Rhode Island Reading Room
These documents are made available free to the public by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project

This section contains articles of genealogical and historic interest on Rhode Island in general, from old Rhode Island books and newspapers.

History of Providence County, Rhode Island

Edited by Richard M. Bayles.
In two volumes, illustrated. Vol. I.
New York:  W. W. Preston & Co., 1891.


Town of Providence - Settlement and Early History.
Chapter V, pp. 134 - 170.

The Fenner party, in the name of the town, had sent communications to the other three towns of the state, setting forth in severe partisan language their interpretation of the division and the action of Harris in the matter.  They gave him the name of a 'Fire brand',  and among other charges they declared that he had on the town meeting day, by the help of 'his partner, William Carpenter, deprived a great number of freemen of liberty to vote for officers.  Some of them had been townsmen twenty-six years, all above eighteen years of age, and landed men, and had given their engagement of fidelity to his majesty, according as is provided in the colony.  The objection why they should not vote was, they had not given their engagements before the town; then one steps forth and desireth to give his engagement, then, that, also they refused.  Another objection, their names were not returned to the clerk, then the assistant tendered a list of those names to be recorded, that had given their engagements; that was also refused, so, that this man, with his partner, would neither accept them that were engaged, nor let him engage that offered himself, before them; what they would have we now begin to see.  The people beholding their liberties and privileges by these men endeavored to be violated, and destroyed, being about two parts out of three resolved not to endure it; but moved Mr. Fenner, Assistant, to stand with them to help maintain their privilege, and to work they went, to the business of the day, to choose their moderator in the same room, the town clerk and constable, and when they were engaged, demanded the town books to be delivered to the town clerk, chosen by the major part of the freemen of the town.  This man with his associates, having got the table, denied the books.  The said Arthur Fenner, moderator, in the name of the town demanded them three distinct times, and one of them dared the company to touch the books.  But we dared to do it, only we did know it would but add fuel to the firebrand, which would do no good, neither to colony nor town; remembering that our [liberty] is watched for roundabout us, and chose at present another way, procured paper, recorded our act and officers, completing the business of the day (as in respect to the election) and chose four men to draw this remonstrance to the three towns, that, it be possible this firebrand may be quenched.  Moreover, this man, whilst we were peaceably acting, his associates having left the room, came again and commanded the said moderator of the town, about ten times, in his majesty's name, to depart that house from the rout; so that with us the case lieth thus, that when we meet together in peace to agree about our occasions, not warned by this man or his partner, we are called by him a rout, and when warned by them and do not as this man would have us, we are then also termed a rout.  What other firey work this man will make, we watch to see, that we may quench it if it be possible.'

This communication may have had some weight in procuring the summary treatment of Mr. Harris of which we have spoken, but it did not 'quench the fire-brand' by any means.  The favor which Harris had acquired in the colony called for a petition  to the general assembly from the town in August, 1668, remonstrating against his being appointed to any office or employment in the colony.  In this remonstrance, which is officially given over the signature of Shadrach Manton, town clerk, it is declared that Harris was disfranchised in 1644 and cast out of town meeting 'for assaulting a neighbor and blood-shedding in the King's highway.'  He was charged with being an intruder, a usurper, a dweller 'in the woods', with publishing treasonable expressions and being an element of disorder generally.  All the invectives  that rampant party spirit could suggest seem to have been used in describing his character, but for all that the assembly and the colony were not ready to remand him to the shades of obscurity.  In 1668 the colony again elected him to the office of assistant, and the same honor was conferred upon him in 1669.  His side of the controversy is not represented by any explanation now existing, but the facts mentioned show that by some means he secured a party of friends strong enough to sustain him in the positions mentioned.

