This section contains articles of genealogical and historic
interest on Rhode Island in general, from old Rhode Island books and newspapers.
p. 735 - 736: Fitz-James RICE was born in Barre, Mass., July 14th, 1814, and is the son of Micajah and Lucy (Bannister) Rice. During his infancy his parents removed to Framingham, Mass., his father's native town. The progenitor of the Rice family in America was Edmund Rice, who lived in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England, and in 1638 came to this country with his family and settled in Sudbury, Mass. Phineas Rice, the paternal grandfather of Fitz-James, was a lieutenant in the continental army during the revolutionary war. When the English parliament, previous to the revolution, closed the port of Boston to commerce and navigation, he rendered the country a great service in transporting, by means of ox teams, valuable merchandise from New York to Boston.
Fitz-James Rice lived in Framingham, Mass., until he was 17 years of age, when he went to Medfield, Mass., where he spent four years in learning the baking business in the establishment of W. P. Balch. After completing his apprenticeship he went to Fall River, Mass., where he remained one year. In 1837 he removed to Providence, and was employed in the bakery of Benjamin Balch for five years, at the end of which time he entered into business for himself. In 1849 he formed a partnership with George W. Hayward, formerly an apprentice with him at Medfield, and laid the foundation of the extensive and profitable business now being carried on by the firm of Rice & Hayward, their establishment being of the largest of the kind in New England. In 1860 William S. Hayward, son-in-law of Mr. Rice, was admitted as a member of the firm. In 1863 the partnership was dissolved, and the business transferred to William S. Hayward. In the division of the property of the firm, the real estate came to Mr. Rice as a part of his share, which he leased to Mr. Hayward, who carried on the business alone for two years, at the expiration of which time Mr. Rice again became associated with him under the old firm name of Rice & Hayward, and this partnership still continues.
In 1868 Mr. Rice was elected a member of the Providence city council and reelected in 1869. He joined the High Street Congregational church in 1856, during the pastorate of Reverend Doctor Wolcott. This church afterward united with the Richmond Street church, and is now called Union church. In 1877 he became a life member of the Young Men's Christian Association of Providence, in which he has for many years taken a deep interest, and to which he has liberally contributed both of his time and means. He is particularly interested in missionary work, and for a number of years has been a member of the Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, and is a member of the Pomham Club. He is also a prominent Mason, having been a member of the What Cheer Lodge of Freemasons since 1857, and is a Knight Templar in Calvary Commandery.
Mr. Rice has been twice married; first December 25th, 1837, to Elizabeth Cook of Fall River, who died in 1872. By this union there were five children: Lucy M., George A., Arthur G., Caroline C. and Lizzie J., the first two of whom are the only ones living. In 1874 he married Mrs. Rebecca R. Cook, widow of William B. Cook, of New Bedford, Mass. Mr. Cook was a brother of Mr. Rice's first wife. During his long residence in Providence, extending over a period of more than 50 years, Mr. Rice has always resided on Christian hill in the Sixth ward. He is highly esteemed for his business capacity, social qualities and benevolent disposition.
p. 736 - 737: Gilbert Francis ROBBINS was the son of Abel and Julia A. Robbins, and was born in the town of Burrillville, R.I., August 26th, 1838. His early life was passed in his native town, attending school there until the age of 17 years, when he entered the East Greenwich Academy, where he obtained a practical business education. He afterward returned to Burrillville and engaged in business for a few years, leaving there in 1860 and removing to Providence to engage in the clothing business with his brother-in-law, Mr. Serrill Mowry, at No. 4 Washington Row, which they carried on with success in the same location for 23 years. At that time (1884) they admitted Mr. Marcus M. Inman, another brother-in-law, to the firm, changing the firm name to Mowry, Robbins & Co., and then removed to a more commodious store on the corner of Westminster and Dorrance streets. Mr. Robbins became the mayor of Providence while carrying on business at that location, and brought his connection with the firm to a close practically, at the same time his last mayoralty term ended.
