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36 " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. VI., p. 75.

92 The Colony and the Town of Providence

Canonicus and MiantinomI, extending twenty miles
westward from Fox's hill. Roger Williams always
solemnly protested that possession of the land was never
intended by the great sachems in the conveyance for the
" use of cattle." This seems reasonable either in the
seventeenth or twentieth century.

In 1667, the quarrel broke out anew in the town meet-
ing, the factions being led by William Harris and Arthur
Fenner. The two parties chose contesting delegates to
the General Assembly. If our forefathers had not report-
ers and newspapers, they revelled in pamphlets, fiercely
polemical. The Fenner party issued a most bitter one,
" The Firebrand Discovered." 37 This fiery distinction
was a customary title, eminent, but not honorary conferred
on William Harris. As this contestant was strong in law
as well as in language, he induced the Governor to call

" We may cite a few sentences from this dissertation, written
by Williams doubtless, for they correspond with his statements in
" George Fox digged out of his burrowes." These phrases show
the Avay of thinking and method of expression among neighbors in
the Plantation, " ffirst his nature, he is like the salamander always
delighting to live in ye fire of contention. 2, his nature qualities and
conditions doth further appeare, he is a Quarilsome man (beat Adam
Goodwin, an officer). 3, he is like the raging sea casting forth mire
and dirt. Men of high degree or lowe degree; he casth on them
foole, knave, base fellowe, scounderill or the like. 6, you question
with ahasuerus who is he, we answer with Queen Esther, the enemie
(Esther, VII., 5-6). The firebrand is this wicked Harris, commonly
called Mr. William Harris."— R. I. H. S. Col., Vol. 10, p. 78.

In this Fawtuxet controversy involving Proprietors' interests, a
whole literature was developed. In 1669 Harris took part by pro-
testing against a paper presented by Gregory Dexter " an instru-
ment and a soveren plaister or against our Rights in lands, lawes,
ye Common law, statut law of England, and our rights in Magna
Charta soe soundly confirmed by 32 parliaments. ... I not
only take myself bound to protest against ye said poysonous plas-
ter but also to complayne of Gregory Dexter for his notoryous
crime against ye King's law and peace." — " Mr. Harris." — Ibid, pp.
93, 94.


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in His Only Service as Town Clerk.

1669] Warwick's "Impertinent File" 93

a special session of the General Assembly, which was
the court also, and lodged a suit against his opposers.
But the legislative and judicial petard gave him a sorry
" hoist " ; for the tribunal chose Fenner's delegates from
Providence, cleared the charges against him, and dis-
charged Harris from the office of assistant. In addition,
on petition of the town of Warwick, the assembly fined
Harris £50. for imposing an extra session on the colony
in the busy season of the year. Harris was chief of the
committee to collect from the colony the tax to pay John
Clarke's expenses in England, while procuring the char-
ter, and had made himself especially obnoxious to War-

The town of Warwick was particularly delinquent in
this affair; one of the most discreditable episodes in our
colonial history. 38 Doctor John Clarke's expenses in
England, while procuring the royal charter, the secured
foundation of the colony, had been slowly paid and never
were fully liquidated. Yet no one deserved more from the
planters than this esterprising, wise and forecasting
statesman. Roger Williams berated Providence that,
they " ride securely by a new Cable and Ankor of Mr.
Clarke's procuring" and refused his first just claims. He
wrote Warwick a letter, powerful and befitting in our
view, 39 but " pernitious " in the view of the town, who
protested against it unanimously. Warwick had some
reasons for objecting to its proportion of the tax. But
these reasons did not prevail with the General Assembly,
which ordered a letter " to provoke and stirr them up to
pay." This caused some noteworthy proceedings —
curious even for Rhode Island. Warwick considered a
letter from the committee on tax in 1669 " as if it had

as Durfee, " Judicial History R. I.," p. 124.
39 " R. I. H. S. Pub.," Vol. VIII., 147.

94 The Colony and the Town of Providence

been indicted in hell." Unanimously the town ordered
the " Clarke to put it on a file where impertinent papers
shall be kept for the future ; to the end that those persons
who have not learned in the school of good manners how
to speak to men in the language of sobriety (if they be
sought for) may be there found." 40 This sublime cour-
tesy from a debtor who was arraigned " out of hell "
might have graced a Chesterfield. This " impertinent
file " became a customary parliamentary instrument. That
it was lost, is a misfortune; for its peremptory and excel-
lent system of classification might have enlightened these
modern times. In another connection this remarkable
instrument appears as " the dam-file."

