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

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

An Historical Address delivered in Scituate, R. I., July 4, 1876, at the request of the Town Authorities,
C. C. Beaman
Phenix, Capron & Campbell, Steam Book & Job Printers, 1877.

p. 45 - 53:

Churches, Schools, Ministers and Physicians.

In the history of a place there are some things more important than its size or wealth.  Its farms, manufactures, trade, are indeed to be considered.  The services performed in war, when they have reference to the establishment of freedom, or its preservation, ought to hold our attention:

'By fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung;
There Honor comes, a pilgrim grey,
To bless the turn that wraps their clay;
And Freedom shall awhile repair,
To dwell, a weeping hermit, there.'

Improvements in the laying out of roads, the introduction of steam travel, the erection of public and private buildings, are not to be forgotten, but remembered, also should be first and foremost,  Religion, as seen in the churches and families, social and business intercourse, and political institutions, and pervading the community.

The schools and higher seminaries of instruction are, with religion, to be examined as institutions lying at the foundation of a respectable, orderly, intelligent town, and household behavior, and teaching by precept and example on the part of parents, tend much to refine and elevate society.

Physicians and ministers are so placed as to healing power in body and soul, to their giving a healthy tone to society and encouraging all goodness, that their character and abilities may properly come under scrutiny.  School teachers, out of school as well as in, may encourage and sustain all good works.

Religion came and followed our original settlers in this town, but they were opposed to taxation, and their ministers probably received at first only such recompense as private individuals might occasionally give them.  The Friends were of this kind, and the Baptists also, and these denominations were the two earliest in the field, and probably established their religious meetings at about the same time.

Rhode Island was from the start tolerant of all protestant religious faith, allowing the freest utterance of doctrine, from which cause she attracted settlers of various creeds.  Quakers and Baptists were the most numerous.  The Friends, or Quakers, had a church burnt in Scituate before the Revolutionary war, showing how early they began to erect church edifices.  December 14, 1811, their last meeting house was erected, and William Almy and Moses Brown attended from Providence.  Mr. Elihu Bowen, one of their preachers living in Scituate, wrote in  his record book of the church, of the proceedings:  ' William being livingly opened in Gospel love to the edification of the auditory, and concluded in prayer and supplication to the Father of our mercies.'  Of late, owing to decline in membership of Friends, few or none are the gatherings in the town.

They, at one time, numbered in their ranks many of the most important citizens of the town.  The Wilkinsons of the first generation, James Aldrich, Daniel Fiske, Isaac Fiske, Ezra Potter, John Potter, Mr. Mial Smith, Hon. Elisha Mathewson, and Gideon Harris attended the meetings.

Their first church was built on land given by Gideon Harris, a mile west of the present church building, near the old bank, and was supposed to have been accidentally consumed.  Meetings were subsequently held in private houses, sometimes with Elizabeth Aldrich, Mr. Mial Smith and Elihu Bowen, until a new house was built.

The Six Principle Baptist Church, according to a sermon of Richard Knight, one of their elders, preached in 1727, was constituted in 1725, received a grant of an acre of land and built a meeting house upon it, reserving a part of the land for a burial place.  This was about the centre of town.  In August, 1827, Samuel Fiske was ordained pastor, and Benjamin Fiske, deacon of the society.  The services were performed by Elders Brown, Morse and Martin.  James Colvin was ordained colleague with Elder Fiske about 1738.  Elder Colvin died in 1755, and the church was without a pastor until July 8, 1762, when Reuben Hopkins was ordained elder, and the church prospered under the able and useful ministry of their 'nourishing pastor'.  A reformation commenced and continued several years, and numbers were added to the church.  In 1821 they built a new and larger meeting-house on the same spot, which is still standing and in use.  Elder Jacques is the present preacher and the meetings are regularly held.  This church and ministry has doubtless exerted a very great and beneficial influence upon the town.

An Episcopal Church was established at Richmond village, South Scituate, several years since, having quite an extensive membership.

A meeting-house was put up in Hemlock, Foster, by the Calvinistic Baptists, but was never finished.  It was bought by the town for a town house, with a provision that the house should be open for preaching.  Elder John Williams was their first minister, and his colleague was Elder John Westcott.  In 1827 these preachers were between eighty and ninety years of age, and still continuing their labors in the ministry, although Elder Williams preached but seldom.  He addressed the convention called to ratify the constitution, forty years before, against the measure.

