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History of Providence County, Rhode Island

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


Growth of Providence Town and City.
Chapter VII. pp. 192 - 208.

Business Enterprises and Prosperity. -- Yellow Fever. -- Presidential Visit.  -- War of 1812.  -- Great Storm of 1815.  --  Visit of President Monroe.  --  Providence in 1820.  -- Temperance Movements.  -- Riots of September, 1830.  --  The City Charter and Government under it.  --  The Town Dissolved and the City Established.  -- Review of the new City.  --  Streets.  -- Finances.  -- The Dorr War.  --  Adopting the State Constitution.  --  A long Period of Prosperous Growth.

As the tide of peaceful business grew stronger, wealth began to increase and the various channels of business and social intercourse began to demand more particular attention.  In 1791 efforts were made to establish a bank here, which resulted in the opening of the Providence Bank in October of that year, this being the first institution of the kind chartered in the state.  The history of this and other similar institutions will be found elsewhere.

At the date above mentioned, John Carter was postmaster.  The southern mails then closed on Mondays and Thursdays, and arrived on Tuesdays and Fridays.  The eastern mails closed on Tuesdays and Fridays, and arrived on Mondays and Thursdays.  News from Boston was received then when two days old.

In 1792 it became necessary to rebuild Weybosset bridge.  The filling in of the shore now occupied by South Water and Canal streets made the channel about 30 feet narrower, and the eastern abutment was carried westward a corresponding distance.  The cost of the bridge was about £900.  Another bridge was built in the place of a former ferry over the Seekonk river.  This was called Washington bridge, and the first team passed over the completed bridge on the 12th of April, 1793.  Both these bridges were carried away in the great freshet of 1807.

An event of importance in the history of Providence was the visitation of yellow fever, which occurred in 1797.  It commenced its ravages in August, and during that month and September, 36 persons fell victims to the disease.  It was confined principally to a small part of the south end of the town.  This experience made so deep an impression upon the people that when they were called upon in the following year to sympathize with Philadelphia in similar suffering they readily contributed nearly $1,500 for the relief of the poor and destitute in that city.  This act of humanity was reciprocated in 1800, when Providence received a second visitation of the scourge.  The fever appears to have broken out in about the same locality, but it did not rage with the same severity.

We may mention in passing that Providence received a second presidential visit in 1797.  In August of that year President Adams passed through the town.  He was escorted into town by the Providence Light Dragoons, and welcomed, as usual on such occasions, by the ringing of bells, and the firing of cannon.  He was tendered an address of welcome, to which he made an appropriate response, and in the evening the college building and some private residences were brilliantly illuminated.  He proceeded on his journey in the morning, and was escorted to the Massachusetts line by several independent companies of military and many citizens.

In the great national questions which divided the American people in relation to the embargo, the non-intercourse, and the subsequent war with Great Britain, known as the war of 1812, the citizens of Providence were strongly opposed to the policy of the administration.  The news of the declaration of war was received on the 24th of July, 1812.  Being regarded as a great calamity the expressions of the people took shape in the tolling of bells and flying flags at half-mast.  On the 7th of August a town meeting passed the following resolutions, which show the position of this town in relation to the great questions of the day:

'Resolved, That it is the duty of every citizen promptly to aid in repelling all invasions of enemies, made for the purposes either of plunder, bloodshed, or devastation, or with any view to infract the rights, usurp the privileges, or interrupt the political freedom of any person whatever.

'Resolved, That we consider it most indispensably needful, at this time, to give all aid for suppressing all riots, tumults and mobs, believing  that however horrible war may be, between nation and nation, his terrible features almost soften with mercy, when compared with the grim and bloody visage of civil commotion.

'Resolved, That we will, at the hazard of all things, aid in the support and complete execution of the laws, knowing that safety cannot be found, when law is trampled under foot, and believing that neither life, liberty or property can be secure, when once secret threats or open force have with impunity violated the freedom of speech, of the press, and of election.

'Resolved, That we do all pledge ourselves, promptly, and on all occasions, to resist, and if possible, repel, all hostile invasions from the enemy, that we will assist in quelling riots, tumults and mobs, and do all in our power to discourage and discountenance every thing tending to those direful conflicts, hereby guaranteeing to all persons, so far as our influence and the effect of our exertions can extend, the perfect protection of the laws, so that they may, at all times, in all places, and on all occasions, freely speak and publish their opinions, and nominate and elect their public officers, not be amenable therefore to any man or collection of men, nor to any tribunal on earth, but such only as are established by the laws of the land.

'Resolved, That for obtaining the objects aforesaid, we do recommend to all persons, capable of bearing arms, forthwith to furnish themselves with arms and ammunition, and be ready at a moment's warning, to aid in defence of themselves, their families and their country.'

There was, however, but little call for active work in defending their homes or property.  Still they were not asleep to the possibilities of the hour.  In the year 1814 there was some alarm lest the enemy might visit the town.  A meeting of citizens was assembled and a committee appointed to superintend  the erection of fortifications and breastworks for the defence of the town.  The citizens turned out without respect to age, social standing or business, and engaged in the work of fortifying the town.  Differences of opinion on the causes and principles of the war were laid aside, and the people gave themselves earnestly to the work at hand.  Citizens of neighboring towns also joined in the work, volunteering their services in behalf of Providence, as being situated upon the river, and most likely to be assailed by the enemy.

