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Clawson's master, "and he my house hold servant by
the yeare, but his school mr, giving him my Dutch
Testament and spending much time to teach him to
reade." Just when all this took place we do not
know, but it must have been at an early period in the
annals of the plantation, for in 1645 we find Clawson
admitted to the fellowship of those subordinate mem-
bers of the community, the "twenty-five acre men."
Clawson was a carpenter by trade, and a long-
headed, thrifty fellow by habit and disposition.
Skilled workmen were few and far between in that
pioneer settlement, and we are probably justified in
assuming that the Dutchman could earn a better
livelihood at his handicraft than by scratching at the
sandy soil of Providence Neck in hope of a more or
less precarious harvest. This fact will account for the
record of 1659, asserting that he "for good Consid-
eration . . . hath sold unto Richard Prey of Provi-
dence ... all his Clayme, Right, and Tytle that he
hath from the towne of Providence Excepting his



70 Trovidence in Colonial Times

house Lott, or share of Land lieing next to Benjamin
Hearnton," at the north end of the town.

Either Richard Pray failed to make good his part
of the bargain, or Clawson was sufficiently fore-
handed to be able to secure a second tract of twenty-
five acres within the next two years, of which he died
possessed. For the sake of continuity we may as-
sume the former alternative, and also that while the
sale was pending, Clawson's fellow-townsmen —
who seem to have been on far from friendly terms
with him — insisted on a strict interpretation of
his side of the agreement. At all events, whether
through carelessness, ignorance, or pure disregard of
his legal obligations, Clawson seems to have ignored
the fact that the disposal of "all his Clayme, Right,
and Tytle" debarred him from the use of the com-
mon. He owned a cow, which may have fed on the
forbidden territory. For that, or some other equally
valid reason, his law-abiding neighbors complained
of him "for makeing use of the Common," and he
was "forthwith forewarned" by the Quarter Court
" to forbare in any wise to make use of any of the
Common." That the Dutchman had reason to feel
himself aggrieved is evident from Roger Williams's
letter already quoted. Williams alludes to his quar-
relling "upon Law matters," to "his Cow," etc., in
"other men's hands," and to his "Folly and Fro-
wardness," as well as to the "Helpe and Favour"
Clawson had received from himself.



TVilliams and "Providence 7 ^

As a matter of course, the sufferer was cared for by
his neighbors, the Hearndons, by his friend and pa-
tron, Roger WilHams, and also his wife, and by
others who came to share the vigil, to proffer advice,
and to learn the story in all its harrowing details at
first-hand. Although in a dying condition, Clawson
lingered through the day, and as the long hours wore
away he made piteous and almost hopeless efforts to
speak. The only words that could be distinguished
were these, "My master — my goods," over and
over again, and no questioning could elicit anything
further in the way of explanation. It was assumed by
Roger Williams, and it seems to have been the first
thought of those who helped to care for the dying
man, that Clawson was trying to say that his master
should have his goods, and on the strength of this
assumption, Roger Williams applied for letters of
administration. The townspeople did not, however,
fully sympathize with his point of view. A hue and
cry had been raised, and an Indian known as
Waumanitt had been apprehended, — on just what
grounds, does not appear. The town treasury was
in an even more exhausted condition than usual, and
the murdered man had left no relatives, while he
had left a house and lot, " 25 acres of upland,'* and
certain personal effects. Under the circumstances,
what could be more appropriate than that the estate
of the victim should settle the bills incurred for the
apprehension and punishment of his assassin?



7 2 "Providence in Colonial Times

The consensus of public opinion was doubtless to
the effect that the resources and ingenuity of the
community had been so sorely taxed in the effort to
deal with the prisoner as befitted the dignity of the
law, that it would be highly inconsiderate to demand
a cash outlay, in addition to the toil and trouble
already undergone. In accordance with this view of
the case, the town ordered that "all ocations of
disburstments concerning John Clawson which have
already benn, or yett shall bee shall be payd out of
the aforsaid John Clawson his Estate . . . and that
the Said , . . Estate shall be desposed on by Tho :
Olney Senior."

