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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.

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

After accepting the initial deed, on October 7th, 1638, the thirteen proprietors at that time made a division in their extensive purchase, and subjected the different parts to different rules of subsequent subdivision.  The two parts are known in the records as the 'grand purchase of Providence,' and the 'Pawtuxet purchase'.  The division of the home lots in the former tract we have already noticed at considerable length, and its historic importance was much in advance of any other tract.  Besides this division there were also the 'Six-acre Lots'.  Each individual settler had one of these allotted to him in addition to his "Home Lot".  Of the 'Six-acre lots', that of Roger Williams adjoined 'What-cheer', on the Seekonk river.  Seven other lots were located on the south of his, on the same river, extending to Mile End cove.  This cove was at the south end of the town, between Fox point and Wickenden street, but has long since disappeared.  Other six-acre lots were located, according to the desires of individuals, in other parts of the purchase, as 'on the North side of the Wanasquatucket,' and 'by the west river.'

In 1718 the proprietors made another division of home or house lots.  Lands on the southerly and easterly side of Weybosset street, on the west side of North Main street, north Canal market, and on the south side of Olney street, were divided into 101 house lots, and distributed one to each proprietor at that time.  The land on the west side of Main street and north of Mile End cove, was subsequently plotted and divided into warehouse lots, and in most cases sold by the proprietors to the owners of the house lots opposite them.  Other lands in the common propriety were generally disposed of by town vote to particular persons, or a division of a specified number of acres to each proprietary right was voted, and the location of each was left to the choice of the individuals interested.  The proprietors' surveyor was charged with the duty of laying out such lands, generally under the direction of a committee appointed for the purpose by the proprietors, and the transaction was duly recorded by the town clerk.  Up to the year 1718 the land affairs were managed by the people of the town, and the records were kept, as we have said, by the town clerk, but after that time the proprietors were recognized as a distinct body from the town, and land records were kept by a clerk of their own.

It may be of interest to mention in passing, that the home lot of Roger Williams was near the historic spring where he first landed here.  The northwesterly corner of the lot is now occupied by the corner of North Main and Howland streets, and the spring was on the opposite side of Main street, which then passed along the shore, the tide flowing almost up to the spring.

During the first years of the town it does not appear that any of its political powers were exercised by or delegated to any portion of its members.  The town was a pure democracy, the original purchasers and such as they saw fit to admit to the fellowship of their number meeting in town meeting monthly, or when stress of business demanded it, and transacting all the business pertaining to their little commonwealth.  Though the records of their proceedings are very meagre, yet it must have been that they adopted some general rules for their government beyond the simple compact which we have already quoted.  The cardinal principle upon which the government of the town was established was the idea of perfect religious liberty as interpreted and contended  for by Roger Williams both at Salem and at Plymouth.  'No man should be molested for his conscience.'

The first remove made from a pure democracy was in 1640.  The people had, no doubt, experienced the difficulties attendant on this form of civil government.  Matters in dispute in regard to land claims and boundaries were entrusted to a committee in 1640, the committee whose decision the town agreed to accept as final, being composed of Robert Cole, Chad Brown, William Harris and John Warner.  By the award of this committee a line was drawn between the particular propriety in Pawtuxet lands, which some of the inhabitants had, and the common proprietorship of Providence lands.  This line was described as 'a straight line from a fresh spring, being in the gully at the head of the cove running by that point of land called Saxefrax, into the town of Mashapaug, to an oak tree standing near unto the cornfield, being at this time the nearest cornfield unto Pawtuxet, the oak tree having four marks with an axe, till some other land-mark be set for a certain bound.  Also, we agree, that if any meadow ground lying and joining to that meadow that borders upon the river of Pawtuxet, come within the aforesaid line, which will not come within a straight line from long cove to the marked tree, then, for the meadow to belong to Pawtuxet, and so beyond the town of Mashapaug from the oak tree between the two fresh rivers Pawtuxet and Wanasquatucket of an even distance.'