The news of the return of peace was received here February 12th, 1815.  The enthusiasm of the people broke forth into demonstrative rejoicing.  Amid the inauspicious conditions of weather, in keeping with the season, the people were in lively motion upon the streets expressing their rejoicing at the welcome news.  Bells were rung, cannon fired, and a general illumination took place in the evening.

A notable storm occurred during September, 1815, which is one of the prominent features of the history of that time.  It began on the 22d, and continued to the 23d, became the most disastrous storm ever known in the annals of the town.  The following account is from a Providence paper of September 26th, 1815:

'A storm of rain from the northeast commenced on Friday last, and continued with little intermission till Saturday morning, when the wind veered to the east.  Between 8 and 9, however, it shifted to the southeast and continued to blow with increasing violence until half past eleven, when suddenly changing to the west, the progress of the calamity we now deplore was happily stayed.  The tide rose to an  uncommon and terrifying height, being twelve feet higher than spring tides, and inundated the streets in various parts of the town.  It extended in Westminster street a considerable distance beyond the theatre.  The lives of many families, particularly on the west side, were in imminent danger.  Consternation and dismay were depicted in every countenance - all were eager to fly, but knew no where to find a place of safety.'

'Vessels were forced into the streets and threatened destruction to the surrounding buildings.  Women and children were rescued from chamber windows, and men were seen buffetting the torrent in the streets, to save a friend or secure an asylum.  Weybosset bridge was entirely carried away about 10 o'clock.  Every vessel in port, with two exceptions, was driven from its moorings.  Thirty-five sail, including 4 ships, one of them over 500 tons; 9 brigs, 7 schooners and 15 sloops now form a melancholy, dismantled line at the head of the cove.  One of them drifted within the limits of North Providence, and strange as it may appear, Pleasant street is now the anchorage ground of a burthensome sloop.

'Our wharves, on which were stored the riches of every clime, exhibit the most sad and repulsive aspect.  Of the numerous and very spacious stores which crowded the wharves bordering on Weybosset street, scarcely a vestige remains.  Most of those south of the Market House, to India Point, shared a similar fate.  Many of our streets, which but a few days since were the theatre of virtuous and prosperous enterprise, are barricaded by an accumulation of lumber, scows, boats, &c., and peopled by busy sufferers who are anxious to identify, reclaim and preserve their property.

'The sufferings and losses of the inhabitants at Eddy's Point were very severe.  Several dwelling houses were carried away, while others   were divested, by the pitiless storm, of every article of provision, clothing and furniture.  The damage sustained at India Point was very extensive.  The valuable distillery there is rendered inoperative for many months.  Mill bridge, at the north end, is rendered impassible, except for foot passengers, and the upper works of the bridge at India Point are entirely gone.

'The third story of the Washington Insurance Office, occupied by Mount Vernon Lodge, was much injured, being perforated by the bowsprit of the ship 'Ganges', when she rushed with impetuosity up the river.  This handsome building was otherwise, though not materially injured.  The Rev. Mr. Williams' meeting house, situated in a very exposed place, received considerable injury, and had the tide continued to rise for a few minutes longer, would inevitably have swelled the catalogue of devastation.

'The Second Baptist meeting house, injudiciously located near the water, was totally destroyed by the winds and waves, and the fragments are scattered through our streets.  Much damage was done also to the elegant fence enclosing the First Baptist meeting house, by the fall of surrounding trees, but, to the astonishment of everyone, the magnificent spire of that superb edifice still towers sublime.  We do not learn that any other public buildings have sustained material damage.  Chimneys, trees, fences, &c., were prostrated in every direction.

'We are happy to state, that amid this war of elements and wreck of matter, only two persons were lost.  Mr. David Butler and Mr. Reuben Winslow were unfortunately drowned at India Point.  It is computed that five hundred buildings of various descriptions have been destroyed.  The loss consequent upon this sad calamity is estimated at a million and a half dollars.'

Other accounts of the storm estimate the damage at about one million dollars.  It is also said that the wind was so violent that the spray from the salt water was taken up and wafted forty miles through the air, being recognized by its salt taste where it alighted on window panes as far away as Worcester.  The actual measurement of the tide above the highest tide that had ever been known before was seven feet five inches.

The bridges carried away by the storm were as soon as practicable replaced.  A new bridge across the river near Weybosset was completed in 1828, being built by the Providence Washington Insurance Company.  About the same time another bridge, occupying the space between this and old Weybosset bridge, and connecting the two, was built by the same corporation.  Weybosset bridge itself was rebuilt in 1839, at a cost of $25,000, its width being increased to 140 feet.

