Rhode Island Reading Room
These documents are made available free to the public by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project
Scituate 5
This section contains articles of genealogical and historic interest on Rhode Island in general, from old Rhode Island books and newspapers. If you would like to contribute please e-mail me with information. 

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


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 turf 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 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.  Dec. 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 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 the 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 Jaques 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 Mill, 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, had 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. Fobes, 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 for 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 of the State.


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 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. Ephriam 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, acquired 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 of Foster, resided about a mile and a half west of North Scituate village.  He was esteemed in his practice, died suddenly, May 7, 1843, in his seventy-third year, shortly after his removal to Olneyville.

Dr. Cyril Carpenter, in that part of Scituate now Foster, lived in the later 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 in Scituate, have long enjoyed the respect and confidence of our citizens.


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, 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 canon, cast at the Hope furnace were fired at the Great Bridge, in Providence, in honor of the Declaration of Independence, July 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 eight-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 Philips 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.


Our own State, "Little Rhoda," as she is called, has won the proud distinction of furnishing the steam engine whose power moves the whole machinery at 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 receives commendations from all observers.


It is with just pride that we have surveyed the past of Scituate:  and let us ever honor the memory of the men and women who have preceded us in our history, and who have bequeathed to us so many privileges and blessings:  Freedom to worship God, a free representative government, the hope of Christianity, and the glorious anticipations of a liberty covering the whole earth with the freedom with which CHRIST makes free, are among the rich gifts which have come down to us from our fathers.  As God was with them, so may He be with us.

Comparing the present with past times we find our State greatly advanced in wealth and population; and while commerce has declined, manufactures have attained great prosperity.  The old hand looms for weaving cloth, as used in families, have given place to the more wonderful machinery of our numerous mills, moved by our water falls and steam engines.  The spinning wheels and hand cards are laid aside also, because of modern inventions.  We cannot say as much for farming, although Americans have astonished the world in agricultural implements ingeniously contrived to relieve the farmer's toil and do the work better, and on a grander scale. Some good farms, well managed, and made remunerative, remain, but the larger number are still untilled, or are so much neglected that they are growing up to brush.

Facilities for education are much greater.  The common schools are superior to those of early times.
One design in the earnest and united declaration of this centenary Fourth of July is to increase the spirit of Patriotism, to arouse the nation to a deeper sense of their privileges, to revive the memory of Our Fathers by repeating their deeds and by glowing eulogiums on their valor, love of liberty, spirit of self-sacrifice and regard for the welfare of those who should come after them.

All our revolutionary actors are in their graves -- new generations have risen, new discoveries have been made, and a new aspect has come over the land.  Wealth has increased, intelligence has been diffused, large cities have grown up, manufactures and the mechanic arts have flourished, our territory has lapped over to the shores of the western sea, and our name is great among the nations as a young giant arisen upon the earth.

But all this prosperity may be our ruin, and wealth and fame and luxury, and its consequent evils, may prove a false dependence.

"What constitutes a State?
Not high raised battlement or labored mound,
Thick wall, or moated gate;
Not cities proud, with spires and turrets crowned;
Not bays and broad-armed ports,
Where, laughing at the storm, rich navies ride;
Not starred and spangled courts,
Where low-born baseness wafts perfume to pride;
No--men, high minded men;

"Men who their duties know,
But know their rights, and knowing dare maintain:
These constitute a State."

A national wholly intent upon sordid gain, given up to frivolous pleasures, separate from God and holiness, forgetful of the fathers, from whom, under God, they received their blessings, is necessarily a weak and pusillanimous nation, as the history of Rome and other similar empires proves.  If to thee declensions are to be added, dishonesty of bankers and men in trade, corruption of men in public life, to the extent of making dishonest gain the usual concomitant of an office-holder and legislator, and bribery at the voting place, carried on without a blush, quite a practice, and increasingly more so, why, then there is pressing need of an awakening of the people to make the inquiry, "Whither are we drifting?"  At such a juncture of affairs, as believed in by many of the more thoughtful and deserving, as coming upon us as a people this present celebration, recalling vividly to mind the more simple and honest days of the Republic, and holding up for emulation the characters of the period of 1776, when persons were put into the crucible and tried, as it were, by fire, and came out pure gold, for all countries and ages to admire, and when Washington took his place as in the heavens a shining star for all time -- a sight of all this -- the entering of it, as it were, into the very souls of the people, and taking possession of them, may well be held as the sacred duty of all who are privileged to be the orators of the hour.

Before us lies a new century, on which the nation is about to enter.  Great as were the perils supposed to be incident to the first, they have been gallantly met, by the several generations, and overcome.  God's hand, clearly seen in colonial times, was still more visible in the national history which followed, and to Him we must look for guidance and blessing.  Very timely is the President's proclamation, and very proper and well expressed.  Great would have been the oversight if it had been forgotten.  It says:

"The founders of the government, at its birth and in its feebleness,
invoked the blessings and protection of a Divine Providence, and the
thirteen colonies and three millions of people have expanded into a
nation of strength and numbers, comanding the position which then was
demanded, and for which fervent prayers were then offered.  It seems
fitting that on the occurrence of the hundredth anniversary of our
existence as a nation, a grateful acknowlgment should be made to
Almighty God for the protection and bounties which He has vouchsafed to
our beloved country, and humbly to invoke a continuance of His favor and
of His protection,"
We trust there will be a two-century life of our nation; that we may continue united, prosperous and free up to that period, but none of us will be alive to witness it.  The imagination toils in vain to picture the two-century spectacle.  A hundred years more must make many changes, but what they will be no one can tell.  We must pass through several generations, who will in turn come to preside, as the administration and the people.  More territory may be added, and more people and more wealth acquired, and new discoveries made as great changes in the future as the steam engine and the telegraph have wrought in the past.

