William Babcock Weeden.

Early Rhode Island; online

. (page 5 of 29)
Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 5 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


be guided and judged thereby. — Exod. xxiv., 3, 4; 2
Chron. xi., 3; 2 Kings xi., 17." 9 It was signed by nine-
teen persons, including Coddington, Clarke, William
Hutchinson, William Dyre, Henry Bull and Randall
Holden.

In the eighteenth century Callender, in the nineteenth
Arnold, agree that this body at that time were " Puri-
tans of the highest form." It is interesting to trace this
migrating development. For if a state poised half way
between the orthodox Bay and heterodox Roger Williams
had been possible, it would have reared itself on the
island of Aquidneck. This community had much that
was lacking in Providence, as we shall perceive. The solid
Judaic principles, affiliated by the Puritans and so im-
portant historically, are plainly visible. The King of
s " Arnold," Vol. I., p. 124.



52 The Island

Kings was to govern by absolute laws in his holy word
of truth. Evidently, a purified and sublimated theocracy
was contemplated. There is nothing to show whether the
compact at Providence based on " civil things " was con-
sidered — probably it was not. It had existed only about
six months — moreover, it was not germain to the dearest
convictions of the Aquidneck settlers. Clarke and Cod-
dington — large men for their time — would " tolerate "
Christians. Roger Williams — large for all time — had
beaten through the jungle and undergrowth of sects, out
into God's open — where Jew or Gentile, Christian or
Pagan could breathe freely. LikeAvise, all societies have
based their institutions on property as well as on the ac-
tivities of persons. Roger Williams in the turbulent com-
munity of Providence, had avoided as far as possible the
limitations of property ; in consequence much trouble re-
sulted from neglect of some simple obligations of posses-
sion. Liberty — suddenly emancipated — had not learned
that its best exercise was to be in and through the out-
come of highly civilized social institutions. At Pocasset
on the island, the settlers, especially those most influential
and represented by Coddrngton, established necessary
laws for maintaining the solid order of society.

We repeat that, if any half-way house in reaching a
body politic had been possible, the Pocasset or Ports-
mouth settlement would have afforded proper oppor-
tunity. These men, bred as Hebraists and Puritans,
driven out from strict Puritan lines, halted in their jour-
ney toward soul-liberty. In some respects their practical
abilities surpassed Roger Williams ; for their old and estab-
lished principles of law, he was obliged finally to adopt
into his colonial government. Rut the problem of a democ-
racy administered according to liberty of conscience was
not solved; it was only scotched at Portsmouth. It was



1638] Puritan Attempt at Portsmouth 53

necessary to descend to the depths of no government with
Roger Williams ; and thence build solidly on the founda-
tion of " only in civil things."

The first settlement was at Pocasset, now Portsmouth,
in 1638. Under the first compact, a complete democracy
had enacted laws in the general body of freemen, the
"judge" merely presiding. As in Providence, and be-
fore a year elapsed, this cumbrous democracy creaked.
January 2, 1639, the freemen delegated power to the
judge, assisted by his three " elders," who should govern
" according to the general rule of the word of God." Re-
porting quarterly to the freemen, their administration
could be vetoed thus : " If by the Body or any of them the
Lord shall be pleased to dispense light to the contrary of
what by the Judge and Elders hath been determined
formerly, that then and there it shall be repealed as the
act of the Body." 10 This system lasted four months ; a
most curious formulation of vox populi. This modulation
of theocratic principles — whether autocratic or democratic
— is most instructive.

The ultra democratic proceedings had offended Cod-
dington and those who wanted an effective working gov-
ernment. A minority in numbers, which constituted the
major strength and substance of the community, arranged
to secede. The mother settlement at Pocasset, April 28-
30, 1639, made a new compact as the " loyal subjects of
King Charles in a Civill Body Politicke," and elected Wil-
liam Hutchinson judge, with eight assistants. A quar-
terly court and jury of twelve was provided. This was
the first government in the colony, moulded according to
English law, and subject to the King. Theocracy and
democracy were gradually being shaped to the common
law, with its inherent obligations.

io Brigham, " R. I.," p. 47.



