Thomas Williams Bicknell.

The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryThomas Williams BicknellThe history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 44)
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Author of The History of Banington; The Story of Dr. John Clarke;
etc., etc. Member of the American Historical Association; President
of the Rhode Island Citizens' Historical Association.










It is finished. This history, begun in my eighty-third year, 1917,
was completed in my eighty-fifth, and tiie Foreword runs into my eighty-

To Rhode Island rightly belongs the honor of establishing and illus-
trating, in a well organized commonwealth, the principles of civil and
religious freedom, for the first time in the history of the world. The
principle was not original with our Rhode Island founders. The struggle
for soul freedom was centuries old, its fate sealed in fire and blood. A
new world was needed for the expression of liberty under law — of the
release of the freeman from his tyrant master.

Four years ago (191 5) I wrote and published "The Story of Dr.
John Cl.\rke." That work was the revelation of a new chapter in
American history. In it I attempted to show that the founding of the
towns of Portsmouth and Newport on the Island of Rhode Island, respec-
tively in 1638 and 1639, and the organization of the Colony of Rhode
Island in 1640-41, were the first organic, wisely directed and successful
ventures in civil and religious Democracy, a Free Church in a Free State.
In the four years that have elapsed, while I have received many endorse-
ments of my position, I have yet to read the first vital criticism of my

That ivork declared Dr. John Clarke of Neivport, and not Roger
Williams of Providence, the founder of the modern Democratic State,
with freedom in religious concerns, its chief corner stone.

A few years ago, in conversation with the chief professor in history
of a New England college, I boldly asked, "Did Roger Williams ever
clearly avow the principles and doctrine of Civil and Religious Liberty
before his banishment from Massachusetts Bay Colony?" His reply
startled me. "No, and he never did aftenvards." I was prepared for the
"No," but not for climax, "He never did aftenvards."

A little later I met an historical leader, the chief of a National His-
torical Institution, and asked him, "Was not Dr. John Clarke of Rhode
Island the first expounder of Civil and Religious Liberty in New Eng-
land?" The oracle replied, "Pursue/' and I have pursued, and the four
volumes of the History of Rhode Island are the result of that quest.

For sixty-five years my life was devoted to educational pursuits, — my
own preparatory, and then constructive work for others in Slate and
Nation. History and genealogy were delightful avocations from the
first. My first historic flight was to the ridge-pole of my father's attic,


where by the light through an open scuttle I first saw the autographs of
Governors Greene and Stephen Hopkins and that of Samuel Ward, Sec-
retary of State and Acting Governor, on Colonial Commissions. It was
a childhood dream that I might write a history.

The last twenty years since my return to Providence have afforded
me time and opportunity for study, reflection and clear conclusions on
questions problematical and debatable in historic circles on Rhode Island
history. In the babel of writings of accepted historical authorities, I
found a reason for studying the original documents as the basis of cor-
rect historical judgments. With the same facts to deal with, how was it
possible for a jury of twelve honest men to reach twelve honest but
different verdicts? Several reasons occurred to me — among them were
different view-points, differing understanding of the facts, different inter-
pretation of motives of action, self-interest, temperament, social, civil or
religious bias, personal relations, ct cetera. From such variants, con-
sequents differ.

This history of Rhode Island is, in all important features, my own
work. It is in many ways a new revelation of events and consequently
revolutionary in its conclusions. I have endeavored honestly to discover
historic facts and to record correct judgments thereon.

In order to understand aright my interpretation of Rhode Island
history, the following guides must be followed :

First — Rhode Island w.\s Rhode Island on the Island of Aquid-
NECK, and not Providence Plantations at the head of Narragan-

Second — Boston, in the Bay Colony, was the hirthplace of
CIVIL and religious liberty in America and in the world in the
liberal school of Anne Hutchinson.

Third: The first compact in the world, to the found-
ing OF "A BoDiE Politick," on the bro.\d platform of religious
freedom, was signed in Boston, March 7, 1638, by William Cod-
dington. Dr. John Clarke, and twenty-one others.

Fourth — This compact took an organic form and practical
accomplishment at Pocasset (Portsmouth), on Aquidnegk, on the
13TH day of May, 1638, in the settlement and organization of the
first town founded in Rhode Island.

