William Babcock Weeden.

Early Rhode Island; online

. (page 9 of 29)
Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 9 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

noble motives struggling with ordinary greed and necessity
of living — all these compelling forces produced the disputes
of Providence Plantation, too often ending in a quarrel. 60
But let us not dwell on these minor shadows. These in-
dividuals were great as a whole, if faulty in detail, and
they wrought even better than they knew. While recog-
nizing the smaller defects, let us cherish the grand result.

In the years 1677 and 1678 — contemporary with the
withdrawal of Harris — there occurred the deaths of three
most prominent citizens. Samuel Gorton, 70 one of the
most remarkable " men that ever lived," passed away.
With the vision of a seer, his mental astuteness, his scrip-
tural learning, his deep reverence for established law,
made of him an extraordinary conserving radical.

Quite unlike was Governor Benedict Arnold, who had
lived at Newport twenty-five years, removing there from
Providence. He was not moved by the arguments of
George Fox and followed John Clarke politically, op-
posing the usurpation of Coddington. President of the
colony under the patent, he was named governor in the
second charter, and was elected by the people seven times.
The confidence of his constituents proves his integrity
and political sagacity. One act alone — his reply to the
inhuman and arrogant demand of the United Colonies, for

go Cf. Chief Justice Thomas Durfee, " Judicial History," p. 18.
The influence of Newport in the early history of the State has not
been appreciated. The rest of the colony was very heterogeneous,
the home of soul-liberty being the home of rampant individuality.
Newport had " higher civic or communal sentiment, a more educated
public spirit, a profounder political consciousness." The best law-
yers, ablest politicians and public men lived there. Sectional, local
" Rhode Island men " broadened out at Newport, as government
went on.

to Ante, p. 40.

106 The Colony and the Town of Providence

the expulsion of Quakers from Rhode Island, 71 — would
give him a high, permanent place in history.

Governor William Coddington died in office. As he
built the first brick house in Boston, so he laid the founda-
tions of Newport on a solid basis, being pioneer in her
commerce. In his course as judge, he probably made
the first code of laws, which lasted for generations, and
without which we may safely assume, Rhode Island never
could have been developed. Rut in the significant words
of a judicial descendant, " he had in him a little too much
of the future for Massachusetts, and a little too much of
the past for Rhode Island, as she then was." 72 This ten-
dency resulted in the vagary of " Usurpation." He be-
came a Friend and in his latter years was again active in
public affairs, in a legitimate way. As we have noted
above, 73 Rhode Island owes him a great debt.

When life was monotonous and news-prints were un-
known the talk of Towne Streete was of constant in-
terest. Beyond this, scandal, slander and gossip too often
filled the air and occasionally went on record. August
27, 1684, 74 S. Bennett was obliged to retain John Whip-
ple, Jr., an attorney to defend him against the suit of
Bridget Price. In September, Bridget signing with an
X declares that the said Bennett in his own home charged

her with being " a thiefe, a , and a vagabond." Even

Boston furnished its share to these proceedings, for
Thomas Clarke in " his pewtour's shopp " there, had an al-
tercation with one Mary Brattle (not connected with
Brattle Sq. probably) and followed her to Providence,
where he arraigned her through the busy attorney Whip-

71 " R. I. Col. Rec," Vol. I., pp. 376-380.

72 C. J. Job Durfee, " Historical Discourse," p. 16.

73 Ante, p. 64.

74 " E. R. Prov.," XVII., p. 41.

1683] Marital Proceedings 107

pie, Nov. 24, 1684. 75 Whipple deposed for Clarke that
in the said shop Mary Brattle demanded the " key of a
house of office." Clarke refused and Mary gave him
" very Taunting speeches." In answer, Clarke said,
" prateing hossey." Then Mary called Clarke " Beg-
gers Bratt, and Cheate, and sayd shee kept a better man
to wipe her shoees." Then the said Clarke bid her get
out, " for yov are prateing hossey, for yov had need to
have had a hundred pounds Bestooed upon you at a
boardeing scoole ; to learn manner and breeding then shee
ye said Brattle called ye sayd Clarke Rouge and soe went
out of ye shopp." The views of Clarke on education in-
dicate the standard of culture prevailing among Boston

However simple the social proceedings of the planta-
tion, man and woman were sometimes unaccommodating
in their vital intercourse. Whatever Margaret Abbott's
faults may have been, her explicit consort Daniel shines
forth in no favorable light. Aug. 7, 1683, 76 Abbott
records his woes. " Through her Maddness of folly and
Turbulency of her Corrupt will, Destroying me Root
and Branch, putting out one of her owne Eyes to putt
out Both mine. And is since departed takeing away my
Children without my Consent and plots to Rifle my house
to accomplish her Divelish Resolution against me."