54 The Island

Portsmouth preserved good records, and some details
of the life there are interesting. As usual, the matter is
chiefly of land conveyance, highways, administration of
rates and such municipal affairs, with an occasional record
of marriage, birth or death, but we get now and then a
glimpse of something which interests more directly. For
example: X1 May 15, 1649, Adam Mott, having offered a
cow forever and five bushels of corn by the year, " so
long as the ould man shall live," the neighbors, " every
man that was free thereto," made it up to forty bushels.
Mr. William Balston, a prominent citizen, in considera-
tion, agreed to give " onto father mott " for a year
" house rome dyate lodging and washings " — quite an
instance of social co-operation. Ear marks of cattle were
frequently recorded, especially after 1650. The first
entry is Sept. 1, 1645, of Edward Anthony — " a hind
gad on the left ear."

The immortal Pickwick was anticipated in debate July
16, 1650. In an action for slander before the town Court
brought by John Sanford against Captain Richard Moris,
the latter said " he had not nor Could not Charge the
plaintiff to bee a thief in any Pticuler, and further sayd
that if any words passed from him at Which Jeames
Badcock (sic) tooke offence the said Captaine professed
he knew not that he did speake any such words nether
would he deny that he did but said if he did speake any
such words it was in a passion and desiered m r Sanford to
pass it by." After such lucid apology everybody was
satisfied.

In 1651, the " Clarke of the measuers " was ordered to

inspect once per month that the " to peny white loafe way

16 ounces and beere bee sould for two pence a quarte."

For offense, forfeit 10s. In 1654 William Freeborn e was

ii " Records of the Town of Portsmouth," p. 40 et seq.



1640] Customs of the Time 55

allowed ten pounds " at the Rate of silver pay," besides
the cow and five bushels corn to " keepe ould mott " for
the year. This included clothing for the beneficiary.

A prison was ordered to be built near the " Stockes "
and a " doppinge stoole was to be sett at the water side
by the po[ ]de." This year was memorable in super-
vising and correcting the morals of this simple commun-
ity. " In respect of several inconveniences that have
' hapined,' " it was ordered that no man sign a bill of
divorce, unless the separation be allowed by the Colony ; if
offending, he should be fined £10. sterling. More signifi-
cant was the ordinance that no man should harbor an-
other man's wife " after waringe," and in case of offense,
he should forfeit £5. sterling for every night.

Manners as well as morals were overlooked by these
worthy burghers. In 1656 a committee, Mr. William
Balston, chairman, was appointed " to speake with shreifs
wife and William Charles and George Lawtons Wife and
to give them the best advise and Warning for ther own
peace and the peace of the place." We do not envy the
selectmen for their responsibility in adjusting the dis-
putes of these jangling females. Of larger public con-
cern was a committee to procure the powder and shot
ordered by the " generall Court " for Portsmouth. Roger
Williams' constant service in Colonial affairs appears ; for
the committee were to pay him for getting the ammuni-
tion. There are frequent admissions of persons as " free-
men " or as "inhabitants." There was also much detail
in the management of the common lands ; provisions
against cutting timber, handling of cattle, etc. In 1660
William Baker petitioned the town to take his sheep and
" Contrebute to his Nesesaty " ; for which there was ap-
propriated £8, " after the Rats of wompom 8 per peny,"
for one year.



56 The Island

In 1662 at a meeting of " the free inhabitants of the
Towne" a curious form of citizenship was made mani-
fest. Peter Folger, late of " martin's Vinyard, presented
to the free inhabitants of this towne " a lease of house
and land from William Cory, the said Folger shall have
" a beinge amongst vs during the terme of the said lease."

Adam Mott, who so thriftily arranged in 164*9 for
" ole father Mott " by giving a cow and five bushels corn
per year toward his support by the town, died in 1661.
His inventory showed £371.6, besides some land previously
conveyed to his sons — a good estate for that time. Care-
ful provisions were made to equalize the shares of the
sons. The executors, Edward Thurston and Richard
Few, were to receive each an ewe sheep for services. The
widow was to have the " howsage and land " for life.
The executors were to persuade her at her death " in y e
disposinge of mouables with in howse or abroad to give it
to them accordinge, to discrecion whom beest desearues it
in there Care and Respect to hir while she lives, vpon
which my desseir is you will have your Eyes as my
ffrinds, and harts Redey." He instructs further " if
my Children should be Crosse to there mother so y l it
should force hir to marey againe. I give full power to
my Executers to take good & full securitie for the makinge
good of y e Estate so longe as she lives that my will may
be performed." This provision might cut both ways.
Evidently, Mott's immortal, marital obligations were to be
as scrupulous as was his economic bargain with the town
for supporting his father in old age.