Fifth — Newport, on Rhode Island, founded on the same prin-
ciples AS Portsmouth, was organized and set up a Democratic form
of government on the 28TI1 of April, 1639.

Sixth — In 1640, the two towns united to form a Colonial gov-
ernment, and IN 1641 this "Bodie Politick" was declared a DEMOC-
RACIE," under majority rule, and "that none bee accounted a de-
linquent for doctrine."


Seventh — At Providence, Roger Williams organized no town, as the
settlers were averse to "Magistrates," but did form a Proprietary, or land
corporation, which continued its life nearly two centuries. A Proprietary
was a business enterprise without civil or religious functions.

Eighth — At some unknown date, Richard Scott and others peti-
tioned to be admitted to the Proprietary, lo be governed by the rules of
that body, "only in civil things." This paper has been erroneously styled
"A Compact for Civil and Religious Freedom."

Ninth — Providence was not incorporated as a town until 1649, thir-
teen years after the coming of Roger Williams, in 1636. Town officers
were then elected for the first time and town government instituted, but no
record exists of any declaration of rights or of foundation principles of
government. At that dale Mr. Williams was residing at the trading post
at Narragansett.

These are a few of the great basic facts, of which this new history is
the development. While Mr. Williams is recognized as an interesting
early Colonial figure, he cannot long hold the primacy accorded him for a
century, against the protests of men who were his immediate successors.
Dr. John Clarke is the real hero of that heroic time, and the real Rhode
Island of Colonial days was Rhode Island on Aquidneck, the scene of his
great labors, not Providence Plantations, the home of Mr. Williams.

An honor, second to none perhaps, belongs to Roger Williams. His
friendly relations with the Narragansetts and his intervention in pre-
venting the alliance of this great New England tribe with the warlike
Pequots and Mohawks, saved the utter annihilation of the New England
Colonies in 1637. As the Saviour of the infant Colonies, Mr. Williams is
entitled to all honor, for he jeopardized his own life to save the new

My indebtedness is so large and widespread that a chapter would be
required for full acknowledgment. From Winthrop's journal and Wil-
liams' letters to the latest discovered MSS. covers a period of nearly
three centuries, and a vast field of printed and AISS. historic literature.
Of course, .Vrnold's "History of Rhode Island" ( 1853), as the most com-
plete and reliable annalist record, has been always at hand, as have the
ten volumes of "Rhode Island Colonial Records" (1863).

My Advisory Board, eminent in scholarship and in civil and eccle-
siastical distinction, has been generous in criticism and just in treat-
ment. Their names are worthy of historic transmission. Correspondence
with various of its members has been frequent and valuable. Among
those who have contributed advisory assistance are the following
named: U. S. Senator LeBaron B. Colt, LL.D. ; Mr. Walter Allen
Read, General Treasurer of Rhode Island ; the Rev. Gains G. Atkins,


D.D., author and litterateur; Walter E. Ranger, LL.D., Commis-
sioner of Public Schools; Mr. Charles Sisson; Rev. Peter E. Blessing,
D.D. ; Mr. Richard W. Jennings; Mr. George A. Moriarty, Jr., historian
and genealogist; Mr. Roswell B. Burchard, historian and antiquarian;
Dr. Edward M. Harris; Mr. Frank E. Fitzsimmons; Rev. Edward
Holyoke, D.D. ; and Misses Elizabeth U. Yates and Julia E. Smith.

In the literary composition of several chapters, I have been assisted
as follows : I'he chapter on "The Geology of Rhode Island" was written
by Mr. H. S. Reynolds, of Providence, an expert geologist, and president
of the Franklin Society. Hon. Jabez L. Mowry, State Forester, is the
author of the chapter on "Rhode Island Forestry." Hon. Nathan W.
Littlefield wrote the last half of the chapter on "The Judiciary." The
"History of the Jews in Rhode Island" was contributed by Mrs. Caesar
Misch. The "History of the Roman Catholic Church" was written by
Rev. Thomas S. Cullan, of Providence. Rev. Gideon A. Burgess con-
tributed the material on "Fruit and Granges." Dr. Arthur H. Harring-
ton, Superintendent of State Hospital for Mental Diseases, has given an
inside view of State Institutions at Howard. Mr. I. W. Patterson, Chief
Engineer of Public Roads, contributes the article on "Roads and Road
Building." The Bureau of Indian Nomenclature at Washington has aided
in the spelling of Indian names.