The "disburstments" incident to the custody of
so important a criminal were many and unprece-
dented. There was no prison in Providence. In
fact it is doubtful if there was a lock on anything
larger than the lid to a chest. In this emergency, the
blacksmith was called on to provide "irons," with
which the prisoner might be confined. This he did,
at a cost of three shillings and sixpence. With the
criminal thus hampered, and watched day and night
by a guard of stalwart yeomen, at three shillings a
day per man, it was felt that well-meaning and law-
abiding citizens were once more fairly secure. The
town-meeting convened to deal with the matter re-
solved to send the prisoner to Newport, "to the
Collony prison There to be kept until his tyme of
Triall." The matter of transportation thither in-



Williams and Trovidence 7 3

volved, not only the services of a guard and boat's
crew, who were provided with " i pint of liquors to
carry with them in the Boat," and "powder and
Shott to carry along with the prisoner," but also " i
pint of liquors for the young men that lancht the
Boat." Time was money, even in the seventeenth
century, as is proved by the fact that the boatman,
who "waited one day and the prisoner went not,"
received one shilling and sixpence. And in pursuance
of this same illuminating principle, the boy who
went "to find Will Carpenter" was paid a shilling.
The cost of "warning the town about the prisoner"
was three shillings. The landlord of the tavern, or
ordinary, where the prisoner was lodged, brought in
a bill for "house-room." There was also the matter
of funeral expenses. A coffin, nails for the same, and
"2 Drop lines," amounted to five and sixpence. "A
sheete and Bread and Cheese," also "5 pints liquors
for the Buriall," are duly entered among the items
of expenditure. The neighbors who ministered to
the wounded man received in all, £2. 19. o. "Sack
and sugar whilst he lay wounded" was forthcoming
to the amount of seven shillings and threepence. His
debts were paid, and came to thirteen shillings.

As for the prisoner, — whom we have seen
"lancht" on his way to Newport, — deponent
further saith not. There is no record of his arrival
at "the Collony prison," nor of the return of the
guard. In the absence of all definite information



74 ^Providence in Colonial Times

respecting the true culprit and the motive for the
crime, tradition took up the tale. According to this
creditable source of information, a feud existed be-
tween Clawson and his neighbor, Benjamin Hearn-
don. It was Hearndon who lay in wait for his victim
behind the barberry thicket, and felled him with his
broad-axe, — not so quickly, however, but that
Clawson, as he fell, recognized his assailant. When
the efforts of his neighbors had roused him from the
stunned condition in which he was brought home, he
uttered a curse against the Hearndons, wishing that
all of that name might be marked with split chins,
and haunted by barberry bushes. "And," said the
gossips, " every one knows that the Hearndons have
cleft chins to this day."

It was not until June that Thomas Olney, Senior,
was able to bring in his" Accountes . . . concerning
the Estate of John Clawson deceased. What hee
Received in. And what hee paid out." Under the
last-named heading belongs the item, "to my selfe
for disburstments ;^i. ii. 2."

In the mean time, Clawson's personal property
had been carefully inventoried, item by item, by two
painstaking appraisers, one of whom was Thomas
Olney, Junior. Their services were estimated at two
shillings each. The most valuable of Clawson's pos-
sessions was peage, or Indian shell-money, to the
amount oi £,"]. 13. 9. His winter supply of grain,
" 14 Bushells of Corne and Pease," came to £'^. 12. 2.



Document of 1669

Signed by William Carpenter, William Harris, Thomas
Olney, Jr., Thomas Harris, Thomas Olney, Sr., and John
Whipple. From the original in Moses Brown Papers, vol.
18, p. 69, in Rhode Island Historical Society.



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TVilliams and 'Providence 75

These items, and his kit of carpenter's tools, valued
at £i. 15. 4, very nearly made up the sum total
of the poor man's worldly goods. His twenty-five
acres of upland were set down at £i. lo. o, and the
"howse and Lott" at twenty pounds. His admin-
istrator's balance-sheet shows ^^37. 17. 4 on the
credit side of the account, and expenditures amount-
ing to £i,^. 14. o, "so that there Remaines due unto
Tho: Olney ;^o. 16. 8 : to be paid unto him, by Roger
Williams," the town record concludes.