The spirit of peace hovered over another couple even
in temporary estrangement. In this methodical fashion,
they wore no sackcloth, but coming before their towns-
people, they laid these substantial foundations for new
marital relations. It is to be hoped that gay Cupid
smiled on sober Justice, Dec. 29, 1699. 77 Agreement be-

75 « E. R. Frov.," XVII., p. 53.

76 Ibid, Vol. XVII., p. 37.
v Ibid, Vol. V., p. 9.

108 The Colony and the Town of Providence

twecn George Potter of Mashantatuck and Rachel his
wife. She had with his " Consent and in hope of More
peaceable liveing withdrawne herselfe and removed to
Boston for sometime ; and now finding it uncomfortable 78
so to live and I being desireous to Come together againe,
doe here for her further in Couragement and to prevent
after Strifes and Alienations propose these Artickles.
1. She has given some things to her children. I shall
never abraid her or seek a return to them. 2 ly . Our house
and land, if I dye before my wife she shall have it during
widowhood and bearing my name. In case of Marriage,
she shall enjoy 1-3, other 2-3 to my nearest Relations —
at her decease her 1-3 to return. 3 Iy . I will not Sell or
Mortgage any house or lands. 4 ly . I promise to dwell in
all loveing and quiet behavours. All Moveables as Cattell
and household goods vessels or Boates she shall possess
solely at my decease."

The wife on her part appreciated such liberal treat-
ment and showed that she was not making a merely
formal or ineffectual contract.

" 5 ly . I Rachell Potter if it appear I have disposed of
more than one bed since our departure, said bed shall be

In treatment of the poor, especially those fallen from
a better estate, the finest qualities of the planters stood
out in full relief. The support of the poor caused a sub-
stantial portion of every rate assessed. Once within the
town, the poor were well cared for, though the burghers
were constantly struggling against tramps, vagabonds
and persons whom they did not choose to admit as citizens.

78 Mark the delicate variations and subtle suggestion in this re-
newed courtship. Both " uncomfortable " and he ready to give
further encouragement. Modern Newport might learn some things
of old Providence.

1683] Treatment of the Poor 109

However illiberal or undesirable this municipal hostility
appears to be now ; then it seemed to be the only mode of
ruling a plantation.

We cannot follow in detail the administration of par-
ticular cases, though they are interesting and often
pathetic. A negro, not enslaved, had rights, for Samuel
Reep's servant appealed to the town, Feb. 19, 1672, 70
Reep having refused to " Receue him or Releaue him for
his presant nessety." John Joanes 80 frequently appears,
declining into the vale of years, and always as " our An-
cient Neighbour." Dec. 24, 1677, repairs were ordered
for his house to make it " comfortable for the winter."
Nov. 24, 1680, the same ancient neighbour is allowed
maintenance according to " his minde and will." The old
gentleman's will could still prevail over the committee, for
he repudiated their arrangement Dec. IS, and asked for
an inventory of his estate. In April the poor " neigh-
bour " submitted to the inevitable resigning estate to the
town. House and lot were sold by " inch of ye Candle,
highest bid, £17.6- May 3, 1684. 81 His inventory showed
£8.4.1, of which £2.4. was in wearing apparel. Jan. 27,
1682-3, Joseph Smith received a grant of forty feet square
on Towne Streete — as they were constantly being made —
on condition that he lay a row of " steping's stones along
the fence of John Joanes' lot."

Wm. Harris died in London, but we may cite from his
inventory, January 21, 1681, 82 some items which are
interesting from every point of view. He had a story
and a half house, with many barns and cribs well stored
and perhaps the largest estate in the colony, leading a

79 " E, R. Prov., Vol. VIII., pp. 23, 88, 89, 123.

so ibid, Vol. III., p. 227.

s^ Ibid, Vol. VI., p. 122.