The most interesting part of the life of ex-Mayor Robbins, by far, was political. He was a strong republican, and much interested in public matters, and especially in improvements for the benefit of public good in the city, during his term of office. In 1879 he was elected a member of the common council from the Seventh ward, and in 1883 was reelected and received the honor of president of the board, serving in that position until the death of ex-Mayor Doyle, in June, 1886, when he became acting mayor of Providence, serving as such until the close of the year, when he was elected mayor with all power, and was reelected in 1888. The year 1889 drew his public life to a close, for he retired from the office of mayor.
He was a member of several secret societies, and has risen to the honor of Knight Templar in St. John's Lodge of Freemasons. He was most prominently connected with the order of Odd Fellows, and was honored with the highest offices in its power to bestow, in all of which he served with marked ability and fidelity, which won for him the same esteem and respect which he received in his political life. In religious preferences he was a Universalist.
Ex-Mayor Robbins married Mrs. Susan Olive Whipple, daughter of Manning Arnold, of Burrillville, who survives him. They had no children. He was self-made man and his private life was above reproach. He died September 27th, 1889, his removal lamented by the city he had so faithfully and loyally served, as well as by a host of friends all over the state, who respected him for his honorable career and manly character. His mortal remains rest in Swan Point Cemetery, Providence.
[Facing page: portrait of Gilbert F. Robbins]
p. 737 - 739: Elisha Hutchinson ROCKWELL, the present managing agent of the Merchants and Miners Transportation Company's Providence, Norfolk and Baltimore steamers, was born in the town of Lebanon, Conn., October 16th, 1829, and is the fifth son of Jabez and Eunice (Bailey) Rockwell of that town, who were the parents of ten sons and three daughters. He is a descendant of William Rockwell, who came from England in 1630 and settled in Dorchester, Mass. His father, Jabez Rockwell, was a man of force and character, to whom the subject of this sketch is not a little indebted for the vitality of life and the spirit of energy which he possesses. At the age of eight and a half years he was placed on the farm of Timothy E. Metcalf, of Lebanaon, Conn., for a term of three years, compensation to be food, clothing and four months' schooling each year. At the expiration of this time he was placed on the farm of David S. Woolworth, of the same town, for two years, the compensation to be the same as received before.
When 15 years of age he was employed in the woolen mill of Henry Gillette, of Bazrahville, Conn., but two years later accepted a better position in the woolen mill of the Rockville Manufacturing Company, of Rockville, Conn. After remaining there two years, he apprenticed himself to his brother, John M. Rockwell, Norwich, Conn., to learn the trade of lettering monuments and tombstones. At the end of two years he purchased the third year and left his trade to accept a clerkship on the steamer 'Charles Osgood', which was the beginning of a career which has since been marked with prosperity and success. This steamer was built in 1850 to run in opposition to the Norwich and New London Transportation Company's line of steamers, but was transferred to the regular line before starting. Mr. Rockwell remained here for 18 months. His service must have been very acceptable, for at the end of this time, in 1852, when but 23 years of age, he was called upon to take the New York agency of the Norwich and New London Transportation Company, which operated a line of freight steamers plying between Norwich, New London and New York, and he filled this position, to the satisfaction of his employers, five years. This line was discontinued November 1st, in the year of the panic, 1857. January 1st, 1858, the steamers 'Charles Osgood' and 'Osceola' were started as an opposition line between Norwich, New London and New York, Mr. Rockwell being appointed the New York agent. He held this position 18 months, when he was engaged by Mr. William P. Williams, of New York (the originator and manager of the Neptune Steamship Company's line to Providence, R.I., and outside direct line to Boston), as their agent of the line to Providence and Boston, with his office at 15 State street, Boston, for the Providence line, and at Central Wharf, Boston, for the outside direct line. The civil war broke out before the steamers were placed on the route designated, and they were chartered by the United States government for transports.
Mr. Rockwell continued with Mr. Williams to the end of a two years' engagement. He then became a partner in the shipping and commission house of Bently, Smith & Co., at 72 South street, New York, where he remained one year. He was then reengaged by Mr. Williams for two years as agent for the Neptune Steamship Company for their line to both Boston and Providence direct from New York, at first taking the agency at Boston for the outside line direct to New York, with his office at Central Whart, and also for the inside line via Providence, with his office at 15 State street. The steamers of the outside line were sold to the Metropolitan Steamship Company, and the management was therefore changed, and Mr. Rockwell retired from the agency, but continued with Mr. Williams until the end of the term of two years. In 1867 he received an appointment as agent of the Providence and New York Steamship company at Providence, R.I., succeeding Mr. J. B. Gardiner. He filled this position six years, four years under the management of the late Benjamin Buffum, and two years later under that of William Sprague.
