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An Historical Sketch of The Town of Scituate, R.I.

 Published by Order of the Town Council
Delivered in Scituate, Rhode Island
July 4, 1876
By C. C. Beaman 















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An Historical Sketch of The Town of Scituate, R.I.

 Published by Order of the Town Council
Delivered in Scituate, Rhode Island
July 4, 1876
At the request of the Town Authorities
By C. C. Beaman
Phenix Capron & Campbell, Steam Book and Job Printers 1877


The great republic of the world celebrates its first century to-day!  It has invited all nations to participate in the occasion by an exhibition of the products and workmanship of their respective countries, in the city where the assembled Congress framed, adopted, and sent forth, July Fourth, 1776, their Declaration of Independence.  It has selected an orator and poet, and other exercises appropriate to the event to take place in the same city.  Our own State has requested, through its legislature, that every town in our borders should have a local celebration; and Congress and the President have sent a similar appeal to every town in the Union.

The extraordinary growth of the country in the last century, the very high position it occupies to-day, the success in so large a scale, and for so long a period, of a free government, would seem to demand an uncommon manifestation of the nation, on the happy event of completing our first one hundred years; and that to-day our Union is perfect and complete, with not a single star blotted out from our banner, and many more added to the original thirteen, standing to-day stronger and more immovable than ever.

It was with fear and trembling, one hundred years ago, that the delegates from the colonies assembled in a small hall in Philadelphia, put forth their immortal Declaration, July 4, 1776.  They were wise and prudent men -- some of them, as was our own Hopkins, advanced in years; a few, like Hancock, were rich.  They all had much at stake, having families, high character, the ablest men chosen from Virginia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the other colonies:  they exposed themselves, in case of defeat, to confiscation of property, banishment, imprisonment, loss of reputation, and death by being hung as traitors, but they drew not back, there was no faltering while they cut the tie which bound them to the mother country, and launched their bark upon the tempestuous ocean of conflict with a mighty nation that had the resources of a standing army, there were a few regiments of militia, no ship of war, and guns, cannon balls and powder; and other requisites of military warfare were few indeed, and neither money nor credit but in a very limited degree.

The infant Congress staggered not at the impending and deadly struggle looming up at the future, and boldly appealed to the arbitration of the sword, and the decision of the impartial nations of the world:
"When," they said, commencing their declaration, "in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

Many and dear were the ties which bound them to the mother country!  It was beyond other great nations, a free country; and the men of the revolution often expressed themselves as demanding nothing more than the rights of a British subject enjoyed at home.  England was dear to them, as the source whence their supplies and protection proceeded; they had an interest in her glory as a nation; as the country from whose bosom the colonies came as from a mother.  Their literature, religion, language and customs had gbeen brought over to America -- the graves of ancestry made the burial places of Britain dear to Americans.  Ties of interest, affection and consanguinity were sundered with regret.

But Great Britain, her rulers, and her people looked upon the colonies to be sources of pecuniary profit; they were jealous of all manufactures and commerce which interfered with their own; and by custom-house taxes and vexatious laws to prevent the Americans from trading with any people but England and her colonies, they turned the love of the people into hatred.  The people were treated in some respects as a conquered or dependent race, and not to be ranked in privilege and honor with subjects at home.  All these rasons, and more, are stated in the declaration; then comes the solemn determination that they will bear the injustice and oppression no longer, but set up for themselves.  In well considerd words they take their final farewell:

"We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be totally dissolved:  and that as free and independent states they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.  And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives our fortunes and our sacred honor."

The fighting at Concord and Lexington had already taken place, and two months afterwards the battle of Bunker Hill sent its echo round the world.  Boston had been evacuated by the British forces March 17, 1776, and now, July 4, 1776, the rebellion had taken shape in an official act of the newly organized government, casting off all allegiance to Great Britain, and asserting its entire independence and determination to maintain it by all the force they could command.

We meet to-day without distinction of party or religious denomination; and though we come together as town's people of Scituate, we hold fellowship with all the towns of our State, and passing out of the bounds of Rhode Island we stand up to-day with every state, city and town in the Union in a GRAND NATIONAL JUBILEE!  on the occasion of our completing our first hundred years.  We go farther, and extend a call to every other nation to rejoice with us in our remarkable history; in the unexampled prosperity we have enjoyed, in the success which has attended the experiment of a people self-governed.  We may be pardoned for some little self-exultation while we recognize the guiding hand of our God in our preservation and blessing.