In the summer of 1817 the hospitality and patriotic enthusiasm of the people were again aroused by the visit of a president.  On Monday, June 30th, President Monroe arrived in the steamer 'Firefly'.  The usual bell ringing, cannon firing and illumination attended his reception and entertainment, and he was escorted by the military, received by a ponderous committee and presented with a formal address.  Another formal reception of note was that of Lafayette in 1824.  News of his coming was received with the usual noisy demonstrations of joy.  A town meeting called for the purpose, appointed a committee of arrangements to prepare for his reception.  Ephraim Bowen, one of his old companions in arms, was sent to meet him in Connecticut.  Lafayette was met at Olneyville by the committee, about noon of August 23d.  He was escorted to the court house by a very long procession of military companies and citizens, and was everywhere met by demonstrations of welcome and cordial recognition.  Waving handkerchiefs greeted him on every hand.  On arriving at the foot of the state house parade he alighted from his carriage and walked up to the state house steps between two lines of girls dressed in white, who strewed his path with flowers as he passed.  At the western entrance of the state house stood the old veteran, Captain Stephen Olney.  As he and Lafayette recognized each other they sprang mutually forward and stood clasped in each other's arms, while tears of joy at meeting softened their eyes as well as the eyes of many who beheld the affecting scene.  An address of admiration and esteem was presented and appropriately answered, the general received the people for a few hours, in the senate chamber, and then proceeded on his way to Boston.

By the census of 1820 Providence contained 11,745 inhabitants.  Of this number 6,627, including 705 colored persons, were on the east side of the river, and 5,118, including 270 colored persons, were on the west side.  At that time the census found but nine foreigners, not naturalized, on the west side of the river, and thirty on the east side.  A glimpse of the increase of the wants of the town in its use of vegetables and fruits may be seen in the fact given by a writer of the time, that 107 wagons loaded with such things could be counted at market, while six years before less than half that number was considered an unusually large showing.  Before this it was not uncommon to meet persons in the evening wending their way through the streets, over the uneven sidewalks, by the flickering light of a hand lantern.  In 1820 the streets were lighted by public lamps, and in 1821 the sidewalk commissioners began the work of smoothing and straightening the footways of the town.  In the same year a fire hook and ladder company was established, and in 1822 a hydraulion was purchased for the protection of the people against fire.

A comparison of the appearance of the city at that time with its appearance at the present day, would exhibit a wonderful change.  indeed there are but few landmarks by which the Rip Van Winkle who went to sleep at that time would be able to recognize his locality on awaking now.  Standing then on the campus in the rear of Brown University and looking eastward, the eye rested upon a broad expanse of fields until it reached the Seekonk river, and the only houses passed in following Angell street to Red Bridge were a small dwelling and a tan yard near Hope street, the residence of the late John J. Stimson, and the Moses Brown farm house.  On Smith's hill but few dwellings were to be seen after passing the Smith mansion, Federal hill, to the west west of the John P. Jones mansion, then standing on its eastern brow, was a broad plain, and on High and Cranston streets population had reached but little if any west of Knight street, then known as Love lane.  Broadway was not then opened.  South Providence was but a sandy plain.  Elmwood was unknown, and Cranston was a distinct town, with miles of open country lying between it and Providence.  The tide had a free flow up the Woonasquatucket river nearly to Richmond's Print Works, and the marsh on both sides was flooded at its full.  The basin then was bounded on the east side by Canal street, on the south by the front line of buildings on Exchange place, while on the north its waters washed the southern slope of Smith's hill.  Aborn's wharf was in this basin, at the foot of Washington street, and the record of rise and fall of tides at that point was kept for many years after that date.  The town council in 1820 consisted of William Richmond, John Carlile, Richmond Bullock, Walter R. Danforth and Zachariah Allen.  Other officers of the town were:  Nathan W. Jackson, clerk; James Hammond, sergeant;  John Howland, treasurer;  Benjamin Clifford, Samuel Ames and Joel Metcalf composed the board of town audit; Cyrus Cleveland, overseer of town pumps in the north part of the town, Samuel Carlile in the south part, and Bernon Dunn on the west side.  Gabriel Allen was then postmaster, and the post office was kept in the Union Building.   Mr. Allen held the office until he died, in 1824.  He was succeeded by Bennett H. Wheeler, who was in turn followed by Edward J. Mallett.  The latter removed the office to his building on South Main street.  Welcome B. Sayles as the next incumbent of the office, and he brought it back again to Union Building, and thence removed it to the What Cheer Building.  Henry L. Bowen held the office for a while, but on the change of administration Mr. Sayles was again appointed, and by him it was removed to its present location in Weybosset street, the building having been opened in 1857.

The agitation of the temperance question began, as far as definite action was concerned, in 1827.  The first public meeting was held in the First Baptist meeting house in April of that year.  Several resolutions were passed on the subject, which were a step in the right direction, though they fell short of declaring for total abstinence from intoxicating drinks.  Thus commenced a series of measures which have developed temperance principles to a very high degree.  A few years later temperance organizations gained in popularity, and one after another, different societies were formed.  The City Temperance Society was formed November 1st, 1836;  the Providence Washington Total Abstinence Society, July 8th, 1841;  the Young Men's Washington Total Abstinence Society, July 9th, 1841;  The Sixth Ward Washington Total Abstinence Society, April 8th, 1842;  and the Marine Washington Total Abstinence Society, August 29th, 1842.  In each of these societies the members were pledged to total abstinence from all intoxicating drinks as a beverage.  Their aggregate number in 1843 had reached above 5,000 members.