About the year 1873, the Merchants and Miners Transportation Company reestablished their business at this port, and started a line from Providence to Norfolk and Baltimore. They secured the services of Mr. Rockwell as managing agent at Providence, who is now serving his 17th year of engagement. Mr. Rockwell's connection with steamship lines covers a period of 40 years, while the high and responsible positions he has filled speak well for the faithfulness and attention to the various interests intrusted in him. His genial nature and gentlemanly bearing have made him popular with the shippers, and with every one, while his successful management of hundreds of men indicates that he is possessed of great executive ability.
Mr. Rockwell is public spirited, and has taken a lively interest in the affairs of the city of Providence, serving as a member of the city government, also as a member of the Providence Board of Trade, where his good offices on committee work have amounted to public benefactions. He has long been a member of this body, and is at present also a member of the common council, having served two years, declining to serve a third term. He is also a member of Swartz Lodge, No. 18, of Providence, R.I.
January 28th, 1852, Mr. Rockwell married Miss Martha A. Geer, daughter of Captain Erastus Geer, of Norwich, Conn. Their children are: Ella M., born at Norwich, June 19th, 1853, now the wife of Walter J. Lewis of Providence; Frank W., born at Jersey City, N.J., September 3d, 1860, married Eleanor S. Stone, of Providence, R.I., January 19th, 1887; and William P., born at Norwich, Conn., August 20th, 1864, now in business in Denver, Col. Frank W., for the past 11 years, has been in the employ of the same company, in the office of his father at Providence, R.I.
[Facing page: portrait of Elisha H. Rockwell]
p. 739 - 741: Samuel Stearns SPRAGUE, merchant, was born at South Killingly, July 3d, 1819, at the old homestead of his ancestors. His father, Elisha Leavens Sprague, was a well-to-do farmer, who inherited the estate, and learned the trade from of his father, who was a blacksmith. The first progenitor of the family in this country was Edward Sprague of Upway, county of Dorset, England. His sons, Ralph, Richard and William, landed in Salem, Mass., in 1628. The family genealogy shows that Ralph was the father of Samuel, 2d, of the same place, whose son John removed to Killingly, Conn., in 1752. The latter was the father of John 2d, who was the father of Daniel, whose son Elisha Leavens, was the father of the subject of this sketch.
Mr. Sprague's mother, Clarissa Day, was the daughter of Reverend Israel Day, who was a prominent Congregational minister, at South Killingly, Conn. She died November 2d, 1831, leaving two sons, Elisha Rodolphus, and Samuel Stearns, whose father married again in November, 1833, his second wife, being Bathsheba Bliss, of Warren, Mass. She died October 23d, 1884, in the 97th year of her age. Elisha L. Sprage died in 1834, leaving his sons the farm and other property.
Samuel S. received his early education in the common schools, and at the academy at Brooklyn, Conn. Elisha having already begun to prepare for college, Samuel took charge of the farm, being at the time 14 years of age. He afterward bought his brother's interest in the estate. Other property left them by their father was lost during the financial crisis of 1837. On the 8th of November, 1842, Mr. Sprague married Ester Pierce Hutchins, daughter of Simon and Lydia Hutchins, of Killingly, Conn., who belonged to a large and influential family. In the spring of 1852, desiring to change his business and better his prospects, he sold the homestead (which had been in the family over 100 years), and removed his family to Danielsonville, Conn. Subsequently Mr. Sprague went to Providence, R.I., and on the 1st of September following formed a copartnership there with Daniel E. Day in the flour and grain business, locating on Dyer street, near the foot of Clifford street.