Five men were thenceforward to be chosen for the purpose of disposing of the common lands and allotting the same to individuals, and to have charge of the town's stock and the interests of the town in general.  These men were also to consider the qualifications and application of any who might propose to join the settlement, and not to admit any one without first giving six days' notice to all the townsmen, that any one having any objection to the candidate might have a chance to show cause why he should not be admitted.  Further, no one was to be admitted to a residence in the town without first subscribing to the compact and regulations which had been adopted for its government.  An appeal might be taken from the decision of the 'disposers', to the general town meeting, by an aggrieved party.  The office of town clerk was at this time constituted.  The liberty of conscience was reiterated.

The settlement of personal disputes was recommended to arbitration, but in the event of any party in a case refusing to submit to such a settlement, and refusing to choose arbitrators, the five disposers had power to compel the refractory party to choose arbitrators, or to choose for him, and to enforce the award of the arbitrators so appointed and to require the party found in fault to pay the arbitrators for their time.  If the arbitrators (two for each of the disputing parties) failed to agree on a case, the disposers should appoint three men to decide upon it, the vote of the major part of the five disposers only being necessary to choose the arbitrators, and the vote of the major part of them only being required to give a final decision.  Arbitrators when hearing a case should give it their attention to the exclusion of any other business or employment until a decision was reached, unless by consent of all parties interested.  In case a defendant should in the beginning of a case offer a reasonable condition of settlement and the plaintiff should refuse it, when at the close of the arbitration the cost thereof should be exacted of the plaintiff, not withstanding the verdict should be in his favor.

Theft and slander were to be prosecuted by the disposers at the request of any citizen, even though the party against whom the wrong was committed should neglect to bring an action.  The entire community was pledged to assist any man in attaching and obtaining justice of a delinquent party, but if any plaintiff should obtain the help and efforts of others under false pretense, having no just cause, he should be required to pay for such help and efforts of others as he had secured.  In case a dispute arose between any man and one of the disposers that could not be deferred till the next general town meeting, the clerk was authorized to call a special town meeting to try the case.  The five disposers were authorized to give every man a deed for such lands as were or should be allotted to him.  The disposers were to hold regular meetings once a month, and were to hold office for a term of three months, regular town meeting being held quarterly.  The term of office of the clerk for one year.  He was entitled to fees of four pence for every cause that came to the town for  trial, and twelve pence for making each deed.  The price of a share in the common proprietorship of the town was then fixed at 30 shillings, and all who had not already paid in that amount were required to make it up.  Whilst no specific regulation to that effect appears, the rule seems to have been carried out in practice that no proprietor should receive from the town more than one share in the common interests in the land.  The estates of some individuals were, however, increased by purchase of the lands of others.

This town constitution, as it may quite properly be called, has only been preserved in a legible copy made in 1662.  Only 39 names are appended to this copy.  Whether the original was signed by others or not we have no means of knowing.  It seems quite probable that the matter of signing it fell into neglect through official paucity.  The names appended to the copy spoken of where Chad Brown, Robert Cole, William Harris, John Throckmorton, Stukely Westcott, Benedict Arnold, William Carpenter, Richard Scott, Thomas Harris, Francis Wickes, Thomas Angell, Adam Goodwin, William Burrows, Roger Williams, Robert West, Joshua Winsor, Robert Williams, Matthew Waller, Gregory Dexter, John Lippitt, John Warner, John Field, William Arnold, William Field, Edward Cope, Edward Manton, William Man, Nicholas Power, William Reynolds, Thomas Olney, Richard Waterman, William Wickenden, Edward Hart, Hugh Bewitt, Thomas Hopkins, Joan Tiler, Jane Sears, Christopher Unthank and William Hawkins.