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

110 The Colony and the Town of Providence

most active and enterprising life. Pewter was the main
article in the outfit of table and kitchen, and his stock was
worth £2. 0. 4., including syringe at 5s. 6d., and a cham-
ber pot at Is. 6d. These durable conveniences were com-
mon and in this instance coincided in value with a copper
candlestick. This metal was unusual, and the por-
ringer — a dish so much used in pewter — stood at Is.
Brass kettles and candlestick £1. 0. 6-, and this metal as
well as iron was used in almost every kitchen ; there was
also wooden and earthen ware. We have referred to
Harris' library, which was then far better than that of
the ordinary man of affairs. Fortunately, the list may
be given in detail. 1 Dixonary 6s. ; London Despencet-
torey 8s. ; Chururgion's mate 10s. ; Norwood's Tryangles
5s. ; 1 Bible 2s. 6d. ; 1 Great do 5s. ; 1 Contemplations Mor-
all and devine 2s. 6d. ; Cooke's Commentarey upon little-
ton £1. (this was given to Thomas Olney) ; The Compleat
Concordance Clarke 8s. ; Touchstone of wills 2s. ; "3 bookes
Is. — 1 naturs Explecation; 1 treatise of faith; 1 ye effect
of warr; 5 books 6s. — Gentleman Jockey, Gospel Preacher,
New England Memorial, Method Physic, Introduction
Grammar, Lambath's perambulations, not valued ; Statute
poulton £1. 15. ; Declarations and Pleadings 3s. ; The
Executors Office 2s. ; Exposition law terms 2s. ; layman's
lawyer 2s. ; Saw juryers Is. 6d. ; Justice Restored Is. 6d. ;
Dallon's Country justice 5s. A set of surveying instru-

A collection of books in a community where they were
scarce; it was very strong in law, moderate in theology
and ethics, sufficient in medicine and surgery, useful in
surveying; altogether the mental nutriment of a powerful
citizen who touched life on all sides.

As Wm. Harris was in the way of the time a statesman,
Thomas Olney, called Senior in distinction, was a poli-

1683] How the Planters Lived 111

tician and manager of men. One of the original thirteen
proprietors with Williams and Harris, the first treasurer
of the town ; he was often town clerk, when the clerk was
the mainstay of order, and of such propriety as prevailed.
He was very acrimonious in the dispute with George Fox
and the Friends. His disputation mingled politics with
doctrine in a manner worthy of an ecclesiastic. He was
always prominent in the affairs of plantation and colony.
October 9, 1682, 83 his inventory showed the moderate
personal estate of £78. 9. 5., of which only £3. 17. was in
wearing apparel. There was a change in the dress of
this class of citizens in the next score of years. In the
pioneer period and until after King Philip's War, the
planters were homely in all their habits of life. Brass
was represented in 3 kettles £1. 6- ; in a candlestick and
other articles 5s. Pewter dishes £1., with 1 dozen trench-
ers 6d. The furniture was meager, 2 old joynt chairs
and a joynt stool 3s. 6d. ; 1 great chair Is. ; 1 " fourme "
6d. ; 1 small table 4s. There was no loom or spinning
wheel, but considerable evidence of home-made cloth. As
2f yds. Carsey 13s. ; 10^ yds. blanketing £1. 5. ; 4 yds.
woollen homespun 7s. ; 24 yds. home-made cloth 4s. 2d.
Almost 2 yds. white fulled cloth 4s. Dry hides, includ-
ing what Thomas Olney took to tan ; £2. 14. in money
and 4 cows at £10. Evidently he farmed only for his
own household, and commingled other interests, as in tan-
ning, weaving, etc. He did not read as Harris did, for
his library was small, even in a small environment of
books. One bible 4s. ; 3 old pieces bible 2s. Three
books — Ainsworth's Annotations, a Concordance, " fisher's
Ashford Dispute " — were valued at £1. 10. Though
church connections were few and not very binding, the
Scriptures were clearly used in a practical way. In the
S3 " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. VI., p. 90.

112 The Colony and the Town of Providence

dearth of printed matter, pieces and bits of Bibles and
Testaments were appraised in many inventories.

In the same month passed on John Smith, the miller;
not so conspicuous or famous, but an influential factor
in the communal life of the early plantation. Before
there was a room of size in a dwelling, or a tavern to
accommodate loiterers and talkers, the town-mill gath-
ered a throng who discussed the whole affairs of those
concerned — political, religious, or social. Seated on bags
of grain, they did not mind the rumbling of the stones, as
they disputed and threshed out matter for a future town
meeting. John Smith, of the widely extended name, hos-
pitable and hearty, must have made happy the early
townsmen assembled for these rare opportunities. His
estate was £146. 5. 3., 84 the corn-mill, house over it and
all appertaining was valued at £40; one-seventh part of
the saw-mill adjoining £3. 10. The furnishings were sim-
ple, 2 bedsteads and bedding £2. ; 1 do and bedding " in
ye lower Roome " £3; Brass and copper kettles £2. 16.;
2 tubs and tobacco 5s. 6d. Flax 10s. Cattle with 2
mares, 3 young horses, 16 swine £22. 9. " Ye Booke of
Martirs " 15s. Old bible, " some lost and torne, 9d."