In May, 1853, he moved his family to that city. About two years thereafter the firm removed to the corner of South Water and Crawford streets, where they remained about 12 years, building up in the meantime a large and profitable business. Until 1866 they had occupied leased property, but in that year they purchased the large brick building and lot on Dyer street, owned and occupied formerly by Messrs. Spellman and Metcalf, who were engaged in the same business. To this store they soon after removed, and continued to carry on business there until July, 1876, when Mr. Sprague sold his undivided one-half interest in the real estate to D. E. Day, the company dividing the stock in trade, and dissolving the partnership of Day, Sprague & Co.
Mr. Sprague then formed a copartnership with two of his sons, Charles Hutchins and Henry Shepard, the new firm being known as S. S. Sprague & Co. This firm temporarily leased a store adjoining the one formerly occupied by Day, Sprague & Co., and continued here in the same line of business until October, 1877, when they removed to the 'Columbia Elevator and Mills' built for their use, by Alexander Duncan, and leased to them for a number of years. This business was more extensive than any in which Mr. Sprague had ever been interested. The firm have several grain elevators in Illinois, where their agents purchase grain and ship to New England and other markets. Owing to the changes in business methods, and to cover a larger territory, the firm commenced, in the spring of 1890, the building of an elevator and mills with warehouses, in East Deerfield, Mass., and on the expiration of their lease from Mr. Duncan in July following, they removed their offices to number 2 Pine street, at the junction of Pine and Dyer streets, abandoning the general jobbing business, and devoting their attention to the distribution of grain from their several elevators throughout the East. In all his business connections, Mr. Sprague has been an active partner in buying and selling, and in the general management of the firm's interests. In 1879 he became interested in valuable real estate investments in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in other western places. He is a director of the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company, also one of the directors of the Rhode Island National Bank, and for 15 years has been one of the board of commissioners of the state sinking fund.
Mr. Sprague has been closely devoted to the interests of his business, and although he has consented to fill official positions, he has never sought and has often declined them. From 1868 to 1870 he served as a member of the common council of Providence, from the Sixth ward, and was also one of the board of aldermen from 1871 to 1873. He is one of the original members of the Union Congregational church, from the Richmond street church. He was an active member of the building committee, and has been chairman of that society committee from the completion of the building to the present time. He manifests great interest in public enterprises and benevolent institutions of the day, and is a generous supporter of all good works. His successful career is attributed to his rare business capacity, industry, perseverance and prudence, combined with that uprightness of character upon which all true success is based.
He has been twice married; his first wife already mentioned, died June 29th, 1865, and on the 22nd of October, 1866, he married Adeline M., daughter of Deacon Lucius F. and Lydia E. Thayer of Westfield, Mass. By his first marriage there were four children: Charles Hutchins, Henry Shepard, Frank Elisha, and Alida Esther. Frank Elisha is now in active business in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
p. 741 - 742: Royal Chapin TAFT is the son of Orsmus and Margaret (Smith) Taft. He was born in Northbridge, Mass., February 14th, 1823. His parents removed to Uxbridge, Mass., when he was less than one year of age, where he remained until his removal to Providence, R.I., in July, 1844, in which city he has since resided. He is a descendant in the seventh generation from Robert Taft, one of the original settlers of the town of Mendon, Mass., who moved to that town from Braintree, Mass, at the close of King Philip's war, in 1680. Robert Taft originally came from Scotland, was a householder while in Braintree, was chosen one of the selectmen of Mendon in 1680, and he, with his five sons and their descendants, had an important influence upon the history and affairs of Mendon and Uxbridge.
The subject of this sketch had the usual common school education in the town of Uxbridge, and the benefit of two years' term in Worcester Academy. Upon his removal to Providence he entered as clerk in the office of Royal Chapin, who was then engaged in business as a woolen manufacturer and dealer in wool. After five years' service he was admitted as a partner with Mr. Chapin. But in 1851 he started in the wool business and manufacturing for himself, with S. Standish Bradford, of Pawtucket, as a partner, under the firm name of Bradford & Taft, which business was continued as Bradford, Taft & Co., and Taft, Weeden & Co., until 1885, when he retired for awhile from active business life. He is now engaged in manufacturing in both cotton and wool. In 1888 he bought the interest of the late Henry W. Gardner in the Coventry Company, and is now the general manager of its large business. He is also treasurer of the Bernon Mills at Georgiaville, R.I., and president of the Quinebaug Company, located at Brooklyn, Conn.