The church at Foster was at first in connection with the Calvinistic Baptist Churches, but they separated about 1780, and became a Six Principle Baptist Church.  Elder John Williams erected a house about 1790, at Hopkins Mills, a very elevated site.

Elder Young was the pastor of the Calvinistic Baptist Church, in Foster, and had a large family.  One of his sons, Zadock, became a judge; and his son, Abiather, has some reputation as a poet.

A Congregational Church was formed at North Scituate, and organized January 1st, 1834.  A house of worship was dedicated in 1834 and is now standing and occupied.  Pastors:  Revs. Benjamin Allen, Charles P. Grosvener, Benjamin J. Relyed, James Hall, Charles C. Beaman, Thomas Williams, Loring P. Marsh, J. N. H. Dow, William A. Forbes, J. M. Wilkins, Thomas L. Ellis, J. H. Mellish.  All now living except Allen and Ellis.

A Methodist Church is established at Richmond Village, South Scituate; also, one at Ashland village, and also another at Hope village.  All now in a flourishing condition.

A Free Baptist Church, having a comfortable  house of worship, has long been in existence in the north-west part of the town.

In North Scituate a Free Will Baptist Church was gathered January 7th, 1832, as a branch of the Smithfield F. B. Church, with thirty-two members, Rev. Reuben Allen, pastor.  Church organized April 22d, 1835, with thirty members.  Pastors:  Revs. Martin J. Steere, Eli Noyes, D. P. Cilley, Reuben Allen, J. B. Sargent, John Chanly, Amos Redlon, William H. Bowen, O. H. True, J. M. Brewster, L. P. Bickford.  All but Allen, Noyes and Cilley now living.


The town did not begin very early, as a corporation, to establish schools.  For a long time education was left to the people to do as they pleased as to the employment of teachers.  They taught in private houses, or in rooms of other buildings.  Miss Fiske taught in a room of her father's tavern, seventy years ago.  Marvin Morris, from Dudley, Mass., kept school for half a dozen years, about 1800; he was called a good penman.  Thomas Mowry was a teacher, and a Mr. Dutton; also Samuel Perry from Connecticut.

The first town appropriation recorded was $300, in 1834.  This continued for successive years until 1850, when the sum advanced to $900, and so continued a number of years.  It has still further advanced, and $3,000 have been voted the last two years.  The town has built school houses in locations convenient for the scholars, and they are handsome structures, fitted up with recent improvements, and kept in good order.  The report of the school committee for the year ending April, 1876, says, that from observation they believe that in school property they favorably compare with the most progressive towns in the State.

Smithville Seminary and Lapham Institute,
Founded in 1839.  First principal, Hosea Quimby, from 1839 to 1854; second principal, Samuel P. Coburn, from 1854 to 1857; third principal, Rev. W. Colgrove, from 1857 to 1859.  Up to this time the school had been known as Smithfield Seminary.  From 1859 to 1863 there was no school.  In 1863 name was changed to Lapham Institute, and Rev. B. F. Hayes was principal from 1863 to 1865; Thomas L. Angell was principal from 1865 to 1867; Geo. H. Ricker was principal from 1867 to 1874; A. G. Moulton was principal from 1874 to 1875; W. S. Stockbridge was principal in 1875 and 1876.


There has been one bank in Scituate for a long time, called the Citizens Union Bank, changed to Scituate National Bank.


Physicians occupy an important place in the community.  In the absence of educated and settled ministers, as was the case in many parts of Rhode Island in former periods, they seem to have been the only educated class passing round in the community.  Their labors must have been toilsome; riding on horseback over the bad roads, and going great distances by night and by day.  Such men deserve to be held in grateful remembrance.  They often exercise a refining and christian influence, and have done very much to prolong life.  In the Revolutionary war they distinguished themselves both in the army and at home.

Dr. Ephraim Bowen, of Providence, used to ride extensively in Scituate and the adjoining towns before the conflict of the Revolution.  He died about sixty years ago, aged more than ninety.  Contemporary with him was Dr. Benjamin Slack who lived in the extreme north-east part of Scituate.  He came from Massachusetts about 1750.  The oldest record of him in Scituate is the birth of his daughter, Mary, Sept. 28, 1753.  His first wife, Phoebe Slack, 'the virtuous wife of Benjamin Slack, Esq.,' departed this life July 8, 1762, as her grave-stone, the oldest with an inscription in the town, inform us.  Dr. Slack was much esteemed, and his practice was great in Glocester, Smithfield, Scituate, and other towns.  He left quite a large and good farm.  His second wife was Miss Hannah Harris, of Johnston, whom he married, March 5, 1767, Gideon Harris, Esq., town clerk of Scituate, officiating at the service.