In 1683, died Roger Williams the founder. He built
the state even better than he knew — and his knowledge
was great for his time and opportunity. The principles
he conceived and set forth were larger than any man ; as
the centuries have shown.

An important function in the early life of New Eng-
land lay in the making of apprentices ; binding out a
minor to learn an " art or mystery." When children
were bereaved, it often created a temporary home for a
waif, and finally gave him capacity for a good livelihood.

After the vocation of a smith, one of the greatest
84 " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. VI., p. 72.

1683] The Art of Weaving 113

needs was for a weaver. Cloth making was carried on in
nearly every household, and sometimes experts went about
using the family looms. Again, there were shops for
weaving yarn taken from farmers who carded their own
wool and spun it on domestic wheels.

July '3, 1674, 85 there appears a name well known in
textile industry. Moses Lippitt, with the consent of his
father-in-law, Edward Sairle, and Anna Sairle, his mother,
was apprenticed to William Austin for fifteen and one-
half years and two months to learn the " art and trade "
of a weaver. There were the usual covenants and at
majority he was to have his freedom and "two sufficient
Suites." If Austin should die, he could assign Lippitt
for the balance of his term.

March 30, 1696, John Sayles took Job Liddeason for
14 years, who promised to keep his master's secrets, not
to contract matrimony, nor frequent taverns or ale houses,
nor absent himself night or day. Sayles on his part was
to give the " Nessessaryes to an apprentice doth belong "
and to " endeavour to learne him to Read and write." 88

Jan. 11, 1708-9, 8T Thomas and Hannah Joslin took
Jerusa Sugars from her mother; who was to pay them
£8 in silver and 40s. in a yearling heifer. The payment
was changed Jan. 20 to £10. silver. The child was about
one year old, and was to receive sufficient board, lodging
and apparel for a servant. The Joslins were " carefully
her to keepe " and to learne " the said Jerusa Sugars the
art and mistry of a Tailor, well and sufficiently to make
apparill both for Men and Women and to learne her to
Read well." At eighteen years of age, she was to receive
two sufficient sutes."

85 " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. V., p. 292.

86 Ibid, p. 147.
st Ibid., p. 18.

114 The Colony and the Town of Providence

Richard Arnold in his will, 1708, directed his son
Thomas to free the negro Tobey in February, 1716-7,
when he would be 25 years of age, and should receive two
suits of clothes.

Nov. 25, 1687, 88 Gideon Crawford, a Scotchman, was
granted liberty to " Reside and here to follow his way of
dealeing in goods." This was a memorable event,
for he was the first to develope an orderly trade
among the not too liberal planters of Providence. Com-
merce was not unknown, for William Field, in his
will, May 31, 1665, 89 gave to his " cousin Thomas now
at Providence, all that Cargo that is now upon sending
to the Barbados." And in further bequest gave to his
wife " that which is as Yett coming to me from the Bar-
bados." But the traces of exports are few, and though
Mr. Dorr excludes them altogether in his view of indus-
trial progress in the latter seventeenth century, commerce
prevailed, if it was not important. The community pur-
sued agriculture too closely, and suffered from the con-
tracted ideas prevailing in consequence. It was not until
1711, when Crawford and his imitators had taught the
value of enlarged intercourse with the world that Nathan-
iel Browne established ship-building at the head of the
" Great Salt River."

The most definite account of Rhode Island exports ap-
pears in William Harris' testimony in London before Sir
J. Williamson, 90 in 1676. This was carried on from
■Newport, but Providence must have profited indirectly
through the demand created for produce. There were
more sheep in Rhode Island than anywhere in Nlew Eng-
land. Wool was exchanged with France for linen. Deer-

ss " Early Rec. Prov.," Vol. V., p. 170.

so Ibid, Vol. VII., p. 225.

so « Col. Br., State Papers, 1675, 1676," pp. 221, 222.

1683] Character of Exports 115

skins, sugar, and logwood went to England for cloth and
iron ware. Horses, beef, pork, butter, cheese, flour, peas,
and biscuit went to Barbados for sugar and indigo.
There was " a great trade " in cod, haddock, and mackerel
with West Indies, Barbados, Spain, and the Straits. I
think much of this fish came from Massachusetts in ex-
change for West India goods. He mentions obtaining
linsey-woolseys and other coarse cloths from Massachu-

Citizens of another sort were admitted occasionally,
though many were refused. William Ashly and his wife
were driven out from " Wels " by Indian depredations
to Boston. Then they came to our plantation, where
Abraham Hardin permitted them to unload their house-
hold goods, " which I took to be a loving-kindness in dis-
tress." 91 He asked for a habitation in 1693.