The first three volumes constitute the history proper, for which the
author and his associates are absolutely responsible. The fourth volume
of biographies is an essential factor in the finished work. That volume
reveals the personal histories of the men who have made and are now
making Rhode Island history. It reveals the important fact that all history
is the life of a congeries of men and women engaged in the various
occupations and professions that make up the sum total of a Common-
wealth. To each generation, in its order, comes the contribution of all
the past, and from that is evolved, as the acorn from the oak, the new
order and type of civilization, of which each new creation is the expres-
sion, true or modified of a fixed, but variously interpreted part. All basic
principles of the old, such as soul liberty, civil liberty, democracy and
their associates live, incarnate, in the new. "E'en in our ashes live our
wonted fires."

Rhode Island was early the asylum, the "City of Refuge," of great
souls, with noble ideals. Their generations still live. Our great task is
to carry up to a higher reality the dreams they dreamed, the visions they
saw, the great purposes for which they wrought. Rhode Island principles
and American patriotism, rightly understood and boldly maintained under
wholesome laws, will save our beloved State and our greater Common-
wealth of Federal States. Thomas W. Bicknell.



Chapter I — The Narragansett Basin — Narragansett Bay 3

Chapter II — Geology and Soil — Marine and Atmospheric Agen-
cies — Classification of Soils — Minerals 13

Chapter III — Farming and Forestry — Early Industries — Native

Trees 37

Chapter IV — Indian Tribes — Their Traits and Manner of Life. . . 61

Chapter V— Civil and Religious Liberty — Coming of Roger Wil-
liams — Land Purchases from Indians 85-

Chapter \T — Early Settlers — Founders of Providence — William

Blackstone — Departure of Roger Williams 103

Chapter VII — Roger Williams in Narragansett Bay Colony —

Salem and the Bay Colony— Trial of Williams— He is Exiled 123

Chapter VIII — Providence, its Beginnings — Pioneer Settlers —
Family Life — Creation of the Proprietary — Settlements at
Moshassuck and Pawtuxet 143

Chapter IX — Providence Early Land Allotments — The Town

Laid Out — Early Settlers 171

Chapter X — The Providence Proprietary — The Providence Com-
pact—The Joshua Verin Case— The Anabaptists 189

Chapter XI — Providence Town and Proprietary — Town Meet-
ings — First Surveys 211

Chapter XII— Government by Arbitration — The Town Fellow-
ship — Roger Williams' Individualism 223

Chapter XIII— Roger Williams and the Narragansetts— Canoni-
cus and Miantonomi— The Sachems' Gift — Initial Deed of
Roger Williams to the Associate Proprietors— The Pawtuxet
Purchase 2^1;

Chapter XIV — Boston the Preparatory School— Rights of Free-
men — The Hutchinsons — Founding of New Town at Aquid-
neck 2ei

Chapter XV— Concerning Dr. John Clarke— Tributes to His

Character and Worth 273



Chapter XVI — Founding of Portsmouth and Newport — A Demo-
cratic State in the Making — ^The Supreme Court — Town
Meetings — Laws Adopted for the Two Terms 287

Chapter XVII — Founding of Colony of Rhode Island on Aquid-
neck — The Portsmouth General Court — First Free School —
Roger Williams Arrives with Charter of Incorporation for
Providence Plantations — First Session of the General Assem-
bly — Quakers Welcomed 311

Chapter XVIII — Colony of Providence Plantations in Narragan-
sett Bay^ — General Court of Election — The Coddington
Regime — The First Four Towns — Gregory Dexter 325

Chapter XIX — Providence and Aquidneck Contrasted — The

Rhode Island Doctrine 35i

Chapter XX — Settlement of Shawomet — Samuel Gorton — Sale of
Shawomet Territory to Gorton and His Associates — Trial of
Gorton and His Adherents — First Official Act of Town of
Warwick 363

Chapter XXI — The Pequot War — The Bay Expedition — Victory
at Block Island — Issue of the War Determined by Influence
and Acts of Roger Williams 387

Chapter XXTI — The Williams Patent — Line of Separation Be-
tween Aquidneck and Providence — Roger Williams Enters
the Arena — The Charter of ifi63 W'ritten by Dr. John Clarke
— The Plantations a Colony of the Crown 39/