When the administration of Clawson's personal
property was placed in the hands of the astute
Thomas Olney, Senior, with instructions to "despose
on" it, his real estate was turned over to Roger
Williams, as residuary legatee, so to speak. This
property consisted of "A howse Lott And Also the
Land which Lieth neere unto a Salt Cove." The
Dutchman's "howse & Lott" remained in Roger
Williams's possession until 1669, when he sold them
to Clawson's old neighbor, Benjamin Hearndon, for
"the full Summe of Eleaven pounds of Currant
Countrey pay," to be paid in three yearly instal-
ments of five pounds, three pounds, and three
pounds, respectively. The delivery was to be made
"in Cloth and stockings, and Corne, and Aples, at
the Comon and usuall price." Even under these
conditions, which do not seem extraordinarily severe,
it was not until the spring of 1675 that Hearndon's
debt was cancelled.



7 6 Vrovidence in Colonial Times

Thomas Olney, Senior, who figures so prominently
in the disbursements on account of the Clawson
estate, was a man of considerable local importance in
this early period of the town's history. And as the
years roll by, it will be interesting to watch his
descendants play their parts on an historic stage
presenting a wider field of action. The first Thomas
Olney came to Salem with his wife and children in
1635. Three years later, he was advised to depart
from Massachusetts; and thereupon turned his steps
towards Providence, where he arrived in time to be
enrolled among the thirteen original proprietors. A
few months afterwards he was found among the little
group who formed the Baptist Church, and we are
told by the historian of that denomination that after
Roger Williams's withdrawal, Olney, as first elder,
ministered to that "part of the Church who were
called Five Principle Baptists." He signed the arbi-
tration compact of 1640, although his subsequent
career indicates that his belief in arbitration was
theoretical rather than practical. He carried on the
trade of a shoemaker, as well as that of a tanner, and
was likewise a surveyor of much practical experience,
as the town records abundantly testify.

As a proprietor of Providence, and one of the
group of thirteen, subsequently known as "the
Pawtuxet purchasers," Olney's interest led him to
cooperate with William Harris, in the latter's en-
deavors to carry through his famous land deal so as



JVilliams and Providence 7 7

to bring the additional territory acquired by the con-
firmatory grant of 1659 into the possession of the
Pawtuxet men. Olney's effective knowledge of po-
litical methods was gained by long experience in the
service of both town and colony. It was during the
interim when it seemed probable that the first charter
might be annulled that his preference for the law of
the primitive individual — that "he shall take who
has the power, and he shall keep who can'* — first
found scope for action. In the first General Court of
the reunited colony he was accused of a "risinge or
takinge up of armes to the oposeinge of authority."
Whether this act of overt rebellion had any connec-
tion, direct or indirect, with the treasonable publica-
tion of his partner in the Pawtuxet purchase (William
Harris), we are not told, but there is no doubt that
both of these men, "and others," were implicated in
the charge above specified. The affair is described in
the town records as "a tumult and disturbance in the
winter under a pretence of voluntarie training," con-
cerning which there was "greate debate," at the time
of writing. Through the pacific influence of Roger
Williams, who acted as moderator in more than the
technical sense of the word, "it was at last concluded
. . . that for the Colony's sake . . . and for the
publike union and peace sake it should be past By
and no more mentioned."

"Union and Peace" served Roger Williams as a
sufficient motive to ignore the past when dealing with



7 8 "Providence in Colonial Times

a breach of law and order in the Towne Street, but a
bit of legal trickery, amounting to nothing less than a
land-grabbing scheme at the expense of the ignorant
Indians who had trusted him and his friends, was to
him an infamous wrong which cried aloud for justice,
and which he was bound to oppose to the utmost
extent of his ability. Backed by his townsmen,
Gregory Dexter and Arthur Fenner, he so far suc-
ceeded in thwarting the combination led by Harris,
in the proprietary interest, as to defeat every attempt
to set off the town of Pawtuxet from that of Provi-
dence. Until this was done, the newly acquired lands
could not be divided among the Pawtuxet purchas-
ers, since the two settlements formed one township.

Gregory Dexter, who was formerly a stationer and
printer of London, had been given a proprietor's lot
on the Towne Street, at the extreme north end. He
did not arrive at the settlement until 1640. Roger
Williams's characterization of him as "a man of
education, and of a noble calling, and versed in mili-
taries," who "might well be moderator or general
deputy or general assistant," but who "made a fool
of conscience," is well known. That same eminent
authority speaks of him elsewhere as "an intelligent
man . . . and conscionable (though a Baptist)
therefore maligned and traduced by William Harris
... he hath a lusty team and lusty sons, and very
willing heart (being a sanguine cheerful man)." He
was not without rhetorical powers, and we are told



TVilliams and "Providence 79

that he was a preacher before he came to America ;
nor was he wanting in political ability.