Some prices may be noted, 4 oxen, £28 ; five cows and
one bull, £30 ; one horse, one mare and colt, £36 ; 32
ewes, 2 rams, £32 ; 6 swine, £4. Wearing clothes, books,
two suits, two doublets and breeches, one gown of gray
cloth, and every day clothes, in all £11 ; 4 yards coarse



1640] Furniture and Dress 57

Kersey, £1 ; 8 pair stockings, £1.12 ; 1 feather bed and
furniture, £6; various beds not included; 1 brass kettle,
£1 ; 6 pewter dishes (14 lbs.), 1 quart, 2 pint pots, £1.6;
iron pots, pans, etc., £3.14; 7 pair sheets, 2 table cloths,
6 napkins, pillowbers, £4; 2 tables, 1 joint stool and
chair, £1.4; 1 cart and plow, 2 chains, £3.10; 1 hoe and
axe, 2 scythes, 10s. The whole inventory indicates a
comfortable household. And chairs were a luxury, as
they were in Providence at the same period, where people
were not as well off.

These proceedings are worthy of study. Doubtless,
Newport was living in similar fashion, though the records
are lost. Providence hardly .shows so close, domiciliary
superintendence ; and there was no ecclesiastical interfer-
ence whatever, such as generally influenced New England
towns. The Portsmouth dwellers were Puritan in spirit
and brought their lives to as rigid civic regulation as was
possible. The common poor were cared for as usual, but
the especial responsibility for those only half pauperized
is very interesting. The minute discussions of these free-
men and selectmen look petty now, but the whole way
of life was hard and petty.

April 30th, Nicholas Easton voyaged around to
Coaster's Harbor, now the United States Naval Station.
Following him, the seceders located southward, immedi-
ately erecting a house or houses. May 16, 1639, the first
order recorded " the Plantation now begun at this South-
west end of the Island shall be called Newport." The
body politic of the new plantation, now established at
Newport, negotiated with the more imponderable spirit
hovering at Portsmouth. November 25th, after some
communication back and forth, the Newport settlers made
an order for courts, adopting the Portsmouth principle
of allegiance to King Charles. They appointed two men



58 The Island

also to obtain " a Patent of the Island from his Majestie,"
styling themselves as " the Body Politicke in the He of
Aquethnec." March 12, 1640, union between the two
plantations was effected and the " brethren " at Ports-
mouth came in. Coddington was chosen Governor with
William Brenton as Deputy. In the union, Newport took
the initiative, and her political ascendancy prevailed in
the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
for a century and a quarter.

The tendencies of the Coddington party toward strong
government did not immediately affect the Newport plan-
tation. In March, 1641, they could enact sensibly " the
Government winch this Bodie Politick doth attend unto in
this Island, and the Jurisdiction thereof, in favor of our
Prince is a Democracie, or Popular Government." 12 This
democracy lasted until the union of the towns under the
royal charter in 1647. In 1644, they adopted the name
" Isle of Rodes, or Rhode Island." 13 The name accord-
ing to Williams, as confirmed by the best modern re-
search, is " in Greek an Isle of Roses." u

The land system of the Island was like that of Provi-
dence generally, and an important act ordained in 1640-
41 that, " none be accounted a delinquent for Doctrine :
Provided it be not " directly repugnant to the Govern-
ment or Lawes established." The settlers at Portsmouth
would have been Congregationalists had the ruling powers
at the Bay permitted. Winthrop says, in 1639, " they
gathered a church in a very disordered way ; for they
took some excommunicated persons, and others who were
members of the Church at Boston and not dismissed."
And the lawyer Lechford, more orthodox than the par-

12 " R. I. Col. Rec," Vol. 1, 112.

13 Ibid, 127.

1* Cf. Brigham, " R. I.," p. 51.




o



pq



1640] Separation of Baptists and Quakers 59

sons themselves, said, " no church, a meeting which
teaches and calls it Prophesie." 15 John Clarke preached
to the meeting. Winthrop said Anne Hutchinson broached
new heresies each year, Anne being " opposed to all
magistracy." Yet in fact her husband was a magis-
trate at Portsmouth. As noted, a court in regular form
was instituted there. Newport soon followed the exam-
ple, and stocks, whipping-post and prison — the enlightened
accessories of justice — were soon provided. The Puritans
of the Bay could not report exactly matters which they in
no wise comprehended. Richman thinks the impelling lati-
tudinarianism fast drifted the would-be Congregation-
alists toward the Baptist or at least the Anabaptist view.
Independency — little comprehended then — impelled Chris-
tians toward freedom for the believer and the separation
of church and state. Roger Williams, " the time-
spirit " 16 was helped by unwitting instruments like Anne
Hutchinson and Samuel Gorton.