The population of Providence in 1825 was 15,941.  Five years later it had reached 16,832.  The increase in population made the holding of town meetings inconvenient, and a change  in the form of local government was regarded by some as a necessity.  In April, 1829, the proposition to adopt a city form of government was voted upon and carried by 312 to 222.  In the following January the assembly granted a city charter, on the condition that three-fifths of the freemen voting at a meeting to be held should favor its adoption.  The vote was taken on the 15th of February, but the charter was discarded by a vote of 383 for and 345 against it, this majority not reaching the required three-fifths.  Thus the town government was confirmed in possession of the field for an indefinite term.  Its weakness to deal with a possible emergency was proven by a riot which occurred in the following year, and this doubtless created a change of sentiment which resulted soon after in the adoption of a city government.  This riot of 1831 was an episode in the history of Providence of such serious importance as to demand its recital in brief in this connection.

On the night of September 21st, 1831, a number of sailors, evidently bent on having a row with the negroes, visited Olney's lane, where a number of the latter resided.  The sailors opened the battle by making a great noise in the street and firing stones at the houses.  The assailants then retreated to the west end of the lane.  A little later five sailors, who had not been with the marauding party, went up the lane.  A negro man who was standing on the steps of his house, gun in hand, supposing them to be the same party as before, returning to do more mischief, told them to keep their distance.  They threatened to take his gun from him, but without attempting to do so, proceeded a short distance and then stopped.  The negro then ordered them to 'clear out' or he would fire on them.  They in turn dared him to fire.  He fired, and one of the sailors fell dead.  This enraged the sailors, perhaps more particularly the first party, who were still waiting at the foot of the lane.  They returned and tore down two of the houses and broke out the windows of a number of others.  During the next day there was great excitement.  The sheriff of the county, with other peace officers, were in Olney's lane early in the evening.  As the mob increased again they were ordered to disperse, and seven were taken into custody.  Subsequently others were arrested, who were rescued from the hands of the officers.  The sheriff then called for military aid from the governor of the state, and at midnight the First Light Infantry marched to his assistance.  The mob, not intimidated by the presence of the military, assaulted them with stones.  Finding that they could effect nothing without firing upon them, the soldiers withdrew, and the mob went on with its work of devastation.  Six more houses in Olney's land and one near Smith street were destroyed, the fiends continuing their work until nearly 4 o'clock in the morning.

It was thought likely that an attack on the jail would be made, and on the morning of the 23d the sheriff again required military aid, and the governor ordered the Light Dragoons, the Artillery, the Cadets, the Volunteers and the First Infantry to be in arms at 6 o'clock in the evening.  The mob appeared in small force that night, and did but little mischief.  The evening of the 24th, however, developed a renewal of the work of destruction, and the military were again called out. They marched up Smith street and took position on the hill, being pelted with stones by the mob while on the way.  Both the governor and sheriff now remonstrated with the mob, to induce them to separate, and told them that the muskets of the military were now loaded with ball cartridges, but without avail.  The riot act was then read to them, and they were ordered by a peace officer to disperse.  The mob continued to throw stones both at the houses and at the soldiers.  The sheriff then attempted to disperse them by marching the Dragoons and Infantry among them, but without success.  Thus every harmless means failing, he finally ordered the military to fire.  The order was obeyed and four persons fell mortally wounded, just east of Smith's bridge in Smith street.  This had the desired effect.  The mob dispersed immediately and quiet was restored.

During these four evenings of the riot eight houses in Olney's lane, and nine near Smith street, in the section derisively called Snow Town, were destroyed or materially injured.  The day following the last act in the tragedy was Sunday.  On that morning, the 25th of September, a town meeting was held.  It met at the town house, but the assemblage was too great to be accommodated there, and they adjourned to the state house parade.  Here several resolutions lamenting the occasion which had made recourse to the military necessary, approving the action of the authorities on the occasion, and sympathizing with the friends relatives of the deceased, were passed with great unanimity.  A committee was appointed to prepare and publish a correct statement of facts relative to the riots, and the facts we have quoted above are to be found in their report.

Believing the whole evil to have been largely chargeable to the weakness of a town government to deal with any such emergency, it was unanimously resolved by the freemen at a town meeting October 5th, that it was expedient to adopt a city form of government.  A committee composed of John Whipple, Caleb Williams, William T. Grinnell, Peter Pratt, George Curtis and Henry P. Franklin were appointed to draft a charter.  This being done, the freemen on the 22d voted to urge the representatives to ask the general assembly to make it a law.  The town vote stood 471 for, and 175 against the change.  The assembly granted the charter, with the condition that it should have the approval of three-fifths of the freemen voting at a town meeting to be held on the 22d of November.  On that day the freemen voted 459 for and 188 against it.  The necessary majority being thus given, the charter went into effect on the first Monday in June, 1832, the town government being superseded by it.