So far as the records show, the constitution went into immediate effect and became the foundation of town government for several years.    Though but a small remove from the pure democracy of the first years, it marks an epoch in the history of the town and indicates the growth of the colony and the increase of a population that required a more energetic and less onerous form of government than the simple  one that had proceeded it.  The new form, however, preserves the same love of equality and liberty, and the same regard to the rights of individuals that was manifest in the former.

This government, however, was not satisfactory, and did not long answer the desires of the people.  It was found that some government based upon authority more dignified than the simple subscription to a few simple articles of confederation was necessary to preserve the peace and prosperity of the little colony.  Massachusetts refused to help them to carry out their own laws unless they would submit themselves to the authority of that colony.  To do this would be to repudiate the principles for which they had already sacrificed most.  A few, however, were ready to do even this.  William Arnold, William Carpenter, Robert Cole and Benedict Arnold, all of whom were at the time residing at Pawtuxet, in 1642 accepted the authority of Massachusetts and submitted themselves and their lands to the jurisdiction of that colony.  This action introduced a new series of complications and involved the people in additional perplexities.  Now surely some authority must be invoked which was equal to or greater than that of Massachusetts.  A bold stroke of diplomacy was determined upon, and an appeal directly to the Crown was made.  Mr. Williams himself most appropriately championed the cause, and personally went to England to present the cause of his people at the throne.  Without repeating the details, which have been given more fully elsewhere in this work, this movement resulted in the colonial charter of 1644, which embraced the towns of Providence, Portsmouth and Newport.

The government under this charter was not organized until May, 1647.  During this time, Providence had grown slowly.  The site of the present city did not seem to be a general favorite.  It must have been observed that a great majority of the first settlers soon sold out their home lots and removed to more desirable localities southward, some to Pawtuxet, some to Warwick and others to Newport or some other place.  The town in 1645 numbered 101 men capable of bearing arms, which number doubtless included the residents of Pawtuxet and Warwick.  On the 16th of May, 1647, the town meeting in Providence was held to appoint delegates to the meeting at Portsmouth two days later to organize a government under the charter.  Roger Williams was moderator of this town meeting, and the following delegates, or committee, were appointed to represent this town in the coming convention:  Gregory Dexter, William Wickenden, Thomas Olney, Robert Williams, Richard Waterman, Roger Williams, William Field, John Green, John Smith and John Lippitt.

A somewhat lengthy code of instructions was given the committee whereby they might be guided in their action so as most effectually to carry out the desires of their constituents.  The substance of these instruction was as follows:  The committee were to act as a unit or individually.  No basis of representation having been previously given, the committee might reduce its number by its own choice, should the town be found not to be entitled to so large a number of representatives.  The town desired a copy of the charter to be kept in its jurisdiction, and agreed to accept any form of government agreeable to the charter that the general court should decide  upon.  The town also declared its willingness 'to receive and be governed by the laws of England, together with the way of administration of them, so far as the nature and constitution of this place will admit.'  The town desired to have full liberty in the selection of its own town officers, transacting all its home affairs and the trial of all its own cases, and executions of the same 'excepting such cases and executions as the colony shall be pleased to reserve to general trials and executions.'  It desired 'no intermixture of general and particular officers, but that all may know their bounds and limits.'  A plan by which appeals might be taken to the general court was desired.  Beyond these the town authorized its committee to act in any question not included in the instructions, always reserving, however, an equal voice in the general court.  The instructions concluded with the following benediction:

'Thus betrusting you with the premises, we commit you unto the protection and direction of the Almighty, wishing you a comfortable voyage, a happy success, and a safe return unto us again.'

Though the town was thus represented by a committee, it is supposed that a majority of the men of the plantation were at the scene of the convention at Portsmouth.  The proceedings of that convention are given elsewhere.

The first record of a town election in Providence, under the charter which the general assembly (which name was thus early applied to the general court) gave the town March 14th, 1648, was held on the first Monday in June, 1651.  At that time the following officers were elected:  Gregory Dexter, town clerk;  Robert Williams and Thomas Olney, deputies;  Thomas Harris, William Wickenden, Richard Waterman, and the assistant and two deputies altogether made the town council;  Hugh Bewitt, town sergeant; Thomas Harris, treasurer.