In the city of Philadelphia, where our delegates in Congress assembled a hundred years ago, and framed and adopted a Declaration of Independence there will be an extraordinary gathering of our fellow citizens from all parts of our country, and many distinguished visitiors from foreigh lands will be convened to witness a national festival, commemorative of what transpired in that city a few hundred years ago, and what great results have come out of it.

We have dared to invite an International Exhibition of Art and Manufactures, Inventions and Discoveries, Literature and Science, and other matters relating to man's progress in society, and to put side by side, our own skill and taste, not for vain show, but in order to bring the world into fellowship and useful and honorable competition.

We may not be able to grasp in our vision the spectacle which our still youthful nation presents to the world to-day.  Our place is in the New World discovered by Christopher Columbus four hundred years ago.  The vast extent of territory that maps out our heritgage lying between two great oceans; its natural features of mountains, valleys and plains, and lakes and rivers, indented coasts by inlets, bays and harbors where proud navies ride and prosperous cities lift their spires is but imperfectly realized.  A view of the manufacturing and mechanical establishments, a sight of the farms cultivated with all the help of newly invented agricultural implements, a perception of the warehouses where are stored the productions and workmanship of every clime, the schools and colleges filled with pupils of both sexes, the churches whose bells ring cheerfully on the Sabbath morn, the printing presses worked by steam power, scattering leaves of knowledge over the whole land, the railroads running in every direction, bearing immense freights and conveying passengers in multitude, the telegraph with its wires beneath the ocean and stretched out over the whole land, and the activity of the people, and the enterprise visible, and the arrivals of emigrants daily from the four quarters of the globe, with the general intelligence, comfort and happiness of the people, the steady march of population over the deserts, or uncultivated places, and the returning march from the West to meet midway the East;  this is the picture too great and wonderful to be fully realized, as the orators of our centennary year vainly strive with uplifted voice and choice expression to describe to-day in the assemblies convened all over the land.

Praise and thanksgiving may well go up from the nation so highly favored of God!  who has not so blessed every other nation under the broad heavens -- no other nation has a history like ours.  Behold what God has wrought for us!  May thanks go up from the shores of both oceans, and from the  banks of every river and lake, from every hill and valley, and all places where man has set his foot on the soil of these United States and sheltered himself from oppression and wrong beneath the folds of our star spangled banner.

Berkeley, the English philosopher, who made for a while his home in Newport, in 1730, filled as it were with superhuman foresight of the coming glory of America, wrote the well-known prophetic lines:

"Westward the course of empire takes its way;
The first four acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day --
Time's noblest offspring is the last!"


The arriving of a centennial year naturally turns our thoughts to the past.  We revert to the beginning and progress of men and things, and love to connect old things with new.  It is a duty which we owe to those who have gone before us to consider their wrongs and enquire for their principles!  We cannot go back like China, Japan and India, to a very remote past, for our country is very new; but we may turn to ancient and discolored manuscripts, antiquated house furniture, old houses, by-gone burial places, deeds of valor, primitive and frugal ways, times of poverty and need, of honesty and patriotism, to the period of forest and self-denying and perilous lives, to the simple faith and child-like trust in God of the early days.

Wealth and luxury, numbers and power, things that are new and wonderful we can see every day and year, but we must make special exertion and set apart a time to explore the past and ruminate in the quiet shades of by-gone generations.  We have before us to-day a town history:  one that is eventful, that called out human strength and fortitude in an extraordinary degree, and developed what is good and noble in man and in communities.

It will be expected of me, on the present occasion, to present some outlines of the history of Scituate.  Like other parts of Rhode Island, it was first inhabited by Indians, and the territory remained in a state of nature, for the red men were hunters and fishers, cultivating only little patches of ground, of corn, tobacco, beans, etc.  Little collections of huts or wigwams formed their towns -- of which there may have been a dozen in many miles travel.

The settlement of Roger Williams at Providence in 1636 is the commencement of our history.  He dedicated himself to the spread of the gospel among the Indians, and traveled among the different tribes who were at war with each other, to pacify them and satisfy them that he and his associates had honest intentions to live peaceably with them.  God gave him with Canonicus, the great and powerful Indian chief, favor so that he obtained as a gift large and valuable tracts of land.  The deed of gift was dated March 24, 1637, in the second year of the Rhode Island plantation and reads -- "in consideration of the many kindnesses and services he hath continually done for us."  The land given was of the lands upon Mooshansick and Woonasquatucket rivers.  Soon after this grant, Mr. Williams, in an unselfish spirit, executed a deed giving an equal share with himself to twelve of his companions, and "such other as the major part of us shall admit into the same fellowship of vote with us."  All of them, with others, fifty-four in all, had lots assigned them, in the first division of land, which took place soon after the initial deed was accepted.