The first election of city officers was held on the fourth Monday in April, 1832.  Samuel W. Bridgham was elected to the office of mayor, an office which he was successively re-elected without opposition, till his death in December, 1839.  The city was at first divided into six wards, and the aldermen elected from each ward were as follows, the order of each name corresponding to the number of the ward represented by him:  Dexter Thurber, Charles Holden, John H. Ormsbee, William T. Grinnell, Henry R. Greene and Asa Messer.  The first common council was composed of the following:  First ward -- Thomas R. Holden, Jesse Metcalf, William R. Staples, Peter Daniels;  Second Ward -- Isaac Brown, Samuel Pearson, Joseph Cady, Cyrus Fisher;  Third ward --  Joseph S. Cooke, John Church, William C. Barker, Asa Pike;  Fourth ward --  George Barker, James M. Warner, Benjamin D. Weeden, Thomas B. Fenner;  Fifth ward --  Samuel Jackson, 2d., Hezekiah Anthony, Pardon Clark, William Tallman;  Sixth ward  --  Caleb Williams, William Olney, Thomas Seekell, Sterry Baker.

The last meeting of the town council was held on June 4th, 1832, at the state house.  The five members who were then present were Richard Bullock, who was president of the board, Charles Holden, John H. Ormsbee, William Sheldon and Henry P. Franklin.  The record of that meeting declares,

'The Council met at this time and place, pursuant to an act of the General Assembly passed at their October session, A. D. 1831, for the purpose of inducting the Mayor and Aldermen elect of the city of Providence into office; when the oath of affirmation prescribed by law was by the President of this Council administered to the officers elect of the City Government, the Council dissolved.'

The ceremony of induction spoken of took place in the representatives' chamber, and after taking the oath of office himself Mayor Bridgham duly engaged the board of aldermen and common council, by administering the official oath to them.  Other city offices were filled by the following:  Richard M. Field, clerk;  Stephen Tillinghast, treasurer;  Joshua Rathbun, overseer of the poor, and clerk of the market;  Edward Harwood, sergeant;  John Hill, collector of taxes;  John Greene, city crier;  Menzie Sweet, overseer of public bridges;  Sylvester Hartshorn, auctioneer;  Joshua Rathbun, overseer of town house.  Many other offices were at that time also filled, such as city constables, officers of the city courts, assessors of taxes, surveyors and corders of wood, surveyors of highways, hoops, staves and heading, gaugers of casks, packers and inspectors of fish, overseers of hospitals, fence viewers, field drivers, presidents of firewards, school committee men (20), sealers of leather, street committee, inspectors of pot and pearl ashes, inspectors and measurers of carpenters', masons' and painters' work, surveyors and measurers of stone, superintending committee on chimneys, stoves and stove pipes, measurers of grain, sea coal and salt, overseers of pumps, inspectors of liquors, commissioners of sidewalks, measurers of bran, and committee on nuisances.