It appears probable that his party was strong enough in the town to carry on so much opposition as to obstruct the harmonious action of the town.  A double town meeting and election of two sets of delegates appears to have been held in 1668, and a similar condition of things existed in the following year.  In 1669 two certificates from two town clerks appear to have been issued, in one of which it is stated that no deputies were elected, and in the other that a certain specified list of deputies was elected.  The general assembly expressed its sympathy for the 'grevious symptoms that appear of dangerous contests, distractions and divisions' by which they declare the town of Providence was incapable of transacting their own affairs in any measure of satisfactory order, and so unable to send deputies to assist in the transaction of business for the whole colony.  A committee was accordingly chosen, to repair to Providence 'and endeavor to persuade them to a loving composure of their own differences,' and to call a meeting for the election of town officers and deputies.  No satisfactory result was reached.

In March ,1670, the assembly again took the matter in hand, and after reciting the facts 'that there have been great distractions amongst the inhabitants of the town of Providence, there being two parties accusing each other, that they have obstructed legal proceedings and that they have acted illegally', appointed John Easton and Joshua Coggeshall to go to Providence and hold a town meeting and see that those possessing the legal qualifications, and only such, were allowed to vote.  By this means a town meeting was held, an election of officers secured, Mr. Harris and his party seemed to fall into obscurity, and the local machinery of government began to move more freely.

Despite all the encouraging and distracting influences of which we have spoken, the population of Providence continued slowly to increase until the period of that serious commotion known as King Philip's war.  At the beginning of that period the population is estimated to have been about 1,000 souls.  The results of the Indian hostilities at this time greatly changed the population as well as other material appearance of the place.  A brief notice of the details of this trying time is called for at this point.

In the earlier history of settlement, Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoags, submitted himself and his lands to the England, and concluded a treaty with them.  This treaty assured the Wampanoags of the protection of the English against the Narragansetts, of whose power and enmity the former tribe stood in great fear.  The treaty was kept inviolate during the life of Massasoit.  After his death his eldest son, Alexander, succeeded him, renewing, together with his brother Philip, the treaty with Plymouth, under whose fostering wing the Wampanoags had grown stronger.  Alexander had increased his power also, by marrying Weetamo, squaw sachem of the Pocassets, who was described as a princess not exceeded in power by any of her regal associates.  It was suspected that Alexander was plotting with neighboring Indians for an onslaught upon the English.  He was summoned to meet the court at Plymouth, but failed to do so, excusing himself by saying that he was waiting to see Captain Willett who was then absent.  This excuse was not accepted, and an armed force was sent after him, bringing him as a prisoner before the magistrates of Plymouth. He was soon released, but a few days after returning home he was taken sick of a fever and died.  Indian suspicion at once declared that he was poisoned by the English.

Philip, the brother of Alexander, now became sachem of the tribe.  He doubtless believed in the suspicion of poisoning, and true to the Indian character, smothered his revenge for a more opportune time to give it vent.  He laid his plans first to secure the alliance of all the neighboring tribes and  then to strike one simultaneous and decisive blow against all the English settlements.  Concealing his designs and movements, while he offered gifts and matured his plans with the Indians, he renewed treaties of peace and amity with the English, and finally set the time when the mask of friendship should be thrown off and the plan which had been for years maturing should be consummated by the war-whoop, the scalping knife and the fire-brand.  Circumstances compelled an exposure of his hostile attitude, and in the summer of 1675 the villages of Plymouth colony were destroyed.   In preparation for the commencement of hostilities the Wampanoags sent their women and children to the Narragansetts for safe keeping.  Canonchet, the chief sachem of the Narragansetts, was required to give them up to the English, but he resolutely refused to do so.  Thus, the neighboring tribes of Indians were aroused to participation with the Wampanoags, and on the other hand the whole power of the United Colonies was called into action to suppress them.  Rhode island, not being included in that union of colonies, was in a very dangerous position, but might hope as its only chance, to maintain a neutral position and thus escape the vengeance of the Indian.  At the close of 1675 Philip took up his winter quarters with the Narragansetts, where they had fortified themselves at South Kingstown.  There they were attacked on December 19th and taken, after a bloody engagement, in which a large number of the Indian warriors were killed.  The survivors secreted themselves in the swamps and subsisted as best they could while they planned new projects of revenge.