The settlement increased, as from other colonies and from beyond the sea, emigrants continued to arrive, and numbers spread themselves over the wooded heights and vales of that part of Providence afterwards set off as Scituate.

It was formerly the practice -- that is soon after the proprietors connected with Roger Williams had been increased to one hundred, that persons "took up lands," as the current phrase was, that they had them surveyed and marked off, and entered upon the records -- some compensation may have been given to the proprietors.  Deeds were however in early use; an old one was found not long ago among the papers of Gideon Harris, bearing date 1651, of the size of half a sheet of letter paper, written on both sides, and with the curious orthography of the olden time.

The first settlers of Scituate drove no large herds and flocks before them, and there were no meadows for a supply of grass to feed them; at first, probably, men alone came to build a rough cabin and make a clearing, and afterwards, they brought their families.  The soil was good, but it was rocky and covered with woods.  Wild beasts and Indians roved over it.  Stephen Hopkins who was born in Scituate in 1710, and lived there till middle life, in a few pages of early Rhode Island history, wrote in poetic verse the pitiable condition of the first inhabitants:

"Nor house, no hut, nor fruitful field,
Nor lowing herd, nor bleating flock,
Or garden that might comfort yield,
Nor cheerful, early crowing cock."

No orchard yielding pleasant fruit,
Or laboring ox or useful plow;
Nor neighing steed or browsing goat,
Or grunting swine or feedful cow.

No friend to help, no neighbor nigh,
Nor healing medicine to relieve;
No mother's hand to close the eye,
Alone, forlorn, and most extremely poor."

A better class, and very enterprising an successful, came afterwards.  In 1710 some emigrants arrived from Scituate, Mass.  In 1730 Scituate was set off from Providence as a distinct township.

Tradition gives John Mathewson the credit of building the first white man's house -- if it may be so called -- in Scituate.  It was a hovel or hut put up in the north-eastern part of the town, within a quarter of a mile of the Great Pond, Moswansicut, within a few rods of the boundaries of Scituate, Smithfield, Johnston and Gloucester, almost on the line of junction of the four towns.  The place lies about six rods from the road, and is indicated by a depression and raised banks.  It was six or eight feet square, four or five feet deep, and raised above the ground by logs and branches of trees, some three or four feet.  There was only one way of entrance, and holes were left in the upper part, through which a gun might be pushed to shoot bears, wolves, foxes, wildcats or other animals that might approach with design to enter the premises.

Tradition, handed down in the Mathewson families still resident in the neighborhood, further says:  that Boston was at that time the nearest trading town, and thither, on foot, through Indian or other paths, John would make his occasional journeys, stopping at houses on the way.  He made acquaintance with a Miss Malary at one of these houses where he stopped on his route, and offering marriage, was accepted.  He built him a house a hundred yards or more from his cave, and cultivated a good farm.  He died there, suddenly, aged about forty, leaving a widow and children.  John, one of his sons, was the direct ancestor of the late Hon. Elisha Mathewson, senator in Congress.

Daniel, another son, when a boy of ten years, about the year 1700, was sent with a cart load of oak wood to Providence to sell.  Two yokes of oxen and a horse were put in to draw the load over the rough and hilly road, and after driving all over the town to find a customer, he sold the load for five shillings, the most he could get.  There were three houses only at that time on the north side of Westminster street, between the pumps and the forks of the road, by the bridge.

Thomas Mathewson and others of this name came to settle round this pond, one of the most beautiful ponds in the State, and having good lands around it.  Elder Samuel Winsor owned a tract a little farther east of the pond, and his lands were said to reach to Providence.  John Waterman, Dean Kimball and others were neighbors.

Mr. Stephen Smith kept tavern at the Four Corners, North Scituate, and as there was a great deal of teaming past his home, going to and returning from the furnaces of Smithfield and Glocester, to get iron ore at Cranston, his half-way house was well patronized.

Daniel Mathewson, the boy already spoken of, lived to about 1776, when he died at an advanced age.  Noah, the son of Daniel, died Sept. 17, 1824, aged 89 years, and was buried by the side of his parents on the family lot.  His widow, Judith, deceased Jan. 28, 1827, aged 87 years.  The house that Daniel built was occupied successively, after his death, by his son Noah and his grandson Daniel, who was living in 1856 in his 78th year, and gave me this information of his family.  Its height was one story, with four rooms on the ground floor, and a cellar underneath.