Mr. Taft has been for many years prominently identified with the financial affairs of the state, as president, since, 1868, of the Merchants National Bank in Providence, as a vice-president of the Providence Institution for Savings, and one of the directors of the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company. It may be truly remarked in this connection that few men have had such great influence upon the financial affairs of the state as Mr. Taft.
Originally a member of the whig party, he has, since the dissolution of that party, been a republican. He was, during 1855 and 1856, a member of the city council of Providence; a representative to the general assembly from that city in 1880, 1881 and 1882, and for six years one of the sinking fund commissioners for the state. In April, 1888, he was elected by the people governor of the state of Rhode Island upon the republican ticket. He held the office one year, and declined a renomination on account of the constantly increasing demands of his private business. While governor he administered the affairs of the state diligently and carefully, and retired with the esteem and respect of his fellow citizens, irrespective of political affiliations. In his annual message to the general assembly his suggestions and recommendations were of a practical nature, and commended themselves to favorable consideration. He was a faithful public servant, and his administration in the highest degree creditable. He has held many positions of trust and honor in the city and state. He is now president of the Rhode Island Hospital, has been a member of the board of trustees of Butler Hospital for the Insane since 1865, and is vice-president of the Providence Athenaeum. He was associated with the late Honorable George H. Corliss as one of the commissioners from the state of Rhode Island to the Centennial Exposition of 1876, held in Philadelphia.
Governor Taft is a self-made man in the best sense of that term. He is a patron of art, and for a man of business has devoted much time to literature. He has been long and honorably identified with the business interests of Rhode Island, and distinguished among his fellow citizens for disinterested service to the various charitable and beneficent institutions of the city and state. In him the poor and needy have always found a helper.
He married, October 31st, 1850, Mary Frances, daughter of George B. Armington, M.D., of Pittsford, Vt., and has a family of two sons and two daughters.
p. 743 - 744: Harvey E. WELLMAN. The subject of this sketch was born in the town of Attleborough, Mass., February 7th, 1840. He is the son of David B. and Betsey (Wood) Wellman. Until the age of 17 years he lived on his father's farm and attended the district school, when he spent two years at the Middleboro Academy, in Massachusetts. At the conclusion of his term at the academy he found a business life preferable to that of farming. At the age of 19 he secured a situation as clerk with Mr. Samuel True, an old established wholesale lumber merchant in the city of Providence. He remained with Mr. True three years, when he admitted him to partnership in the business under the firm name of Samuel True & Co. At the end of three years the copartnership was dissolved by the death of Mr. True. The whole business was at once assumed by Mr. Wellman in his own name, and during the past 25 years the sales of lumber have increased from ten million feet to one hundred million feet annually. It is one of the most extensive wholesale lumber houses in New England, and is ranked among the heaviest of the kind in the country. Its business extends to almost every state in the Union, and also to Canada, Europe and South America. Mr. Wellman's long experience in the business, as well as his command of large financial resources, has placed him in the front rank among the lumber merchants of the United States, and his enterprising and progressive spirit has yielded him a large measure of prosperity.
Mr. Wellman is the senior member of the well-known firm of Wellman, Hall & Co., of Boston, and a partner in the firm of Simpson & Co., of Florida, who own nearly 250,000 acres of the very best pine lumber lands in the South, and manufacture 25,000,000 feet of lumber annually at their own mills. From the beginning of business, Mr. Wellman has always made it a point to deal only in first-class lumber, and from this fact he has achieved his enviable reputation among buyers at home and abroad.
Notwithstanding his large and rapidly increasing business, Mr. Wellman has found some time to devote to public affairs in the city and state where he resides. For two years he was a member of the general assembly of Rhode Island, and a presidential elector in 1880, when James A. Garfield was chosen president and Chester A. Arthur vice-president. He was also a member of the commission on improved railway terminal facilities appointed by the city council of Providence and to the duties of which he devoted much time and attention. He is president of the Rhode Island Lumber Trade Association, president of the Narragansett Electric Light Company, and vice-president of the National Bank of Commerce, in Providence.