On their march into the Narragansett country the troops of the United Colonies had passed through Providence, and perhaps some volunteers joined them from this town.  Up to about this time no depredation had been committed by the Indians upon Rhode Island ground, but now they burnt Bull's garrison house at South Kingstown.  The towns of the mainland were now thoroughly filled with alarm, and petitioned the assembly for help, but with little good result.  The assembly could do little to help them.  But Newport and Portsmouth generously invited the people of Providence and Warwick to come to the Island and make their homes temporarily.  A large portion of the inhabitants of Providence availed themselves of this offer and removed with their families  to the Island.  The natural advantages of situation secured the island towns to a considerable extent against sudden attack of the Indians.  Of those who were brave enough to remain at Providence the following list is preserved in the records of the town.  These are they, in the language of the record, 'that stayed and went not away:'  Roger Williams, Nathaniel Waterman, Thomas Fenner, Henry Ashton, John Morey, Daniel Abbott, James Olney, Valentine Whitman, John Whipple, Sen., John Angell, James Angell, Thomas Arnold, Richard Pray, John Pray, Ephraim Pray, Abraham Man, Joseph Woodward, Thomas Field, Zachariah Field, Edward Bennett, Thomas Clemence, William Lancaster, William Hopkins, William Hawkins, John Rhodes, Samuel Windsor, and Thomas Waller.  It is also supposed that Arthur Fenner remained, though his name does not appear on the list.

The absence of so large a number from Providence made it all the more likely to be attacked by the Indians.  On the 16th of March, 1676, they made a descent upon the town and burned 30 houses.  What houses these were, or in what part of the town they were situated cannot be definitely told, but it is supposed that they were situated in the northern part of the town.  The location of only one of them is known, and that was the house of John Smith, the miller.  This stood on the west side of the Moshassuck river, near the later site of the first stone lock on the Blackstone canal.  Mr. Smith was at that time town clerk, and consequently had the records of the town in his keeping.  While the house was burning the records were thrown in the mill pond to preserve them from the flames.  Thus they were preserved and have been handed down to the present generation.  Being rescued from the mill pond they were carried to Newport, and there retained in safety until the war was over.  In the experience of war which they had, about 85 leaves were lost from the two books.

After the burning of the town the resident inhabitants again petitioned the governor for assistance, and received the offer of the support of ten men until the meeting of the general assembly.  In May, 1676, a garrison of seven men under Captain Arthur Fenner, was placed here by the government, and this was called the 'King's garrison'.  Roger Williams, acting as captain of the train band of the town, had previously fortified the house of William Field, as a place of protection for women and children.  It stood on the later site of the Providence Bank, and the remains of it were standing within the remembrance of persons who were living in 1836.  Canonchet, the Narragansett sachem, was taken prisoner by the English April 4th, 1676, and condemned to be shot.  Philip endeavored to rally his followers, and to induce other tribes to engage with him in warfare on the whites, but finally retreating to his stronghold in Mount Hope, he was shot by a treacherous member of his own tribe, August 12th, 1676.  This ended the war, and peace was restored before the end of the year.

Several Indians had been taken prisoners, and were in custody in the town.  At a town meeting held on the 14th of August, 1676, a committee was appointed to dispose of the prisoners by sale as slaves for certain specified terms of service.  The place for holding town meetings at that time was under a sycamore tree which stood by the water side, in front of Thomas Field's house.  This house stood next to the garrison house spoken of, and was cut down by the officials of the corporation about 1822.  The Indians were to be held for the terms as follows:  'All under five years to serve till thirty, above five and under ten, till twenty-eight, above ten to fifteen, till twenty-seven, above fifteen to twenty, till twenty-six, from twenty to thirty shall serve eight years, all above thirty, seven years.'  An account of sales of Indian slaves about this time contains the following average items among a long list, the items given being sufficient to give an idea of the valuations:--
'To Anthony Low, five Indians, great and small, £8.
'To James Rogers, two, for twenty two bushels of Indian corn.
'To Philip Smith, two, in silver, £4, 10.
'To Daniel Allen, one, in silver, £2, 10.
'To Caleb Carr, one, twelve bushels of Indian corn.
'To Elisha Smith, one, in wool, 100 lbs.
'To Elisha Smith, one, for three fat sheep.'