In reference to the material improvements of the town in those early years, we are told that the first one of a public nature was the 'Towne Streete', running along the foot of the hill and along the shore of the great 'Salt River'.  This we have already spoken of, and it has in modern times received the appropriate name of Main street.  A straggling village of some two score houses was set upon the east side of this street, extending along a tract about two miles in length.  This was the nucleus of the great and busy city of Providence of to-day.  It followed the curves of the shore at a proper distance to secure solid ground.  The ascent of the hill was abrupt.  From the southern end of the settlement by Fox hill the road lay by the water side until it approached the falls of the Moshassuck.  There leaving the shore it ascended in a long diagonal slope, by the side of a steep ravine, to the high ground later known as Constitutional hill.  Thence forward at an elevation of some 80 feet above the stream, it went on to the utmost limits of the clearing.  As we have before said, the home lots extended eastward over the mound and down the other side to a road that ran up the valley.  This road had no distinctive name, but for 150 years it was called 'the Highway'.  After the 'Upper Ferry' was established in 1678, at the site of the modern 'Red Bridge', the road spoken of was popularly known as the 'Ferry Lane' for more than a century, and in 1806 the town council gave it the name of Hope street, which it still bears.   A highway three rods wide extending from the Towne street to the water-side, was opened January 2d, 1681, to facilitate the approach and use of the wharf, which was then being prospectively considered.  This is now Market Square.  For a long time the highways mentioned were connected by only three narrow lanes.  These were Power's lane, near the south end; a lane at first nameless, but afterwards known as Jail lane, King street, and later as Meeting street; and the lane at the north end, called Dexter's lane, then Olney's lane.

Most of the houses built upon the Town street during the first generation here were a single story, or a story and a half in height, with a large, rough stone chimney at one end.  The earliest houses had but two rooms, called the 'lower room' and the 'chamber'.  To economize space a ladder was often the only provision for reaching the 'chamber'.  This humble style of dwelling was almost universal until the last decade of the 17th century.  Subsequently the popular model was enlarged to a house with four apartments, having a chimney in the middle of the house.  At a later period a two story model was adopted, with a lean-to and a steep roof.  In these primitive houses chairs were an unusual luxury and cooking utensils were few and simple.  The light of pine knots, as they sputtered and flashed and blazed and rolled out great wreaths of black, tarry smoke, afforded all the means of artificial light, and by such uncertain illumination the good cheer and home comfort of the settlers during the long winter evenings were enjoyed.  Think of it ye modern Dives, luxuriating in the dazzling glow of your electric light!  but think not that happiness was a stranger to the hearthstone of the hardy settlers, whose blazing pitch-knots revealed the faces of loved ones gathered around the great open fireplace, upon whose crumbling stones perhaps your own lordly mansion is built.  The wells of the settlers were usually dug in the street, and were free to the public.  It was, of course, unnecessary that every householder should have one of his own premises.  A single one was sufficient for a number of families.

In their property the settlers slowly gathered about them such personal belongings and other possessions of a movable character as opportunity came to them.  But little stock could be obtained, but after a few herds of cattle had been secured the care of the planters rapidly increased the number.  Goats and swine are thought by some to have been the first specimens of live stock brought hither.  But there is no doubt that the ambition of the settlers rested with nothing less than herds of beef cattle.  The common pasture plains on the west side of the river, then known as Weybosset, afforded an excellent field in which the settlers in common turned their cattle for pasturage.  An old Indian trail led down at the north of the present Steeple street, over a shell bank which made a fording place to a neck of the island reaching to where Washington Row now is, across the island and over a ford on the west side to the Weybosset meadows.  Over the trail the cattle were driven back and forth to pasture.

