William Blackstone, a Solitary Settler
Rev. William Blackstone (1595 - 1675) (also spelled "Blaxton") was the first European to settle
in what is now Boston, and probably the second European to settle in what is now
Rhode Island. (See note re Hazel.)
Not much is known about Blackstone. He was known in his time as
intelligent, with a collection of books that was probably the largest private
library in the British colonies before 1675. It was also well known that he disagreed with
intolerance of the Massachusetts Bay colonists, and that he believed in purchasing his land from the Indians as the owners
of the land.
Blackstone grew up in affluent circumstances in England, earned a bachelor's
degree in 1617 and a master's in 1621 from Cambridge University, and received
Holy Orders in the Church of England soon afterwards. Unhappy with the
inflexible Anglican Church of the time, he joined the Gorges expedition
which sailed to New England in 1623. The attempt at settlement was
unsuccessful, and most of the expedition returned to England, Blackstone
remained and settled in solitude in what is now Boston's Beacon Hill.
Three years later the Puritans came, but Blackstone was irritated with their
intolerance. He moved about 35 miles through the wilderness, south to a hill
overlooking a wide bend in what is today known as the Blackstone River, in
today's Lonsdale section of Cumberland.. He called his place Study Hill. Study Hill was about a mile north of the Pawtucket Falls, where William Bucklin
would settle about 20 years later.
Two years after Blackstone settled on the river, Roger Williams arrived to
settle on a few miles downstream on the river, in the tidal portion known as the
Seekonk River. Blackstone became a good friend of Roger Williams. While
they disagreed on many theological matters, both agreed on tolerance and the
value of expression of various religious opinions. Baptist Williams invited
Anglican Blackstone to regularly preach to William's followers in Providence.
In 1659 Blackstone married Sarah Fisher Stevenson, a widow, age 34. William and
Sarah had 1 child, John, who was of no particular historical achievement. Sarah died in
1673, at the age of 48, and Blackstone died at in 1675 at the age of 80, leaving
substantial holdings in real estate and his substantial library. His buildings
at Study Hill, were burned by the Indians in King Philip's War and not rebuilt
Roger Williams, founder of the Providence Colony.
Roger Williams was a Welch Puritan educated in England by Sir Edward Coke,
who was a famous and successful lawyer and author. Coke met Williams in London,
where Williams was reporting Star-chamber
court speeches in shorthand.
In 1632, at the age of 32, Williams fled from English persecution of
Puritan's to New England. He was soon appointed assistant minister in the
Puritan church at Salem, but his broad and enlightened views respecting the
freedom of conscience and the injurious character of a wedded church and state
offended both the church and state authorities. Williams then moved to
Plymouth, where he became an assistant minister, acceptable to the church and
state, for about two years
Williams then returned to Salem and became pastor of the same congregation
where he had been assistant. Soon his intellect reasserted its prominence
over caution and he publicly questioned the right of
the king to appropriate and grant the lands of the Indians without purchase, and
the right of the colony's civil power to impose faith and worship on everyone. This denial of the
right of magistrates to control a church to restrain a church from heresy was regarded as dangerous.
Plymouth decreed the banishment of Williams from the colony.
Thereupon, in the winter of 1635 -1636, Williams did what Blackstone had done earlier
--- Williams went
westward to the Narragansett Bay area. He purchased a tract of land on the Seekonk River, east of the
later site of
Providence, at which place 20 friends joined him seated themselves in the spring
of 1636. This area, near the present Manton's Cove, was called Rehoboth (a
name taken up again, but for a more northerly location, by Reverend Newman, in
Just as Williams' new colony had begun to build and plant on the Seekonk River, a friendly letter came from Governor Winslow saying they were within the
jurisdiction of the Plymouth Colony, and as he did not wish to offend "the Bay,"
and desired the undisturbed repose of the exiles, he advised Williams and his
little party to pass to the other side of the Seekonk, where he would have a
large country before him beyond the jurisdiction of both the Plymouth Colony and
the Massachusetts Bay Colony..
William's left the Seekonk settlement, and headed downstream and westerly, rounding the headlands
now known as Fox and India Points. They went
up to the mouth of the Mooshansic River and landed to found the Providence
Colony. In 1638 Williams and 12 other settlers formed the Proprietors’
Company for Providence Plantations to share the land deeded by the Narragansett.
In 1641 Reverend Newman secured permission from the Plymouth Colony to
establish a colony in a location somewhat north of Williams' Seekonk Settlement.
The reason why suddenly the Plymouth Colony was amenable to granting land on
Narragansett Bay partly was the seemingly mild religious dissent of Newman, and
also partly the fact that William Bradford that year
gave up his ownership rights to the area of land.
Summary of the split among Rhode Islanders.
Because of religious differences with Roger Williams, Anne and William
Hutchinson and William Coddington founded Portsmouth in 1638 as a haven for
Antinomians (whose beliefs resembled those of Quakerism instead of Williams'
Baptist beliefs). A short-lived dispute between the Hutchinsons and Coddington
sent Coddington to the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, where he established
Newport in 1639. The fourth original town, Warwick, was settled in 1642 by
Samuel Gorton, another dissident from Portsmouth. During this initial decade
after Williams founded Providence, two other towns were established:
Wickford (1637), by Richard Smith, and Pawtuxet (1638), by William Harris and
the Arnold family, who had heated differences with Williams.