Dr. John Barden, in the north-west part of Scituate, three or four miles west of Dr. Slack, during, and after the war of the Revolution, had considerable  reputation as a doctor, and used to take long rides into Massachusetts, where he had many friends and much practice.

Dr. John Wilkinson, a medical practitioner of high estimation in Scituate, was also a distinguished surgeon in the Revolutionary war.

Dr. Caleb Fiske was a man of much distinction in the town, living on Bald Hill, at the south-east part of the town.  He was the son of John and Elizabeth Fiske, early settlers in the place, and was born Feb. 24, 1753.  He was president of the Rhode Island Medical Society, acquiring much property and left to the society $2,000, and most of the remainder to his grandson, Caleb F. Rea.

Dr. Owen Battey was in medical practice for many years, but retired in later life.  He was president of the Exchange Bank, at Greeneville, in Smithfield, and held the office of post master in South Scituate for a long time, through many party changes.  He was a gentleman of the old school and highly esteemed.  His father was Joshua Battey, and his grandfather, by the mother's side, was Oliver Arnold.  His great-grandfather, Owen Arnold, was a British officer who came out to this country and engaged in the French war.  He died July 24, 1762, in his ninetieth year.

Dr. Jeremiah Cole, who studied medicine with Dr. Anthony, lived in the latter part of the last century, and from him descended two generations in the healing art; his son Thomas and his grandson, Thomas O. Carpenter, a skillful doctor of great promise, who died early.

Dr. John H. Anthony practiced medicine, residing in North Scituate for many years, but his health failing him he removed to Providence, where he died.

Dr. T. K. Newhall, after practicing about seventeen years in the town, removed to Providence.

Drs. James E. Roberts, Charles N. Fisher and William H. Bowen, the present physicians of Scituate, have long enjoyed the respect and confidence of our citizens.

Lawyers in Scituate.

Jonah Titus was for more than forty years a resident lawyer of this town.  He removed to Providence in 1865, where he died at an advanced age in May, 1876.

Charles H. Page is now a resident lawyer of Scituate, having lived here since boyhood.  He has an office in Providence.  Both have represented the town in both branches of the General Assembly.

Hope Furnace.

Hope furnace, in Scituate, for the casting of cannon, manufacture of bar iron and nails, became well known before and during the Revolutionary war.  They used to cast two cannon at a time.  Ore was obtained from the bed in Cranston and carted to the furnace.

In 1765, the discovery of another bed of iron in the same locality caused a company to be formed and a furnace to be erected at Hope village.  Thirteen new cannon, cast at the Hope furnace, were fired at the Great Bridge, in Providence, in honor of the Declaration of Independence, July7 26, 1776.  Stephen Hopkins was one of the earliest and most influential of the men who got up this company, and his eldest son, Rufus, who had been a sea captain, was for many years superintendent at the furnace.  Wrought iron nails were also made at Hope furnace.


Some of the mechanics in Scituate in early times were the following:

Elihu Bowen, who removed from Swanzey in 1773, was the first tanner in Scituate, having his tannery by the Moswansicut brook.  He died in his eighty-eighth year, and was buried in the old Quaker burial ground.  His funeral was a 'large and solemn meeting.'

Elihu Fiske was a good cabinet maker; Jonathan Hill learned cabinet making of him.  Mr. Fiske came from Newport and became rich; keeping also, a tavern.

Capt. Thomas Hill learned his trade as a carpenter of Hugh Cole. Richard Phillips learned of him also.

Daniel Smith, blacksmith, died sixty years ago.

Thomas Field's cooper shop was well known.

Mr. Angell's blacksmith shop, near the Angell tavern, was carried on by a different branch of that family from the tavern keeper, and continued in the family for several generations.

The Corliss Engine.

Our own State, 'Little Rhoda', as she is called, has won the proud distinction of furnishing the steam engine whose power moved the whole machinery of the Exhibition.  In other respects in our varied and extensive manufactures on exhibition at Philadelphia this State makes a noble contribution to American workmanship, and received commendations from all observers.


These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project. Transcription 2002 by Beth Hurd

Back to the Rhode Island USGenWeb Home Page

The Newport County Reading Room Index   More Biographies & History .

Mail     If you have a (pre-1922) contribution from a Rhode Island book or newspaper you would like to share, please send me an e-mail with the publication title, author, and publisher. Thanks.