It is thought the first grist mill in the town was established under the patronage of the town in 1646, by John Smith 'the miller', who came with Roger Williams at an earlier date, but for some reason seems to have delayed the needed improvement of setting up a grist mill for several years.  Perhaps a lack of capital, or want of confidence in the stability of the settlement deterred him from sooner entering upon the enterprise.  This mill was located at the lower fall of the Moshassuck.  Here the land and water privilege necessary were granted him by the town, with the monopoly of the business, on condition that he would erect the mill and keep it in order, and be prepared to grind corn for the people of the town on the second and fifth days of each week, taking toll of one-sixteenth for grinding.  The plan of the mill is said to have been a pounding process, imitating the mortar and pestle which it superseded.  The erection of this mill created a center for the scattering village, and in its vicinity other business efforts followed, a new street being laid out to afford an approach to the mill from the Town street.  The first bridge across the river was built just north of the mill.  Near it were also located in due time, a tavern, a tannery, a cattle pound and a jail.

In November, 1654, an election of military officers appears for the first time on the records.  The town then chose a lieutenant, an ensign, and a sergeant.  A further sign of progress is shown in the order the same year, that the laws of the town should be written in a book.  The growth of the town was slow.  It was at that time but little larger in numbers than Warwick, which was much smaller than either Portsmouth or Newport.  The little town of Providence then did not look like becoming a greater body than all its sisters put together many fold.  The freemen of this town in 1655 were 42 in number, as follows:  William Arnold, Thomas Angell, James Ashton, John Browne, Samuel Bennett, William Burrowes, Henrie Browne, Hugh Buwitt [sic], Thomas Clement, Nathaniel Dickens, Gregorie Dexter, William Carpenter, John Feild [sic], William Feild [sic], Arthur Fenner, William Harris, Thomas Harris, William Hawkins, Thomas Hopkins, Edward Jermon, John Joanes, Roger Mowrie [sic], Edward Manton, Thomas Olney, Sen'r, Thomas Olney, Jun'r, Nicholas Power, Henrie Redick, Thomas Roberts, John Sailes, Thomas Sucklinge, Christopher Smith, Richard Scott, Thomas Slowe, John Throgmorton, Roger Williams, Robert Williams, Robert West, Richard Waterman, William Wickenden, Thomas Walline, Josua [sic] Winser [sic], and Mathew Waller.

Of internal improvements bridges were among the necessities which became apparent and pressing at an early date.  About the year 1650, or perhaps a year or two later, there was at least one bridge being kept in order at the expense of the town.  What bridge it was does not appear plain.  The records show that the town treasurer paid about the time mentioned, three pounds, for 'mending the bridge, highways beyond the bridge, mile-end cove, fence at Dickens and the pound these several years.'  At what time Weybosset bridge was first established is not known.  It may have been built about the year 1660.  The records show that in that year the town had expended £160 in the erection of a bridge at some point not specified.  Staples inclines to the probability that it was Weybosset bridge.    It appears to have been in existence as early as 1663 at least for in April of that year one George Sheppard made a gift of lands for the support of this bridge.  The town could poorly afford to keep in the order a bridge, and if any other means could be devised of meeting such an expense to the relief of the public treasury it was gladly accepted.   Roger Williams was allowed to assume control of the bridge and exact tolls from all who crossed it, provided he would keep it in order without any expense to the town.  This continued from 1667 to 1672, after which it was taken under the patronage of the general assembly and that body made grants for the expense of its maintenance.