Mr. Wellman is one of the representative business men of the city in which he lives, and has always taken a lively interest in its development and prosperity. His superior executive abilities have been long recognized, and through his well-directed energy and enterprise he has contributed much to the commercial activity of Providence.
In June, 1863, he married Miss Harriet A. Fiske, of Lincoln, R.I.
p. 744 - 745: Henry B. WINSHIP. Among the representative business men of the city of Providence whose sturdy characters alone have advanced them to prominent positions is Henry Bruce Winship. He was born in that city, September 14th, 1843, being the youngest son of the late Augustus J. Winship. The public schools of his birthplace furnished his educational opportunities. The family resources were not large, so at the age of nine years Henry left school to assist his father at harness making, and thus his business career began. After five years he sought other occupation, and during his youth filled various positions, and filled them all well. Even at this early period of his life he exhibited the sterling qualities destined some day to enable him to achieve success. Conscious of his educational deficiencies, he determined to supply them to the best of his ability, and to this end he obtained a situation, where, by working evenings, he could be released days to attend school. He realized that he had no one to rely on but himself, and he knew that if he would attain success he must hew his own path to it. Nature had endowed him for the struggle of life with a sunny, cheerful disposition, with indomitable energy, unfailing enterprise, and unstinted self-reliance. Thus admirable equipped to push his own way, he was always ready to avail himself to whatever offered, and to grasp any opportunity that came within his reach. In 1860 he was clerk at Rocky Point under Captain Winslow, the founder of that famous shore resort. Later he was employed in a market, and for about three years he was in business in that line for himself.
In 1868 the What Cheer Bank, in which he was then a clerk, retired from business, so he was thrown out of employment. How often seeming adversity hovers round the threshold of fortune! So it was with Mr. Winship. Mr. J. B. Barnaby, the most successful clothier in Rhode Island, had then laid the foundation of a growing business, and when he found Mr. Winship unemployed he offered him a situation. A leading trait in Mr. Barnaby's character, and a prime element of his great success, was his wonderful perception in choosing subordinates, and the combination of Mr. Barnaby and Mr. Winship was fortunate alike for both, and was the means of developing a promising beginning into a concern so prosperous that it is unsurpassed in its line in Rhode Island; and its fame and its business extend into many states, both through its main house in Providence and its branches in Boston, Fall River, New Haven and Kansas City. So satisfactory did Mr. Winship prove to his employer, that, after serving as clerk for a year, Mr. Barnaby received him as a partner. So cordially did the partners co-operate, and so valuable an accession did Mr. Winship prove to be, that the greatest confidence and the kindliest relations existed between them through life; and when advancing disease admonished the senior that he must arrange his worldly affairs for leaving them, and the concern was incorporated under the name of the J. B. Barnaby Company, Mr. Winship was, as a matter of course elected vice-president and general manager; and upon Mr. Barnaby's death in September, 1889, was advanced to the presidency, a position he now holds. Though Mr. Winship excelled both as a buyer and as a salesman, yet he possessed in a superlative degree one trait that pre-eminently fitted him for his business. He had an absolute genius for advertising, and few knew as well as he how to attract public attention. Among the other prominent business relations held by Mr. Winship, is that of a director in the Industrial Trust Company, one of the leading financial institutions of Rhode Island.
Colonel Winship - for in April, 1878, the subject of this sketch, was elected colonel of the United Train of Artillery, one of the most famous military organizations in the Union -- is very fond of the country and of out-door sports, and has held official positions in many societies relating thereto. Although not politically ambitious, he has filled various offices in his native city, having faithfully served upon the school committee, and for a number of years as a member of the republican city committee, and now representing his ward in the city government upon the board of aldermen. His natural taste and his executive ability have enabled him in this latter capacity to render exceptionally good service to his fellow citizens as a member of the committee on parks, and upon the recent formation of the park commission he was elected a member thereof.
In 1866 Colonel Winship married Emma T., daughter of the late Captain Colin C. Baker.
No sketch of Colonel Winship would be adequate that omitted to mention his sympathy for suffering and his warm-hearted generosity; for many a stricken spirit, less fortunate in life's struggle than he, has been cheered by his considerate and unostentatious assistance. His success affords a good illustration of what faithful endeavor, coupled with push and pluck, can accomplish even in conservative New England.
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