The Indians, though much weakened, were a factor and
caused alarms in the quiet life of the plantation. April
23, 1697, 92 there had been " a late in Curtion and inva-
sion by the Cruel and Barbarous Indian Enemies." The
Council appointed twenty prominent citizens to com-
mand ten men each, and to " scout, kill and destroy."

We have noted the political organization of govern-
ment under the charter. Quite as important was the char-
acter of the judicial system introduced then. 93 The chief
uX officers were a President and four assistants — one from
each town — making a General Court of Trials for the
Colony. This was the origin of our present Supreme
Court; lesser tribunals appealing to it. As showing the
curious interplay of English legal procedure, with the
planters' notions of independence and town government,

si " Early Rec. Prov., Vol. XVII., p. 146.

92/fcid, p. 163.

93 Durfee, "Judicial History R. I.," (Tracts), p. 11, et seq.

116 The Colony and the Town of Providence

there had been a mingling of the head officers of a town
with the Court, and they had sat together. This was
remedied after 1647 by rules " to add to the comely and
commendable order of the Court."

The General Assembly had full governmental powers,
and consisted of the Governor, Deputy-Governor, ten as-
sistants, and a body of deputies The deputies, or house
in modern parlance, were a purely legislative body ; the
Governor, Deputy-Governor, and assistants (senate) had
magisterial duties as well. After the old court became
mainly a tribunal for appeals, the new court exercised
original jurisdiction.

In 1749 a change in organization was effected. From
the Governor, Deputy and ten assistants, five judges, a
chief and four associates were selected. In 1781 final
separation was made between legislature and judiciary,
for members of either house of the Assembly were for-
bidden to sit as justices of the Supreme Court.

The earlier judges included Roger Williams, Samuel
Gorton, John Clarke; not lawyers, but men of broad cul-
ture for the time. Perhaps they were quite as useful in
a common world as the strictly trained Puritanic jurist,
steeped in Judaic precedent and tradition. The whole
system was a local and essential outgrowth of the soil.
The orderly sense of law, transported with every English
immigrant, was incorporated with an intense individual
desire of the citizen to imprint his own ideal of immediate
justice on every public act. Some of the most vital issues
of Rhode Island life — potential for good or evil — were
bora just here.

We should note that this remarkable creation of a sub-
stantial judiciary out of very rough material, which
worked out justice according to English law, was accom-
plished by men outside the lines of Catholic or Protestant

1683] Humane Proceedings in the Courts 117

education. Churches do much good, as well as some
ecclesiastical harm. In Massachusetts and Connecticut
they educated the people. Outcast Rhode Island must
educate itself, not by academic forms, but through the
business of a hard, stringent life. A university was impos-
sible, but nature lived and moved all about these men.
After all, to do is better than to construe or to imitate.
William Harris, Thomas Olney, Arthur Fenner, Pardon
Tillinghast, the cooper-preacher, and many less conspicu-
ous, took and assimilated life from the kernel.

A record book of the " Ancient Court of Last Resort "
has been preserved fortunately at Newport. 94 All the
cases are curious and some indicate remarkable efforts to
apply a large humane spirit to the inevitable burdens of
the law. In the period 1672-1678, Stephen Sabeere, of
Newport, obtained judgment against Wm. Blandin £7.
14. 6. N. E. silver. However modern civilization may
err in treatment of the debtor, its humane intention is a
great gain over the severity prevailing two centuries since.
In the procedure with Blandin, clumsy though it was, the
Court was trying sincerely to distinguish between a disas-
ter and a crime. It laid down the general proposition
" poor persons that have not to pay their debts, shall
not lie languishing in prison." The Court adjudged,
considering " the debtor's poverty, and creditor's due
debt, not for profuse expenses, but for diet for himself
and wife, do order." Blandin was to work out his debt
" on carpentry upon this island, being boarded by the
creditor." And there were minute provisions for valuing
work and trading in Sabeere's timber to help " work out."
Altogether, it was a careful finding of justice in the con-
crete, and in advance of the times in procedure, whether
of Massachusetts, Connecticut, or England.

9* Durfee, p. 124, et seq.

118 The Colony and the Town of Providence

Indictments for the " vague misdemeanor denominated
contempt of authority " were common. Theft was
severely punished. Uriah Clemence, for stealing a watch,
was sentenced to be " severely whipped and if the fine of
£12. be not paid " the general treasurer was directed to
" sell him for a servant for the full term of 7 years."
It was the custom of the time to impose heavy fines, and
the alternative of servitude was occasionally enforced.
Whipping was imposed for various crimes, and the pun-
ishment for theft generally included a twofold restoration

Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 9 of 29)