At this period the precious metals were scarce and taxes as well as all private debts, were paid in wheat, peas, pork, horses and cattle, at stated values.  The population of the town steadily increased, but its increase was slow, and it was doubtless a serious and uncertain question in the minds of many of the settlers whether the plantation of Providence would gain a permanent foot-hold or after a few years be abandoned.  Progress was slow under the discouraging circumstances which beset them.  These dangers threatened from neighboring colonies, with whom they were not in favor; from the Indians whose vengeful passions were being continually aroused by those neighboring colonies; and from the many rash opinionists, holding different and inharmonious views, whom the peculiarly liberal constitution of the town had allowed to enter its society.  Certainly it required a strong faith to enable the freemen of this town to risk their lives and fortunes on the ultimate triumph of the little town.  Various discordant questions also arose between this town and its neighboring towns of the colony.  The charter of 1643 was not satisfactory in its results.  To add to the perplexities of the people the apparent efforts of William Coddington of Newport to gain some ruling advantage in the colony broke like a thunderbolt on the suspicions of the people, and the citizens of this town could not be indifferent to the general excitement.

In January, 1656, the town gave permission to such as pleased to do so to erect a fort on 'Stampers' Hill'.  Tradition has preserved the statement that soon after the settlement was commenced, a body of Indians approached the town in a hostile manner.  Some of the townsmen, by running and stamping on this hill led the Indians to believe that a large force of men was stationed there to oppose them, and so they gave up the designed attack and retired.  From this circumstance the hill has always been called Stampers' hill.  Stampers' street passes along the brow of this hill.  Other acts of the same town meeting were one establishing a new town court having jurisdiction over disputes not exceeding 40 shillings in amount, Roger Williams, Thomas Olney and Thomas Harris being first elected judges of the court; and another declaring all the inhabitants, though not admitted as freemen, liable to be elected to office, and liable to fine for refusing to serve when so elected.

In 1657 a grave charge of high treason was preferred by Roger Williams against William Harris, at a general court held at Newport in May.  Proceedings were postponed to a subsequent court meeting when the following decision was given.

'Concerning William Harris his book and speeches upon it, was found therein delivered, as for doctrine, having much bowed the scriptures to maintain it, that he that can say it is his conscience, ought not to yield subjection to any human order amongst men.  Whereas the said Harris has been charged for the said book and words with high treason, and inasmuch as we being so remote from England cannot be so well acquainted in the laws thereof in that behalf provided, as the state now stands, though we cannot but conclude his behaviour therein to be both contentious and seditious, we thought best therefore, to send over his writing, with the charge and his reply to Mr. John Clark, desiring him to commend the matter, in our and the Commonwealth's behalf, for further judgement as he shall see the cause require, and in the meantime to bind the said Harris in good bonds to the good behaviour until their sentence be known.'  A bond of £500 was required.  What termination the case reached we are not informed, but as he appears for many years afterward to have been a prominent representative in the councils of the colony we presume that he was not found guilty of the charge.

The number of freemen required to make a town meeting was at one time ten, but in 1658 the number was reduced to seven.  As early as 1662 the proprietors of common lands began to be recognized as a distinct body, and to hold meetings by themselves, independent of the town meeting, but they still had the same clerk and their proceedings were recorded in the town record book.  In April of this year they made Mr. John Clark a member of their body, and granted him full rights with themselves as a proprietor.  This appears to have been done in recognition or return for his services in their behalf as agent of the colony in England.

Among the diversity of character and manners which no doubt showed itself in this primitive community, Mr. George Sheppard, whom we have already spoken of as the donor of lands for the benefit of Weybosset Bridge, is worthy of notice.  He was evidently a very retiring man, refusing to take part in town meetings, and declaring his cheerful acquiescence in the vote of the town disfranchising him, on account of his thus absenting himself.  In a letter to the townsmen explaining his position, he says:

'For what land you were pleased to bestow upon me, I am bound to thank you for your free love therein, but be pleased to know, that it was not for land that I came hither, but the enjoying of my conscience, therefore, if any be offended at the quantity of that gift and also of my acceptation, being advised thereto by friends, I do most willingly surrender it unto you again, desiring that you would be pleased, if it might be inoffensive, to bestow upon me a smaller quantity, according to your custom, for the which I shall acknowledge myself much engaged unto you; otherwise you will expose me to think upon a removal where I may enjoy my freedom; but I hope you will take my condition into your serious consideration, that I may partake of that liberty, which, out of your tender care to consciences, you do hold forth, provided, as I desire not to be in anything a disturber of your civil peace or order but a well wisher and submitter thereto.'