When acting as town-clerk, in 1653, Dexter exer-
cised his literary gifts in the composition of a treatise
entitled "An Instrument, or soveraign Plaister, to
heale the many fold presant soares in this Towne or
plantation of providence, wch do arise about our
lands," and took advantage of his official position
as keeper of the town records to insert this forcible
statement of his views in their pages. In 1667, the
document in question was gravely presented to a
town-meeting, convened by the Fenner-Dexter
faction, and solemnly ordered to be placed on the
town records, — its unauthorized abiding-place for
the previous fourteen years. The "Plaister" was
promptly pronounced to be "poysonous" by Harris
and his friends, and the author to be an " active lead-
ing Instruement " whose "underminings," as also
those of Roger Williams and Arthur Fenner, are
"breefly discovered" in a "declaration" of about
two thousand words. A counterblast of indignant
eloquence stigmatizes Harris's statement as a "noto-
rious Slander," and the writer as one "who loveth
strife."

In Arthur Fenner the Williams contingent poss-
essed a shrewd and practical ally, whose words were
few, and whose deeds bear out the above assertion.
He was the eldest of three brothers, who are said to
have been the sons of a Connecticut Indian trader.



8o ^Providence in Colonial Times

They came to Providence in or near 1647. Tradition
credits Arthur Fenner with a lieutenant's commission
in Cromwell's army, and there is little doubt that he
had seen military service somewhere on the other
side of the Atlantic. The display of military qualifi-
cations was not frequently required in his new home,
but his decision of character and promptitude in
action, not unmixed with a fair share of strategic
ability, were quite as valuable assets in the colony's
balance-sheet. In the time of King Philip's War he
became Captain Arthur Fenner. Although he built
a house on Providence Neck, on the property long
known as "the Fenner estate," on the present Gov-
ernor Street, his dwelling-place, for the greater part
of the time while he lived in Providence, was on the
west side of the Great Salt River. This "farm in the
woods" was built, probably, in 1655, and stood in
the present suburb of Cranston.

Matters regarding the Pawtuxet purchase tended
slowly, and by no means peacefully, towards a crisis.
A suit against the town of Warwick, followed by a
rehearing, and that, in turn, by an action for trespass
against a certain John Harrud, filled the colony
courts with litigation ; while a series of wrangles over
the question of the dividing-line between Providence
and Pawtuxet absorbed the time and energy of every
town-meeting. At length Harris went to England,
and obtained an order for a special court to try the
case. The court sat in 1677, and gave a verdict in



JVilliams and ^Providence 8 1

Harris's favor. But the execution of that same ver-
dict depended on Arthur Fenner, who was appointed
to run the line of division between Providence and
Pawtuxet. This he did, and so adroitly as to give to
the Pawtuxet men precisely what they had been en-
titled to before the additional grants of 1659 were
obtained.

The inevitable rehearing followed. Again Harris
journeyed to London, and again he was successful.
But when the time came for taking possession of the
coveted territory, unforeseen obstacles and uncertain
interpretations obliged the intrepid "purchaser" to
cross the ocean a third time. This last unhappy
voyage resulted in the loss of his cause, and ulti-
mately of his life as well. The ship in which he sailed
was taken by the Barbary pirates, her passengers
were carried to Algiers, and there sold as slaves, to
be held for ransom. The necessary sum was raised,
but not until after a delay which reflected little credit
on Harris's family, in the eyes of their contempo-
raries. Francis Brinley wrote from Newport to Mrs.
Harris: "You and yours lie under the hard thoughts
of many . . . by your refusing to comply with those
that were stirred up to lay down their monies for that
end." After a captivity of about a year, the ransom
was paid, and the aged sufferer — then over seventy
— set free. It was too late. The poor man was
broken down by age and harsh treatment, and died
within a few days of his arrival in London.