At this time the city contained about 17,000 inhabitants, who were scattered over an area of 5 1/2 square miles.  This area was traversed by about 60 miles of streets.  The following streets were then open, as far as indicated:  Abbott, from Sabin to Brewery;  Aborn, from Westminster to Sabin;  Angell, from Benefit to Central Bridge;  Ann, from Wickenden to Shore;  Anthony's Wharf, opening between 28 and 30 Weybosset;  Arnold, from Benefit to Hope;  Atwell's avenue, from Aborn to North Providence line; Bark, from Mill to Stevens;  Ben, from Smith to Orms;  Benefit, from the 'north pumps' to Wickenden;  Benevolent, from Benefit to Hope and beyond;  Black, from Orms to Martin;  Bourn, from Atwell's avenue to Federal street;  Bowen, from North Main to Benefit;  Bradford, from Tanyard street, across Atwell's avenue;  Broad, from Weybosset to High;  Brook, from Williams to Wickenden;  Brown, from George to Power;  Burgess, from High to Cranston street;  Burrill, from Westminster to High;  Burr's lane, from North Main to Stampers;  Butler's Wharf, opened between 38 and 40 Weybosset; Cady's lane, from North Main to Benefit;  Charles, from Smith to north bounds of city;  Charles Field street, from Benefit to Hope;  Cheapside, from Market Square to 71 North Main;  Chestnut, from Broad to Elm;  Church, from North Main to Benefit;  Claverick, from Pawtuxet street to Friendship;  Clemence, from Westminster to Fountain; Clifford, from Dorrance to Chestnut;  College, from South Main to the college;  Cook, from Power to George;  Congdon, from Angell to Cushing;  Convenient, from Elm to South;  Corlis, from So. Water to So. Main;  Cranston, from High to the west boundary line;  Crawford, from So. Water to So. Main;  Cozzen's lane, from No. Main to Sexton;  Cushing, from Congdon across Prospect;  Dorrance, from Broad to the river;  Dyer, from Eddy to Dorrance;  East street, from Hill across North street;  Eddy, from Pine to the river;  Elbow, from Ship to Hospital;  Elm, from Plane to the river;  Federal, from Sabin to Tanyard street;  Fenner, from High to Pawtuxet street;  Field, from Ship to the river;  Foster's lane, from Pawtuxet street to Pine;  Fountain, from Mathewson to Tanyard;  Fox Point Wharves, on Shore street;  Franklin, from High to Fountain;  Friendship, from Dorrance to Plane;  Front, from Hope to Seekonk river;  George, from Benefit across Hope;  Harding's alley, from So. Main to Well street;  Harrington's lane, at north end of city;  Hewes street, from Stevens to No. Main;  High, from Westminster to Johnston line;  Hill, from Hope, running eastward;  Hope, from Olney's lane to Hill street;  Hopkins, from So. Main to Benefit;  Hospital, across Elm and head of Pine toward old hospital;  Howland's alley, from North Main to Benefit;  Hydraulion, from Market street to the Cove;  India Point Wharves, east end of Shore street;  Jackson, from Westminster to Fountain and Weybosset streets;  James, from So. Main to Benefit;  Job, from Westminster to Fountain;  John, from Benefit across Hope;  Long Wharf, opened between 16 and 18 Weybosset;  Love lane, from High to Atwell's avenue;  Market street, from the bridge to Westminster;  Market Square, fronting the Market;  Martin, from Charles to the North Providence line;  Mason's Wharf, opened between 8 and 10 Weybosset;  Mathewson, from Broad to the Cove;  Meeting, from No. Main to Hope; Megee, from George to Benevolent;  Middle, from Orange to Union;  Mill, from No. Main to Charles;  Mohawk alley, from Arnold to Transit;  Nash's lane, from 377 No. Main westward;  North, from Hope eastward;  North Court, from North Main to Benefit;  North Main, from Market Square to North Providence line;  North Water, from Market Square to Smith street;  Olney's lane, from No. Main to the Neck;  Orange, from Westminster to the river;  Orms, from Charles to the North Providence line;  Packet, from So. Water to So. Main;  Page, from Broad to Friendship;  Parsonage, from Elm to South;  Pawtuxet, from Broad to the Cranston line;  Peck's Wharf, opened between 48 and 50 Weybosset; Pine, from Peck's Wharf to Plane street;  Plane, from Pawtuxet street through South toward hospital;  Planet, from So. Main to Benefit;  Pleasant, from Broad to Westminster;  Point street, from Hospital street to the river;  Potter, from Broad to Pine; Power, from So. Main to Hope; President, from No. Main to Benefit;   Prospect, from College street to Olney's lane;  Randall, from Charles to No. Main ;  Rhodes, from Broad to Pine;  Richmond, from Broad to Ship;  Sabin, from Mathewson to Federal;  Sexton, from No. Main to the North Burial Ground;  Sheldon, from Benefit to Hope; Ship, from Chestnut to the river;  Short alley, from No. Main to Benefit;  Snow, from Broad to Washington;  Smith, from No. Main to Powder Mill turnpike;  Shore, from So. Water to India Point;  Stampers, from No. Main to Hewes;  Star, from No. Main to Benefit;  Steeple, from No. Water to No. Main;  Stevens, from No. Main to Charles;  South, from Plane to the river;  South Court, from No. Main to Prospect;  South Main, from Market Square to Wickenden street;  South Water, from Market Square to Fox Point;  Stewart, from High to Pawtucket street;  Sugar lane, from Broad to Westminster;  Tanyard, from High to Atwell's avenue;  Talman's lane, from Chestnut to Seekonk river;  Thayer, from Arnold to Power;  Thomas, from North Main to Benefit;  Thompson, from Wickenden to Shore street;  Thurber's lane, in north end of the city;  Transit, from So. Main to East street;  Union, from Broad to the Cove;  Walker, form Westminster to Washington;  Washington, from Tanyard street to the Cove;  Well, from Power to William;  Westminster, from Market to High;  West Water, from Market street to Mason's Wharf;  Weybosset, from Market to Broad;  Wickenden, from So. Main to Hope;  Williams, from So. Main to  Hope.

The city had on its shoulders to begin with a debt of about $109,000, of which $95,000 was funded at five per cent. interest.  The assessed valuation of property in the city was, of real estate, $6,838,300;  personal property, $5,282,900;  the total assessment being $12,121,200.  The first tax, of 33 cents on a hundred dollars, amounted to $40,000.  The expenses of the city government for the first year, aggregating $43,205.11, were in detail of subjects as follows:  For bridges, $1,599.33;  fire department, $1,797.74;  highways and paving, $6,452.47;  interest, $5,352.59;  lighting streets, $1,742.69;  public schools, $4,702.56;  support of the poor, including the asylum, $3,717.82;  officers' salaries in part, $1,700, and for watchmen, $4,110.

A few of the principle streets were then lighted a part of the night.  The light was but little more than darkness, being furnished by oil lamps, enclosed in small, well smoked lanterns placed at a great height above the sidewalks.  Contingencies of fire were provided for by a volunteer fire department, with hand engines, and stationary force pumps, and buckets in every house.  The night watch was composed of men who crept about the streets, well wrapped in coats and cloaks, and going in pairs, for protection and for company.  The few school buildings showed the wear of time and neglect in the buildings themselves as well as in their furniture.  But the day of enterprise and progress was brightening, and the growth of the city, and its internal improvements were in brighter prospect than ever before.  During the decade that followed many new enterprises sprung up, and those already established made more rapid growth.  Attention was paid to the advancement of literary culture and the arts and various interests of refinement and education.  Many newspapers were established, churches were built, improvements in the streets and other public works of the city were made on every hand, and individual  enterprise in many fields of industry and commercial achievement spread its wings for grander flight than it had ever known before.  Thus the years sped on while prosperity smiled graciously upon the growing city.