The leaders of the people in all the towns of Rhode Island were at work pressing the necessary action to secure a more satisfactory charter.  This was accomplished in 1663, Roger Williams of Providence being prominently instrumental in the enterprise.  The new charter was signed by the king July 8th, 1663, and officially received and accepted by the people amid appropriate and solemn ceremonies at Newport the 24th of November the same year.  In preparation for this event Benedict Arnold, then president of the colony, gave notice on the 16th of the month to the officers of the town of Providence to require all the freemen of the town to accompany the commissioners, in their arms, 'on the 24th day of November instant, being Tuesday, or as many as can come, to Newport, there to solemnize the receipt of the charter, according to advice of the colony's agent to the council.'

A town meeting was immediately held, and William Field, Roger Williams, William Carpenter, Zachary Rhodes, William Harris and Stephen Arnold were chosen commissioners and authorized to represent the town at the coming celebration.  They appear to have all gone except Williams and Arnold, whose places were filled by the commissioners themselves, according to custom, by the election of Richard Tew and Joseph Torrey.  The town declined to send any soldiers to take part in the parade.  There was gathered a great assembly of people, and in the presence of them all 'the box in which the king's gracious letters were enclosed was opened, and the letters, with the broad seal thereto affixed, were taken forth and read by Captain George Baxter, in the audience and view of all the people; and the said letters, with his majesty's royal stamp and the broad seal, with much beseeming gravity, were held up on high and presented to the perfect view of the people, and so returned into the box, and locked up by the governor  in order to the safe keeping.'  The most humble thanks of the colony were directed to be returned to his majesty 'for the high and inestimable, yea incomparable grace and favor.'

Under the new charter a few changes were made in the election of officers and other regulations.  The apportionment of assistants to the different towns at this time was as follows:  Newport, five;  Providence, three; and Portsmouth and Warwick, two each.  The town council, composed of six persons, was to be composed of the assistants of the town and the remaining number to be elected by the people.  The assistants were chosen by the assembly, or the state at large, so the town of Providence had only the power to choose three of its council.  This was not altogether satisfactory.

Some idea of the comparative importance of Providence may be gained from the figures of a tax of £600 laid by the general assembly in 1664.  Of this tax Newport paid £285;  Providence, £100;  Portsmouth, £80;  Warwick, £80;  Pettiquamscutt, £20; and Block Island, £15.  In December a town tax of £130 was ordered, and this was made payable in wheat at 4s., 6d. a bushel; peas at 3s, 6d; and pork at £3, 10s. a barrel.

On the regular annual election day of June, 1667, one of those unfortunate misunderstandings arose, which are not infrequent sources of trouble in an unsettled condition of government by the people.  And indeed the peace of old established local governments has sometimes been sadly disturbed by similar breaches.  A misunderstanding arose between the assistants, whose place it was according to law to call town meetings.  The details of the misunderstanding are not known, but it appears that two different calls were issued by different assistants, one by Arthur Fenner, and the other probably by William Harris.  Thus, two meetings were held, and two sets of deputies to the general assembly were chosen.  A special session of that body was called in July, by Mr. Harris, to oppose the action of the Fenner party.  But the assembly decided adversely and admitted the deputies chosen at the meeting called by Fenner to their seats.  Harris then preferred an indictment against Fenner and his delegates for illegal and disorderly proceedings, but they were acquitted, and on the other hand the assembly imposed a fine of £50 on Harris for calling the assembly together without sufficient cause.  He was deposed from his office, and another assistant chosen in his stead, but the fine was afterward remitted.


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Transcription 2004 by Beth Hurd, Images by Beth Hurd 2004