8 2 "Providence in Colonial Times

After the disappearance of William Harris from
the scene of action, the cause of the Pawtuxet pur-
chasers died a natural death. At various times dur-
ing the next twenty years petitions were brought to
the notice of the Crown and its representatives, but
• no further action was taken in the matter. The words
of the colony's agent, in 1705, state the condition
of affairs symbolically, yet tersely. He says : " My
lawyer tells me that he fears it [a new preparation of
the case] will be like dressing a cowcumber with
oyle and vinegar, pepper and salt, and then throwing
it upon the dunghill. That is to say, he doubts that
when you have done all, the great length of time that
this case has been depending (about 47 years) will be
a stumbling block in your way never to be got over."

Long before the eighteenth century set in, matters
had amicably adjusted themselves on the Towne
Street of Providence. The valiant Captain Arthur
had "tamed his heart of fire," and placed his chast-
ened affections in the safe keeping of Howlong
Harris, the daughter of the tenacious William, while
the co-worker of Harris, the redoubtable Thomas
Olney, Senior, had married his daughter Lydia to
Joseph, the youngest son of his old antagonist, Roger
Williams.

Howlong Harris was not only a capable and at-
tractive young woman, but from a worldly point of
view she was a match worthy the serious consideration
of any man of thrift and foresight. Nor were there



TVilliams and Trovidence 83

lacking young men of sufficient discernment to be
aware of the fact. In the early summer of 1 68 1, the
banns for her marriage with John Pococke, a lawyer
of Newport, had been published. Evidently the
form of consulting the young lady's parents had been
omitted, for at this point her mother interfered and
forbade the marriage, giving as a reason that she
wished to consult her husband, then absent in Eng-
land, regarding the matter. This stay in the proceed-
ings proved, for some reason which we do not know,
an insurmountable obstacle. Mrs. Harris died in the
following year, but Howlong retained her maiden
freedom until 1684 when she became Arthur Fen-
ner's second wife. Nor did she come to the altar
empty-handed. By her father's "last will and testa-
ment," drawn up just before his departure for Eng-
land, his daughter Howlong was given one third of
his farm of seven hundred acres, with meadows
"thereto adjoyneing," and the prospect of another
portion of the estate, on the death of her mother. The
inventory of the testator's personal effects displays
to us every article contained in the house and out-
buildings. Nothing seems too trivial to engage the
attention of the appraisers. If an object is of no
value, that fact is formally stated, as " Severall refuse
paper bookes not worth valluing."

The farm of William Harris, one of the few well-
to-do citizens of Providence, was, in 1682, stocked
with two mares and one colt, six steers, three heifers,



84 ^Providence in Colonial Times

two young cows, and one old cow. Farming-tools
were there, to the extent of a plough, a grindstone,
"2 old broad hoes, and one Narrow hoe," two shov-
els, and a spade. "Severall Stacks of hay Standing
by the Meadow Side" form one of the larger items.
The house furnishings were numerous and varied.
Beds, bedsteads, and bedding are carefully desig-
nated, "i Feather Bedd, and Bolster" was valued
at £\. " I Feather bedd and a bolster, old and much
worne," £\. 5. o. It must have been a stirring house-
hold, with little expectation of visitors, for in the
entire dwelling there were but two chairs. A " settle
Bedd studd" is mentioned as being "in the cellar,"
where we must suppose it would hardly serve for
sitting accommodation. Perhaps the various chests,
one "with a lock upon it," one described as "A little
old sea Chest," and one "Coulered black," were
pressed into service as the occasion demanded.

That centre of household activity, the kitchen,
fared better. "2 Brasse Kettles, i old Brasse Kettle,
A Copper porenger, one Iron Kettle, i fryeing pann,"
tongs, bellows, candlesticks, tubs, and pails are
found. The table was set forth with wooden platters,
trenchers, bowls, bottles, ladles, and spoons. Pewter
was there, but not in profusion, "i Earthen Pann"
and "a Tinn pudding pan" appear. Drinks were
served in a great variety of receptacles, whatever may
be said of the beverages themselves, "i pewter
pottle pott, I wine quart pott, i Tanker quart pott,



Petition drawn by William Harris, September

17, 1677, DIRECTED TO GoV. JOSIAH WiNSLOW

From original in Harris Papers, p. 91, in Rhode Island
Historical Society.



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Williams and Trovidence 85

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