We come now to the period which saw in the history of Providence one of the more violent and deplorable commotions that ever disgraced or disturbed the social and political peace of a civilized community.  We refer to the period and the succession of events commonly known as the Dorr war.  It would be impossible within the limits of present space to give an account in detail of this unhappy conflict of the inflamed passions of men.  From the various representations of the affair we glean the following outline which we trust may be as free from any shade of prejudice as it is possible to picture a proceeding which has its roots in a soil of prejudice and waves its branches in an atmosphere of prejudice.

The principle on which the controversy was based was the suffrage qualifications.  From the date of the Rhode Island charter of 1663, down to the year 1841 no person was allowed to vote for town or state officers unless possessed of competent estates and admitted as a freeman in the town of his residence.  From 1723 no person could be admitted a freeman of any town unless he owned a freehold estate of the value fixed by law, which value was varied at different times, or else he should be the eldest son of such a freeholder.  The freehold value required in 1841 was $134.  This freehold requirement was the source of growing dissatisfaction.  At the January session of the legislature in 1841, a petition signed by five or six hundred male inhabitants, praying for an extension of suffrage, was presented.  The legislation thereupon requested the freemen of the several towns to choose delegates at their regular town meetings in August for a convention to he held in November, 1841, to frame a written constitution.  It may be needless to remark that up to this time the state had no constitution other than the charter of 1663.  The convention met, and finally, in February, 1842, completed and set forth a constitution which was to be acted upon by the votes of the freemen to make it the fundamental law of the state.

Meanwhile the citizens who advocated the extension of suffrage beyond the freehold qualification, seeing in the call of the assembly for a contention a determination to favor such limitation, resolved upon a bold appeal to the people, believing that a majority would rally to the support of the principles held by them that the suffrage right was inherent in the citizen and not conferred by legal enactments.  Thus the people were divided into two parties, one the 'land-holders', or the 'charter' party, and the other the 'people's' or 'suffrage' party.  A mass meeting of the advocates of suffrage was held in Providence April 18th, 1841, and adjourned thence to Newport, May 5th following, and thence again to Providence on July 5th.  Long lists of resolutions were passed, the most vital points of which declared in favor of a constitution and the extension of suffrage.  At the meeting in Providence a state committee was appointed to attend to the details of calling a state convention.  This committee met in Providence on July 20th, and issued a call for the election of delegates on the 28th of August following, to attend a convention to be held at the state house in Providence on the first Monday of October for the purpose of framing a constitution and laying it before the people of the state for their adoption or rejection.

This convention, the delegates to which were elected by an aggregate vote of about 7,200 in the state, met in October, and framed a constitution called the 'people's' constitution.  This constitution was printed and circulated throughout the state, and by the order of the convention it was voted upon on the 27th, 28th and 29th of December.  Every American citizen over 21 years of age who had resided in the state one year previous to the time of voting was allowed to vote, by placing his or her name upon the back of his ballot and also certifying whether or not he was entitled by statute to vote.  The ballots were received by secretaries in open town meetings, the secretaries preserving and forwarding all the ballots to the convention which by adjournment met to canvass the result, on the 12th of January, 1842.  It was then found that 13,944 had voted for the constitution and 52 against it.  Of the whole number who voted 4,960 were entitled by existing statutes to vote.  The committee who canvassed the votes then made a certified copy of the result, and with an attested copy of the constitution thus adopted, transmitted it to the governor, with the request that he would communicate the same to the general assembly then in session.

According to the act of the legislature the other constitution was voted upon on the 21st, 22d and 23d of March, 1842.  It was rejected by a majority of 676; there being 8,689 against it, and 8,013 in favor of it.  The claim was now asserted by the 'people's' party that their constitution was the choice of the majority and ought to go into effect.  This claim was denied by the state government already in power and foreseeing trouble they petitioned the president of the United States to interfere.  He replied that he should recognize those in authority under the charter as the true representatives of the state, but hoped that they would be able to preserve order without the interference of the general government or resort to martial force.  On the 13th of April an election was held under the 'people's' constitution, and Thomas W. Dorr was elected governor, and the other state and legislative officers to organize a state government.  On the 3d of May the members elect of the legislature met at Providence.  Eight or nine hundred state troops and two or three thousand citizens composed a procession which honored the inauguration of the new state government by their presence.  The state house being barred against them their meeting was held in another place.  The legislature organized in a building called the Foundry, on Eddy street, whence they adjourned, after making a few preliminary directions, to meet at Providence on the 4th of July.  Governor Dorr was thus left to manage the affairs of state as best he could.  This legislature never met again.  The state government  under the 'people's' constitution  thus came into existence on the 3d of May, and went out of existence on the 4th of May.  The representatives of Providence in this legislature were William M. Webster, Samuel H. Wales, J. F. B. Flagg, William Coleman, John A. Howland, Perez Simmons, Frederick L. Beckford, Benjamin Arnold, Jr., Franklin Cooley, William A. Thornton, and John S. Parkis.