Civil war, a contest between the North and south, was what Washington feared, and warned the people of both sections against those who should atempt to put variances between them.  But his farewell address was disregarded by both sides, and the result of civil war, naturally, and as it were, inevitably followed.  Contests may arise in the future, but it will not come on the subject of slavery.  It is with profound satisfaction that we to-day can look around and exclaim:  "No slave breathes the air of our country."  Never again will that stain make an American ashamed of his nationality.

We must cultivate love and forebearance with one another; and especially we should, in our centennial, reach our hands over the bloody chasm and cultivate friendly relations with the South, since the rebellion has been put down and the people have submitted to the result.  To-day they, with us, unite in a centennial, which is theirs as well as ours.  North and South participated in the battles of the Revolution, and the South and the North unite in the rejoicings over the glory of our common heritage.

The East may feel a little sensitive at the waning of their political supremacy, and the West may not a little exult that they are rising in the scale of comparative greatness, but let us bear in mind that the East has sent her children West, and that the greatness of the West is the theme of our own glory.
The shores of the Pacific and the Atlantic may engender suspicions of the unjust political favors awarded to one more than the other, but mutual concessions and kindnesses, and the rapid growth of California and Oregon will naturally, and without opposition, bring to these territories increased and increasing influence.  Let us be just to all sections, and we need not fear any hostility tending to disunion.

The great cry of the day is for retrenchment and economy in public and private expenditures.  Honest men and able should be sought after for office, and both of the great political parties should have their proportionate share of public offices, and thus a civil service reform will be created which every patriot should encourage.

Two great political parties should always exist, and they should be nearly equal in numbers, power and influence, that they may watch each other and correct any mistakes or frauds that may be discovered.  Ceaseless watchfulness of our rulers and their doings is the price the people must pay for the blessings of liberty!  The people, and the people only, in the teachings of history, can be safely trusted to preserve and hand down freedom.

In the words of our poet Longfellow, apostrophizing our country, as a ship sailing on the ocean, we may hopefully say:

"Thou too sail on, O ship of State!
Sail on, O Union strong and great!
Humanity, with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what master laid they keel,
What workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock --
'Tis of the wave, and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale.
In spite of rock, and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, -- are all with thee!"

Let the day be given to patriotic and grateful recollections of the honored dead; the men and women who braved the perils of the sea and the wilderness, and built their homes for wives and little ones, where wild and ferocious beasts of prey and savage men roamed the forests.

Sacred to the memory, also, of those whose love of liberty impelled them, at all hazards, to enter a solemn protest against the entrance of every form of tyranny and unjust edicts, and to resist with all their might, even unto death, the armed forces sent out by Great Britain to subjugate the people.
A careful enquiry would show the nobleness of mind and patriotic devotion of the women of the Revolutionary period, who not only made no opposition, and uttered no complaint, but cheered the men, who were compelled to leave, hardly begun, the clearing of the wilderness, and the care and protection of their young families, to rush to the camp and the battle field, and lay down their lives, if need be, that their children and their children's children might not come under the burdens of unjust and tyrannical governments to which the world had been so long subject, and might possess the free representative government, which we now enjoy.

Shame would it be ! -- if there were not a spontaneous and universal uprising all over our land, to proclaim to the world that the sins of ingratitude and forgetfulness of our benefactors, the heroes of the Revolution, and of all who since that period have, in office and out of office, and of all political parties, who have aided in carrying out in continued practice the principles and spirit of 1776 until now, one hundred years from the memorable Declaration, our liberties have been preserved and the threatened description of our Union averted.

Let the present generation preserve and hand down these liberties to those who may come after us; and watch with zealous care all tendencies of our nation to encroach upon the freedom our fathers won for us.

And let the sons and daughters of Rhode Island, here, within our borders, and abroad, wherever they may be scattered, bear gratefully in mind the intense love of freedom and hatred of wrong and oppression, that characterized the settlers of the State, and has ever since marked its inhabitants.  Let the names of Angell, West, Knight, Williams, Aldrich, Westcott, Harris, Whipple, Green, Ellery, Perry, Hopkins, Ward, Greene, and other patriots be sounded, and with them the statesmen and heroes of all the other States, -- Samuel Adams, James Otis, Putnam, Knox, Lee and a multitude beside.  Sound high and feelingly the name of LAFAYETTE, and remember gratefully the French nation.

The war of 1812-1815, and the terrible civil war of 1861-4, added greatly to the number of these illustrious names that have adored our country's annals, and laid down their lives willingly, that the glorious Union might be preserved, in the most deadly warfare ever waged to destroy it.  Rhode Island, as distinguished for promptness, bravery and gallant exploits in that war, as in previous contests, hands down her names to our admiring and grateful remembrance, to that present and all coming time.  Her officers and soldiers and seaman are enrolled on the undying scroll of our country's glory, and so of other States -- praise, honor, thanks, we give to all.

One great name, that of the "FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY," will be everywhere sounded to-day; and no poem, oration, song or melody shall be able to reach the height of his deserved praise, or add a single leaf to the wreath of his world-sounded renown.

His fame, now after the lapse of three-quarters of a century since his death, has suffered no dimination; his star still blazes single and alone in brightness and glory in the firmament of American Freedom!  Raised up by the Great Dispenser of Events in a critical period of the world's history, and in the birth-day of the nation destined to pour back a reflective light upon the old world, and to exert an influence in human affairs beyond that of any empire in the world's history, the American people hailed him as Moses was saluted by the Israelites when he led them out of Egypt.

It is the great glory of America that she has produced a Washington, and it will not be presumption to say that, with all our exhibitions to-day, in our centennial, we have nothing greater to ask the world's attention than to him.

These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project. Donated Janet Anderson JANR67A@prodigy.com
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.