The Indians referred to as being sold by the town in August, 1676, were probably all sold to parties outside of the town, as we are told that they were sent away on the 29th of the same month, by a sloop belonging to Providence Williams, son of Roger.  The refugees to Newport and Portsmouth were now returning, and in the following spring the work of the colonists went forward without apprehension or disturbance.  The status of Providence as compared with other towns at this time is shown by the apportionment of a colony tax of £300 laid in 1678, as follows:  Providence, £10 (one-thirtieth of the whole colony);  Newport, £136;  Portsmouth, £68;  Warwick, £8;  Westerly, £2;  New Shoreham, £29;  Kingstown, £16;  East Greenwich, £2;  Jamestown, £29.

During the reign of Sir Edmund Andros as governor under King James, the Rhode Island charter was surrendered, and this colony at the mercy of the tyrannical ruler.  But perhaps its very weakness and small importance was the greatest means of security to the colony.  But little light on the progress of events in Providence can be gleaned from its records during that period.  Elections of some town officers appear to have been held in 1687 and 1688, but none in 1689.  Small taxes were also laid from time to time.

In 1695 the general assembly ordered a prison to be built in Providence.  A town meeting at first decided to locate it 'near the water's side, next Gideon Crawford's warehouse.'  The size of it was to be ten feet by twelve.  An attempt to change the site in the following April resulted in an uproarious breaking up of the meeting.  The building was finished by January, 1700, at a cost of £21, 17s., exclusive of the cost of locks.  This building was destroyed by fire some four or five years afterward.

For reasons which do not appear in the record, Joseph Latham and John Scott were required by the general assembly to build a jail, as good as that which was burned, or pay the sum of £33.  This seems to have been the effect of some obligation into which the parties named had entered -- perhaps something of the nature of an insurance obligation.  It appears to have been left optional with the assembly as to which of the obligations should be required of the men named.  The decision of the assembly was given February 14th, 1705, as follows:

'And therefore it is enacted, That the said Latham and Scott shall not build said jail, but pay the thirty three pounds into the Generall  Treasury; thirty pounds thereof shall be improved on the Collony's behalf for the building her Majesty's jail at Providence, and the other three pounds to pay the officers of said town's charge of transportation to Newport.'

The new jail is supposed to have been located on the site of the first one, and that was probably the 'prison lot', which is marked on the plat of that part of the town which was made in 1718.  This lot was on Benefit street, and the jail was abandoned by the state in 1733.  A third prison was erected about that time, on a lot purchased of William Page, on the north side of the road leading to the ferry at 'Narrow Passage'.  This gave to that road the name of 'Jail Lane'.  Its later and official name is Meeting street.

In June, 1700, the lot lying 'between Archibald Walker's southward to the brook that cometh out of Samuel Whipple's land, eastward with the highway, and westward and northwestward with Moshassuck river', was voted by the town to remain common, 'for a training field, burying ground and other public uses.'  These bounds included not only what is now enclosed and known as the North Burial Ground, but a large tract lying to the southward and westward of that, and which has later been improved by different individuals.  Previous to the date mentioned most of the old families had private burying grounds of their own, located in some corner of the ancestral home lot or farm.  And many of these family burial grounds were maintained many years after the establishment of this common ground.  Most of them, however, have long since been abandoned and the mouldering remains of their tenants have been removed to more enduring plots of sacred sepulture.

