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History of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Biographical

NY: The American Historical Society, Inc. 1920

p.  353 - 354:

Allin Bicknell, 80 years old when taken; died 1870, aged 83 years, 4 monthsALLIN BICKNELL  --  The Bicknell family in America claims lineal descent from Zachary and Agnes Bicknell and their son John, who settled in Weymouth, Mass., in 1635.

Allin, of the seventh generation, traced his descent to Zachary1 through Joshua6, Joshua5, Joshua4, Zachary3, John2 of Weymouth.  His parents were Joshua6 and Amey Brown, the line leads to Hon. John Browne and Dorothy his wife, who first settled at Plymouth and later at Wannamoisett, which Mr. Browne bought of Massassoit, about 1645.

Joshua and Amey (Brown) Bicknell had nine children:  Jerusha, born 1783; Mary, 1784;  Allin, 1787;  Amy, 1789;  Freeborn, 1791; Joshua, 1792; James, 1795;  Elizabeth, 1799;  Joseph P., 1801. All the children were born in Barrington, and all except the first three were born in the house now used as headquarters of the St. Andrews School, built by Joshua, in 1788 (See Bicknell Genealogy, pp. 74-75.).

Allin Bicknell lived at home on his father's farm until his marriage with Harriet Byron Kinnicutt, daughter of Josiah and Rebecca (Townsend) Kinnicutt and granddaughter of Rev. Solomon and Rebecca (Baker) Townsend, of Barrington, December 23, 1817.  His wife, Harriet Byron Kinnicutt, was decended from Roger and Joanna (Shepardson) Kinnicutt of Malden, Mass., who removed from that town to Swansea, Mass., in 1679, settling on the east bank of the Kickemuit river, in the present town of Warren, R. I.  The descent is through Roger1, Malden;  John2, born 1669;  John3, born 1700;  Daniel4, born 1735;  Josiah5, born 1735 [sic - should be 1865]; Harriet Byron6, born 1791.

Allin7 was a farmer and made his home in a cottage, on land of Bicknell ancestors, on Prince's Pond, in the southeast corner of the Bicknell estate.

Four children were born to Allin and Harriet B. (Kinnicutt) Bicknell: Joshua, Oct. 29, 1818;  George Augustus, June 30, 1822;  Daniel Kinnicutt, Sept. 24, 1829, and Thomas Williams, Sept. 6, 1834.

Allin Bicknell was ensign of the Barrington infantry in 1812, captain in 1813, major of the Bristol Country Regiment in 1814-15, and lieutenant-colonel in 1816.  He was a member of the town school committee and of the town council for many years, and served the town in various capacities. He was elected to the General Assembly, as a representative from Barrington in 1842, the year of the Dorr War, 1846 and 1849 and to the State Senate in 1850-51-52-53.  He was a member of the Whig party till 1856, when, on the formation of the Republican party, he supported it with voice and vote.  Mr. Bicknell joined the Congregational Church of Barrington in 1820, with seventy others, following what was known as the 'The Great Revival'.  On the death of his father in 1837, he succeeded him in the diaconate, holding the office until his own death in 1870.  His religious life was consistent and constant.  God's blessing was invoked at every meal. Reading a chapter in the Bible and a prayer always followed breakfast and before the day's work was begun.  He was a regular attendant at all church meetings and a participant in speech and prayer.  He was also a teacher in the early Sunday school.  Mr. Bicknell was a strong termperance man, a friend of the slave, a supporter of missionary enterprises, conservative in religious belief, progressive in industrial and social enterprises and reforms, and especially interested in educational progress.  Hospitality and cordiality characterized the Bicknell home and no needy person ever left it hungry or unaided.  The warm hand was extended to ministers, missionaries and christian workers.

In December, 1837, Mr. Bicknell was called to the deaths beds of his father, Joshua, and his wife, Harriet Byron.  Mrs. Bicknell was a woman of unusually ability and excellence of character.  Her home was made serenely happy by a joyous, hopeful, loving spirit.  She was orderly and systematic in household matters, an hospitable hostess, entertaining her many warm friends by bright, healthful conversation, agreeable address and a generous table.  She was a Bible student, a ready conversationalist on religious subjects and a strong debater on such subjects as will, predestination, immortality, Heaven, Hell, etc.  On Sunday the Bicknell home, near the White Church, was the customary meeting place for lunches, a review of the sermon, and a free exchange of the last week's events.  In the troublous times of the church, the family stood by the old orthodox faith and polity as against the violent activities of the new radical school, whose life was short.

Mrs. Harriet Byron Bicknell lived a pure, sweet, motherly, beautiful life, was the ruling spirit of her family in love and obedience to truth as revealed to her, and at the early age of forty-six, passed on to fulfill the incompleteness of a short but truly consecrated life.