Because titles to these town lands started with a purchase from
Indians, a title not recognized in English courts, which assumed original
ownership by the King of England, the Massachusetts colonies sought
ownership of lands settled by Rhode Islanders. To meet this threat, Roger
Williams secured a parliamentary patent in March 1643-44 (during the
period of Civil War in England when there was not king) uniting
Providence, Portsmouth, Newport, and Warwick into a single colony and
confirming settlers' land claims. This legislative document served
adequately as the basic law until the Stuart Restoration of 1660 made it
wise to seek a royal charter. The 1663 charter obtained from Charles II
guaranteed complete religious liberty, established a self-governing colony
with local autonomy, and strengthened Rhode Island's territorial claims.
It was the most liberal charter to be issued by the England during the
entire colonial era, which allowed the royal charter to continue after the
Revolutionary War as Rhode Island's basic law until 1843.
Anne Hutchinson, and the Rhode Island Colony
Anne Hutchinson was an intelligent women, without spoken views of
religion that differed from those of the Church authorities in Boston, even
leading her to preach Sunday sermons in her house. She, her brother,
and another leader in the movement, were arrested and tried on a charge of heresy. The result was a
decree for the banishment of these three persons, and the disarming of sixty
citizens of Boston. They were forbidden, upon the penalty of a fine, to buy or
borrow any other arms or ammunition, until permitted by the General Court or
legislature. Unwilling to endure this indignity, a large portion of them, under
the leadership of John Clarke and William Coddington, left Boston with their
families, accompanied by Mrs. Hutchinson and her brother, with the intention of
settling on the Delaware Bay. They were so "lovingly entertained" by Roger
Williams at Providence, and so kindly invited to settle in the land of the
Narragansets, that they paused. Through the influence of Williams they were
enabled to purchase from the Indians the beautiful island of Aquetneck, now
Rhode Island. Differences arose between factions headed by Hutchinson and
Coddington, and in 1639 Coddington’s supporters moved to the southern part of
Aquidneck Island, where they established the settlement of Newport. The next
year the two island communities united in a federation and chose Coddington as
governor. Aquidneck was renamed Rhode Island in 1644.; This colony
was known as the Rhode Island Colony.
William Harris, came to America from Bristol, England, in the ship "Lyon", in
company with his brother Thomas and Roger Williams. Harris was one of the first
settlers of Providence in 1636, one of the twelve to whom Williams deeded land
in 1638, and one of the 12 original members of the First Baptist church.
Subsequently, Harris had a long controversy with Roger Williams, which was
characterized by a good deal of warmth on both sides. Essentially, Harris was
likely to cry out "No lords, no masters", in public assemblies, believing that
civil government was much too restrictive of what individuals might do. Williams
complained to England that those in Pawtuxet were not only suing the civil
government but also engaged in "constant obstructing of all order and authority
among us." [Letter of Williams to General Court of the MBC, 15 Sep 1655.]
The Colonies Become One Independent Legal Colony.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Plymouth Colony started to assert
geographical jurisdiction over the land around Narraganset Bay. In about 1641, both the Bay Colony and the Plymouth Colony became more
concerned about "wickedness" and "offenses against
churches." Persons who were not outspoken enough to be
banished, like Williams had been, were still fearful of being punished for
unorthodox behavior. In particular, the Bay Colony was unfavorably
impressed with the "Islanders" in the colonies set up by Williams,
Hutchinson at Portsmouth, Coddington at Newport, and Groton at Warwick, and
debated whether to annex Rhode Island by force, or persuade Plymouth to do it.
Read what the Bay Governor had to say about
these Islanders in 1642
legitimacy as an independent English colony and to prevent interference in the settlements’
affairs, Williams sought and in 1644 obtained a charter from Parliament that
provided a legal basis for the settlements’ existence. Under the terms of the
charter, Providence plus the Aduidneck Island settlements of Newport, and Portsmouth were incorporated as Providence Plantations.
(In 1651Coddington obtained a charter establishing a separate colony for Aquidneck Island under which Coddington was to serve as governor of Aquidneck
for life. Williams and John Clarke went immediately to England and succeeded in
getting Coddington’s charter revoked in 1652.
In 1660 the British monarchy was restored after a long civil war, and Charles
II took the throne. With a new regime in power, Rhode Islanders were eager to
have their independence reaffirmed and petitioned the king for a royal charter.
Issued in 1663 through Clarke, the colony’s agent in England, the charter
incorporated the mainland and island of Rhode Island as Rhode Island and
Providence Plantations. Issued somewhat as an experiment in colonial
government, the king granted a charter which permitted the colonists a
large measure of self-government, including the unique feature that the governor
and other officials were to be elected by the colonists, not appointed by the
king. The charter also guaranteed “full liberty in religious concernments” in
King Philip’s War closes the Ownership of Land by Indians.
In 1675 land disputes between the Wampanoag and the Massachusetts colonies
led to King Philip’s War. The uprising was led by the Wampanoag chief Metacomet,
known as King Philip, and joined by members of some other tribes.
The colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut retaliated against
not only those involved but also the neutral Narragansett, whose lands they
wanted to take over. When the Narragansett gave refuge to some fleeing
Wampanoag, colonists launched a surprise attack on the tribe’s stronghold in the
Great Swamp, near West Kingston, Rhode Island. The fortified village was burned,
and about 600 Narragansett were killed, including many women and children. The
remaining Narragansett then joined Philip’s forces, devastating Rhode Island’s
mainland settlements and other New England towns. Providence was burned.
Every Rhode Island family either had someone killed or knew of a close neighbor or friend
that had been killed. The Jenck's settlement on the west side of the
Pawtucket River was completely burned to the ground.
When the war ended in 1676 with Philip’s defeat and death, many Narragansett,
Wampanoag, and Nipmuc were executed or sold into slavery, and their lands were
taken over by the colonies.