Further evolution was going forward at Newport. In
1640, a " church fellowship " 17 was gathered under the
leadership of Dr. John Clarke and Robert Lenthall. This
effervescing, doctrinal fellowship disagreed, Coddington
and his friends adopting views which were to end in
Quakerism, while Clark, and his followers formed a Bap-
tist church in 1644.

In fact, the Island early developed stable institutions,
which Providence lacked from the beginning. The Provi-
dence planters sought freedom of conscience, it is true;
but historians sometimes forget that no community can
live by spirit exclusively. So the old Massachusetts fish-
erman interrupted the exhorter, claiming that the English

15 " Plain Dealing," p. 41.

is "R. I.— Its Making," p. 136.

it Keayne MSS., " Prince Soc. Pub.," Vol. XXII., p. 401.



60 The Island

emigrants crossed the seas to worship God, saying, " No,
we came to live." The land system at Providence afforded
a good opportunity for new planters to become independ-
ent. Having acquired this material security, their varying
views in theology tempted differences in social action. Some
four-fifths of the community for many years would not
directly assist the only church. 18 Dissent apparently
agreed only in further dissent. Political and social
development necessarily halted. The desiderated pure
democracy failed for lack of legislative and executive
power, — whether in initiative or in restraint. Town meet-
ings made poor substitutes for courts of law. As late
as 1654, Sir Henry Vane remonstrated to Williams,
" How is it there are such divisions amongst you?
Such headiness tumults, injustice. . . . Are there no
wise men amongst you, who can find out some way or
means of union and reconciliation for you amongst
yourselves, before you become a prey to common
enemies ? " 19

The Plantations north and south were unlike as a yeast
cake varies from a wholesome loaf of bread. Williams,
educated and lofty — but not a political and social organ-
izer — was alone in his university training; his neigh-
bors, many of them able, were not instructed men. In
Newport, Coddington, Clarke, Coggeshall, Jeffries, the
Hutchinsons, were men of wealth and culture, eminent
before they emigrated to New England. Among the very
first schools supported by taxation in America was Lent-
hall's " publick school " at Newport in 1640. In formal
legislation, in courts, church and school, Newport was in
advance of Providence. But let us remember, the yeast

is Brigliam, p. 55.

19 " R. I. Col. Rec," Vol. I., p. 285.



1640] Samuel Gorton Again 61

cake has potentiality far beyond that of the developed
bread.

It was in the future, in the domain unknown, that
Providence was to excel.

None of the founders had more yeast in his make-up
than Samuel Gorton, who was introduced in the Paw-
tuxet controversy and the interference of Massachu-
setts. 20 In nature he was modern- — if not the most
modern of all the Puritan counter-irritants. We must
now trace his first relations with our Plantations. Mor-
ton called him " a proud and pestilential seducer." Per-
haps it would be too much to say that condemnation by
agitators at the Bay would now be sufficient praise, but
all Morton's direct charges have been disproved. 21 The
prosecution of Antinomians at the Bay was not agree-
able to him, and he left for Plymouth. He defended a
servant girl, whom he believed to be unjustly accused, and
he was banished from Plymouth in December, 1638. The
offense was mainly technical, for beyond all theological
or legal differences, was his " exasperating spirit of in-
dependence." True to the essence of English law —
though an obstinate extremist — he protested against the
methods of the court " let them not be parties and
judges." Driven out in a heavy snow storm, with his
wife nursing an infant, he joined the exiles at Ports-
mouth. In defending a suit against another servant he
fared no better, for he insisted that this court had no
authority from the Crown. After much controversy, Gov-
ernor Coddington summed against him. When he re-
sisted, the Governor said, " All you that own the King,
take away Gorton and carry him to prison." Then Gor-
ton exclaimed, " All you that own the King, take away

20 Ante, p. 38.

2i Brigham, p. 57n.