In the spring of 1839, Allin Bicknell married his cousin, Elizabeth Waldron Allin, daughter of Thomas and Amey (Bicknell) Allin.  The second wife was a devoted and faithful mother in all her family relations. She was a woman of fine intellect, well educated for her day, vigorous in thought, energetic in action.  In 1844, the Bicknell family moved from the cottage home to the Allin estate in West Barrington, occupying a part of the Gen. Allin mansion, the four sons going out to other than farm life.

In 1867, Thomas built a house at West Barrington and took his father and step-mother to his new home to spend their last years with him, but their stay was short, for the mother, Elizabeth, died October 16, 1868, and the father, Allin, August 16, 1870, aged eighty-three years and four months. Allin Bicknell and his two wives, Harriet Byron Kinnicutt and Elizabeth Waldron Allin, were buried at the north end of the Princes Hill Cemetery in Barrington, near the banks of our beautiful Sowams river.  Goldsmith's lines apply to them:

'Contented toil and hospitable care
And kind, connubial tenderness are there;
And plenty with wishes place above,
And steady loyalty and faithful love.'

BICKNELL monument, Princes Hill Cemetery, Barrington, RI (BA003)
Joseph, 1763 - 1848
Alethea, 1765 - 1833
Daniel K., 1829 - 1851
Joshua, 1818 - 1883
Esther P., 1818 - 1903
Daniel, 1851 - 1853?
Allin, 1787 - 1870
Harriet B., 1791 - 1837
Elizabeth W., 1787 - 1868
Thomas Williams, 1834 - 1925
Amelia D., 1830 - 1896
Martha E., 1862 - 1867
George H., 1854 - 1903

p.  354 - 356:

Thomas W. BicknellTHOMAS WILLIAMS BICKNELL, author of 'The History of Rhode Island', is of ancient Norman stock.  The family name was Pavilly, and is easily traced to Pavilly, a town founded by this baronial family, situated ten miles northeast of Rouen, France.  Here Lord Amalbert de Pavilly founded a monastery in 664 A. D.  Some of the family crossed the channel with William the Conqueror in 1060 A. D., and soon became a powerful race in twelve counties in England.  John de Pavilly died in 1281 A. D., seized of the manor of Byken-Hulle (Beacon Hill), in Somersetshire.  Prior to his death, he had exchanged his baronial name, Pavilly, for that of the manor, and was known as John de Byken-Hulle.  These two words were united in one, Biknell, in 1523, and was spelled Bicknell as early as 1585. The Bicknell manor in Somersetshire has been subdivided, but the village of Barrington and Bicknell ancestry sleep in the Barrington churchyard.

In 1635, Zachary Bicknell, his wife Agnes and son John, crossed the sea in Rev. Joseph Hull's company, and set up their new home at Weymouth, Mass., in June of that year.  From Zachary and Agnes sprang the majority of a numerous family, now scattered over the states, from ocean to ocean.

Zachariah3 married Hannah Smith of Weymouth, and removing to Barrington, R. I., (then Swansea, Mass.) about 1700, bought of the Sowams Proprietors, a farm of about two hundred acres on the west bank of the west branch of the Sowams river.  This farm extended from the Sowams river to what is now known as the Middle Highway in Barrington, and, on a north and south line from Princes Hill to the north line, about one thousand feet north of the White Church, near the Barrington bridge.  Zachariah3 Bicknell and his wife Hannah, died and were buried in Ashford, Conn.

Mr. Bicknell is of the eighth generation of American Bicknells, through Joshua4, Joshua5, Joshua6 and Allin7.  His grandfather, Joshua 6, fought in the Revolutionary War, was for eighteen years a deputy in the General Assembly of Rhode Island and an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1794 to 1819.  He lived and died on the Bicknell farm, in Barrington.

His son, Allin7, father of Thomas W.8, was born in Barrington, April 3, 1878 [sic - should be 1787], and married Harriet Byron Kinnicutt, daughter of Josiah and Rebecca Kinnicutt, and granddaughter of Rev. Solomon Townsend, December 23, 1817.  Her grandfather was minister of the Congregational Church at Barrington, fifty-five years.

Four sons were born of this marriage:  Joshua, George Augustus, Daniel Kinnicutt and Thomas Williams.  The mother died in December, 1837.  Allin7 married Miss Elizabeth Waldron Allin, daughter of Gen. Thomas Allin, April 13, 1839; no children; she died in 1868.

Allin Bicknell7 was a Barrington farmer, succeeded his father as deacon of the Congregational church, was Representative three years and senator four years in the General Assembly of Rhode Island, was colonel of the Bristol County Militia, and held many town offices.  He died at the home of his son Thomas W., August 16, 1870, aged eighty-three years and four months. Princes Hill Cemetery, Barrington, is the family burial place.