In 1705 Weybosset bridge seems to have required rebuilding.  A committee was appointed to circulate a subscription paper for that purpose.  The highest single subscription was for £6, by Gideon Crawford, and the whole amount raised was only £21.  Doubtless the circulation of the paper was not faithfully attended to.  The bridge was on an important thoroughfare, and the assistance of the whole state was sought.  In 1711 the general assembly granted £200 out of the general treasury toward building bridges at Pawtucket, Weybosset and Pawtuxet.  These bridges were on the main road laid out by the general assembly through the colony from Pawtucket to Pawcatuck, and the most of the travel from Massachusetts to New York passed over it.  The assembly subsequently made appropriations of various amounts for repairs on these and other bridges.  In 1740 an appropriation from this source was made, of £25, for erecting Muddy Bridge dock, and again for the same purpose an appropriation of £50 was made in 1752.  This bridge was located in Weybosset street, near the north end of Dorrance street.  It is said that tides formerly flowed across from Dorrance street into the cove.

In 1710 the colony agreed to raise 200 men to go in the expedition to Port Royal.  Of this number the quota for Providence was 40 white men and eight Indians.  In 1711 the colony had to raise 179 men for the Canada expedition.  The quota for Providence in this was 35 men.

In 1716 the town was visited by small-pox, but to what extent it raged, beyond the fact that some official and public notice was given to it, we have no means of knowing.  The town about this time gave its vigorous protest against the issue of paper money, which financial scheme was then being projected by authority of the general assembly.  The protest of Providence, however, was unheeded.  This inflation of the circulating medium may have had something to do with the increased amount which the town had to raise, though increased expenses in laying out of highways and support of the poor were factors in that swelling of aggregate taxation.  A town debt was accumulating.  The town tax had rarely exceeded 60 pounds a year, but in 1717 the amount of 150 pounds was ordered to be raised by tax.  The same amount was ordered again in 1720.  Bounties for wild animals were offered by the town.  In 1716 the bounty on wolves was 20 shillings each, and on grey squirrels two-pence each.  The numbers of the latter animals must have been great, since in 1720 the town owed £16 in bounties on them.  The bounty was repealed in July, 1723, but renewed in October of the same year, and raised to three-pence.  In the following year an equal bounty was offered for the destruction of rats.  The bounty on wild cats was five shillings, which was doubled in 1729.

The growth of the town is shown by the fact that in 1730 the total population of Providence was 3,916.  In its race with Newport it was more nearly even with its rival than ever before, that town showing a total population of 4,640.  These two towns then contained about one-half the population of the colony, the total population of which at that time amounted to 16,935.  Of the population of Providence there were 128 negroes and 81 Indians, a small proportion as compared with the proportion of those races in many other districts, even in this colony.  There were then five companies of militia in this town.

The only means of crossing the Seekonk river, previous to the year 1739, appears to have been a bridge at Pawtucket and a ferry at Narrow Passage.  A private ferry had also been kept for awhile near where Washington bridge now stands.  A petition was presented to the general assembly by Josiah Fuller and Elisha Tillinghast, to establish a public ferry at this place.  The project was delayed by another petition subsequently presented by Daniel Abbott to have a ferry established at a different place, presumably further down the river.  Subsequently a ferry was established at the place suggested in the first petition.

The lottery system, by which so much business was done during many years of the latter part of the past century and the first part of the present one, had its beginning in Providence in 1744.  The first grant of a lottery by the general assembly was at the October session of that year, and was intended to encourage the laudable enterprise of building Weybosset bridge.  The amount of the scheme was £15,000, out of which £3,000 was to be  used in building the bridge.  To encourage the enterprise, the town as a corporation purchased 400 tickets in the lottery.  Some obstacle or misunderstanding seems to have arisen, on account of which the town in 1745 ordered the building committee to proceed no further without  further orders.  In the following February the general assembly, at the request of the town, directed the £3,000 to be lodged in the town treasury and to be laid out under the direction of the town.  The bridge to be built was eighteen feet wide.  A stone pillar supported the middle of it.  While it was building, a ferry was maintained, Amaziah Waterman on the east side, and Job Sweeting on the west side, acting, by choice of the people, as ferrymen.  The bridge had been carried away by a freshet many years before, and in 1719 had been rebuilt.