The charter government was in session at Newport at this time, and measures were instituted to prepare for resisting the 'people's' government.  Military companies drilled and were armed and equipped for active service.  Mr. Dorr went to Washington and laid his case before the president and heads of departments, but without meeting any encouragement.  In New York, however, he was assured of friendly regard and held to withstand the national forces in case the executive should send them against him.  Also on his return to Providence he was received with many assurances of support in maintaining what he considered the cause of the people and justice.  Meanwhile some arrests had been made of some of the members of his legislature, and others resigned.  The state arsenal was an important object of possession.  It was now in the keeping of a strong guard under the charter government.  On the 17th of May, 'Governor' Dorr issued orders to the military of the several towns to repair forthwith to headquarters and await further orders.  The order was imperfectly responded to, and this so disheartened those who did come that many returned before night.  When at one o'clock the next morning the signal was given for an attack on the arsenal only about 250 men were on hand ready to move forward.  This command, armed with muskets and two pieces of artillery, took position in front of the arsenal, and Mr. Dorr demanded its surrender.  The summons was returned with an indignant refusal.  The night was extremely dark, and the pieces of artillery were found to be defective, whereupon the force moved back to headquarters without firing a gun.  In the morning several companies of militia were marched to Dorr's headquarters, which were found to be deserted.  It was evident that Mr. Dorr had miscalculated the stability of the professed adherents of the 'people's' constitution.  The strength of the charter government, with the means in its hands, and fears of what consequences might follow, effectually prevented many from taking any hand in the matter, even though at heart they may have sympathized with the principles represented by Mr. Dorr.

On the 8th of June, 1842, Governor King issued a proclamation, offering $1,000 reward for the delivery of Thomas Wilson Dorr to the proper authorities of this state.  Soon after 'Governor' Dorr issued a proclamation calling the general assembly to meet at Glocester, instead of Providence, as its adjournment required.  On the same day the charter general assembly, at Newport, declared the state under martial law.  Also on the same day Mr. Dorr, from his headquarters at Glocester, issued a proclamation calling on the military of the state who were in favor of the people's constitution to repair forthwith to headquarters.  Before this time troops had been sent forward by President Tyler, also arms and ammunition, which were held in reserve at the forts on Rhode Island for any emergency.  The only newspaper that had espoused the cause of the 'suffrage' party was the Daily Express of Providence, and when the state was declared under martial law the office of that paper was entered by a band of men who commanded the publishers to leave the building, while a mob in the street threatened to destroy the building.  Under the supposed protection of the martial law edict many acts of wanton violence were committed in different parts o the state, and at least one man was killed.  Considerable property was also destroyed or stolen by those who professed to be employed in the interest of the government.  The streets of Providence were guarded by state troops.  It was evident that the 'people's' legislature could not be convened here, so the quiet village of Chepachet, some 16 miles away to the northwest, was chosen.  Here some days before Dorr's proclamations a party of his friends had begun some fortifications on Acote's hill, and it was determined to make an attempt to defend the place and the legislature that was expected to meet there.  Meanwhile Governor King concentrated the forces at his command in Providence, until it was estimated there were some three or four thousand armed men, with fifteen or twenty pieces of artillery in the city.  Seeing the hopelessness of his cause, Mr. Dorr, on the 27th of June, dismissed his forces, and the fortifications were abandoned.  This was late in the afternoon.  On the morning of the 28th, at about 7 o'clock, an armed force from Providence arrived, under command of Colonel Brown, and took possession of the vacated earthworks, also capturing about 100 prisoners, the most of whom they met on different roads as they were returning to their homes.  These prisoners were tied together with ropes and forced to walk to Providence, where they were confined in close prisons for several weeks, and otherwise treated in a very inhuman manner.  Marital law was maintained until the 8th of August, when it was temporarily suspended, and on the 1st of September raised altogether.  Then followed a long series of investigations and trials for treason, of those who had taken part in defending the 'people's' constitution.

But the sentiment in favor of a constitution was destined to live and grow.  The general assembly called for the election of delegates on the 8th of August, to meet in convention to frame a constitution.  The constitution thus framed was voted upon during the three days beginning November 21st, 1842.  The result showed 7,024 in favor, and 51 against it.  The legislature thereupon declared the constitution adopted, and government was organized under it.

The population of Providence in 1845 was 31,753;  of which 1,476 were colored.  The expenses of the city government for the year ending June, 1847, were in total, $117,156.82;  being an excess of about $5,000 over the receipts of the same time.  At that time the Providence & Boston railroad, from India Point, was in operation, as also the Providence and Stonington railroad.  Other points were reached by numerous stage lines.  These started from the Manufacturers' Hotel, the Weybosset House, the Washington Hotel, the National House, or the American House.  Some of them ran daily, others tri-weekly.  The city was largely interested in manufactures, particulars of which, as well as other departments of the growth and energy of the city will be found under topical heads in other chapters of this book.  The general history of the city is but a continuous run of successful and healthy development and growth.  The continuous progress of that growth was not stopped even by the four years of civil war which tried the metal of the country during the years 1861 to 1865.  A special chapter will be given to that subject.  For the growth of the city in any particular direction the reader is referred to the chapter devoted to the particular subject desired.

* * * * * * * * * * *END transcript of chapter VII. * * * * * * * * * * *


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
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