The disputes of Warwick with the colony were con-
tingent to the constant controversy of Wm. Harris
against Williams and his associates. Harris availed of
every circumstance to push his own polemics. Now in
1672, he became the ally of Connecticut 41 in her attempts
to get possession of the Narragansett country. The
planters there inclined toward the movement of Connecti-
cut. The government of the colony was changed on this
issue, the moderate Quakers joining with the Narragan-
sett planters who favored Connecticut ; Easton becoming
Governor in place of Arnold. But subsequently the
people checked this unwise movement, and repelled the
action of Connecticut. Harris was styled " traitor " and
imprisoned by his opponents, after the controversial
methods of the time; but he hardly committed overt
treason. These transactions in town and assembly meet-
ings seem very petty now. We are to remember that,
not only was the citizen uneducated in the modern politi-
cal sense, but he had much to unlearn that had been

40 Arnold, I., 336n.
4i Brigham, p. 121.

1672] No Tippling on the Sabbath 95

forced into him by feudal usurpation and ecclesiastical
oppression. The democrat was coming to his own
through all sorts of vagaries. The process was petty
and defaced the body politic on many occasions, but it
formed a practical working democracy.

We should notice the social function of the colonial
tavern, everywhere necessary and nowhere more impor-
tant than in the little community at Providence. The
intense individuality of the planter must have some social
vent and opportunity for expression. The modern club,
caucus and festive church meeting were anticipated
mostly in the taverns of the seventeenth and eighteenth

The first inn in the colony was licensed to William
Baulston at Portsmouth in 1638. 42 In March, 1655-6,
the colony passed an ordinance, closing bars at nine
o'clock. But the Assembly probably found that taverns
were better regulated by local authority, for in 1686
all laws relating to excise on liquors, keeping taverns
and selling arms to Indians were repealed.

Gatherings at the town mill and later at the better
taverns afforded a constant round of discussion and gave
play to social excitement. A very curious sidelight is
thrown on Providence society by a town ordinance in
1679. The religious excommunication of Rhode Island
imposed by the other colonies of New England was so
severe that the planters were often impelled to impose
ordinance and law to maintain public decorum. Others
thought so ill of our colonists it was necessary to show
that they thought well of themselves. This act enjoined
employment of servants for labor on the first day of the
week; all sporting, gaming or shooting was likewise for-
bidden — simple and proper, civic regulation. But for

42 Arnold, Vol. I., p. 129.

96 The Colony and the Town of Providence

taverns all tippling was suppressed on the Sabbath
" more than necessity requireth." We may readily
imagine that a fierce discussion on proprietary rights
or an evolution of Calvin's institutes might produce a
stomach ache requiring necessary flip or toddy.

The acrimony of the town meeting was lighted up by
an occasional joke. Regulating the Common lands was
a constant annoyance. Pigs especially disturbed the
over-burdened administration. In debating an ordinance
to fence them out, Wm. Harris said, " I hope you may goe
looke as Scoggine did for ye haare." 43 Scogan's Jest
Book was one of the most popular chap-books in the six-
teenth and seventeenth centuries.

The regulation of traffic in liquors was a constant
source of trouble. An act July 3, 1663, 44 declared
some sellers to be so " wicked and notorious as to
deserve to be Branded with the name of Jaackes
Cleansers." Circumstantial evidence and the testimony
of Indians have always troubled jurists. In these cases
the planters made one positive good out of two possible
evils. For it was provided at this time that the testi-
mony of " an Indian, circumstances agreeing with such
testimony " should convict under the ordinance of 1659.

In 1675 and the year following, Rhode Island was
shaken to its foundations and the plantation of Moshas-
suck at Providence was destroyed for the time. The con-
centrated Indian uprising known as King Philip's war,
greatly injured Massachusetts and Rhode Island, while
it ruined the native Indians. There were grievances on
both sides, as always when barbarism encounters civiliza-
tion. Philip and Canonchet in no wise equalled old Can-
onicus, one of the greatest North American aborigines.

■i" " R. I. H. S. Col.," Vol. X., p. 75.
44 " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. III., p. 38.

