of the Synod. Wheelwright was ban-
ished. Then petitioners, who had dared to approach the
authorities in his favor, were duly punished. Aspinwall
was banished; Coggeshall having merely approved the
petition, was disfranchised ; Coddington, with nine others,
was given three months in which to depart ; others were
disfranchised and fined ; later, seventy-one more persons
were disarmed. Note the bigness and the degree of the
differing vials of wrath. Was the majesty of the great
Jehovah ever more minutely parceled out, against his
loving, if erring, children?

The trial of Anne Hutchinson in November, 1637, in-
cluded all of this and more; as Mr. Brigham 3 shows, the
proceedings accorded better with " a Spanish inquisitorial
Court " than with the ways of English law, for common
forms were disregarded. Judge, prosecutor, and jury, if
not always one, moved invariably as one against the unfor-
tunate culprit, ordained and doomed to be a criminal. If
a witness dared to speak for the defendant he was speedily
intimidated. The moral atmosphere was fetid with des-
potic oppression. But Anne triumphed over all in the
visible world. So long as she trod the firm earth she
dominated Puritan parsons and ecclesiastical lawyers.
She was passing through the ordeal — unscathed — when
on the second day, unfortunately, she ventured into the
unseen world of inward revelation and claimed to be
3 " Rhode Island," p. 44.

1637] Anne Hutchinson 49

directly inspired. This boundless, infinite realm belonged
to Puritan orthodoxy. Neither Anne Hutchinson, Roger
Williams, the Pope, Mahomet, nor Buddha had any busi-
ness in this exclusive precinct. Welde and his fellows of the
prosecution seized this new and welcome opportunity.
Then Coddington protested in a largely human way.
" Here is no law of God that she hath broke, nor any
law of the Country that she hath broke, and therefore
deserves no censure." 4 All opposition was useless, and
the sentence was banishment, to be deferred until May,
1638, when it was executed. Meanwhile the criminal was
confined under the care of Joseph Welde.

The thorough and absolute working of the methods of
the Bay is indicated in Cotton's discussions with Anne's
son. He had protested that his mother was accused
" only for opinion " ; hence he was included with his
brother in her sentence. Cotton amplified the judgment
in this conciliatory preachment : " You have proved
Vipers to eate through the very Bowells of your Mother
to her Ruine." 5

The capable, illumined and virtuous woman was " ex-
communicate and delivered over to Satan." We are not
concerned with the success or failure of Antinomianism
in Massachusetts. The matter is amply discussed by
Charles Francis Adams. 6 For the relation of such agi-
tation to the history of the world we may cite Mr. Doyle,
a competent observer: "The spiritual growth of Massa-
chusetts withered under the shadow of dominant ortho-
doxy ; the colony was only saved from mental atrophy
by its vigorous political life." 7

* " Prince Soc. Pub.," Vol. XXII., 280.
s Richman, " Making of R. I.," p. 123.
s " Three Episodes," p. 574.
7 " Puritan Col.," Vol. I., p. 140.

50 The Island

The story of Anne may be completed here, for it has
little further bearing on our theme. Exiled from the
Bay, she went through Providence, with her family, and
•settled at Aquidneck. Her husband died in 1642. She
soon removed to a spot near Hell Gate, controlled by
the Dutch. With her household to the number of sixteen,
she was murdered by the Indians in 1643 ; only one
daughter survived.

We do not part so easily with our good friend Welde.
He did not cease ministration with Anne's life, and we
must study his enlightened narrative of God's land in
this " heavie example." I said these ministers possessed
the infinite ; witness how they entered into the inmost
purposes of the Almighty. " I never heard that the In-
dians in those parts did ever before commit the like out-
rage upon any one family or families, and therefore God's
hand is the more apparently seene herein, to pick out this
woful woman to make her, and those belonging to her,
an unhearde of heavie example of their cruelty above all
others." 8 This is not reporters' talk; Welde and those
like him were the interpreters of the religion of the time.
There is in this epic, a bitterness of bite, a certain vitri-
olic essence of conviction that bigotry might admire in
any age. We are forced to dwell on it, for some vagaries
of the citizens of Rhode Island can only be imagined and
apprehended when light is thrown on the shadow's of
their persecutors.

Some 200 persons were either exiled or laid under ban
by the prosecutions against Antinomianism at the Bay,
and they must seek a new home. Winthrop speaks of
those " of the rigid separation and savoring of anabap-
tism, who removed to Providence." Some were more con-
servative. John Clarke, an educated physician and very
* Cited " R. I.— Its Making," p. 151.

1637] Purchase of Aquidneck 51

able man, with others, was deputed to explore. They
contemplated Long Island or Delaware Bay, but halted
at Providence, where Roger Williams received them
" courteously and lovingly." Under his advice, they chose
Aquidneck, after ascertaining it was not claimed by Ply-
mouth. The Island was purchased March 27, 1637, by
William Coddington and his friends from Canonicus and
Miantinomi for forty fathoms of white peage, with five
fathoms paid to a local sachem, together with ten coats
and twenty hoes distributed to make diplomacy easy.
The exodus stopped at Providence to make this civil com-
pact: " The 7th day of the first month, 1638. We whose
names are underwritten do here solemnly in the presence
of Jehovah, incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick,
and as he shall help, will submit our persons, lives and
estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings
and Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and most ab-
solute laws of his given us in his holy word of truth, to

Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 4 of 29)