Chapter XXIII — Roger Williams the Saviour of New England.. 415

Chapter XXIV— The Royal Charter of 1663— Perfect Guarantee
of Indian Titles — American Democracy Established — Letter
of Dr. Clarke to Charles II — Dr. Clarke's Accomplishments. . 429

Chapter XXV — King Philip's War — Raid on Swansea — Connec-
ticut Furnishes Troops — The Great Swamp Fight — Death of
Canonchet 443

Chapter XXVI — The Narragansett Country — First Settlers — The
Narragansett Purchase — The Atherton Company — The Nar-
ragansett Planters — Social and Industrial Life — The Rhode
Island Slave Code 467

Chapter XXVII — Slavery in Rhode Island — Provisions Made by
General Assemblv — Fortunes Amassed in the Slave Trade —


Quakers Protest Against Slavery — General Assembly Pro-
hibits Importation of Slaves 497 '

Chapter XXVIII — Block Island — Its History Opens with a
Double Tragedy — End of Manisses Indians — Purchasers of
the Island^Pioneer Settlers — The Palatine Light 515

Chapter XXIX — Quakers in Rhode Island — They Establish
Headquarters at Newport — George Fox Visits Newport —
Roger Williams Attacks Quaker Teachings — Prominent Men
Among the Sect — Quaker Governors — Case of Mary Dyer. . . 531

Chapter XXX — The Huguenots — Prominent Families 357

Chapter XXXI — Religious Societies — Dr. John Clarke an Expo-
nent of Soul Liberty — The Salem Church — Rebaptism —
Roger Williams as a Polemic — Baptist Church at Providence
— Puritan Congregational Church at Newport—Separation of
Religious Forces of Aquidneck — The Baptists — The Congre-
gational Church — Protestant Episcopal Church — The Church
of England — Methodist Episcopal Church — Other Denomina-
tions — Roman Catholic Church — Concerning the Jews — Early
Opinions as to the State of Religion in Rhode Island 565

Chapter XXXII — General Assembly of Rhode Island — Organi-
zation and Laws Enacted — Statehood — State House 641 •'^

Chapter XXXIII — Education — Early Schools — Bishop Berkeley
Inaugurates the Golden Age of Education — Founding of
Rhode Island College, now Brown University — Academies —
The Public School System — School Commissioners — Board
of Education — Vocational Schools 652 ^-

Chapter XXXIV — The Struggle for Independence— Men Des-
tined to Become Famous — The Great Revival of Religion a
Factor — First Utterance of the War Cry of the Revolution :
"No Taxation Without Representation" — Passage of the
Stamp Act — Violent Demonstrations at Newport — Provi-
dence Dedicates Its Liberty Tree — The "Gaspee" Case — Mili-
tary Activity — Troops Enrolled — Rhode Island Takes the
Lead in Events Leading to Independence — Privateering —
Enrollment of Militia — Battle of Rhode Island — Distinguished
Officers 6^7

Chapter XXXV— Roads, Post Roads and Post Offices— Early

Postmasters — The Stage Coach — Railroads — State Roads... 765


Chapter XXXVI— The Dorr War— Dorr's Character— Universal
Manhood Suffrage — Laws for Admission of Freemen — Dorr
Contends for Extension of Suffrage — Freemen's Convention
— The Dorr Assembly — Dorr as Governor — His Revolution-
nrv Career — He Flees the State — His \'indication 781

Chapter XXXVII— The Civil War— Rliode Island Troops Leave
for the Seat of War — Regiments and Batteries in Service —
General Burnside and War Governor Sprague — Distinguished
Officers — Statues and Memorials 809

Chapter XXXVIII — Manufactures — Water Power Utilized —
Founders of Important Industries — Cotton Factories — Woolen
Manufacture — Iron and Steel — Goldsmiths and Silversmiths
— Providence Chamber of Commerce — Statistics 827

Chapter XXXIX— Medicine and Surger> — Early Physicians—
Their Methods — Epidemics — Surgical Operations — Early
Medical Teachers and Schools of Medicine— Medical School
of Brown University— Nineteenth Century Practitioners-
Rhode Island Medical Society— State Hospital— Board of
State Charities and Corrections — Administrative Boards.... 847