The population of the town in 1748 was 4,128, of which 225 were negroes, and 50 Indians.  About this time there were in the town 30 licensed taverns.  The highest sums paid for licenses were by Joseph Angell, William Pearce and Jonathan Olney, who paid £8 each.  The town debt and expenses were so great that a tax of £1,600 was ordered in 1749.

No measures for protection against fire appear to have been taken by the town previous to the year 1754.  The general assembly passed a law requiring each housekeeper to be provided with two fire buckets, and authority having been obtained, the town laid a tax upon the inhabitants in the compact part of the settlement, to purchase a 'large water engine'.  The enterprise moved slowly, however, until the destruction of the court house by fire, in 1758, again aroused attention to the matter.  The assembly gave the town power to appoint fire wards in 1759, and the rate for the engine appears to have been collected in April of that year, though the engine is supposed to have been purchased some time before.  The purchase of another engine was authorized in December, 1760, and engine men were first appointed by the town in 1763.  The town tax in 1757 reached £3,000.  The tavern keepers numbered from 20 to 30 about that time, and the price of licenses reached as high as £12 in some instances.  The town council generally met at the house of some one of these licensed tavern keepers, and dined there at the expense of the town.  They appear to have had no other compensation than their 'dinners and liquor', accounts of which are still extant among the manuscript records of the ancient town.  For example, April 3d, 1757, six dinners are charged at £5, 8s; punch £2.  May 28th, seven dinners, £6, 6s; punch £2.

The war with the French in America, which engrossed so much attention of the people of the colonies during the decade which we are reviewing, excited the lively interest of the people of this town.  On receiving the news of the capture of Fort William Henry, and the invasion of the northern frontier by the French, the imagination of the people framed highly colored pictures of devastation and death following in the train of the French armies penetrating to all parts of the colonies, and answered promptly and energetically the calls for assistance which came from the quarters most exposed.  August 15th, 1757, a large number of the patriots of this town subscribed to a declaration of which we quote in part as follows:

'Thinking it our duty to do every thing in our power for the defence of our liberties, families and properties, are willing and have agreed to enter voluntarily into the service of our country, and go in a warlike manner against the common enemy, and hereby call upon and invite all our neighbors who have families and properties to defend, to join with us in this undertaking, promising to march, as soon as we are two hundred and fifty in number, recommending ourselves and our cause to the favorable protection of Almighty God.'

The following men signed this agreement:  Stephen Hopkins, Obadiah Brown, Nicholas Cooke, Barzillai Richmond, Joseph Bucklin, John Randall, John Cole, Gideon Manchester, Ephraim Bowen, surgeon, John Waterman, Joseph Arnold, John Bass, chaplain, John Thomas, Jr., Allen Brown, Benoni Pearce, Barnard Eddy, Benjamin Doubleday, Nicholas Brown, Joseph Brown, William Wheaton, William Smith, Jonathan Clark, Jonathan Ballou, James Thurber, Amos Kinnicut, Nathaniel Olney, Joseph Lawrence, Theophilus Williams, John Power, Benjamin Olney, George Hopkins, Edward Smith, Joseph Winsor, Joseph Cole.  These, we are told, together with many others had made themselves ready, and were intending to march on the next day, whilst the militia, under Colonel John Andrews, had already started.  The movements were brought to a stand-still by the arrival of an express stating that the French and Indian armies had gone back.  The volunteers consequently did not start, but the militia had gone as far as the Widow Resolved Waterman's in Smithfield, when the message, carried by Moses Brown from Providence, overtook them and called them back.