In the old stone fire-place were seen hanging from a piece of timber, placed horizontally, high up in the chimney, two very long iron hooks or trammels, five or six feet long, for hanging kettles and other vessels over the fire.  These were hoisted or lowered by means of little holes in the upper pieces.  They had no barns in those old times when this house was built, but there were little shanties or hovels where they stored many things.

James Aldrich removed to Scituate from Smithfield in 1775, and purchased of the heirs the estate of Mr. Ishmael Wilkinson, deceased.  This was in the north-west part of the town, and in the vicinity of Beacon Hill.

When Mr. Aldrich came to Scituate himself and family traveled on horseback, that being the usual mode of conveyance.  Attempts were made to discourage him from leaving Smithfield by representing the lateness of spring, it being the middle of May, but as the land was good he declined to stop.  Soon after his arrival he sent back to Smithfield to get a cheese tub made by a celebrated worker in wooden ware, Jesse Inches, who was known far and wide for his skill in manufacturing churns, pails and tubs.  This cheese tub, made of cedar, held twenty pailfuls, which gives us some idea of the dairy of Mr. Aldrich, and of the cows about his premises.  A stout man brought it on foot, and up on his back, all the way from Smithfield.  It was sold at auction some seventy-five years after, on the breaking up of house-keeping by his son John, having been in the family three-quarters of a century.

The Smithfield people considered a journey to the adjoining town of Scituate, one hundred years ago, somewhat as we regarded a trip to Ohio some fifty years since; but quite a number of families and some very fine additions to the property, respectability and enterprise of Scituate, nevertheless, removed, and it may have been with a desire to keep them at home that the discomforts of Scituate were magnified.  James Aldrich took the farm made vacant, as we have seen, by the unfortunate death of Mr. Wilkinson, and found the land pretty well prepared for culture -- a comfortable house and barn, a good orchard, stone walls, good soil, and a very pleasant and healthful location.

Having a great taste for orcharding, which his son John imbibed, and his grandson Arthur inherited, who had the finest fruit in the town, he planted fruit trees for which the soil, climate and elevation of land were highly favorable, and became a successful farmer.  He raised horses for sale, as was the custom then, and Scituate horses, for their fine qualities, were regarded at that time much as we regard those which are now brought from Vermont.  He is said to have introduced the first cherry trees in the town.

Mr. James Aldrich was a great politician in those days, and belonged to the Republican or Democratic party, both names being used at that time to designate the Jefferson party, in opposition to the federal party of Hamilton.  He represented the town of Scituate in General Assembly for one series of nineteen consecutive years.  Elisha Mathewson, John Harris and Col. Ephraim Bower were often at his house, and Governor Arthur Fenner.  The Governor used to come out of Providence on horseback, with his gun and other equipments, to have a good hunt with his warm friend and brother democrat, James.  Dr. Battey told me he had seen them hunting together when he was a boy, and a daughter of Mr. Aldrich, Mrs.  Charles Harris, remembered that many a time she had seen the Governor ride away home from Scituate with foxes and squirrels that he had killed, strung over his saddle.

Arthur must have loved the fun, and there was no very awful state about a chief magistrate in those days to prevent his indulgence in a favorite sport.  Political, as well as social and hunting propensities, doubtless mingled in these expeditions, for Mr. James Aldrich and his friend Elisha Mathewson were said to control the votes of Scituate, and the people loved to see a Governor among them in such a free and easy spirit and costume, and gladly gave him the favor of their votes.

Women generally rode on horseback in those days, and favorite daughters were privileged with some fine horses to ride.  Two women were sometimes seen riding on one horse, each with a child in her arms, but more frequently the "good man" with his wife behind him, going to church or to shopping in the small but thriving village of Providence, which, in the first setlement, was indeed the village of Scituate, as well as Providence.

Gideon Harris is a very prominent man in the history of Scituate.  He married Damaus Wescott, a noted maiden in her day.  He died in 1777, at an advanced age, and was buried in the Quaker burying ground.  For many years he filled the office of Town Clerk.  It was a common saying that everbody who was poor, in distress, or wanted employment, resorted to Mr. Harris, on account of his property, influence and benevolent disposition.  His house was in a place called the "Old Bank."  It was enlarged and made into two stories by his son, and pleasantly situated on ground rising from the road, with its stately and ancient button-wood and elm trees, makes an imposing appearance.

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