Chapter XL— Finance and Banking— Early Bills of Credit— Lot-
teries — First Banks— Tfesent Day Financial Institutions... 875

Chapter XLI — Early Landmarks — Taverns — Dramatic Perform-
ances — Historic Buildings 887

Chapter XLII— Northwestern Rhode Island— Early Settlers-
State Officials from the Region — Influence in Public Aft'airs —
Modern Development 9H^

Chapter XLIII— The Judiciary— Establishment of First Courts
— Pioneer Jurists— General Court of Elections— Code of
Laws of 1647 — The General Assembly Exercises Judicial
Powers in Criminal Cases— Counties Established— Separa-
tion of Judicial and Legislative Departments— Notable Early
Litigation— The Supreme Judicial Court— General Sessions
of the Peace— Justices' Courts — Court of Common Pleas-
Constitutional Amendments — Eminent Lawyers and Jurists. 935

Chapter XLI V— Presidents and Governors 975

Appendix— Town Histories — The Grange — Orchards — Place

Names — Indian Place Names 1 175




The Narragansett Basin is one of the most interesting historic as
well as geologic sections of New England. Its total area lies between
the Atlantic Ocean on the south and Wachusett on the north, and includes
on the east the lands drained by the Taunton River, and on the west the
lands sloping toward the Pawtucket River. This basin, irregular in shape,
extends from north to south a distance of one hundred miles, and from
east to west it has an average width of about forty miles. The State of
Rhode Island occupies the seaward end of this territory, and is in length
about fifty miles, in breadth about twenty-five miles, a total of about 1,300
square miles. Longitude 71° 35' west cuts the State in halves. The lati-
tude of Newport is 41° 30', and that of Providence is 41° 49' north.

The principal streams that water and drain the Narragansett Basin,
slopes and plains, are the Pawtucket or Blackstone, the Pawtuxet, the
Taunton, the Moshassuck, the Woonasquatucket, Coles and Lees rivers,
Palmers and Warren, Kickemuit, Runens and Barrington, Ten Mile River
and Abbott's Run, all of which find their outlet in Narragansett Bay,
where they mingle with the salt waters of the Atlantic. Wachusett, in
Massachusetts, 2,108 feet above sea level, is the highest elevation, bound-
ing the basin on the north, while Durfee Hill, in Gloucester, 805 feet high,
Woonsocket Hill, in North Smithfield, 588 feet high, and Beacon Pole
Hill, in Cumberland, 556 feet high, are the highest in Northern Rhode
Island. As we descend from these rock-ribbed hills. towards the south
and east, we at once strike the glacial detritus, bounded by moraines or
covered with the soil accumulation of the post-glacial period. On our
down-hill journey we encounCer water areas for ponds, held in their con-
fines by rock precipices, over which the water plunges ten, twenty, fifty
or more feet to the river grade below. The presence of these many ponds
and waterfalls in Rhode Island points to a late or recent geologic trans-
formation, previous to which the streams flowed over well-graded bot-
toms. The Moshassuck Valley is an illustration of an old river bed
having a slight decline and a sluggish flow of water, while the Blackstone
from Lonsdale to tidewater has ponded areas, rapids, and at Pawtucket
a noted waterfall. These ponds and waterfalls, in all parts of the State,
have added interesting details to the contour of the country, while their
concentrated water-motive power has created a vast per capita wealth
in manufacturing businesses.

The hill country of Rhode Island, our great forest land, constituting
the northern and western areas, provides the reservoirs of our efficient


streams. The alluvial valleys and plains, lying between the hills, partially
cleared of forest growth by the Indians, directed and determined tlie
pioneer settlers to these lands as their homes and to agriculture as their
chief industry.

The settlers at Providence. Portsmouth, Newport and Warwick were
all farmers. Coddington, Clark, Brenton, Balston, Gorton, Greene,
Holdcn, Harris, Carpenter and Williams, tilled the soil in early, rude ways
for their livelihood, with the addition of fish-food from the shores and the
sea. Roger Williams said of himself that he must be continually "at the
hoe and oar for bread."

Other hills in the northwest section of the State are: Wyunkeag
Hill, in Smithfield, 557 feet; Jerimoth Hill, in Foster, 799 feet; Beacon

Online LibraryThomas Williams BicknellThe history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 44)