Thomas Williams, the youngest son, was born in the small cottage, on the ancient Sowams river, on Saturday, September the 6th, 1834.  He bears the given name of Thomas Williams - the name of the minister of the Congregational church of Barrington, at the time of his birth.  His mother died December 15, 1837, and his father married Elizabeth W. Allin, who proved to be a worthy wife and an excellent step-mother.  He attended the short summer and winter terms of the district school from his sixth to his sixteenth year and a few sessions of private schools in the town. He does not remember when he could not read, write, spell and recite the four tables in arithmetic.  He began the study of  Andrews and Stoddard's Latin Grammar at the age of thirteen, under the teaching of Rev. Francis Wood, at his private school in Barrington.

Soon after his fifteenth birthday,  Thomas had the good fortune to have for a district school teacher, Mr. Carlton P. Frost, a student in Dartmouth College.  He was not only an excellent teacher, but opened the way for the schoolboy to enter Thetford Academy, Thetford, Vt., in March, 1850.  This event was the turning point in the boy's life, when for three years in a farmer-student college, holding an honor rank in all, graduating from the Academy, in July, 1853, with the Greek oration, a youthful feat in scholarship, never indulged in, before or since, at that institution, then the home of three hundred students from all parts of the country.

Young Bicknell, with others of his Academy class, was examined and admitted to Dartmouth College and, on his way to Rhode Island, was also matriculated at Amherst College.   Freshman year was spent at Amherst, but shortage of money led to teaching, a part of the time at Rehoboth, Mass., and a part at Elgin, Ill.  In 1858, he entered the Sophomore class of Brown University, graduating on September 5, 1860, with the degree of A. M.  Mr. Bicknell's preparatory career was broken by a three months term of teaching in Seekonk, Mass., in the winter of 1853-54, 1854-55, a year at Elgin, 1855-56, and another year in teaching a private school at Rehoboth, in 1856-57.

In Mr. Bicknell's unior year at Brown, he was elected as a Representative to the General Assembly of Rhode Island, by the electors of Barrington, his home town.  His first speech was made in favor of abolition of the negro schools of the State, uniting the pupils with the whites in all the schools. While in the West, in June, 1856, Mr. Bicknell joined a company of seventy men to settle in Kansas, to help make it a free State. En route, up the Missouri river, on the steamer 'Star of the West', the company was disarmed at Lexington, Mo., made prisoners at Kansas City (then Weston) by border ruffians under the command of David R. Atchison and Stringfellow, held for two weeks, and set adrift at St. Louis, Mo., by the Virginia and South Carolina sharpshooters.

At graduation, Mr. Bicknell was elected principal of the high school, Bristol, R. I., where he taught four years; then became principal of the Arnold Street Grammar school, Providence, for three years, returned to the Bristol High School in May, 1867, and closing his teaching career in April, 1869.

In May, 1869, Mr. Bicknell was elected Commissioner of Public Schools of the State of Rhode Island and held the office until January 1, 1875. We may mention a few of the many accomplishments of his administration; the reorganization and building of the R. I. Institute of Instruction; a system of teachers' institutes in all parts of the State; school officers conventions; the creation of the office of superintendent of schools for each town in the State; the creation of a State Board of Education, terms of school committees extended from one to three years; the creation of the office of superintedant of schools for each town in the State; the creation of the State Normal School; the founding of free evening schools; town libraries were established; the school year was made longer than in any other State; laws were enacted to compel the attendance of factory workers, under fourteen, at school for six months in the year; teachers salaries were advanced; more than fifty new school houses were dedicated, and a large number rebuilt and refurnished; industrial drawing was introduced; the school laws were revised; town and State appropriations were increased manifold and an universal interest in public education was awakened; the Commissioner delivered more than five hundred educational addresses and secured twice the number from others; he restored and edited the 'Rhode Island Schoolmaster'.

During his term, he was appointed delegate to the Vienna Exposition in 1873, and in a long European trip, encompassing Italy, Greece and Constantinople, he studied educational work from Ireland to Asia Minor.  The Board of Education expressed deep regrets on Mr. Bicknell's departure from the State and placed on record their high valution of his service.

As founder of the 'New England Journal of Education', Mr. Bicknell chose Boston as his field of work, with Mr. C. C. Chatfield as publishers of the educational weekly.  On Mr. Chatfield's death, in 1876, Mr. Bicknell assumed the publishing work.  He later brought out the 'Primary Teacher', 'Good Times', now the 'Popular Educator', and the bi-monthly magazine, 'Education'.  All have found popular favor and have a profitable circulation after nearly fifty years.  The New England Bureau of Education, now Winship's Teachers' Agency, was founded and built up by Mr. Bicknell.