1675] King Philip's War 97

We shall never know what might have occurred in the
thirties, had the Indians resisted the English outright;
but in the seventies to hurl savages against the solid
growth of English civilization as Philip did, was simple
madness. These desperate contests have been amply re-
corded and we may only refer to the voluminous history.
Ellis and Moms 45 have shown that the slaughter of the
Narragansetts at the swamp fight was not as complete
as was formerly imagined ; but the impairment of the na-
tion caused by the whole war was thorough. Scanty
remnants finally settled in Charlestown, leaving the rich
territory of aboriginal thousands. The mainland, about
and through which the Indians lived, was a very theater
of war. The power of government and administration
of affairs was on the island controlled by the Quakers,
and it was five times as wealthy as the other plantations.
Whatever place — and it should be a very worthy place —
we may assign the Quakers, in the building of individual
character and in religious development, their function
and their doings in political government have brought
failure, wherever their principles have been enforced. Ac-
cording to Richard Smith, a prominent settler in Narra-
gansett, " the Governor of Rhode Island being a Quaker,
thought it perhaps not lawful either to give commission
or to take up arms ; so that their towns, goods, corn, cat-
tle were by the savage natives burned and destroyed." 46
Governor Coddington was old and the ruling citizens
comfortable, quite willing to rest and be thankful. Mod-
erate garrisons would have saved Providence, Warwick
and outlying Narragansett, but the mainland was left to
sorry fate. 47 Narragansett and Pawtuxet were cleared;

■is King Philip's War.

« « R. I. C. R.," Vol. III., p. 51.

47 Brigham, pp. 125-129.

98 The Colony and the Town of Providence

Warwick kept one house, while Providence had not above
three. 48

The wretched and monotonous litigation over proprie-
tary rights and disputing plantations was not lessened
by conflicting titles, left by the devastation of fire.
Wrangling disputes over rights to the land continued to
vex the community for some ten years.

" Whatever may have been their motive in deserting
the mainland towns — whether it was political enmity,
Quaker antipathy against war in general, or a selfish
desire to preserve their homes — such action did much to
foster an alienation between the mainland and the Island
which hindered a united colony growth for many
years." 49 In 1676 died John Clarke, scholar, physician,
minister and statesman ; above all a pure patriot. Al-
ways in public affairs, his " blameless self-sacrificing life "
left him without an enemy, although in these times strife
everywhere prevailed.

Woman, the true helpmate of those days, was not in
the best position when she was " unattached." The
maiden, the unmarried female or spinster, was not in the
best circumstances when she did not spin at her own
wheel. The wills show many curious arrangements, where
the maidens were controlled by a rigid family discipline.

48 Rates assessed in 1678 show the relative conditions of the towns.
Newport £136, Plymouth £68, New Shoreham and Jamestown
each £29, Providence £10, Warwick and Kingston each £8, East
Greenwich and Westerly each £2.

A flotilla of sloops and boats was employed by the General As-
sembly to sail around the Island and defend it. " This is the first
instance in the history of the Colonies where a naval armament was
relied upon for defence. It was the germ of a future Rhode Island
squadron, one century later, and of an ultimate American navy." —
Arnold, Vol. I., p. 409.

49 Brigham, p. 127.

1680] Independent, but not Free, Spinsters 99

Zachary Roades, in 1662, 50 able to give his daughters
handsome legacies for the time, bound the will of the
spinsters in summary fashion. To his eldest daughter
Elizabeth he gave £80 at 21 years, or at marriage. To
Mary and Rebecca £60 each on same conditions. But,
if either " shall Marry or match themselves with any Con-
trary to ye Mind of their mother or of my two overseers
(executors), then it shall be in their Mother's what to
give them, whether any thing or No." Independent but
not free spinsters ; if concord followed there must have
been some forbearance among those many wills.

Sometimes consent of parents was advertised in the
notice of banns. Feb. 1, 1680, 51 it comes from another
colony, " I, John Wooddin of beverly in the covnty of
essexe in New England doe not see now anything but
that lawrence clinton and my daughter may proceed in
the honorable state of matrimony," cited from the " sec-
ond publishing."

The hardest municipal task — beyond early theological
differences or proprietors' disputes for lands — was in the
control of sexual immorality. Persons offending in one
town were handed over to the next en route. June 17,
1682, 52 Ephraim Prey and Elizabeth Hoyden of Braintree
were caught in flagrante delictu. The father of the girl
agreed to remove her with Prey to his home in Braintree
by June 22, at sunset, or both culprits would have been
delivered to the next constable (at Rehoboth) " to be
Conveid to their dwellings."

In some cases, proceedings were very dilatory. Rich-
ard Bates 53 appears April 25, 1683, having " a woman

so « Early Records Prov.," Vol. IV., p. 80.
si Ibid., Vol. VI., p. 27.