62 The Island

Coddington and carry him to prison." This retort direct
could hardly accord with any course of law then possible
on the Island. If the transcendentalist were the one in-
dividual in the universe, he would be complete. It has
been urged reasonably 22 that Gorton would rebel against
any legal system the colonies could maintain ; but we must
consider his whole career and not any one technical point.
He was a sincere individualist before the legal and social
rights of such a creature were known — not a mere out-
law. In his letter to Morton 23 he said simply, " I would
rather suffer among some people than be a ruler together
with them, according to their principles and manner of
management of their authority." He has outdone the pa-
tience of all historians ; but let us handle him tenderly. It
was this self-centered adamantine firmness in him and those
similar — if not so able — which made of Rhode Island a
rock in a shaken world ; or a resisting government against
theocratic systems and encroaching neighbors.

Coddington, supported by institutions, was not much
intimidated by the remonstrant. Gorton influenced a few
comrades,- and they migrated together to Providence,
probably in the winter of 1640-41. He made some prose-
lytes there, but the town would not grant him the privi-
leges of a proprietor and citizen. Williams bewails the
situation to Winthrop. " Mr. Gorton having foully
abused high and low at Aquedneck, is now bewitching and
madding poor Providence 24 some few and

myself do withstand his inhabitation and town privi-
leges." 25 He finally joined the Pawtuxet settlers and
became a leading founder of Warwick, as has been noted.

22 Sheffield's " Gorton," p. 38.

23 Ibid, p. 8.

24 Cotton taunted Williams as being superseded " by a more
prodigious minter of exhorbitant novelties than himself."

25 Brigham, p. 61.



1640] A True Mystic 63

Mystics rarely found sects and Gorton could not per-
petuate himself. Yet, in himself he will always interest
all students of individual development. Dr. Ezra Stiles
heard and recorded the testimony 26 of his last disciple,
John Angell, in 1771. The actual memorials of Gorton's
life are not as important as the traces of his inevitable
influence, as it affected other lives in the generations fol-
lowing him. We cannot read the poetic utterance of
Sarah Helen Whitman, descended from Nicholas Power,
an adherent of Gorton, or the philosophic writings ot
Job Durfee, as well as others, without recognizing that
Rhode Island has drawn intimately and effectively from
the sources of eternal truth. Mr. Lewis G. Jaynes has
lately asserted 27 sensibly that Samuel Gorton was the
"premature John Baptist of New England transcen-
destalism," the spiritual father of Channing, Emerson
and Parker. When a mystic doctrine has penetrated and
impressed a people, it needs no ecclesiastical formula or
dogmatic foundation on which to rest. Active theology
is the passing record of the time-spirit.

The winter of 1639-40 was memorable for the Island

26 « The Friends had come out of the world in some ways, but
still were in darkness or twilight, but that Gorton was far beyond
them, he said, high way up to the dispensation of light. The Quakers
were in no wise to be compared with him; nor any man else can,
since the primitive times of the Church, especially since they came
out of Popish darkness. He said Gorton was a holy man; wept
day and night for the sins and blindness of the world; his eyes
were a fountain of tears, and always full of tears— a man full of
thought and study— had a long walk out through the trees or woods
by his house, where he constantly walked morning and evening, and
even in the depths of the night, alone by himself, for contemplation
and the enjoyment of the dispensation of light. He was univer-
sally beloved by all his neighbors, and the Indians, who esteemed
him, not only as a friend, but one high in communion with God in
Heaven."— Col. B. I. H. S., Vol. II., 19.

27 Richman, " Rhode Island— Its Making," Vol. I., pp. 108, 109.



64 The Island

in scarcity and privation. For 96 people there were only
108 bushels of corn to be divided. Lechford visited in
this or the following year and estimated the population
at 200 families. Mr. Richman thinks 200 persons would
be more likely and considers that Providence had about
one-half as many. 28 At this time the Bay sent three
" winning " men to negotiate with members absent from
the Boston church and sojourning on the Island. The
settlers refused to treat, as one Congregational church
had not authority over another.

Coddington tried to obtain recognition from the United
New England Colonies in 1644 for the Island govern-
ment. The United Colonies would receive the petitioners
only as a portion of Plymouth Colony. Hie failed as an
executive and direct leader of men, as we shall see in the
" Usurpation." He could not comprehend the people
as it existed in any form of popular expression. Mr.
Richman terms the government sought by Coddington an
" autocratic theocracy." Perhaps the record justifies
this discrimination, but it is hard to treat Coddington
justly from the records existing. He was a man of sub-
stance materially and mentally. He could not follow
Gorton or even Williams in their efforts for social order —
all of which were disorderly vagaries to him. Judge



Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 5 of 29)