Another incident of the French war was the fact that in March and April, 1758, nearly 2,000 of the king's troops were quartered in Providence, for a short time while en route for a crusade against the French possessions in America.  Also about that time a numbering of the people was made, which possibly might have been suggested by the consideration of immediately prospective needs in defending the colony against the French invasion.  This numbering was completed by December 24th, 1755.  There were, by its showing, in Providence then 747 men, 741 women, 655 boys, 754 girls, 262 negroes, 275 men able to bear arms, 406 enlisted soldiers, 349 small arms, 181 swords, 56 pistols, 762 pounds of powder, and 3,871 balls.

An attempt to establish a market house on a lot at the east end of Weybosset bridge was begun in 1758, but from various causes it was not carried into successful effect until 1773, when, the necessary preliminaries of discussion, various town votes, grants, and a lottery scheme, having been gone through, the first stone of the structure was laid by Nicholas Brown on the 11th day of June.  The building was of brick, 40 feet wide, 80 feet long, and two stories high.  The lower story was used as a market, while the second story was divided into offices and occupied in part by the various officers of the town and in part by private tenants.  In 1797 the town granted liberty to St. John's Lodge of Free Masons to erect a third story upon it for their own use as a lodge room.  The town reserved the right to purchase it of the Masons whenever it should be deemed that public uses required it.  The building, with slight alterations on its east end, still stands on the east side of Market Square, being now occupied by the Board of Trade.

The lottery mania seems to have raged with much heat about this time.  From 1761 to 1763 many grants for such schemes were made by the assembly.  Several were made to the town to raise £21,300 for paving streets, one was made to the Church of England to repair their church and build a steeple, and one to the Congregational Society to purchase a parsonage.  Many others were granted for various other laudable purposes.  No objection on moral grounds appears to have been entertained by popular sentiment at that time.  A notable gale of wind occurred in October, 1761, which 'brought the highest tide into the harbor of Providence that hath been known in the memory of man, and carried away the Great or Weybosset bridge'.  The assembly granted £1,000, old tenor, from the general treasury for rebuilding it.  The whole cost, however, amounted to £4,357, 10s., 1 d., to raise which sum a lottery scheme was instituted under a grant from the assembly.  The bridge was then rebuilt with a draw in it.  Considerable ship-building was then carried on above this bridge, and full loaded vessels passed up as far as the foot of Bowen street.

The town was now assuming an importance sufficient to warrant the establishment of a printing office.  William Goddard has the honor of being the pioneer in that industry here.  He set up his printing office in 1762, perhaps in the month of June.  The first specimens from his press are said to have been a broadside or hand-bill entitled 'Moro Castle Taken by Storm', and a theatrical playbill.  On the 20th of October of the same year the first number of a weekly newspaper, The Providence Gazette and Country Journal, was issued by him.  Its subscription price was seven shillings per annum.  The printing office was located in a building 'opposite the court house'.  The refined tastes of society for entertainment are also shown at this period in the establishment of a theatre.  David Douglass, with his company, who are said to have been the first of their art who ever performed in New England, played in Providence in 1762.  The play-house was on Meeting street, east of Benefit street.  For some reason the plays were not popular with a certain party -- perhaps there were political colorings or infringements upon some other phase of decided opinions, which incurred the opposition of a popular sentiment against them which was strong enough to secure the passage of an act by the general assembly prohibiting them.  The law remained in force for some time.  After its repeal theatrical exhibitions continued at intervals in different parts of the town.  Plays became popular, so much so that at one time they were exhibited in the court house.  About 1794 a building in the rear of the 'old coffee house', between North Main street and the Cove, near Weybosset bridge, was used for the purpose.  In 1795 a theatre at the corner of Westminster and Mathewson streets was erected by a company, and was subsequently so occupied until 1832, when it was sold to an Episcopal church, and the site it now occupied by Grace church.

*************End of chapter V. **************


Chapter VI
These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project.
Transcription 2004 by Beth Hurd, Images by Beth Hurd 2004
Mail