52 Ibid., p. 43.

53 Ibid., pp. 100, 107, 113.

100 The Colony and the Town of Providence

abideing with you " and both were ordered off July 25.
With his " pretended wife " he was questioned for con-
tempt and obtained a stay of execution until Oct. 21. In
December he was granted further courtesy until March
31. We can only suppose that the facts were not posi-
tively as bad as the judgments specify. Meanwhile the
offenders must have gained some kind of better recogni-
tion from the neighbors, or this lax procedure would not
have been allowed.

Mary Bellowes having come into town with a young
child and " no bond for town's security," was ordered
off in four weeks. This sentence was afterward extended
about 8 months, July 12, 1683. Abigail Sibley, 54 with
her child, was ordered off. Thomas Cooper published his
intention of marriage with Abigail, which was forbidden,
because he had " manifested himself a person infamous
in that he hath forsaken a sober woman, who is his wife."
Mistress Abigail, with her child, appears again, Dec. 13,
" entertained by Thomas Cooper." Her time of removal
was extended to the first Monday in March, " not to live
with Thomas Cooper" meanwhile.

Mr. Dorr notes the increase of creature comforts after
King Philip's War. Kitchen utensils and other improve-
ments in the household showed more abundance. Frying
pans, gridirons, spits and skillets manifested the departure
from the boiling pot, and to some housewives these utensils
appeared to be extravagant. Abigail Dexter, adminis-
tratrix, valued in 1679, " a frying pan, a skillet and other
trumpery," at 10s.

There were few candles to burn, some of them being
made of bayberry tallow. In 1681 the town-meeting for-
bade making tar from pitchwood beyond ten gallons per
man for his own use on his own land. Pitchwood was " a

64 " Early Records Prow," Vol. IV., pp. 109, 114.

1681] Frying Pans and Pitchwood Light 101

great benefit for candle light." As naval stores were
then greatly desiderated in all countries, this shows how
little the agriculturists appreciated the commercial possi-
bilities of their own land.

Tobacco was generally raised by the farmers and ap-
peared upon the inventories in small quantities. Mostly
for domestic use, in some instances it was gathered for
export. Ephraim Carpenter, probably a small shop-
keeper, had in 1698, 313 lbs. at 3d. £3.18.3. In " cotten
wooll," which was always coming from the West Indies,
he had a value of 3s. 6d. Flax was grown as table linen
became a necessary comfort. Linen-wheels for spinning
were common.

Mr. Dorr notes that long after King Philip's War there
were meetings of the town held under the buttonwood tree
opposite Crawford Street. 55

We may note rates of taxation and prices of com-
modities. In 1663, 56 £36 was levied toward the expenses
of John Clarke, while procuring the charter in England.
Pork was received at 28s. per cwt. ; wheat at 4s. 6 per
bu. ; peas at 3s. 6 ; butter at 6d per lb. In 1664, 57 the
rate was £130, levied according to the apportionment of
the General Assembly. Wheat and peas were unchanged
and pork was at £3.10 per bbl. Horses and cattle were
received at prices equivalent.

In 1678-9 58 for a rate of £20, the prices were for oxen
£4 ; cows and 3 yrs. old, £3 ; horses and mares, 4 yrs. old,
£3; swine, 15s. ; sheep above 1 yr., 4s. Improved planting
land was at £3 per acre and vacant land not improved
3s. per acre. Mr. Richman 59 records the positive fajl in

55 " Planting and Growth," p. 94.

56 " Early Records Prov.," Vol. III., p. 91.

57 Ibid, p. 58.

ssibidi., Vol. VIII., p. 41.

59 " R. I.— Its Making," p. 537.

102 The Colony and the Town of Providence

prices of food from 1676 to 1686, after the ravages of
King Philip's War had passed away. Good pork was at
£2.10 per bbl. ; good beef, 12s. per cwt. ; peas, always a
staple, 2s. 6. per bu. ; wool, 12d. to 6d. ; butter, 5d. to 6d.
The abundance of other articles shows agricultural in-
crease, and the relatively small decline in butter indicates
a demand produced by more comfortable living.

Sept. 1, 1867, 60 the rate was £33.9.6. Silas and Ben-
jamin Carpenter jointly paying £1.3 and Stephen Arnold
£1.1.10, the highest individual taxes. Oct. 31, 1687, for
another rate of £16.12.2. Indian corn was taken at 2s.
per bu. ; rye, 2s. 8 ; beef at three halfpence per pound ;
pork, 2d. ; butter, 6d. For the rate of £37.12.3 in Au-
gust, 1688, 61 apparently they had rated more persons or
had increased the portions of the majority, for Silas and
Benjamin Carpenter stand at 16s. 9 and Stephen Arnold
at 17s. 6 ; these magnates being reduced.