In 1877 and in 1878, Mr. Bicknell was president of the American Institute of Instruction, and in the latter year holding a great meeting at Fabyans, White Mountains, attended by more than three thousand persons.  From the proceeds, the 'Bicknell Fund' of $1,000 was set apart.  At this meeting Prof. A. E. Dolbear, inventor, gave the first public illustration of the telephone.  The fundamental principles of American Education were publicly set forth in a great meeting on the summit of Mt. Washington.

In 1880, the National Council of Education, a philosphic department of American education, was founded at Chautauqua, N. Y., of which Mr. Bicknell was the author, holding the presidency for three years.

In 1884, at Saratoga, N. Y., Mr. Bicknell was elected president of the National Education Association of the United States.  In July of that year, fully ten thousand persons met at Madison, Wis., as the result of the president's organizing ability, to discuss the principles and methods of many departments of American Education.  An exposition was also held in the State House.  Booker T. Washington began his public speaking career at that meeting.  The permanent fund of the N. E. A. was started from the surplus proceeds.  The great influential meetings of this Association began at Madison.  The president declined a unanimous and very urgent renomination.

In 1886, at the solicitation of Dr. J. H. Vincent, Mr. Bicknell was made the organizer and president of the Chautauqua Teacher's Reading Union. In 1887, he was chosen president of the New England Colony Association for Dakota, and in this capacity, founded a town in North Dakota, called New England. It is now the grain center and an incorporated city.

From 1888 to 1890, Mr. Bicknell was chosen as a Representative of Ward 24, Boston, in the Massachusetts General Court and was chairman of House committees of education and suffrage.

In 1879, he organized and was chosen president of the Bicknell Family Association and still holds the office.  In 1913, he edited and published the Genealogy of the Family in a quarto of about 600 pp., fully and beautifully illustrated.  It is styled 'a live book'.

As an author, Mr. Bicknell has written a large number of books and pamphlets. The principal of these are:  'The Life of William Lord Noyes', 'Historic Sketches of Barrington', 'Story of Dr. John Clarke', 'History of the Rhode Island Normal School', 'The Governors of Rhode Island', 'The Dorr War', various pamphlets on family history and educational subjects.  A volume of poems also appears.  'The History of Rhode Island', four volumes, is his latest and most extended work.  He estimates that his publications total one billion 12 mo. pp., or a library of five million 200-page books. He has been a member of more than one hundred organizations, president of over thirty and vice-president of as many more.

Mr. Bicknell was nominated by the leading educators of the United States to be chief of the Department of Education and Fine Arts,  in the Columbian Exposition of 1892-93, but was set aside, as late revelations show, for the local personal and political reasons.

As a public lecturer, Mr. Bicknell has interested public audiences for more than sixty years.  In the Civil War, his addresses were magnetic and convincing.  In the educational field the scope of his discussions is broad and progressive.  In historic debate, he is accurate in scholarship, clear in statement, full in details, imaginative, and logical in conclusions.c His six lectures before the Brooklyn Institute on 'The Evolution of Democracy' through Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Medieval, English and American ideals were highly commended for scholarship and comparative conclusions.  After a series of lectures on Alaska, he was invited to write a book on the country, by an eminent Boston publisher.  In 1892, he prophesied the coming automobile, in lectures in Boston on 'The Horseless Carriage' and he was an officer of the company that built the first automobile in Rhode Island.

Mr. Bicknell's American ancestors held Puritan ideals of the conservative Congregational faith.  The son joined the church of the fathers in 1852 and at the age of eighty-five holds very liberal views, in the old communion. He has been a leader in church and Sunday school organizations for more than sixty years, serving as superintendent in Bristol, Barrington and Dorchester, Mass.  He was founder of the Rhode Island Congregational Sunday School  Union, and its first president; co-founder and president of the Boston Congregational Sunday School Superintendents' Union; co-founder and president of the Massachusetts Sunday School Union; and president of the International Sunday School Association.  He was leader and co-founder of the Harvard Congregational Church, Boston, as well as of the Congregational Church at New England, Dakota.  He has taught large bible classes, held all church offices and often occupied the pulpit and conducted all church services.

The limits of this article forbid reference to many of Mr. Bicknell's activities along social, civic, educational, reformatory, political and religious lines.  When his life work ends, a full biography will be worthy of study.

On September 5, 1860, Mr. Bicknell married Miss Amelia D. Blanding, daughter of Christopher and Chloe (Carpenter) Blanding, of Rehoboth, Mass.   Three children were born to them, one, Martha Elizabeth, living five years. Mrs. Bicknell died at the end of a very active christian life, at Boothbay, Me., August 13, 1896.


These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project. Transcription and pictures 2001-2 by Beth Hurd

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