The disputes about land titles between Providence and
Pawtuxet 62 complicated the struggles of Proprietors and
Freeholders, besides creating every possible difference
among the direct contestants. Suit and cross suit, writ
of ejectment with timid ineffective service, embarrassed
these times and convulsed the community. The vigorous
William Harris generally got his verdict, but failed in
obtaining practical execution from the feeble adminis-
trators of law. This shows that public sentiment leaned
against him.

We ought to look into the " Plea of the Patuxet Pur-
chasers," before the King's Commissioners, Nov. 17,
1677. 63 This whole document illustrates the curious

eo « E. R. Prov.," Vol. XVII., p. 103.
Mlbid., p. 12.

62 Arnold, Vol. I., p. 432-438.

63 " R. I. H. S. Pub.," Vol. I., 185 et sea.

1681] Captivity of Harris 103

compound of English law and judaic interpretation which
prevailed in the mind of New England ..." The
said discomposed Soules that so Object, do not believe
such a bound. If any, my Charity toward them, as to
their Actions or wisdom not being so simple in doing as
Saying." The essential argument is given in summing
up. " That the words (might have for our use of cat-
tle) doth give a property in a sound sense by words of
Scripture 35 of Numbers and 3d verse, ' And the City's
shall they (have) to dwell in and the suburbs of them
shall be for their Cattle.' Verse 3d." 64 This was the
outcome of the simple privilege " up streams for cattle "
given by Canonicus to Roger Williams.

But in this fishing upstream for land, both parties
went into muddy waters according to Mr. Richman. By
" erratic and erring process in the field " seeking " where
is the head of the Wanasquatucket," Roger Williams and
Arthur Fenner in 1678 surpassed William Harris " that
master of tergiversation at his own game." 65

At Christmas in 1679, Harris, in pursuit of " more
specific execution," went to England for the fourth time.
On his passage he was taken by Algerine corsairs, who
were even more ferocious than the Christians of the six-
teenth and seventeenth centuries. In the summer of 1681,
he was ransomed, released and went to London, where he
died in three days from debility induced by his captivity.
The ransom was mainly paid by the colony of Connecti-
cut, for which he was acting abroad in the disputed Nar-
ragansett boundary. The ransom was afterward repaid
by his family. In 1680 he wrote, " Deare wife and Chil-
dren let us Cast our Care on god without distracting
feare, thouh I should here dy yet god lives, and I am not

e* " R. I. H. S. Pub.," Vol. I., p. 211.
65 " R. I. H. S. Col.," Vol. X., p. 19.

104 The Colony and the Town of Providence

without hope but that I may see you againe, let us pray
fervently and Continually to god that is able to deliver
and soe I commend you all to god all way." 66

Could there be a more pathetic situation? Bad, as
were the greedy claims and angry quarrels of Pawtuxet
and Providence — the barbaric Saracen was worse. And
the fierce individual contestant out of this turbulent
colony, was nevertheless in his heart the gentle Christian
father commending all to his heavenly Father in pure

Mr. Richman 67 has studied the Harris and Williams
controversy in every detail and probably knows more
about it than any one. He is severe in his view of Harris.
Let us quote the words of Arnold, whose judgment cannot
be neglected, " Thus perished one of the strong men of
Rhode Island. He filled a large space in the early history
of the Colony, as an active, determined man, resolute in
mind and vigorous in body, delighting in conflict, bold in
his views of the political dogmas of his time, fearless in
his mode of expressing them, striking alwa} 7 s firmly, and
often rashly, for what he believed to be the right. His
controversy with Roger Williams was never forgotten,
and scarcely forgiven, by either of these great men, and
presents the darkest blot that rests upon their char-
acters." 68

Mr. Dorr's general view of these differences and con-
flicts is just; for the system was more at fault than the
men. Lack of legal knowledge, still greater lack of judi-
cial organization and executive power, inevitable in a

es " R. I. H. S. Col.," Vol. X., p. 321.

67 Cf. " R. I. H. S. Col.," Vol. X., pp. 11-127, for his study with
original documents.

68 Arnold, Vol. I., p. 437.

1681] Ignorance Made Disputes 105

colony forced by circumstances into irregular existence ;

Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 8 of 29)